Healthcare Management Ethics by Samuel L. Odle

Healthcare Management Ethics
Samuel L. Odle, FACHE, senior
policy advisor, Bose Public Affairs
Group, Indianapolis, and former
executive vice president and COO
of Indiana University Health, is a
Past Chairman of ACHE. In his
Chairmans remarks at the 2005
Congress on Healthcare Leadership
in Chicago, he spoke eloquently
about the choice of healthcare as a
career: The daily issues that press
on us can leave us overwhelmed
and fatigued. We can so easily
get wrapped up in personnel issues,
in operational problems, in chasing
technology, in asset management,
and in measuring clinical outcomes. But we who have chosen
leadership roles in healthcare have
chosen more. We have chosen what
is at its heart a career committed to
health, to healing and to compassion. It is the legacy we leave in
support of these great purposes that
will mark us as having led careers
of significance.
Sam lays out an enduring challenge
for healthcare leaders. According to
ACHEs annual survey, Top Issues
Confronting Hospitals, for the past
10 years financial challenges have
consistently ranked as hospital
CEOs No. 1 concern. There is no
question that healthcare organizations financial health is critical to
success, especially at a time of
decreasing reimbursements and
increasing demand for access to
high-quality, cost-effective care. But
it is not the business of the businesshealth, healing and compassion are the business of the business.
Great healthcare leaders not only
know what is at the heart of the
business, but they also feel it deeply
and express it consistently in the
everyday life of their organizationin words and actions.
Barbara Balik and I had the privilege of interviewing 10 successful
transformational leaders in healthcare for a book titled The Heart of
Leadership: Inspiration and Practical
Guidance for Transforming Your
Health Care Organization (AHA
Press, 2010). All of these leaders
had a personal passion for care that
shaped their strategic and operational leadership. And all were
attentive to the issues they faced
and to the financial health of their
At the same time, these leaders all
believed in the primacy of health,
healing and compassion as the drivers at work for themselves and others. Of the 10 leaders interviewed,
four were nurses, three were physicians and three came from an
administrative background. All of
them were strong stewards of the
financial health of their organizations, but that wasnt their North
Star. In the words of Sister Mary
Jean Ryan, then CEO of SSM
Health Care in St. Louis, as quoted
in the book, I worry about
finances, capital and so on. But
none of it matters if we cant provide safe care.
Great healthcare leaders
not only know what is at
the heart of the business,
but they also feel it deeply
and express it consistently in
the everyday life of their
So what can we do to strengthen our
own careers of significance and
encourage others to do the same?
Here are three ideas:
Start with why in your planning and decision making.
Leadership expert Simon Sinek, in
his highly rated September 2009
TED talk, How Great Leaders
Inspire Action, makes the point
that people do not buy what you
do, but, rather, they buy why you
do it. And by why he means your
purpose, your cause and your
Sineks point is that great companies and great leaders start from the
why and then make known the how
(the goals, the operating model)
and finally the what (the everyday
product). Not starting with the
Leading a Career of
Getting toand expressingthe heart
of the business. Jack A. Gilbert, EdD,
Healthcare Executive
why, he argues, makes for an unexceptional, uninspired organization,
which ultimately is unattractive to
customers. It is the reason why it
made all the difference that
[Martin Luther King Jr.] gave the I
Have a Dream speech, not the I
have a plan speech, Sinek said in
the talk.
Let your passion and the why
permeate your conversations.
Focus on improving the lives of
patients and the community as you
formulate strategies and goals, and
positive results will follow. You will
also inspire passion and creativity
among your employees.
If you are a leader who has a passion for care, then talk about it
every day and encourage others to
talk about their passion every day.
Dont be shy about it. People
around you, including those
patients, families and communities
you serve, need to hear you talk
about your caring again and again.
As a society, we spend a good deal of
time inside and outside of work categorizing and grouping people by profession, organizational level,
background, gender, ethnicity, age
and experience. To focus on health,
healing and compassion is to remind
us all of that which binds us together
and unites us, even while respecting
our many differences. The why of
healthcarehealth, healing and
compassionis the tie that binds us
together for a common cause.
Decide if this is the right place for
you and for those you lead. There is
too much at stake in healthcare for us
to carry leaders who are disconnected
from or disregarding of this great
calling. If you as a healthcare leader
are not called to healthcare, then I
encourage you to do the honorable
thing and seek a career of significance in another field or industry.
If you have people working for you
who may be good but who do not
seem to share a passion for care, then
help them assess their alignment with
the values of the profession. If it
becomes clear they do not share a passion for care, help them leave the organization with .
If you are passionate about healthcare but find that passion eroded by
your current organizationand you
have tried your best to change the
environmentthen, when possible,
seek an organization that honors and
is hungry for your passion.
I have met and know many caring
leaders. By continuing to start with
the why in our decision making,
sharing our passion for our patients
and communities and assessing our
professional calling, we will all get
to the heart of the business and lead
careers of significance. s
Jack A. Gilbert, EdD, FACHE, is and director of
executive and professional development,
College of Health Solutions and College
of Nursing and Health Innovation, and
director, Transdisciplinary Consortium
for Innovation Leadership in Healthcare,
Arizona State University, Phoenix. He
can be reached at [email protected].
Healthcare in America is undergoing rapid,
disruptive, and persistent change. It will take
visionary leaders to transform our healthcare
organizations in this dynamic environment.
16-Month Intensive Blended Program
Online and On-Campus
A program of intense study focused on leading
transformation in American healthcare.
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