I had about 30 minutes before I was supposed to ring Ed Marx, VP and CIO at Texas Health Resources.
About a month ago, I’d written Ed, congratulating him on what I thought was an outstanding edition of his blog series. In response, he referenced a piece I’d written on humility, and suggested debating some of the issues we’d touched upon in a conference session that would serve as a nice changeup to that venue’s traditional fare. I was all for exploring the idea, so we scheduled a chat.
Now, if you’re reading this column, my guess is you’ve read some of Ed’s stuff too, or perhaps heard him present at a HIMSS or CHIME conference. Ed’s themes are similar to mine, namely leadership, excellence and success. In one of Ed’s last pieces, he talked a lot about raising one’s game, always reaching for perfection and never accepting second best.
Suddenly, it hit me … I was about to speak with Excellence Ed, Success Ed, Raising the Bar Ed. I looked at the paltry prep notes on my computer screen and gulped. This would not do, and I had 20 minutes to get it together. In that time, I doubled my prep notes, adding some quality stuff. When it was time to dial Ed’s number, I felt good. I was ready.
The call went well. Ed is great, and puts one at ease immediately. We had a nice chat and I look forward to seeing him (and hopefully many of you) at the CHIME Fall Forum in a few weeks. After the call, instead of reflecting on it, I thought back to those 20 minutes before it began, and the gulp that caused me to elevate my game. I realized what happened in that instance is an instructive lesson in leadership, and Ed had taught it without uttering a word. Ed, you see, had made me “better” just because I knew that is what he expected.
During the call, Ed mentioned how lucky I am that, as part of my work, I get to speak with leaders every week, to interview them and probe their secrets of success. That’s true, and one of the things I’ve noticed, as I did with Ed’s call, is that great leaders do not push, and they do not pull — they draw. Great leaders attract, they are akin to planets that pull stellar bodes ever closer. Great leaders demonstrate how to be great by striving for excellence, adhering to an honorable code of conduct and, even in the slightest of ways, recognizing those who make the effort to follow their example.
Interestingly enough, those leaders who focus on “leading” as an end in itself, rather than “doing,” are those we have the least admiration for. If your goal as a manager is to do nothing but manage, those you are managing think (often rightly) you are doing no real work at all. I once knew an executive who took pride in the fact that his whole day was consumed by meetings with those he managed. I had a tough time respecting this, as, to me, his meetings did not constitute doing, though they took time away from those who he expected to “do.”
Great leaders are in the trenches, leading from the front, setting the example. By doing this, they need not expressly state to the troops, “You should do it like I’m doing it.” Those worth their salt will get it, while those who aren’t should probably be left off the bus at the next convenient stop.
Ed made me perform at a higher level because I know how much he expects from himself. First and foremost, set your bar equally high and let those around you know where it’s been placed, then simply watch as most of your leadership challenges fade away.