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First posted on Educate the Young on 01/23/2013

David Mayer MD, Vice President of Quality and Safety for MedStar Health

Having moved to Baltimore about a year ago, I couldn’t help but enjoy watching last Sunday’s AFC Championship game. While the Chicago Bears will always be my number one football team, I have enjoyed following the Baltimore Ravens through their relatively short NFL history because like the Bears, the Ravens have a “blue collar” work ethic–built on strong, physical defenses led by all-pro middle line-backers.  Plus my wife’s family is from Baltimore so our Sundays have always had some element of purple to them–even while living in Chicago.

What really struck me though was the trophy presentation and interviews in the Baltimore locker room after the game. Winning teams always talk about the “great chemistry” the team shares–players and coaches expressing admiration for each other–but this locker room was different. It felt different from the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears, different from last year’s New York Giants’ press coverage. I could feel something more powerful coming through the Ravens players’ interviews. From the owner, to the coaches and down through the players, they all talked about the love and respect they had for each other, and how they always had one another’s back–in good times and bad. It was different…

John Harbaugh and Danny

John Harbaugh and brother-in-law, Dan Crouse and family

Having had the opportunity to meet and talk with John Harbaugh, the Ravens coach, at a fundraiser right after moving to Baltimore, it was clear he is the “real deal”. Coming from a family of great football coaches (John will face brother Jim and his 49er’s en route to a Superbowl championship in what sports pundits are calling the Harbowl or Superbaugh), one could easily tell that being an NFL coach was his true “calling” in life, and what he loved doing most. But it was more than just coaching–it was clear his passion was leading from the heart and serving as a role-model and mentor to the young men on his team. He was humble, caring, and passionate about football–and by the smile on his face when he told stories about his players, you could tell he really loved them. He had no ego, a wonderful sense of humor, and repeatedly poked fun at himself and his own weaknesses. By the end of that evening, I could see why the Ravens players also loved and respected him, and took to his leadership style. It was clear he could be a great leader at any Fortune 500 company.

The Ravens post-game locker room celebration this weekend reminded me of my encounter with John Harbaugh, and about my recent discussions on 21st century healthcare leadership. As in football, it starts with higher ground leadership qualities, and the increasing call for leadership from the heart that inspires others to greatness, and in so doing, brings joy and meaning back into the patient care environment. Those of us that have attended any of the annual Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) meetings over the last 10-12 years understand the power of these John Harbaugh-like qualities each time Don Berwick takes the stage for a keynote talk. Be it his Escape Fire story, or the year he shared his wife’s personal health experience, he was and remains, a consummate storyteller who leads from the heart, knows his calling and inspires all of us to reach a higher level in patient care (seeLeadership and Love). His talks elevate others, making everyone in the audience feel as though their work has more meaning after listening to him speak. He is truly one of the multipliers that Darrell Kirch referred to in his keynote at last years AAMC meeting, and as discussed in our recent post, #AAMC12 Calls for New Vision of Leadership. Many safety experts believe high quality, low risk patient care cannot be accomplished unless more leaders possessing these qualities join the healthcare improvement journey.

We have been discussing Lance Secretan, an executive leadership coach who believes it is the following eleven concepts that people are now searching for in those that lead organizations. His philosophy is based on leading from the heart, and his “Higher Ground Leadership” program is based on these concepts. More of his work can be found at: www.secretan.com, and I agree that it is these principles, and the examples set by the John Harbaughs, the Don Berwicks and the Lucian Leapes of the world, that we should strive to emulate when we are given the gift of leading others.

  1. Leadership. Many of us are yearning for an alternative to business-as-war and leaders-as-warriors. We yearn for spirit in the workplace and for servant-leaders—people who lead with their hearts as well as their heads and wills.
  2. Values. Business has more opportunity to influence the future than any other institution in the world. New Story Leaders choose to make business an instrument for positive change.
  3. The End of Competition. The root meaning of ‘compete’ is to strive together—exactly the opposite of its usual meaning. The New Story Leader respects our interdependence—our oneness—and sees how it opens opportunities for growth, both within the organization and out in the marketplace.
  4. The Cause. People want to work for a Cause that inspires the soul. A Cause acts as a magnet for passion. It articulates the higher purpose of an organization, it describes how we serve.
  5. The New Customer. The New Story Leader devotes even greater attention to meeting the needs of employees as they do for customers. This goes beyond the usual incentive and reward systems —to practices that awaken passion and satisfy the soul. The result is a dramatic improvement in profitability.
  6. Integration. The New Story Leader creates an environment in which “work” and “life” are not just “balanced,” but blended into an integrated, seamless whole.
  7. The Calling. People are looking for more than a paycheck. They seek joy, meaning and fulfillment from their work. A Calling results in work that engages, nourishes and expresses our souls. The leader’s mission is to enable each follower to find, grow and excel in her or his Calling.
  8. Soulspace. We ask people to contribute to the highest standards of which they are capable while putting them in the dreariest, most uncreative environments in their lives. Imagine the extraordinary work that could flow from sacred workspaces designed to inspire the soul.
  9. Technology. The Internet, as an example—can be a medium for the web of human consciousness, described by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin as the noosphere. New Story Leaders will reinvent their organizations within this context.
  10. Learning. The most important ‘fringe benefit’ is no longer healthcare or a pension; it is the right to learn. Learning inoculates against irrelevance and positively feeds the soul.
  11. Inspiration. The role of the New Story Leader is to inspire others. This ability grows organically from one’s own inspiration.