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I sometimes wonder if people think that I am hard on hospital leadership. I want to stress that there is nothing further from the truth.

Girls' Night Out for Women’s Health, hosted by Christiana Care
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The reason I talk about it from time to time as being somewhat different than almost anything else is because health care is a different animal than any other business. Whereas most of us get to decide which store we want to go into and when we want to go, and then purchase whatever we want to and go home, health care doesn’t work like that.

Why? Because other than the people who work there, nobody ever wants to go to either the doctor or the hospital. Even if you’re only going to a doctor for a physical, you’re basically taking yourself out of your comfort zone and going somewhere so that some person can touch you all over your body while you’re naked, and then make you get blood drawn or sit through an x-ray. Who thinks that’s any fun?

For the most part, it’s a flawed business model. Both hospitals and physicians often have to take chances with how they’re going to get paid. Sure, they can ask for co-pays upfront, and then bill your insurance company, but there’s no guarantee that the insurance company is going to pay the bill, let alone pay the bill on time. The expectation is great, but that’s about it.

Also, health care is the only business where you have a set fee for providing certain services that you’re never going to get paid by almost anybody. Insurance companies have fee schedules where they will only pay a certain dollar amount regardless of what you’re charging. The days where you got to bill patient’s 100% for services done, which has never been fair by the way, have changed to a point where almost all hospitals in the country now (if they have any sense) are discounting self-pay amounts in some fashion.

Finally, at least on the medical end, there’s this expectation by its consumers, aka patients, that everything is going to be 100% error-free, no mistakes, everything fully up to snuff. In health care that’s critical because even the smallest mistake could result in someone’s death; deal with that for a moment. However, everybody knows perfection is a myth, but that’s still the expectation.

This means health care leadership really has a lot of things on its plate. Add to that the problem of leadership skills and you’re faced with a daunting problem.

Patients don’t care so much about leadership skills, but hospitals need to. Hospitals need to know that they have hired not only people who are technically skilled, but inspiring leaders who can get their employees to do the best work possible while making sure that no shortcuts are taken, that everything is washed as thoroughly as it possibly can be, that patients are treated with courtesy and respect, and that their revenue not only maintains at a sufficient level but finds a way to increase.

As someone who has been in health care for more than 30 years, I know what the problems are but also know these are the types of things that need to be in place but aren’t. So I talk about it.

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You know who always has leadership training? Chief executive officers, that’s who. And they should because the job they have is really difficult. Not only do they have to oversee all aspects of the hospital, but at varying times they have to be great politicians, cheerleaders, marketers, principals, number crunchers, teachers, and reporters. They have to work with a diverse group of people, sometimes stroking egos, other times laying down the hammer, but the buck always stops with them.

All other positions in the hospital? There’s no guarantee that any of them will have the proper leadership skills to get the right things accomplished. That sounds scary on the surface until you realize that most businesses and companies don’t have people in leadership positions with that skill. At least in health care the person at the very top has been given some leadership skill training; there are plenty of businesses that have a CEO who has never received any leadership training nor cares to. Also, at least in health care you know that every department director has some technical skill over a portion of their area… we’ll leave that alone for now.

I believe that no business runs well if its leaders don’t know the basic leadership skills it takes to work with other people. It might work well for a time, but it can’t sustain itself. Steve Jobs himself learned that lesson the first time he was let go from his own company, and even though when he returned he was still a driven man, he had learned some humility and that it was better to work with people than it was to try to do bully them into doing it his way.

So, it’s not that I pick on leadership in health care as much as I advocate for better leadership in health care. Based on what I’ve seen over the years, I don’t think the message gets through.

Whenever you take sales training, those folks are always saying that sometimes it takes as many as 16 initiations of conversation with prospects to get them to even notice you’re there so that you can begin the process of trying to market to them. I’ve spent portions of the last 13 1/2 years on this topic because I’m hoping that more people at the top levels of health care leadership will hear this message, understand it, take it seriously and then hopefully work to do something about it.

In today’s climate health care is taking a beating in the public eye. In my opinion, having more leaders who know how to lead rather than just how to technically take care of things can go a long way towards eradicating many of the issues. Empowering more people and getting more ideas for improvement is always the best way to go.

