Today being a leader in difficult times.
My name is Bill Russell. I'm a former CIO for our 16 hospital system and creator of this week Health. A set of channels dedicated to keeping health IT staff current and engaged. We want to thank our show sponsors who are investing in developing the next generation of health.
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Okay, so Fridays are the days where I more or less talk about topics that are top of mind for me. A lot of times it's on leadership, sometimes it's on management, and sometimes it's on other topics that just happen to have come up during the week. As you know, I spend a lot of time interviewing healthcare executives and leaders.
I talk to a lot of them throughout the week, , when I'm not on the air and have conversations about what's going on in their health systems. What kind of challenges they're facing and we talk about things and go back and forth and it, it strikes me, and you all know this, this is a difficult time in healthcare.
It's a difficult time to be a leader. And, you know, any numb nut, any mullet can be a leader in good types. I mean, it's just not that hard, quite frankly. , it does have its own challenges when things are always going good, you have to constant. Reinvent yourself. Constantly be looking and almost have a certain amount of paranoia that something's gonna go wrong.
And be looking out a couple years, be looking at what, what's going on in the market, the competition, what's going on with our product? Is our product good enough? Are we delivering things? There's a lot of things you have to look at if things are going well. So I guess I shouldn't say any, any numb nuts could be a leader in good times, but it is.
To be a leader, you can meld into the background, , and, , during good times, but during bad times, you can't be in the background. You have to be in the forefront. And, , it, it almost doesn't matter what your leadership position is. You could be the leader of a small department. You could be the leader of a VP of a larger department.
You could be a cio, you could be a ceo. , during bad times, there are just a whole bunch of things that you have to do well, and that's what I wanna talk about today. I wanna talk about how important it is during bad times to be an effective leader and what it takes to be an effective leader. , I think one of the first things that it takes is optimism, right?
And you have to be able to communicate that optimism. You have to be able to see clearly a path to a better future and communicate that well with the team. As often as you possibly can. You know, you have to see the vision clearly. You have to see the future clearly, that, , that things are going to be better.
You have to communicate it often. You can communicate it in town halls, in emails. You can communicate it, , in person, on teams meetings. However you gotta see it clearly. Communicate it often and then demonstrate it creatively. I was talking with Drex today. We did a news. Recording. And one of the things he talked about was effective storytelling, and as soon as he said those words, I'm like, yes, absolutely.
Great. Leaders are great storytellers. . And even if they're not great storytellers, they know the value of storytelling. So they identify people that can tell stories and they bring people forward who have great stories and give them the floor and let them tell great stories. And the reason for that is it it reaffirms in them that there are brighter times ahead, that there is good things going to happen, that we can make a difference, that we can create a better.
right? So that, that act of storytelling and what am I talking about? You know, we, Drex and I were talking about, , lean Six Sigma and we were talking about saving money and, and, and how you create that culture around that. And one of the things I remember is the, , the, the, we, we had that culture within our organization and anytime somebody found a significant saving, Like something that was, you know, they were just doing their job like they normally do, and they found a significant savings.
We gave them the floor, we allowed them to trumpet that. I remember one of the data center workers, , reconfigured the PDs, power distribution units. These are dumb units and you wouldn't think twice about 'em if you walk down the aisle. But somebody who's a professional really understands these things, looked at it and said, you know what?
There's a better way to do. And we can save. And, and he essentially came to me and said, look, we can save 600 to $750,000 in the first year if we reconfigure these things. Now that's exceptional. And you give that person the floor, you let them tell the story, and it, it provides vision for people. It's like, this is good.
This is helpful. We now have, , some surplus in our budget, so if something does go wrong, we have some extra money to spend. So, optimism, storytelling. These are, these are effective traits of leaders in bad times. I would say, you know, the, the other thing is, is courage, right? They're looking to you and people can see fear.
They identify. , right? So if you are fearful, they will act on that. They will start to become fearful. They will get their resumes on the street.
So courage is very important. Now, I would be remiss if I didn't talk about communication. Communication is so critical in difficult times, so there's different levels of communication as I'm thinking about this. One is you have to communicate as much information to the appropriate people as.
So your direct reports, you should be communicating with them as much as you possibly can. Now, I understand in difficult times there's a bunch of things you don't know, you don't know, , potentially what the layer above you is doing. You don't know potentially what is going to happen in the market. You don't know what, .
Government policies are gonna impact you or Medicaid, redetermination. I mean, there's a whole bunch of factors outside of your control. And so I'm not telling you that you have to, you know, provide them a clear path of everything that's gonna happen. What you need to communicate is confidence.
