VCU Medical Center Interprofessional Leadership Conference

Friday, Sept. 6, 2013
Richmond Marriott Hotel

Good morning!

Let me start by thanking Larry Little, who is an excellent ambassador for all of VCU’s brands. I appreciate the friendship of Larry and his beautiful wife, Jenny. I also thank Walter Lewanowicz, not only for inviting me to speak today but for organizing an excellent conference.

I’m delighted to be here this morning because I love our mission. It’s about people. We couldn’t have a better mission. Every day, we engage in research that helps people, care that heals people, teaching that empowers people and service that embraces people. It’s a privilege to have a mission like that.

And it’s been our mission at VCU for 175 years. Of course, we began as a medical school, and we’re now a Top 50 comprehensive research university, and still committed to human health, which is not something most research universities can say.

We are also, more than ever, one university. We would not have received Virginia’s only CTSA Award without the talents and resources of our entire VCU community. We would not have received one of the largest grants to any Virginia university, $62.2 million from the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs, without the research capacities on both campuses.

The CTSA and our record grant are powerful tools through which we can heal human beings because they bring together a wide range of disciplines and resources from throughout the university. We could not fulfill our greatest capacities without collaborative, interdisciplinary thinking from so many people in all parts of our university community.

I say all of this to talk about the importance of team.

We are a great team. And we know that resources only come to those who have interdisciplinary teams that function well together.

This has been true for a long time. Before I came to Virginia, when I was in Michigan, we were in a rural area that had a great need for more doctors. But doctors didn’t want to come there. We knew the thing we could do was start a medical school at our university, so that’s what we did. And we did it a little differently, around a unique set of concepts.

We know that doctors have to work in teams, and have to know how to treat patients as part of a team. Doctors know that they have to play leadership roles in these teams, and also when to listen to others. They need to know when to get involved in a case, and when not to. So we thought ? why don’t we educate doctors as part of teams, too? So that’s what we did. We built a medical school around the idea of doctors being part of care-providing teams.

It was an important experience that taught me how to think about organizing teams across curriculum and in many different ways.

We know we need good leadership at every level, on every part of the team. I was reminded of this the other day when I was walking through our wonderful new McGlothlin Medical Education Center and happened to see a student who was lost, trying to find where she needed to be. A custodial worker stopped what he was doing, and took the leadership role of helping this student find her way. This custodial worker was a good first face for VCU because he made himself a leader who accepted his role in the teaching process.

So, how do we build and lead a team through which we can achieve our highest ambitions, in which everyone has a voice, in which everyone is empowered to contribute, and in which we can leverage one another’s resources and talents to benefit mission?

Permit me to tell you about four things I keep in mind when building team.

No. 1 is to leverage the talent around you. We all know that in medical research, collaboration is the name of the game. It’s the only way to attract resources. It’s also the case when trying to figure out how to heal diseases. We need to understand the social, behavioral and historical aspects of the diseases we’re fighting — not just the medicine — especially when we don’t understand everything about the medicine.

One example is the standardized patient program at VCU, where our outstanding theater students work with our medical students as actors, helping them understand the social aspects of communicating with patients.

Leveraging every range of talents around you is so important at VCU. It’s all there already! That’s why universities are so important, because it’s already here.

You all know Bill Nye, right? He’s The Science Guy. Well, he said something that I think is interesting. He said, and I quote, “Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don’t.” End quote.

I think that’s so profound in its truth. It makes me think of what I love most about our role in higher education, and that is seeing the sparkle in a students’ eyes when you tell them they’ve learned something that no other human being has ever known.

You do this by leveraging the talents that are here, that exist around you at VCU and in the community. It’s an important part of the teaching process, and it’s how we build our strongest teams.

The second thing I think about is that it’s not enough just to encourage partnerships. These partnerships must also be well-defined. You need good policy that provides good clarity.

VCU and VCU Medical Center are really important members of the community. We need to build partnerships, but we cannot sell soul as institution or an organization. We have to have strong centralized policy that defines what everyone contributes.

On the other hand, we also have to be careful that as a community of 20,000 employees, we cannot be so bureaucratic that it becomes impossible to form partnerships. Be flexible, but use good common sense based on good basic values.

I’m going to say this loud and clear: You have to give to get in any partnership. You should never appear to be arrogant and assume that everything will move in one direction, but never settle for something that won’t give you something back to advance your mission.

The third thing I think about is effective leadership. That’s what matters most to a team. And it has to be leadership at every level, not based on titles.

Every leader must establish a firm platform for his or her own leadership style. Trust and respect must be central to it. This reminds me of a book I love, and love to talk about, called “The Five Temptations of a CEO,” by Patrick Lencioni. It was written about 15 years ago, but it still captures the important things to remember.

Permit me a few minutes to tell you about that

Temptation No. 1 is the desire to protect our status. Far more important than status are results. Sometimes we get so caught up in status that we don’t see the results we’d like to see.

Temptation No. 2 is the desire to be popular. It doesn’t matter how popular you are when the ship is sinking.

Temptation No. 3 is the need to be exact, correct and achieve certainty. When this is your focus, then you never end up making decisions. The most important thing I’ve learned over the years is that leaders are more respected for clarity than being correct. We’re going to be wrong sometimes — we’re human beings. Being clear and decisive is far more important than being correct.

Temptation No. 4 is the desire for harmony. You have to tolerate discord and encourage respectful conflict. Yes, harmony is easier, but I do appreciate people challenging my ideas based on trust and mutual respect.

Temptation No. 5 is the desire for invulnerability. Lots of leaders don’t want to be vulnerable, don’t want to be challenged. Think about that in terms of a medical team. If you don’t challenge something you think is wrong, someone could die!

Leaders must be authentic in who they are and in how they commit themselves, and their teams, to their mission.

Which brings me to the fourth thing I think about when building a team: Every team must remember its mission. Always.

For VCU, our mission is about people — transforming, improving and saving lives. One critical element of this is how we treat people within every aspect of our organization. We have the No. 1 hospital in Virginia; we want to be No. 1 in service too. To do that, we have to understand who our patients are and what circumstances they face not only within their illness but within their lives.

We’ve come a long way with this, and the STAR Initiative is making a significant difference at VCU Medical Center. I know I can count on you to remember that our mission is about people, and one of the most important things I can say is that that includes how we treat each other, too.

Recently, I met with a colleague who told me proudly that she subscribes to The Golden Rule and treats everyone she encounters exactly like she wants to be treated. I told her that that may be the problem. Instead of treating everyone like you want to be treated, think about treating them like they want to be treated. It makes the entire environment so much better.

Thank you for all that you do for our community. I’m so grateful that I can count on you to assemble and lead teams that will continue to focus on and advance our mission.

Let me close by interacting with you and hearing what’s on your minds.