After all, the best people to help get things accomplished are the people who are already doing it on a daily basis. But if you don’t work with them they’re just going to stay silent, and leadership can’t fix things if they don’t know what’s broke.

Who out there really think this is unreasonable? I hope to hear from you as well as the people who think I might be onto something.
 

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Some years ago, I had a conversation with a potential coaching client. It was the exploratory session, the free one, where I listen to what the other person is telling me they want to work on and gives me some information on their life. I wasn’t sure how or where this person had heard of me, but I knew this person had heard of me somehow, and had read some things I’d written; guess I’m in some odd places on the Internet.

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The conversation was going along pretty well, and then out of left field he said this: “I believe you’re the person to take control of my life and tell me what to do, step by step, so that I can be a better person.”

I paused at that, because I was caught off guard; that doesn’t happen every day. But it has happened many times in my past, in my role as a manager or director.

I tend to generate pretty intense loyalty sometimes, which is a nice thing. During one two year period at one of my positions, I only lost one employee, and that was due to her husband, who was in the military, being transferred to another state. It’s never bad to have people who like working with, and for, you.

But every once in a while, it goes beyond the normal employee-manager relationship. I’m not talking romantic; I’m talking along the lines of idolatry. And trust me, when it gets to that point, it’s uncomfortable, and it’s something you need to try to address as soon as possible.

I had one employee in particular who wasn’t having it. She saw me as her mentor and ultimate protector within two or three weeks of working for me. She was in my office at least once an hour, if not more, talking to me and asking me all sorts of questions that were unrelated to work. I finally had to mention it to her, telling her that she needed to use her time more wisely in trying to learn her job.

I also took what turned out to be a very prudent step; I mentioned it to the director of human resources. As usual, this director thought I was making a mountain out of a molehill; why is it that when certain things are happening, no one else seems to see it? In my case, one of my supervisors did see it, so I had someone to back me up if needed.

She took what I had to say and stopped coming into my office all the time. However, within a week, I started receiving letters from her; long letters. The longest letter I received was 15 pages, hand written, both sides. I kept the letters, made copies of them, and kept the originals in my desk, which was locked every night (along with my office; I hadn’t done that before), gave one copy to the director of human resources, who now realized how serious it was, we shared the information with the vice president of finance, who I reported to, and I took a copy home to my wife.

This last one could have been considered dicey, because I was taking what might be deemed as privileged information out of the workplace. However, I had this sense of protection that I knew I had to uphold, both mine and my wife’s. After all, I had read the letters, and suddenly she was mentioning my wife and using the same kinds of terms she was using for me, and of course they had never met, since I lived over an hour away. I felt my wife had to know, in case one day a strange woman showed up at the door.

I realized I had to have a talk with her, so I had her come into the office, and had one of my supervisors come in as a witness. I truthfully told her that her job performance was subpar, which it was, and that I was going to have to put her on probation for an extra 30 days, as we only had a two month probation period at that time. Though my supervisor knew about the letters, I didn’t want to bring that out into the open with her in my office.


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I then told her that she needed to go to human resources to talk to them, which wasn’t the norm, but she didn’t know that. While in human resources, the director there told her he had copies of the letters, and that she was bordering on harassment and could be subject to immediate dismissal if she continued the behavior.

The letters stopped, and her behavior was more professional in general, but her work performance wasn’t coming close to the level we needed her to be at. I ended up getting lucky; on a fluke, she ended up not showing up for work for a couple of days without calling, and when she did call to try to explain I told her she was terminated.

She never did come back, but she sent me a few letters, which I never responded to, and then she used my name as a reference for other positions for the next four years. Strange as it sounds, I never really felt worried personally by her behavior, which is probably why I acted the way I did, but I always felt that there was a vibe that had changed in the office during the time she was there, and it seemed like the entire area breathed a big sigh of relief when they knew for sure that she wasn’t coming back.

And that brings us back to this person on the phone. This time, I didn’t have someone sitting right in front of me, or someone who knew where I lived (we were in different states) or someone who I had actually met.

So I told him that the business of coaching wasn’t about taking over anyone’s life, and that I wouldn’t be accepting the responsibility. I said that every person was responsible for their own lives, and that, with coaching, he would learn how to find ways to take control of his own life, as well as learn how to work better with others.

