In a few weeks, Saad Chaudhry will embark on the opportunity of a lifetime when he becomes the first-ever enterprise CIO for Saudi German Hospitals Group, a multinational health system based in Dubai.
The opportunity, however, almost didn’t happen. Being a diligent associate CIO, Chaudhry was hesitant to click on an email about a CIO job in the United Arab Emirates; “I thought it was spam,” he said. In fact, it wasn’t until he received a phone call that he realized it was a legitimate offer to fulfill a dream to lead an organization on the other side of the world, applying the lessons he has learned during his career.
Recently, healthsystemCIO had a chance to speak with Chaudhry about what made him interested in pursuing the role at Saudi German, how he hopes to leverage his “human leadership” philosophy to drive change; why he isn’t worried about being able to adjust to a new culture; and what he’ll miss most about Anne Arundel.
- The human side of leadership – “It’s understanding what drives human beings.”
- Getting to the root of helpdesk issues
- “Let’s go out there and meet our end users.”
- Working with CIO Dave Lehr
- Extreme ownership – “The ball is always in our court.”
- IT as “part of a chain of people and processes that directly affect human life.”
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Gamble: You’ve written about the human side of leadership — can you talk about what exactly that means to you and how that manifests in your strategy?
Chaudhry: Sure. When I say ‘human side of leadership,’ I’m talking about understanding what drives people, what motivates them. What outcomes do we want to focus on as human beings and how can we drive toward them with technology?
Allow me to explain what that means on a day-to-day basis for a modern-day CIO by expanding on one of the ‘core expectations’ that we have established for our IS division at Anne Arundel Medical Center and that our CIO Dave Lehr has ingrained into our culture. The core expectation of focusing on outcomes. Imagine there’s a set of changes being requested with the EHR at your organization. Most of the time, what would happen is someone on the end user side says, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we could do this and this? Is it even possible?’ Somewhere along the line, they’ll put in a request, and it will go through. By the time all the people who need to be consulted have given their input, the request is very specific. It says, ‘Please go into the EHR and change this screen to look like this, or change this field to say this.’ And by the time it gets to the EHR analyst, it’s just that — a very specific question, a very specific ask. And you have 50,000 other things on your plate. So, you focus on that question, you answer it, and you move on.
When I talk about the human side, I talk about getting out there and understanding the origin of a request or a question from the user — meet them where the rubber meets the road, with our clinicians, providers, and end users, wherever they may be. They could be in the HIM office or in the ED. Let’s meet our end users and ask them, what exactly is the outcome you’re driving toward? What exactly is it you’re trying to achieve? Because while they are experts, we can help by providing our expertise on the technology side and say, ‘if this is the pain point you’re trying to alleviate in your clinical workflow, in your billing workflow, in your HIM workflow, we can actually advise you to do it in a better way.’ Instead of just getting a filtered down request where we make a change and don’t care if it’s actually alleviating that problem that spawned the request.
That requires a certain amount of humanity. It requires a certain amount of human interaction because it’s very easy to get a ticket in your email saying, ‘make this change.’ And you make the change and set the ticket to ‘resolved.’ That’s easy. It’s harder to step out of your cube. It’s harder to step out of your office, walk the hallway, go shake a hand, go speak with the human being behind the screen, behind the technology, and understand their pain point and alleviate it to drive that outcome. That’s what I mean when I say the human side of leadership.
Gamble: I imagine your leadership style has been shaped by the different experiences you’ve had on the vendor side, the provider side, or with different types of organizations. How have you been able to weave that into your philosophy?
Chaudhry: My first leadership position in healthcare IT was on the vendor side. I was with McKesson and was in charge of technical implementations of their EHR systems. When I was there, I was one of the younger technical project managers. All of sudden, people started to say, ‘He’s pretty good at his job.’ And while I was absolutely happy about that, I was a little confused because I wasn’t doing anything special. The way I saw it, I was just doing my job.
At one point, I had a long-running chain of successes where the organization gave me the ‘On the Spot Leadership Award’ and I began realizing that maybe there was some value to what I brought to the table. Was it just because I was younger but was able to hold my own? Or was it something else? As I started digging into this, I realized what it was. People were saying, ‘Saad is approachable. When we have a problem, he sets time aside and comes to talk to us, and the thing his team delivers is even better than what we expected.’
Again, I thought to myself, I’m not doing anything special here. All I’m doing is finding out what their actual pain point is. We have expertise in the product. We’re the vendor. And we are uniquely situated to address any of our customers problems that can be solved with technology. So, the only thing different I did was to say, ‘I love talking to people, so I’m going to go out and talk to them.’ And that worked. And all of a sudden, it was bringing a higher level of satisfaction to our internal and external customers.
