Many years ago I had an interim assignment at a hospital in New York City. The reason I got it was because it was in Harlem and all of the employees except one were black. I knew it as soon as I got there, but I embraced the opportunity anyway.

Halloween Block Party
US Army Garrison Red Cloud –
Casey
via Compfight

The problem is that I was set up before I got there. It seems there was a minor battle brewing between the employees in the department and the Chief Operating Officer. He thought bringing in a black leader would smooth things over. In reality, the union leader had told the employees not to cooperate with me or anyone else because it would force the hospital to work with them.

You can imagine the tough spot I was in. Although everyone was relatively friendly, no one was going to help me to help them out at all. And then, two weeks in, the COO decided to fire the assistant director, the only person who was helping me figure out parts of the computer system. That was another relationship that was failing before I got there.

Now I was really in a spot. For a few days I felt like I was rudderless; the position I was put into had no authority. I wasn’t really sure what to do, or how I was going to make any type of impact. I can tell you that even as much as I enjoyed working in New York City and enjoying eating at a different restaurant every night, the ride back to the hotel on the subway each night wasn’t a happy one.

I realized I was going to have to do something, either take an action or go home. I decided to take some actions.

First, the area was awash in paper. There were reports everywhere, and it seemed no one knew what any of it was. I decided I would take charge of that, getting rid of a lot of very old stuff.

Second, I realized that I had to get at least one person on my side. So, I set up times to meet with every employee to see what issues they might have that I might be able to do something about. This resulted in two things.

The first was a visit from the union leader, who didn’t work in the hospital. She talked to me about how things were but said she couldn’t get into a lot of the problems they were having with management. I told her I understood her position but she needed to understand mine and the overall situation. Without some changes, especially as it pertained to bringing in more cash, the hospital would be in a bad financial position, and that wouldn’t help the employees any.

That meeting ended without a resolution except for the lady saying I was a nice guy and she felt bad that I was in the middle of “all this”.

The second is that, after all the interviews, I’d finally made a connection with one of the employees. That came about because she was one of the few people who gave me something I could address. I did that, meeting with the IT representatives, and once that was fixed I reported it to the person. That’s what it took to impress upon her what my motives really were.

BOSS Program Recognition for Beautification Project - U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, South Korea - 13 Nov 2013
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That first connection helped a lot. She understood both the sides of the union and the hospital and decided she would help me in a few ways. That went really well, and I was grateful that things were moving forward.

Then she went on a two-week vacation, and I realized I just couldn’t work with the COO any longer. I gave him my 2 weeks notice; I’ll just say he wasn’t gracious in accepting it.

A funny thing happened after that. It seems the employee I’d been getting along with had talked to a few other people. A couple of them decided they wanted to help me along the way, especially after I’d been working on another issue that would affect both their department and the hospital in a more positive way.

My last week there, that hospital had its biggest cash week in a couple of years. Even the COO was impressed and had no idea how it had happened. I did, and those couple of employees did as well, but that wasn’t the important thing. I was still leaving at the end of that week, those folks had something to build on, and I had reinforced a lesson I wish I’d remembered earlier.

To be a good leader you have to be authentic. People need to see that you care about them and their issues, and you have to prove yourself but doing what you can to help them out. Once people see you giving your best effort, often they’ll come around and at least give you a chance to help get things in order.

Even in the face of major issues between two separate factions, in the end things worked out pretty well… at least at the time, since the hospital ended up closing a couple of years later. Oh well, one can’t expect miracles. 🙂
 

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