Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Joys of Christmas and Building Relationships in Health Care

Having just experienced Christmas, both in its secular and spiritual aspects, it is hard not to reflect on the many blessings we have experienced during the year. Certainly, if we polled the 28,000 Associates and 6,000 physicians in CHRISTUS Health, I’m sure the majority would say that their most important blessing is their immediate family.

However, I believe many would also include in their list of blessings the relationships that they have formed within CHRISTUS Health, including those they have developed with their leaders and even with the Senior Leadership Team, including myself.

Because of the complexity of health care and the speed at which we must move, many times we don’t have the time to explain in detail the rationale for the decisions we make and the directions we take as a health care system. It is in those times that people must depend on the trust and loyalty they have for their leaders, based both on previous successes as well as current actions.

Although we have identified the competencies for CHRISTUS leaders, perhaps their ultimate success pivots on the depth and quantity of the positive relationships a leader has established with the people whom he or she expects to follow him or her. So if building relationships are important, how is this accomplished?

Looking at what makes a successful health care leader over the last 40 years, I would say that the driving force for strong relationship-building is making yourself visible to as many people as possible in your organization in an open and honest way. This includes showing them not only that you are knowledgeable and intelligent, but that also that you understand all aspects of the work force, what it takes to be successful (including in their job), and participating with them in activities in which they are comfortable.

I look forward to the Christmas season because, as a pianist and organist, I have had the ability for 41 years now to bring together a group of health care Associates and physicians to Christmas carol in the lobbies of health care facilities. I now have the opportunity to carol in many CHRISTUS facilities—normally around 10 a year—with the Associates and patients/residents there. I also have the chance to visit some facilities of our sponsoring congregations and carol with the Sisters there.

People often ask me during the busy Christmas season--when we not only have the pressures of work, but also the increasing pressures associated with holiday activities--why would you spend time traveling to multiple locations to sing and play familiar carols for an hour?

Clearly, this would not be worth it if we were measuring how many songs we sang or how many Associates actually attended the caroling or how many patients and their families walked through the lobby while we were singing. Its success also cannot be measured in the amount of punch and Christmas cookies that are served to those who participate.

Instead, the true benefit is that relationships are strengthened, both with the people who participate and with the multitudes of Associates and physicians who could not attend. The people who are able to attend often tell stories about it to their coworkers, and in this way the Christmas spirit is spread and relationships are strengthened even with those who could not be there.

Relationships are the one leadership competency that cannot be taught; instead, they must be lived out. Therefore, leaders must determine how they can best do that through interactions with their Associates and physicians. I feel truly blessed because I learned and refined a talent that permits me to do something very common throughout every health system in which I worked.

At the end of the day, you may find CHRISTUS Associates who would have a hard time describing in detail our Journey to Excellence, our service guarantee or our enhanced international strategy. However, most of them would be able to tell you that a tradition in CHRISTUS Health is caroling with the CEO and other members of the Senior Leadership Team. Is this not what relationship building is all about?

I would challenge each of you, as you enter the new year, to think about the key things you as a health care leader can do to build the strong relationships that are required to lead health care in 2008 and beyond.

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