I finished by saying that, during the process, we would always be friendly, but we would never be friends. We didn’t end up working with each other, but I gave him some tools that, if he took advantage of them, would help him to learn some things about himself, as well as offer the opportunity to take some steps towards positive change.

Like leadership and management relationships, the roles need to be defined up front, then on a consistent basis. It’s fine when someone feels comfortable enough to confide certain things to you, because that’s going to happen. You can’t work with someone 40 hours a week and not feel some sort of affection with some people.

But one has to always be cautious not to let it go too far, because, at that point, there are way too many things at stake, and, as a manager, you only get one chance to get it right.
 

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It had to come eventually and today is the day; yay!

Mitch’s Blog, aka the blog of T. T. Mitchell Consulting Inc, has hit 10 years of existence. Of course, multiple times I’ve told the story of this blog, how I didn’t know what I was doing, how some posts were really just quick thoughts, how I lost it & my website and had to start it all again from scratch after recovering many early posts… Ah, the tales I could tell!

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Of course, there’s the one disappointing thing about this blog. While it’s actually gotten me a speaking engagement and is listed on Robert Kiyosaki’s Alltop page (which is a major honor by the way), it’s never generated the kind of interest that my I’m Just Sharing blog has.

Maybe it’s because I’ve written fewer articles on this site (around 1,180 to almost 1,600). Maybe it’s because the topics here, related to business issues for the most part, aren’t as sexy as blogging, social media, or just my thoughts about all sorts of things.

Regardless, I’ve now been plowing along at it for as long as I wrote my business newsletter. The biggest difference is that I ended the newsletter, while I have no intention of stopping this any time soon. Sorry to those of you who just might wish it would go away. lol

I came into this post with all sorts of thoughts about what to write on. Should I do a “10 things about…” type of post? Nah; I did a 13 leadership lessons post in June, followed by a 13 business lessons post in July highlighting my 13 years in business. In 2014 I even wrote a post highlighting the fact that I’d hit over 3,500 posts on all my blogs and other blogs I’ve written combined; whew!

Instead, I thought I’d highlight some of the most popular posts on this blog over the years, including only one from 2014 (where my peeps at?) and one from the year I actually started posting articles on this blog after my server crashed in 2006.

So, below are 15 posts; hey, I’m trying to deliver more value here okay? :-) I have no idea why these caught on and others didn’t but I’ll take what I can get. I’m not going to say a lot about any of these; I might not even say something about all of them, though I’m not sure yet.

They are what they are, and they cover the gamut of what I do, as well as one personal post. With that said, let’s look at these 15:

10 Reasons Harry Potter Is A Great Leader; this is my most popular post ever! Since I write it in 2011 it’s always at the top of the list each month; probably because of Harry Potter and not my brilliance. :-)

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Ten Affirmations; I wrote this post in 2006 so it’s the oldest on the list. I started getting into affirmations in 2004 and I believe this was the first time I’d written about it. This post came after I added all those posts I’d lost and had to recover.

True Courage, Courtesy of My Great Grandmother; this is the only post from 2014 and proves that people really do love posts that tell a story.

RAC Audits; A Commentary; I wrote this post in 2008 and it still gets lots of visits after many years. For those of you not in health care RAC audits are audits of hospitals by contracted companies looking for what they deem is billing fraud; hospitals don’t like it one bit. One of 3 posts that have received the most comments ever, though that’s not really saying much when compared to my other blog…

Black People Are Too Sensitive?; written in 2010, a guy wrote me saying black people were too sensitive about things based on a customer service issue I was having, I debated it with another guy for a bit, then the original guy stopped by and we settled the difference; still, it was a bit of fun. Tied for most comments ever…

Can Self Help Really Help?; written in 2012, the third article tied for the most comments…

The Biggest Cause Of Leadership Failure; can you guess before you check it out? Written in 2011

When You’re Not Respected As A Professional; a post I wrote in 2011 when all I was trying to do was get paid for services. I eventually was…

Why Do Restaurants Get Customer Service Right?; I eat out often so in 2011 I wondered why they get it right when so many companies mess it up badly.

