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In one of my leadership training programs a few years ago I interviewed one of the key people involved in our hospital expansion. Her philosophy of leadership resonated with me and serves as the foundation for my own philosophy. This is my write-up of that interview:
One evening, after a particularly harrowing day in her new job, she was lamenting the fact that for the first time in several years, she felt as though she was performing without a safety net. A veteran of the hospital system, she has worked her way up through various positions, but always within the adult side of the hospital. Over 27 years she has developed a robust network and support system, and has long been the person who knows everyone. After a particularly impressive stent as the program coordinator for the clinical operations of the developing “new hospital,” she was offered a high-level position as assistant director of nursing for the Children’s Hospital. Within the first month, however, she was realizing just how bereft she was of similar connections on the children’s side of the system. Her husband gently reminded her, “But you have a balance, a good core, everything you need to walk the tightrope! “
The number of areas and projects over which she holds sway is staggering, and she is feeling the growing pains acutely. “Sometimes I just sit at my desk and don’t know where to start. I don’t have the relationships yet, and without relationships, you’re paralyzed! I knew it was important, but I really underestimated how much I would miss the tight relationships I had formed over the years.”
I had wanted to focus on this aspect of leadership, so it was fortuitous that we landed in just that area so quickly, although not surprising. Anyone who has the gift of leadership, as she does, recognizes that aside from initiative and drive, understanding how to interact with and motivate others is a necessary ingredient that starts by assembling the appropriate relationships. Like a delicate soufflé, an organization can either rise to beautiful heights and fullness if adequately supported, or quickly deflate at the slightest touch if only half-baked. Having too many cooks in the kitchen with a lack of direction translates into failure, even if they are all good cooks.
Now that she has completed orientation and her predecessor is gone, she is ready to roll up her sleeves, but is cognizant that she must not create waves immediately. “I’m giving myself six months to just meet with people and get the lay of the land.” Her first order of business in the new week is to “put on scrubs and a white coat, and head out to the units.” She understands that she needs to see the workflow, find out where the problems are, and “learn the culture.” She is in a different world, knows very few of its inhabitants, and is keenly aware that they have no idea who she is. “I have no credibility with them yet. It would be ridiculous and naïve of me to start planning anything at this point!”
She has already met with many of the stakeholders here, from the various committees she must chair, to the program director of the pediatrics residency, to the nursing supervisors on the wards. She finds that compared to the adult surgical world of her previous life, things are “just a touch kinder, gentler.” She finds that many here are far more receptive to new ideas. I wonder if she is working with more women than previously, which gives her a moment of pause. After consideration, she says that there are probably just as many men; the difference is that many of them are younger, and she feels that the rising generation is far more flexible in general. “It’s a good thing, really, although you have to be careful that too much flexibility doesn’t lead to a lack of solidity.” She finds that upper management is hampered by “lack of diversity of thought processes,” something that is far less of a problem in middle management and beyond. The chief residents, for example, lack experience, but she finds them refreshing. “They just have a different way of looking at things, and are very accepting. I respect them, so they respect me.”
Relationships open avenues to move ahead and open our eyes to identify issues of which we might otherwise remain unaware. Her focus reinforces what I have begun to embrace, that building and managing relationships is essential to success. She negotiates office politics with ease, looks for alliances at every level, seeks out ways to share resources and increase efficiency, but above all, enjoys people and discovering how they can contribute. They may not realize it yet, but they are lucky to have her.
She has already had some small successes in her interactions with various groups, helping them to understand each other and come to agreement, and she is optimistic that she will make greater inroads over time. “I don’t need to reinvent things here, but I do want to turn the job into something that is me.” Although she thrives on seeing results, she knows that patience will be required, along with flexibility, and she is excited for the future. “I have the opportunity to create such beautiful relationships here!” Something tells me it will not be so long.
Questions to Ponder
- How important are relationships in leadership?
- Does this differ among different settings or projects?
- How is this different between men and women? Generations?
- How “close” is appropriate? Does this differ by position/level?
- Do you have an example of particularly good relationships?
- Do you have an example of particularly bad relationships?
- How do your current relationships differ from ones you have had in the past?