It was exactly four years ago today that I walked out the door of my previous job for the last time, feeling a wide range of emotions. Relief to finally be leaving a company that wasn’t the right fit for me, and a mix of excitement and apprehension at the idea of starting a new role with a company that was just two years old.
Although I never doubted it was the right decision, I was intimidated by the fact that most of my work would involve interviewing extremely accomplished, smart people, and asking these very busy individuals to carve time out of their schedules to contribute to our publication. And for four years, I’ve been amazed at how willing CIOs and other leaders have been — not just to highlight their accomplishments and share best practices, but to open up about the mistakes they’ve made and what the experiences have taught them.
As leaders, coworkers, parents, and human beings, there is no better way to learn than to hear about how others faced the same challenges. And so, in keeping with that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of some of the most valuable lessons in leadership I’ve gained during the past year from our bloggers.
- Model the behavior you expect from others. If leaders truly want to eliminate workplace conflict, “you need to model the desired behavior,” wrote Sarah Richardson, CIO at NCH Healthcare System. She believes that if staff members see their superiors bicker and squabble, they’re likely to follow suit. On the other hand, if leaders truly listen (instead of digging in their heels), refuse to get caught up in emotions, approach others respectfully, and focus on problem-solving over winning, everyone benefits.
- Challenge your vendors. Scott MacLean, Deputy CIO at Partners HealthCare, did just that when he asked representatives from rival companies to help improve the user experience by presenting ideas on how to better navigate multiple systems. “We posed the question, if you or your loved one were in one of our hospitals or clinics and the EHR was having technical problems, would you want the underlying technology suppliers to quibble or to work together to solve the problem?” And although some vendors declined, others stepped up to the challenge and “worked across corporate lines to make very impressive presentations,” he said.
- If you want to develop a strong relationship, don’t force it. In fact, if any professional relationship — and particularly a vendor-client relationship — is to succeed, the key is a “delicate start” that doesn’t involve a sales pitch, a PowerPoint, or a long list of satisfied clients. Rather, “a delicate start is a discussion, a chat, a conversation, and it does not much matter on the topic,” wrote Dan Morreale, CIO at Hunterdon Healthcare. It is “a chance to tell each other who we are. It is not a conversation about ‘what’; it a discourse on ‘who.’ The beginning is about your larger dreams, the big picture, and the future.”
- Realize it is NOT all about IT. From population health to personalized medicine, we’re experiencing a fundamental reorganization of healthcare delivery, and IT is a critical enabler of that reorganization, stated Dave Miller, CIO at Optimum Healthcare IT (and former CIO at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences). And yet, he wrote, “it is not about technology. It is about creating a better quality of life, a better clinical outcome at a lower cost, and a better experience for the patient and their family.”
- Don’t try to change people. “When we try to change others to fit our style, we just end up disappointed and frustrated,” said Chris Walden, director of IS at Health First. When leaders expect others to act and perform in the same manner they do, it can lead to communication breakdowns, team strife, and missed opportunities to be a great team. In other words? Communicate your expectations in a respectful way. Because “the more we can talk to each other, recognize and concede to our differences, the better chance we have to really impact change.”
- If it’s not right, hit pause. Earlier this year, Sue Schade, CIO at University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, faced a difficult decision when it became clear that the organization wasn’t ready for a scheduled upgrade. Although it would mean taking a step back and revising the roadmap, Schade didn’t hesitate. “This isn’t just about having a correct bill or getting the patient’s address right. The EHR carries the information our clinicians depend on to care for critically ill patients. A question about data integrity and possible data corruption was enough for me to say ‘cancel it.’” She did, and her organization was later able to proceed with confidence.
- React the right way when someone lets you down. It’s inevitable that someone will disappoint you, but what defines a strong leader is the ability to own the situation, express concern, and then find a path forward, wrote John Mason, CIO at Hill Country Memorial Hospital. “The longer you use the frustration as a point of concern between you and that team member, the less productive you’ll both be. Find the path to solution quickly, and implement a plan to resolve the failure.”
Do yourself a favor and consider these gems from those who are in the trenches. And have a wonderful holiday!