Think Like You’re Awesome!; motivational post I wrote in 2011

How To Deal With A “Yeller”; I hate people who feel they have the right to yell at someone because they’re in charge and wrote about it in 2011

10 Customer Service Lessons In 2 Minutes; written in 2012 because people like quick & easy things to read sometimes

10 Motivational Points In 2 Minutes; ditto to the above, in 2012

What Is A Charge Master?; written in 2011, it’s a health care thing that lists every procedure, supply & pharmaceutical hospitals and doctors can charge for, pre-coded to make the process go smoother. If you want more information, which you probably don’t, check out this link, where you can watch my most popular video ever (it just hit 1,000 views lol) that’s talking about the subject.

Why Managers Treat Employees Badly; written in 2011, pretty self explanatory.

Will I be around for another 10 years of blogging? Well, I’m 55 1/2, and since I don’t plan on retiring any time soon (unless I get that $10 million in the bank that I’m striving for), it’s possible… ;-)
 

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It’s kind of amazing, and I feel like I should smack myself silly. I haven’t written about my mother, Betty, in years. Sure, I’ve mentioned her here and there in regards to other stories, but the only time she got her own post was back in 2009 when I wrote A Lesson I Learned From Mom. Time to rectify that, especially since I wrote the last piece about Dad.

Mom and me

Today is Mom’s birthday, and she turns 77. Mom’s been in my life longer than anyone; of course that makes sense. lol But even when Dad was alive, he was gone often so it was just her and me. I owe her my life and other things, but of course I’ve learned some leadership lessons from her, good and bad. To whit, I’m going to share 5 of them:

1. If you’re going to be in charge, you need to be ready to do it for the long haul.

That’s what most mothers do and yet it’s an important lesson to learn for anyone looking to be a good leader. You don’t get to turn it off and on when you’re in the workplace. You don’t get to be someone’s best friend at one moment and then their superior (by position) the next. It just doesn’t work well.

2. You need to keep your eye on people, even when you don’t think you need to.

We lived on military bases most of my young life. My mother figured there was nothing that could happen to me since we were on base.

She was wrong. Not that I ever hurt myself but I literally challenged death multiple times without her knowledge. Before the age of 6 I had climbed up multiple buildings from the outside, then slid under barbed wire because I was small. There’s other things I did that she didn’t know about until I was in my mid 30’s; she was mortified.

Even if you feel you have the most competent staff ever, if you take your eyes off things too long you’ll almost always find that something’s gone wrong, and even if they knew about it they might have thought you’d just take care of it. Never get caught off guard on something you should know about.

3. Always learn the truth, then be loyal.

I’m not going to say I never lied to Mom about anything, but usually it was for things like whether I ate cookies or something like that. Whenever it was something critical I always told the truth, even if something might have been my fault… which it never was. lol

Both my parents had always told me that when it was critical I should tell the truth because it was the thing to do, and I believed it. So, when I broke this kid’s teeth with my elbow, I told them as well as adding it was an accident because we were playing football. Thus, when his mother came to my mother demanding it be paid for, my mother knew the story from my mouth and held her ground, knowing that if the mother took her kid to the dentist on base (which she didn’t want to do) it would be paid for automatically.

Many employees feel that the person they report to won’t take their side when things get tough. I’ve never done that to any of my employees, though if they were in the wrong we’d address that situation in a proper way. I’ve always been loyal to the people who work for or with me, as long as they exhibited the same for me.

4. Sometimes you have to use the Spidey senses to know when something’s wrong.

Like any adolescent, I had periods where I’d be quieter than normal because of things going on in my life. I’d feel like I had no one to talk to, and being an only child that was true more often than not.

Mom always seemed to have a sense of something and she wouldn’t be afraid to bring it up to me. I might have hesitated here and there but eventually I’d get it out. She never reacted badly to anything I said, which was a major comfort. Sometimes she offered advice; sometimes she got me information I could learn on my own, since she knew I was a big reader.

As a manager and leader you have to sometimes be available to those who work for you and at least listen to their stories. If you notice a change in behavior, sometimes you might have to initiate the conversation. After all, it’s part of what you signed on for when you accepted the leadership position.

