Lessons in Leadership
Date: May 14, 2012
Hopkins Medicine is a unique institution, the best in the nation. That I was asked in 1997 to serve as its first Dean/CEO and prepare both the medical school and hospital system to meet today’s health care challenges has been a distinct honor.
While my calendar is crammed with meetings and decision making, what truly inspires me are the people I deal with—my staff, department chairs, vice deans, faculty, nurses, security guards, secretaries, and cafeteria workers. They are the ones who make Hopkins Medicine great.
It’s hard to believe I’ve been in this job 15 years. In that time, I’ve grown as a leader. I’ve learned valuable lessons about what it takes to move this medical enterprise forward. Among the most important qualities:
Trust: This is key for any leader, but especially so at Johns Hopkins Medicine because our culture is built on trust.
I’ve got to have trust in my office staff and they have to trust me. I have enormous trust in the department chiefs and faculty. My chiefs come in and tell me frankly what’s happened, even if it is bad news. They know I won’t yell or belittle their actions. In return, they don’t try to deceive me. This allows for open, frank discussions that encourage consensus building. It makes my job much easier.
Listen: Back in 1997, I tended to interrupt people. I know now it is far better to sit and listen intently. I ask myself: “Why is this person here? What is she trying to tell me? Put yourself in her shoes.” This approach makes me a better leader.
Delegate: Few problems reach my level that haven’t already been thoroughly worked by lots of people—my staff, the vice deans, and department chiefs. The dean can’t be making decisions every minute. That is not the way to do this job. I give people around me authority to find solutions on their own.
Don’t micromanage: As tempting as it is, I can’t delve deeply into issues. It’s frustrating, but if I take time to immerse myself in a problem, people start pulling on me from all sides. Meanwhile, I’m neglecting other parts of the organization. The dean must view things from the 100,000-foot level.
Be the face of Hopkins. There comes a time when the dean must be the institution’s spokesman. I learned that from Ellen Roche’s tragic death. When Hopkins Medicine is in crisis, I must be front and center—defending the institution, taking the heat, and explaining how we’re fixing things.
I also learned not to sit on the sidelines when politicians debate health care. After all, Hopkins is a respected leader in medicine. I’ve testified often in Washington and I helped form an alliance with other academic health care centers that pushed to get challenge grants and health innovations zones into the Affordable Care Act.
Walk around. Mingle: I spend much of my structured time with the department chiefs but not with the rank and file. So it is important to be seen on campus. I walk through the cafeteria for a reason. I want people to know I am there, come up and talk. They see me in the hallway and aren’t afraid to chit-chat. You learn a lot when people are in a relaxed setting. Being out and about—not stuck in my office—has been a real plus.
Stay close to home: Some deans are on the road constantly. I get more value coming to work every day and immersing myself in Hopkins’ incredibly rich environment.
This at-home schedule sets the tone. It allows me to have an open-door policy. No one waits three weeks to see me. Everyone knows I arrive early and they can just walk in. Decisions aren’t delayed; they can be made that same day.
Build lasting relationships: I used to dislike fundraising. Now I love it. I never ask donors for anything. Instead, I present a smorgasbord of opportunities. If they have interest, I’ll gladly do a deep dive. Philanthropy really is about relationship building. I’ve come to enjoy talking with donors about Hopkins and am proud of the lasting ties I’ve developed.
Be big enough to apologize. At times I’ve done or said things I regret. Fortunately, I’ve developed enough trust with my vice deans, staff, and department chiefs that they tell me when I’ve gone too far and need to apologize. I follow their advice. Having people around who speak truth to power helps me immensely.
I’m proud of what this institution has accomplished in a relatively short span of time. All parts of our mission are thriving. Johns Hopkins Medicine—an experiment in combining the hospital system and medical school under a single executive—has proved its value. We are well situated to continue to lead the way in 21st-century medicine. *