Part I – Inspiration for leaders

Part II – Case Study of a CEO’s quest to ensure that executive transition did not destroy the organization’s established culture

In Part 1 of today’s podcast we are going to look at the role that inspirational quotes play in the fashioning of  internal communications to employees or to our external customers.  For some, these quotes cause eyes to roll and dismissive smirks to cross their lips. Others simply shake their heads in disdain.  The principles of good leadership, after all, are based on proven concepts, not some pablum from a greeting card company.

But there are some highly successful executives who use these quotes to inspire their thinking for motivational messages they deliver, for the actions they must take.  Today we will look at some of the best of these quotes and the messages they stimulated.

In Part 2,  we will examine an almost overlooked case study about a New Jersey health system CEO who sought to preserve a strong organizational culture despite significant changes in the senior leadership team when he took over in 2015.

Thanks for joining me today.  By the way, if you have ideas for a future program, or if you have questions about all things in career management, you can contact me at AsktheRecruiter@JohnGSelf.Com.

We begin with the role that inspirational quotes play in developing messaging themes for employees, customers and key stakeholders.

Our cornerstone quote comes from John Quincy Adams who said:

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”

When I read that quote, several CEOs immediately came to mind:

  • The late, legendary Pat Groner, the first CEO of Baptist Hospital in Pensacola, Florida who was one of the founders of Voluntary Hospitals of America
  • The late Alex Petrovic, a former Jackson County  Commissioner who played a major role in bringing the first Life Flight program to Kansas City as well as being integral to the development of that community’s two sports stadiums
  • Dr. Britt Berrett who has moved on from the challenges of hospital leadership to academia at the University of Texas at Dallas but while he was in that business, he was one of the best.
  • Chris Van Gorder  who, as president and CEO of Scripps Health since 2000, has been instrumental in positioning Scripps among the nation’s foremost health care institutions.  His journey in healthcare leadership began as a hospital patient when as a police officer, he was critically injured during a family dispute call. After a lengthy recovery and starting a new career in hospital security, Van Gorder continued his education in health care management and rose to levels of increased responsibility. Today, he is an industry leader.
  • William F. Smith, my first healthcare boss,  had a unique genius for marketing and for motivating employees to help their hospital overcome significant financial and operational challenges.  Memorial Hermann Health System’s famed Life Flight program would not have existed without Bill’s incredible insight and enormous courage during the years he ran Hermann, from the mid-70s to the late 1980s.

There are so many others who I could mention. You, no doubt, have your own list of leaders who have played a meaningful role in your life. They come to mind because they inspired us to dream more, learn more, do more, to be more.

Leadership is so much less about control and so much more about setting a vision,  creating an example, communicating and inspiring the team while  holding people accountable.

I am always amused by young executives who, when facing pushback over a decision, go to their bosses asking for help to remind their team who the boss really is.  The smart bosses are the ones who take the time to explain to those managers that leadership and support cannot be divined by the table of organization or directives from the corner office.  Support and buy-in for a given manager are things that are earned and it begins with inspiration and the ability to motivate and win over members of the team.    If you cannot communicate, you cannot lead, and that immutable truth of business today will become more clear with each passing day of this economy.

One of my favorite quotes is from the prolific writer and social observer, Mark Twain:

The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”  

Another favorite quote comes from writer Mandy Hale, known by her hundreds of thousands of social media followers world-wide as “The Single Woman”.  I frequently share this message with executives in my career transition practice.  I used it recently in my Quote of the Day social media program:

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But nothing is as painful as staying stuck somewhere you don’t belong.”

This quote can be cathartic for anyone who has just lost their job.  For some executives who are

being shown the door, there is a rush to find the same job in another city.  When they are on their second or third transition in the last five years, that can be a warning signal that they may be in the wrong place, trying to do that which they probably shouldn’t do, career-wise.

This next quotation is also meaningful to those who are struggling to soldier on, even when deep down they feel unhappy because they know they are stuck in a career pathway and do not seem to know how to change.  This quotation sums it up:

“The three C’s in life:

You must make the CHOICE to take the CHANCE if you want anything to CHANGE.”

As we struggle to make sense of the challenges and changes in our professional careers we can opt to be angry and rebel, but that doesn’t seem like a good strategy to me.  Behavioral scientist and author Steve Maraboldi offered this self perspective:

“As I look back over my life , I realize that every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being redirected to something better.”

If your career is not on the trajectory you feel it should be, or  if you are hitting the career transition wall much too often, it is important to take the time, to have the courage to challenge yourself with the tough questions about your career and life’s course of travel.  There are a lot of tough, sad feelings one can have during the course of a career,  but being  hopelessly stuck in a job is a misery that I would not wish on anyone.