5. Sometimes you have to tell people things even if you feel they’re not ready for it.

My parents have sheltered me from a lot of things, even as I’ve gotten older. Neither of them told me how serious my dad’s situation was until 8 months before he passed away. Over the years Mom would have episodes where she’d have to be taken to the emergency room, yet it was information that neither of them told me.

I’m the only child; I needed to know what was going on during those times, just in case. Now I’m the one watching over Mom and I’m always asking her how she’s doing. I’m the one asking her about her medication and when she’s going to doctor’s appointments and such. Since she lives alone now I’m the only one she’s got.

As a leader, when someone’s messing up you need to tell them. When things are bad with the company you need to tell them. If something bad is happening with them you have to deal with it, and if it’s on your end you just might have to say something as well.

Thanks for the lessons Mom, both good and bad. As this post goes live, I’m with Mom and we’ll be having lunch together. That should be a nice time.
 

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My dad spent most of his years in some kind of management level position, though the terminology wasn’t always that. He spent 23 years as a sergeant at different levels, and another 22 years in management or exempt level positions at Xerox. Over the years, my dad spoke of different management techniques, and though we didn’t always have the same thoughts, I recognized that each of us had a way of connecting with people on the same level.

Dad - Vietnam Day

If people are paying attention, the military will teach pretty good management skills. The military is usually known for discipline; someone speaks, everyone below listens. In many cases, that’s pretty much how it goes.

In Owen Harare’s book The Leadership Principles of Colin Powell, he spoke of how Powell used to allow enlisted men, as well as other officers under his command, to come into his office to speak to him man to man. He would always take them to a round table so that they could sit as equals, rather than him having the superior position.

Dad used to do something along those same lines; instead of having men come to his office in the military, he used to go see them and talk to them in their own space. In his mind, he came up as they had, enlisting at age 17 and earning his stripes step by step.

Later on, as a manager, he used to bring people into his office because that would be the only place where he could talk to people one on one; most business offices don’t usually lend themselves well to speaking to someone one on one in the open.

For me, I used to, and still do in certain consulting venues, either bring someone into my office or, if it was possible, actually have that person join me in a walk outside, around the facility. Walking is used either to calm someone down who might be in an agitated state for some reason, or when I or they just wanted to talk and didn’t feel comfortable speaking in the office.

One thing a manager should do is be in tune with the situations at hand and know how to change up from time to time. In central New York, walking around the outside of a building in the winter might not be the smartest thing in the world to do, but it will definitely ease tensions fairly quickly.

Dad&Me01

Dad used to say that good managers earned the respect of their employees by example, not by words. To that degree, Dad was always the first one at work, whether it was in the military or at Xerox, and he was always the last one to leave. In 26 years in the military, he never took a vacation, and never missed a day of work. He never took a break, only started to eat a lunch when he developed some medical problems and was told he had to, and finally started taking some time off when other health issues finally forced it on him.

I agreed with him on the philosophy of working to earn the respect of my employees. I did some of the things my dad did, and yet still did some things differently.

I didn’t take my first vacation until I got married, when I took a week off. In 18 years of working for someone else, I only missed two days by being sick. I never took a break, rarely ate lunch, and though I wasn’t often the first one in the office, I was usually the last one to leave.

However, times changed, and I began to realize that there were reasons for things like breaks, lunch, and vacation. A person might be able to concentrate fine for 8 straight hours, 40 straight working hours, or even six months of working hours. But there comes a time where every person needs to take some time for themselves to recharge.

The job is just that; a job. It’s not your life; that’s what families and friends are for. You can’t grow if the job is the only thing you do, 24/7.

Physically, it’s unhealthy. I developed a few health issues as I started getting a little older. No one can sit at their work desk for that many hours week after week, month after month, year after year, with only 2 days away from it, without finally needing to take a breath. Don’t ever feel guilty for taking breaks you’re allowed during the day; eat something for lunch to keep your strength up; take some vacation from time to time.

It all caught up with Dad eventually also. He started getting colds more often as he got older. Then he hurt his back and would miss weeks at a time. That’s when it paid to be exempt, and to be the one who created the system the entire corporation used for customer service.

