5 Lessons from 13 Years in Leadership

TAGS: new leadership role, leadership role, executive healthcare leadership, Mike Speidel, executive meathead, leadership

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This fall represents my 13th year in executive healthcare leadership. 13 years spent navigating a complicated and at times unforgiving industry. 13 years providing services to people who can’t take care of themselves. 13 years working with truly heroic caregivers that work hard each and every day in thankless jobs.

I was 26 when I began my career and this vocation has blessed my life in many ways. I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change much about the roles that I have taken and the jobs that I have had. I have learned a lot, most often through some pretty epic mistakes and miscalculations.


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I've decided for this month’s column to review some of the most important lessons this experience has taught me.  Whether you direct the operations of a Fortune 500 organization or coach a middle school football team, I have found that these concepts are quite universal — and simple to understand. My hope is that the five insights below can provide at least a little help and insight to you all so that as you endeavor to achieve results through people, you might avoid some hard lessons of your own.

1. When taking on a new leadership role, don’t demonize the person you replaced.

This is an easy trap to fall into, especially during the first weeks and months of a new position. Regardless of the terms that lead to the vacancy you filled, publicly complaining about or attempting to prove your superiority over the person you replaced is always a credibility killer. You must always remember that seldom does a supervisor, coach, or director vacate a position without leaving behind followers. When you start your new role, publicly announce that you are going to preserve the dignity of your predecessor and will not tolerate nor instigate negative conversations about them. Trust me when I say that this will set an extremely positive tone early in your leadership tenure where everyone will assume that you are willing to protect the reputations of everyone — whether present or past.

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2. Put down the phone and listen to the people in front of you.

While I would argue that this is more than just a leadership problem, I will tell you that nothing agitates an employee, athlete, or colleague more when you have something important to talk about and the person in front of you has to answer every email, instant message, and text message during the course of a conversation. Whether you believe it or not, face-to-face conversations are infinitely more important than any electronic discourse. In the rare circumstance that you need to answer your phone during a conversation, ask the person you are talking with you if they would mind a brief interruption and make it as fast as possible. Your audience will appreciate the consideration and your credibility will be maintained.

3. Don’t announce how many hours you are working.

We have all heard supervisors and colleagues announce that they worked sixty-five hours last week or complain that it is a good thing that they aren’t hourly. It is a ridiculous, unsophisticated attempt at validation that almost always makes the braggart look foolish.  Reality check: nobody cares. As a leader, the only thing that matters are your outcomes. If you can produce exceptional results on forty hours a week, your status will forever be higher than the individual who boasts seventy-hour work weeks with little to show for it.

4. Get loud when you are excited and proud; get quiet when you are angry and frustrated. 

Whether you are coaching kids or supervising adults, people generally respond favorably to genuine enthusiasm. There are few things more gratifying than seeing your boss celebrating success and visibly proud of you and your team. Conversely, a boss who screams at and publicly insults those around him or her will always be considered a major energy drainer. Treating everyone like children—even children—will never inspire loyalty or great performance. Frustration and anger are oftentimes unavoidable when leading people; however, the way in which you communicate these emotions needs to be more content-related than conduct. Keep your tone low and in control during the times when your blood boils and you will find that people will be far more open to correction.

5. Don’t allow yourself to blame the school, organization, or corporation for unpopular decisions. 

We’ve all heard the excuse, “I wanted to give you a raise but the corporate office denied it.”  Although this tactic is often used by supervisors to save face in front of their people, it only exposes their weakness and victimhood. This, unfortunately, destroys their people’s confidence in their organization. People need to see their leaders take responsibility for their actions, regardless the popularity of the decision. In fact, I would argue that it is in these moments that true leadership credibility is established. Even the worst leader can be popular when announcing across the board raises. However, the supervisor who explains that they instituted a wage freeze is to avoid having to eliminate jobs will generally gain credibility in light of the hardship.

While these are only a few of the “lessons” that I have learned over my years in healthcare leadership, I would definitely count them among some of the most important. As leaders, our credibility is oftentimes the only thing that stands in our way between success and failure.

I hope that this helps you in building and protecting it. Thanks for reading.

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