DALLAS (June 14, 2009) — As I think about the best Chief Executive Officers and senior executives with whom I have had the pleasure of working, there are several qualities that come to mind: their depth of understanding, their attention to detail, their ability to communicate ideas and their passionate emphasis on recruiting and developing their team.
Some of these leaders are tough. They establish high standards of performance and do not suffer mediocrity gladly. Subordinates who do not perform at a high level will hear about it. These leaders know the detail and are comfortable deep diving to get the information they want, when they want it. They can be very specific about how they want certain things accomplished. While their direct reports may feel like they are being micromanaged, the CEO justifies this style based on his or her self-confidence and, of course, the results they achieve. That they occasionally chastise or ream out a vice president or other direct report in front of their colleagues is the price of an honest open dialog. When things are going well, this type of leader has no incentive to change. “This is just who I am,” is a favorite response. Leaders who rely on this model may get results but they rarely earn the trust of the people they lead. Nor do they see leadership development as an essential strategic initiative for success.
Can you imagine how much more successful an organization could be if the foundation of the leadership culture was built on respect and trust? That is a foundation with exceptional downstream value for the organization. In healthcare, it will foster improved quality of care, patient safety and satisfaction.
Outstanding leaders spend the vast majority of their time communicating with and developing the team. Jack Welch, one of the twentieth century’s most successful executives, certainly understood that point. He frequently said that developing his team was one of the most important things he did as a CEO, and the time he spent teaching at GE’s leadership development institute, which is located on 53 acres in Crotonville, N.Y., remains as evidence of his profound passion and commitment.
There was no confusion about GE’s vision, mission, or values. There was no mistaking its cultural pillars of execution and accountability. “Best effort” – an excuse for not achieving corporate goals — cannot be found anywhere on GE’s web site or in its education materials. It is not surprising, then, that today, years after Mr. Welch left the scene, 90 percent of GE’s top 600 leaders are promoted from within.
Far too many CEOs are not engaged in leadership development. It is no wonder that leadership development is seen as an expense, not as an investment.
Last year as the seriousness of our current recession emerged, I wrote that it was time for CEOs to dump weak leaders and their poor performers and to strengthen their teams to weather the coming storm. While there is ample evidence that many organizations shed what they felt were marginal performers, or executives who were not essential during a period of no growth, there is little to suggest that healthcare organizations made widespread investment in their leadership engines. This could mean different things for different companies; providing direct training to the core leadership team that can better help them tackle problems and find solutions, improve their capabilities, and ensure that they are ready to face whatever comes their way, and recognizing significant contributions from executives with incentives like serp plans to encourage their continued support, are some methods that can go a long way during times like these.
Now, as the economy appears to be on the verge of a long and arduous recovery, CEOs who are prepared to act to invest in and strengthen their leadership teams will emerge as strong winners. For some this may seem counter intuitive in tough economic times, but, believe me, it is one of the best decisions a CEO will make in his or her career.
Now is the time to invest in human capital, one of the most frequently overlooked assets on an organization’s balance sheet.
John G. Self is Chairman and Senior Client Advisor of JohnMarch Partners. He is a Co-Founder of the Firm. A former investigative reporter and crime writer with more than 30-years of healthcare leadership experience in public relations, national marketing, business development and as Chief Executive Officer of hospitals and consulting firms, Mr. Self is highly regarded for his keen insight into operations, business culture and for his ability to consistently select the right leaders. You can contact Mr. Self at 214.220.1234 or JGSelf@johnmarch.com. Or you can follow him on Twitter at Self_JohnMarch.