In the wake of the failure of health care overhaul, the next question becomes how leaders in the health care industry continue to provide quality service. I had a chance to speak with Warren Geller, the President and Chief Executive Officer of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center. Based on his 20+ years in health care administration, he offers these top five pointers on leadership.
Lesson #1 – Keep the focus on your client base.
Sullivan: You lead 4,000 people across four counties in Northern New Jersey. How do you get everyone on board and rowing in the same direction?
Geller: We try to give everyone at the organization a sense of purpose. That purpose starts with clear focus. Our mantra is, “There is a patient at the end of every conversation.” That means every time we are discussing a new initiative, brainstorming a solution to the latest problem, or trying to meet new legislative requirements, we think about how it will impact patients.
Lesson #2 – Deliver clear, consistent, simple messages.
Sullivan: You can’t be a presence at every EHMC facility. You can’t even get to each site each year. What does that suggest about leadership?
Geller: I am only one of the leaders at Englewood. Part of good leadership is knowing that you can’t be everywhere at once and you need to rely on a team of leaders. That means it’s essential to get everyone on board with the organization’s key messages, and that those messages have to be simple. Our vision statement emphasizes “a humanistic environment.” We ask everyone to care for our patients as if they were caring for a family member. Making patient care personal is important.
We also don’t over-communicate in volume. More communication doesn’t equal better communication. Simple, consistent messages, repeated often, and from many voices – that’s the key.
Our team of leaders has to hear consistent messages from me as well. One of those messages is that in leadership, you get a “do over” every day. Each day you can ask yourself, “How can I be a better leader today?”
Sullivan: I’m not hearing any medical jargon so far.
Geller: Jargon gets in the way. We try to keep it simple.
Lesson #3 – Bring all voices to the conversation.
Sullivan: Ideas are easy to come by. How do you generate the best ideas?
Geller: We innovate from the bottom up, meaning we seek out ideas from everyone in the organization. Listening to and respecting all the voices at the table allows you to leverage the best ideas of the group.
In our quest to constantly improve our performance, we recently conducted a “culture of performance survey” to see how well we were performing as an organization and what areas we could improve upon. The results provided a sense of pride; they said we were already doing a great job. We are “internally aligned and externally focused,” which is what any organization should be. Every effective client-service organization needs to have everyone in the organization focused on the end user of the services.
Now that the survey results are in, we will choose one item to improve upon for the year. That singular focus will enable us to make great strides.
Lesson #4 – Remain flexible.
Sullivan: How do you guide people through all the changes?
Geller: We all deal with changes at work. As a leader, you have to be flexible. Any corporate entity is organic in nature. It grows and changes. When new ideas are presented, we need to be flexible. That doesn’t mean accepting every new idea. It means asking ourselves, “Is it in the plan? If not, why not, and should it be?” We can adapt and incorporate new ideas if we manage the pace of change. Too much change at once can be crippling.
When we get resistance from someone on adapting to a new environment, it’s important to engage that person so that we understand where their fear is coming from. Since we’re all focused on keeping the patients’ needs in mind, we rarely see resistance for the sake of resistance. It’s usually tied to some fear about how a change will impact patient care. Understanding that fear is essential to making sure changes get incorporated in a way that optimizes care. It keeps in mind that patient at the end of the conversation.
A hospital is a building. A medical center is a care provider with locations throughout a community, bringing health care where it can have the greatest impact. In a hospital setting, one of the key reflections of patient care is “did you keep the rooms clean and the areas quiet at night so that healing can happen?” In a medical center, with hospitals, clinics, outpatient services, and home care services, the standards are more diverse.
As we introduce changes within Englewood, we are always asking ourselves, “What are we doing to address the anxiety this will cause?” That means we need to convey the change throughout the organization consistently, creating a culture of transparency. It’s easier to do that when you have all of the leaders in the organization on the same page, delivering the same message in various forums – town hall-type meetings, small group gatherings and one-on-one conversations. People need to be hearing the same thing from all leaders.
Lesson #5 – Engage in the debate.
Sullivan: In the heated rhetoric around health care, how do you maintain your focus?
Geller: Good medicine is good business. If we do a good job serving people, making health care easy to access at the soonest possible point of need, we’ll continue to be a critical resource for our community, meaning people will continue to seek us for services. Medical treatment shouldn’t be a transaction, where you came in for a service, we provided that service and got paid. That’s not a model for effective health care. Instead, we have to treat health care like a relationship. We should get paid on value. The energy and effort put into preventative care and early intervention have been increasing for years. The length of hospital stays has been decreasing. That’s not a coincidence, and everyone has benefited.
Sullivan: How do you deal with the politics of health care?
Geller: The politics are endless, at the federal, state and even local level. We make sure we engage in the debate. We have a great cadre of elected officials and enjoy working with them. There’s an old saying, “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” We always look for opportunities to keep the dialogue open with our political leaders. We know they have many constituents to serve. Even in those exchanges, we remember, there’s always a patient at the end of the conversation.
Originally published on Forbes.com.