The legendary entertainer Mae West once said,

You can live only once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”  

Be open to being redirected.  Do not allow yourself to be trapped.

The real challenges for leadership in our new economy is to navigate through periods of disruption, whether it is from global trade, regulatory and reimbursement reform, or the acceleration of that which we call the digital age.

Here again, quotations can provide us perspective and insight into how we should develop our broad themes to deal with these very real problems.

We can start here with the obvious, a quote from an unknown source:

“To be the best, you must be able to handle the worst.”

About that sentiment I whole heartedly agree.  The real test any leader faces is not success but the adversity that threatens the very existence of an enterprise.  How a leader responds — in terms of immediacy and with the right message — will determine how much damage is done.

Steven Thulon, a retired Master Sergeant and a vocalist for the Air Force Band, set the stage for this idea of dealing with a crisis when he wrote:

“Conflict builds character. Crisis defines it.”

There are more than a few executives who wish they had given that truth serious thought before they responded in a crisis.

Former President Kennedy once said,

“The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.’ One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger–but recognize the opportunity.” 

A long-time CEO  said that there will always be challenges and times of enormous difficulty, usually at the worst possible time.  It is just part of the job.  When it comes, he said, the key is not to become so upset or angry that your personal sea of tranquility or peace of mind is being interrupted.   He added:

 “This is what you are being paid to do. Take a deep breath, seek advice if necessary and then do your best, no less. Do not make excuses or blame others. How you respond in strategy and communication will determine what kind of leader you are.”

Said Andy Gilman, of Commcore Consulting Group:

“The secret of crisis management is not good versus bad, it’s preventing the bad from getting worse.”

The late David Brinkley, a former TV news anchor, offered this keen insight:

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.”

And finally, for those times that crisis invades our personal life, televangelist Joel Osteen of Houston offered these words of encouragement:

“When you face a difficulty, something you don’t understand, instead of being discouraged, instead of complaining, have a new perspective.  Declare ‘This is not  here to defeat me, it is here to promote me.” 

I use these words of wisdom, these bits of insight and humor, to help me maintain perspective.  I began posting the Quote of the Day during the turmoil and rancor of the presidential primary season, primarily for my own amusement, but given the overwhelming response, the Quote of the Day has become an integral part of my brand management strategy.  You can find them on LinkedIn, Twitter and my company’s Facebook page.

Next Up on SelfPerspective, we look at a case study regarding the efforts a new CEO at a New Jersey health system undertook to preserve what he felt was an important organizational asset: their culture.


Thank you for staying with us today.

In 2015 Atlantic Health System (AHS) of Morristown, NJ, found itself in a challenging position — they were in the midst of a significant executive transition while confronting a broad range of challenges including system growth as well as reimbursement and regulatory changes.

Brian Gragnolati, a Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives replaced a long-standing chief executive.    He was justifiably concerned that these changes might disrupt AHS’ culture, which for seven years in a row had earned honors as a Fortune 100 Best Company to Work For®  If this was not enough, Mr. Gragnolati did not want to lose focus on the system’s work to improve the overall health of the community, enhance the patient and customer experience and, by the way, reduce the cost of care.

When a new CEO arrives there are multiple demands on his time, including board members, politicians, and donors.  But during his first two weeks, Mr Gragnolati traveled across the system on all shifts in all departments, shaking 5,000 hands.  His focus was to begin building a culture of trust. One of his approaches was to launch  “Food for Thought” lunches held with dozens of employees at various levels in the system focusing on their ideas for the future of AHS.

Said Mr. Gragnolati:  “Without its people, an organization cannot move forward.  It’s human beings caring for human beings.”

His people-first building trust approach is paying off.  The System reported a decline in patient safety issues. The Great Place to Work  Trust Index© taken after he arrived    placed the company on the list of the Fortune Best Places to Work for the eighth straight year, a remarkable accomplishment under any circumstances.

The system’s success is tied to one of the most important business truths of all time:  “Our people are our most important asset.  Not an expense, but an asset.”

So, as we conclude today’s podcast, we will turn to another quote to complete the cycle.  It comes from legendary airline executive Herb Kelleher, a founder and former Chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines:

“Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.”

But then Herb, as his employees called him, also said this:

“Wild Turkey whiskey and Philip Morris cigarettes are essential to the maintenance of human life!”

That sounds like a story for another day.

I invite you to follow me on Linkedin, Twitter or on our company Facebook page at JohnGSelf.Com

Thanks for listening.  See you next week.