That’s where this started. Since then, it’s become more. It’s enveloped a lot of other things. It’s become sort of my mantra because when I am managing over 100 FTEs through several directors, it would be very easy for me to say, ‘Please be humane in your leadership. Teach your people to do this.’ and then sit back and expect it to flow down. But because of my experience with this — because I have seen what happens when you’re at the ground level and you’re engaging with the people behind the tech, I choose to take that a step further. And it gets easier to take that stance here at Anne Arundel because our CIO Dave Lehr himself believes strongly in it and has developed for his folks what we have come to call our five ‘core expectations.’ He commits to these core expectations fully and ensures that we review them with every single person that comes into the IS division, whether it’s the person manning the call center or a director. And these form a great basis for a leader who focuses on the human side of leadership.
The first core expectation deals with taking extreme ownership. Extreme Ownership is a phrase Dave took from the US Navy, which essentially means the ball is always in our court. There’s nothing that is not our responsibility. We do the follow-ups. We do the ground work.
The second one is to focus on outcomes, and that means we’re not just focusing on the task. We’re focusing on what makes our customers happy and driving toward that. The third is we bring people together. By that I mean we mentor our coworkers. We mentor our peers. We mentor those who report up to us. We are that human face. We bring people together instead of driving them apart.
We also have a strong sense of duty. That’s one of those things that’s built into healthcare. You’re inevitably dealing with human life. Even if you’re an IT, you’re part of a chain of people and processes that are directly affecting human life. Human life is the most valuable thing on this planet, and so how could you not have a sense of duty when you’re working in this specific field?
Lastly, the fifth core expectation we have is to analyze and synthesize complex information, because the technology world is a quick one. It metamorphosizes very quickly. It evolves very quickly. The technology infrastructure of today will be a legacy system and footprint tomorrow, and so we need to keep up. If we are the keepers of technology for our organizations, we must keep up with it. We must have the ability to see what’s on the horizon and be able to communicate it to our fellow leaders in a way that they understand.
So, these expectations have come to be our pillars for the IS division at Anne Arundel, and allow us to focus on that human side of leadership. As I follow Dave’s example and sit down with every single employee that comes into my teams and walk them through this, I tell them, ‘My name is Saad. This is who I am as a person. My door is always open.’ And the FTEs who report up to me, I try to understand them at a human level, beyond just their names. I want to know what their hobbies are. What they like to do for fun. I want to know what their pain points are professionally, and I work every single day to ensure those are being alleviated in some way, shape or form. And in leading by example, I hope that they do the exact same for their customers.
Gamble: Right. So the last thing I want to ask about are your thoughts on leaving Anne Arundel. I’m sure it’s not going to be easy, but what do think you will be the toughest part about leaving an organization like that?
Chaudhry: Whenever you’re leaving an organization where you’ve developed a sense of community — and I try to do that in every organization I’ve been a part of — it’s hard, because it almost feels like you’re leaving family. And it’s absolutely the case for me here at Anne Arundel. In the two years I was here, I’ve developed some strong bonds and relationships that I will definitely miss when I depart. But, in this day and age it is so easy to stay in touch regardless of where you are in the world, so I believe none of those bonds will be broken. And might even grow stronger over time. The good news for the organization is that the processes we developed collectively at Anne Arundel Medical Center during my time here, including the guiding principles that Dave [Lehr] ingrained into the culture, should outlast all our career arcs and perhaps even our successors. So, one of us leaving at any point shouldn’t affect the IS division and its operations here in a negative way. If anything, my successor will bring their own set of perspectives and leadership qualities that will make Anne Arundel’s IS culture even stronger and better under Dave’s leadership. What we have been able to create here is pretty amazing and that magic should only grow with time.
And as I head out, I do look forward to staying in touch with all my colleagues back here in the U.S., whether it’s on LinkedIn, whether it’s reading articles or write-ups about each other as we continue to grow in our own careers, or whether it’s just as simple as sending a quick email once in a while to say, ‘How are things going? Should we jump on a call?’ and help each other out if we’re running into any issues.
The way I like to see it is, every time I leave somewhere, I’ve expanded my family by being a part of that organization. And so even though I’m going to be across the pond in Dubai, I know my family in the United States spreads out beyond just Pittsburgh now and includes Maryland, because of my time at Hopkins and at Anne Arundel. It’s exciting.
Gamble: Definitely. I can tell it’s something you’re very excited about. I look forward to checking in and seeing how things are going. Taking these types of leadership roles overseas is something that’s becoming a lot more appealing, and I think it will be really beneficial for others to hear about your experience.
Chaudhry: I’m really excited to share it because I do believe that being a CIO differs from one place to another. And taking some of our best practices and things I have learned here in the U.S. and evolving them further for other parts of the world should make me a better leader. A better healthcare CIO. And my hope is by doing these series of conversations with healthsystemCIO, I’ll be able to pay that forward and leave a journal to guide others who may also want to take that journey across national boundaries. That way they have a point of reference and can leapfrog me to continue the cycle. It also allows for the strengthening of this global healthcare tech leadership community. Whenever we contribute to this community as a whole, we all get better.
Gamble: Sure. Well, thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed this, and I look forward to hearing more about how life goes for you in the next few months.
Chaudhry: Thank you so much, and I look forward to asking your expertise on that expat piece.
Gamble: All right. Thanks again, and I will definitely be in touch.
Chaudhry: Thank you so much, Kate.
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