One final thing Dad used to say was that each position level should view every other as the enemy at times. His philosophy was that every person had their own agenda, and would be ready to step over you or go through you in order to achieve whatever their purpose might be.

This might be understandable coming from someone who spent a significant part of their life in the military, and initially I dismissed it, but then I gave it some thought and I understood where he was coming from.

In today’s world, job security is a luxury, not a reality. Companies kill jobs to make profit; they will move jobs out of the country or out of a state to find cheaper labor. They will downsize in the interest of saving money, yet get rid of long time employees with higher salaries for younger, less expensive employees with less experience.

me college graduation day

A manager will sometimes give a person a marginal evaluation, not because they actually believe it but because they’re trying to get back at an employee for a recent transgression, or because company policy dictates that only so many employees can attain a certain rank in order to keep the percentage of budgeted raises at the proper level.

In the long run, I don’t believe viewing anyone as my enemy works for me. I don’t like the idea of viewing people as adversaries on a constant basis.

However, I have always stated that everyone needs to acknowledge that, except on very rare occasions, people you work with are not really your friends. It’s easy to fall into the trap; after all, you spend most of your day with these people, most of your waking hours with these people, and though you can’t necessarily say you’re spending intimate time with them, I have seen employees share things with each other that they never share with their loved ones.

Office gossip is usually based on something that someone divulged to another employee in what I call a weak moment, because people tend to let their guard down at work when they should know better. If most people viewed the workplace for what it is, just a place where you go to do a certain job or profession, earn your money and possibly move up the ladder, or as a stepping stone to greater things in the future, and then leave the job at the job when you leave to go home, there would be fewer problems at work, less hurt feelings, less misunderstood intentions, and a much calmer working environment.

I will agree with Dad on this main point; every person has their own agenda. Even if your intentions are to better the company, how you get there may be different than how someone else wishes to get there, and sometimes another person might go to extremes in order to push their schedule through.

Overall, the most important aspect of good management is in thinking about how to be a good manager. There are many different philosophies that people espouse to, and most of them are pretty good. Each person finds their own words to express themselves, based on their experiences.

The proof is in how people respond to you as to whether you’re on the right track or not. People responded to Dad positively; he was a good sergeant, and he was a good manager, and he was a good person. I knew that based on what people told me about him when he wasn’t around, and how I saw people interact with him during the course of his working day from time to time. However he viewed the people he worked with, it seemed to work.

I think I learned from a real pro. :-)
 

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This might seem like it’s a social media post but it’s actually about customer service. After all, as technology changes so do the possibilities of good and bad customer service. Since we seem to hear more often about how someone received either a text message, email or saw something on Twitter that was insulting to a customer, it’s fair to talk about this issue here. In this case I’m talking more to hospitals, but other businesses are affected also.

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Creative Commons License bandita via Compfight

As more people are participating in social media, some hospitals have gotten into the game as both offer great opportunities to help keep patients both informed and to keep the lines of communication open. Almost every hospital has a website, although the complexity of each varies depending on the level of engagement a hospital wishes to keep with their community.

Physicians, on the other hand, haven’t fully embraced technology in the same fashion. It could be the perception of costs, or it could be the time factor, or it could be the lack of understanding of what technology could help them do.

For instance, instead of having just automated phone calls (which, for now, are still limited by the TCPA, which means you’d better not be calling cellphones without explicit permission), wouldn’t it be great to be able to send an email to patients reminding them of their appointment dates? Or better yet, for pre-registration, sending an email to patients with a link for them to go to and put in their demographic and insurance information? What about text messaging?

In the latter case, the information could go directly into your computer system, eliminating the time of needing to have someone input the same information on the back end. Also, if a consumer needed to contact you back, texting or email would be pretty easy to do.

Technology could allow physicians to send monthly newsletters to keep patients up to date on the latest things going on such a flu shots or cholesterol clinics, as well as sending information to patients suffering from specific illnesses or health tips.

The same goes for social media efforts. Physicians offices could have business pages on Facebook, or have an account on Twitter so their patients can follow their alerts. Or maybe a blog that doles out information in a different way than a newsletter.

For two of my doctors, they have an interactive site where I’ve created a username and password. They then send me an email telling me there’s something for me on the site. I can then sign in, since only I have both username and password, see what they want me to see, contact them if I need to, and see other educational information that may not be specifically for me, but concerns the reason I see these doctors in the first place.