Confidence in your plan. That you're currently, , executing confidence in the organization that you're currently with to make the right decisions, , confidence in the team to be creative and to come up with solutions that get you through whatever challenge that you're currently facing right now. It happens to be an economic challenge, , but for some of you, it could be a challenge around, , a breach could be a c.
, I don't know, around a safety issue or something to that effect. I mean, there are, there are challenging times that could come up that are not economics just seems that this economic challenge is affecting everybody across the entire industry. Great. So part of that communication is understanding the business that you're in and educating and communicating with your staff.
When I was cio, I was constantly helping the organ. First of all, I was learning. I was spending time with the cfo. I was spending time with our chief legal officer and others. To learn as much as I could about the business of healthcare and how it operated, how it functioned, and the things that were critical for our success.
I made sure my team, especially my director of reports, understood what was critical for success. When you identify a change of direction, when you identify that something has changed, the economy has changed, whatever that is, , it really is incumbent upon you as a leader to make sure that the priorities still match the work that you're.
So when you look at the work that you're doing, is the work appropriate for the conditions that are currently, that you're currently experiencing? And I think one of the things that happens in healthcare is we, the momentum inertia is hard to overcome. And so we have a lot of projects going on,
And we just, we continue those things for a long time until we absolutely realize, oh, there's a problem. and then we start to adjust. I think one of the traits that a leader needs to have is the ability to identify the trends that are currently going on, project that out, and start making decisions.
There's a great scene in the movie Patton George C. Scott Patton, where , they call to see the generals and, , before Patton leaves his army, he said, I want you to prepare for attack in these three different areas. I, I don't know how accurate this is, but this is how it was depicted in the movie.
He essentially was with his team saying, I want you to prepare for this, this, this, and this, and prepare to move out immediately. He then goes to the generals and they say, we've got a problem. , I think it's best stone. We have a problem in this.
And, we need to get troops there as fast as possible, and Patton's able to say, , we can be there within 48 hours because we've already started plans to make that happen. That's what leaders do. Regardless of if that's accurate or not, that's what leaders do. Leaders look out and say, you know what?
The rest of the health system may not have re, re figured this out yet, or even identified this, but I know that we are in a , financially challenging situation. I wonder how we, whatever that team is, at whatever level, can get ahead of. Be prepared for this. Identify projects. It's interesting to me that when these things come up, we are just starting projects that we needed to start maybe a year ago or two years ago, to have them be more mature at this time when we really need them, but we haven't because we're not using that foresight.
So I think that's important. So communicating with your team as much as possible and, , communicating with. , at a level that's educating them on the business, the needs of the business and the direction that the business is going. And then you have the communication to the broader team. Now, right now I'm speaking as the cio.
There are many times you cannot communicate all the details to the team. I can't tell you how many town halls I was in front of, and people would ask me, are we going to do layoffs? and I, I just wanted every time, I just wanted to say, you know, answer two, answer one. I mean, you know, just write 'em down and say, please refer to your card.
Answer one is, , there are no plans right now to do layoffs. , we believe that we can get through this, blah, blah, blah. , you know, asking me that question in a town hall, I can't tell you that we're doing layoffs until the day we're doing lay. . It's just not my position to do that. I can't, if the entire organization is planning to do that, I can't, as the CIO tell my team before the rest of the organization is ready to do that.
HR has to be prepared to do that. Legal has to be prepared to do that. The communications team needs to be prepared to do that. You, you cannot be completely honest with. , with the larger group. People would be upset. It's like you said, we weren't gonna do layoffs.
I never, ever once said we're not gonna do layoffs. I'm not, I've, I've been in this world too long to say that. What I always say is, we have no plans right now to do layoffs. And if we were planning to do layoffs, I would change my verbiage. I would change the wording to say, There's challenging times.
We're always evaluating what we can do to make the business, , more streamlined, more effective, and those kind of things.
As a leader, if you wanna maintain that credibility, it's important to be as truthful as you can and to share as much information as you possibly can. And I realize that's not possible in all cases, but it is important. It's also important to communicate often, especially in bad times. So you almost might want to increase your cadence.
Of communication, maybe add a weekly email from the CIO out to the team. So communication becomes so critical in these times, , cuz people have questions. And to the extent that you can't answer those questions, it's important to answer those questions.
These are challenging times for sure. , we need strong leaders. We need courageous leaders. We need leaders that are good communicators that are going to rally the troops, get them, , to be, , participants in solutions and solution building. Because, , all of us, it's better than one of us. And when the entire team gets engaged, I think you'll be surprised at what they can actually do, , to alleviate some of the problems.
And so I leave you with that on this Friday, and hopefully some of that is helpful.
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