At a time of industry wide disruption and stress, senior leaders have a responsibility to step up their game, from the results “they” produce to the way they interact with employees.  This is one of the most important things a CEO does.

logo-bloomingdales“I don’t know how you can be a great leader without warmth and humility,” says Michael Gould, chief executive officer of Bloomingdales.  “That doesn’t mean you can’t cut bait if you have to, and it doesn’t mean you’re not honest with people.  Honesty is day in, day out.  People have to trust you and know you always have their back, in the good times and the tough times.  I don’t think you can have too much warmth or too much empathy. 

“I went to work at Giorgio in 1986, and after I was there awhile, I had to let a sales manager go.  He was in way over his head.  It was the first change I made, but I watched and waited for months until it seemed like an appropriate time.  I had such angst about it.  After I let him go, I said to the fellow who was in charge of human resources: ‘how is the staff?  How are the younger account executives in the field going to feel?’  And he said, ‘Listen, they want to know what took you so long to do it.  They like him personally, but he wasn’t the leader he had to be’.” 

That is an important lesson for a whole host of healthcare leaders and managers.

Gould shared his thoughts on leadership and his relationship with employees in Adam Bryant’s Corner Office feature in Sunday’s New York Times.

As I read Mr. Gould’s thoughts, I could not help but reflect on the thousands of hospital CEOs who are facing unprecedented challenges in anticipation of ACA implementation and the arrival of deficit reduction.  How they respond to the regulatory and financial issues as well as how they treat their employee’s will more often than not, determine their success. 

Flagship Store In New York 1000 3rd Avenue

Flagship Store on Lexington Avenue in New York

A word to the wise; beating up, and chewing up your employees in the name of “honest communication” will not improve your organization’s performance.  It will enhance your turnover.  Hospitals can no longer afford the top down, command-and-control management style. 

The quality of the employee engagement begins with how you treat candidates in the search process and gains authenticity by how you integrate new hires into the organization.  A sloppy recruiting process marked by lack of attention to detail and/or poor communication is not the way for the company to get off on the right foot with their human capital.  After you hire them and following a one or two day and done new employee orientation process it becomes another signal to the new hire that the real corporate culture – recruiting materials and annual reports to the contrary – is really all about process, production and results.  The employees represent a necessary expense that must be controlled.

How a CEO leads and the results they produce will be important to achieving success, but so will the people they hire.

Mr. Gould values people with intellectual curiosity.  “One of the very first things I look for is intellectual curiosity.  People have to walk through the store to get to my office, so if someone comes in here for an interview, I will ask them, “What didn’t you like?” I don’t ask them, “Tell me what you liked.” I say, “Tell me what you didn’t like.” 

Without intellectual curiosity it is hard to learn and that, Mr. Gould believes, is what careers should be all about. 

Recent graduates, when they return from a little R&R, inevitably announce they are ready to begin work. 

“No, you’re not going to go work,” Mr. Gould says.  “You’re going to go learn.  Part of what you’re going to learn about here is retail and part of what you’re going to learn is about life and interpersonal skills.  It’s everyone’s role at Bloomingdale’s to make sure these kids are learning.  And it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep learning.”  

Sounds like a point of view that would thrive in healthcare.