Leadership is often Counterintuitive

I was recently reading in Health Leaders Magazine about Kadlec Medical Center, a community hospital in the Northwest. What struck me about the story was the counterintuitive approach the CEO took in turning the hospital around.  As the story went, in the 1990’s the hospital experienced significant financial challenges. Initially, they struggled and reacted in the usual ways by cutting expenses and staff.

Eventually, they found they could no longer staff the number of beds that they were licensed to fill.  Then, a leader came in. In 2000, the new CEO Rand Wortman came in and observed first. Then he created a vision that said “We can grow into our expenses. We can be the kind of hospital that draws more business”.

As of 2011: they have almost doubled their size, and are a thriving and award winning community hospital.

What is interesting about this, and something I think we can all learn from this, is that Mr. Wortman did not fall back on the “proven and accepted” ways of meeting this challenge. Instead, he looked at the community, its needs, and the staff of the organization. He recognized a need and the talent to meet that need. Then he created and communicated that vision. It was optimistic v. pessimistic. It defied conventional wisdom.

All too often, our managers (I am not sure I can call them leaders) choose to take the easy way out. They just choose to cut expenses and people. While that may work for the next quarter, over the long term, it is not sustainable. Instead, they can be visionary and pay attention to the things that matter like culture, attitude, and mission. Their results can also be what Kadlec Medical Center’s were – remarkable.

As you consider the challenging times we are all facing, do you see the vision like Wortman did?

Are you managing for the short term or leading for the longer term?

One Comment:

  1. Hi John,

    This is an interesting post, but I’m not sure that I agree with your premise that “Leadership is often counterintuitive”. I say that because what Rand Wortman did here was exactly what leaders are supposed to do. He saw a problem, he provided a vision for a better future, and then he implemented that vision.

    What IS counterintuitive is the idea that cutting costs is leadership. That reducing services, products, and customer service will somehow make a company profitable. What is counterintuitive is believing that taking the easy way out is somehow leadership. Every true leader knows that you cannot save your way into prosperity. Prosperity comes from improving the top line and that requires leadership, not cost cutting.

    Unfortunately I think too many “leaders” today are not leaders at all but managers or (dare we say it) accountants who manage by the numbers and don’t lead the business, the customers or their employees. Maybe we need to take a look at our definition of leadership.

    Thanks for your thoughtful post.


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