Here’s the thing. Technology isn’t going away, and it behooves physicians to get on board before their competitors do. Anything hospitals and physicians can do to help enhance their presence online gives them a greater presence offline as well.

This works for all businesses also.
 

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How interesting that I’ve never really talked about what leadership is directly on this blog; I don’t think I even really addressed it in my book. I mentioned it in one of my seminar series and yet I’m not sure I defined it all that much.

7 Habits

What got me to define it is last week I was interviewed by a guy named Barry Mangione, a guy who’s actually a physical therapist and a musician who’s also interested in the topic of leadership. He interviewed me via a podcast, which he’s uploaded to a site called Stitcher, and he titled it What Is Leadership? How fascinating is that? If you’re interested in that question and others, including some background history on me, check it out.

Still, I get to define it here as well; thus, here’s the answer I gave him:

Leadership is the ability to get other people to agree with you and help you achieve your goal.

That’s it; that’s the full answer to what leadership is. Sounds simple doesn’t it? Actually it is… and it isn’t. It’s a great way to start… yet it can lead to both good and bad things. I didn’t talk much about those concepts in the interview, so I can talk about them now.

Leadership is really easy if you have a few things. The first one is charisma, which one uses to attract people to them. The second is empathy and compassion, which means you find a way to identify with others. The third is good communication skills, because if you can’t talk to anyone you can’t convey what it is you’re trying to do. The fourth is the ability to plan and organize, because if you can’t do that then what you have is just a dream, not a goal; and really, what’s the point of being a true leader if you don’t have a goal in mind?

In my mind, these are the keys to being a good leader. Some people have all of these and that’s what makes them good leaders. Others might have a few of these yet know how to work with others to fill in the parts they might not have in abundance. So, it’s more of understanding that these things are the crux of good leadership.

And yet, not all good leaders are good people; that’s the scary part. I don’t think I have to name despots, dictators, and other bad people who were great leaders. They were able to mass large numbers of people via the same skills I mentioned above to dominate their section of the world at different times. For that matter, the leader of any cult in the world probably has all of these skills.

So, I guess one could add the ability to find the right people who will believe in the goal and do whatever they can to help you get there, which you convince them to do with the first four skills.

That’s kind of scary isn’t it? It reminds me of a line from the first Harry Potter book when we learn of Voldemort at Ollivander’s Wand Shop (I’m a big Harry Potter fan, as some of you might know lol) when he says “The owner of the other wand (his and Harry’s wands have the same core and materials) did great things with his wand. Terrible, horrible things, but great.” Although history always uses words to condemn the deeds of these people, in their day the masses saw them as great leaders; we still see a lot of that now.

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This means we have to add a sixth component if we want leaders to be good; that component is responsibility. The thing about bad leaders is that they’re willing to kill as many people who support them as go against them. Look at Stalin as a great example. Although he was able to get a large number of the population of the USSR to fight for their country in World War 2, truth be told he allowed 20 million citizens to give their lives, many without proper training, because he was willing to allow every man and male child to lose their lives to protect his and his power. That’s on top of an estimated 20 million of his citizens he killed for his own reasons, sometimes very petty reasons (he had an ex-girlfriend killed after all).

The thing about responsibility is that it doesn’t mean people might not die in certain situations. For the military, it means that you give them the best training you can, the best tools to fight with, you set a strategy with the intention of saving as many lives as possible, including the enemy, and you mourn the losses because those people willingly went into battle for a principle or a country or for family… because they respected the leader.

Let’s bring this into daily business. Good leaders are willing to take the responsibility to make sure their employees get the training they need, get the counsel they need when their work isn’t up to par, give notice to employees who do right, protect their department when others have issues with them and those other people are wrong, give them a chance to grow and to give input and to feel a sense of ownership in what they do… and still exhibit the first five principles I mentioned.

Ask yourself a few questions. One, do these things seem easy to you? Two, do you do these things at least 80% of the time? Three, if not, are you willing to try to be better?

Finally, ask yourself “are you a good leader.” That’s what good leaders do; that’s what leadership is.
 

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