Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Mountains and Valleys of Leadership

In a recent blog post, I discussed the implications of the mountain and valley that CHRISTUS Health experienced recently with regard to the separation of conjoined twins at CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital and the heparin incident in our NICU at CHRISTUS Spohn South. In that post, I talked about the leadership requirements necessary to travel over mountains and into valleys.

The importance of this discussion was indeed re-emphasized to me on my visit to our Texarkana region recently. At our Touchstone awards in 2006, we presented a Leadership award to the Texarkana team because they had reached all their excellence goals for several years and had demonstrated that they knew how to sustain excellence in all four of our directions on our Journey to Excellence. (This was the first and only time we have presented this award to a team of regional leaders.) The Senior Leadership Team at CHRISTUS talked about them frequently, indicating that by improving clinical quality and service delivery while maintaining a strong emphasis on community value, they had proven that they could create business literacy throughout their region. We even said they had “cracked the code,” and we published several papers based on their performance.

However, as they moved through FY07, they had some major challenges, particularly with their business literacy, and therefore lost focus on their clinical and service measurements, causing their metrics to decrease. This obviously caused us to pause and ask the question, “Did they really deserve the Leadership award in 2006?” Did we think they had some of the right qualities for being an outstanding leadership team, but in fact were they missing some of the more important ingredients which we failed to notice?

These questions deserved and have received much reflection, because we as the Senior Leadership Team, the coaches and mentors of these regional leaders and many of the future leaders of CHRISTUS Health, must make sure that we are teaching the right leadership competencies to be successful not only today, but long into the future.

When I visited this region recently and specifically spoke about their successes in FY08, it was clear to us all that we had made the right decision in giving them the first and only Leadership award, because as a result of their outcome metrics in 2008, they are now once again the best region of the 13 in CHRISTUS with regard to our directions to excellence. They have demonstrated that an excellent team is able to reach the mountaintop, but can, if faced with a perfect storm, find themselves in a valley. When they find themselves in this valley, they can quickly reenergize themselves, develop and implement corrective action plans and move forward out of the valley to the mountaintop once again.

This team has demonstrated the resilience, the optimism, the strong integrated teamwork and the intense focus that is required to journey from the valley to the mountaintop once again. These are necessary in addition to the traditional competencies of financial knowledge, conflict management, strategic planning and others which are essential to be designated as an excellent team. These are the qualities that must be learned by all present and future leaders in health care both in the U.S. and internationally. These are the qualities that must be taught in our Masters of Health Care Administration programs and must be role modeled and be re-emphasized throughout CHRISTUS, including through our mentoring programs. These qualities need to be identified in the applicants for our management excellence and leadership academy trainees as we prepare the future leaders to succeed us in this future health system.

In summary, we were right. The Texarkana team had those qualities and deserved the Leadership award. And more importantly, they never lost those qualities when they found themselves in the valley.

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