Nancy Steiger, Partner, CEO Advisory Network
Maya Angelou said, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." This beautifully epitomizes how I try to carry myself as a leader, and it is a
wonderful guidepost for how any of us conduct ourselves professionally.
Too often, organizations get caught up in words, numbers, messages, instructions, processes, and procedures. These all serve understandable purposes, but they are bare necessities and not nearly enough to produce spectacular results. These necessities aren’t enough to create a culture that attracts the best and the brightest.
To create such a culture and positively impact how others feel, you must engage both their hearts and minds. You must tap into their values, and find the overlaps between their values and the values of the organization you are helping to lead.
When I first took over management of one medical center, employees walked down the hallways with their heads down, like robots, never making eye contact or greeting one another. No one would stop to pick up a piece of paper out of place. As a newcomer, I didn’t feel welcome and I didn’t think our visitors did either. My goal was to change this as quickly as possible, and one way you can do this is by modeling the behaviors you hope to foster: being present, remembering names and faces, smiling at people,and being caring and appreciative.
Leadership is ultimately about transformation, and it has been said often that culture trumps strategy any day. To transform a culture, you need to focus on WHY more than how or what.
Instead of telling people what to do or how to do it, it’s important to get input from all levels of an organization, from front-line, direct service providers, to managers, to support staff, and address the reasons to make a change. This means listening, engaging people, understanding what provides them with a feeling a purpose, and helping them understand how they are valuable to the organization, what they can do to serve the organization’s mission.
For example, at another medical center, developing a new service was an important component of our growth strategy. This program required higher levels of coordination and performance because critically ill patients need to have their care exceedingly well coordinated to move rapidly through the medical center.
At first, my approach focused on explaining to physicians and staff what and how I wanted to do, and there was a lot of pushback. Physicians heard “I’m going to be on call more often.” The staff saw it as more work. They focused on the negatives.
Once I understood the wisdom of explaining why, I tried again and explained that programs like this elevate the level of care throughout the medical center thereby providing better care, and physicians and staff want to be associated with better care. The reputation can also generate more business for the medical center and a physician’s practice, which is another positive.
Even then, not everyone was on board, but once my team understood the why, and knew they would have input into the what and how, they got behind our plan.
In this case, the why tapped into how physicians and staff want to feel: proud of their work and of making a real difference for the people in the community they serve.
The more you can help people to feel like they are making a difference, the more likely they are to make a positive difference, day after day. Then you can spend even less time on how and what, because others will be figuring out better ways to perform each critical task.
One caution: superficial actions aren’t enough. You can’t just smile and be cheerful. You should listen to others, understand how they are feeling, and react in a substantive manner.
I’m genuinely curious to hear your perspective. What is it that YOU do to uplift and inspire others?