Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Use Collaborative Leadership to Go Further

In “It’s Our Ship,” CAPT Mike Abrashoff describes the element missing from his first book, “It’s Your Ship---Management Techniques from the Best Damn Ship in the Navy,” a bold leadership approach that turned the conventional ideas of stodgy senior Navy leaders on its head. I used many of the techniques he described in his initial book to shape my own work environment in healthcare. What he describes in his latest book, and what I have come to realize in my own endeavors, is the wisdom of collaboration.

Instead of encouraging healthy sustainable improvements, competition (as in “the best”) can actually provoke schadenfreude (glee in another’s downfall) and off-track searches for armor chinks. Collaborative leadership looks to the bigger picture, to the mission and accomplishments of the larger organization that create opportunities for all to benefit.

Abrashoff uses the nautical theme to organize his material into eight chapters:

Ahoy – Welcome aboard our ship.
In this chapter, Abrashoff describes one of the techniques he used on the USS Benfold to welcome new sailors and describes learning good and poor leadership in his experiences on the Benfold. He highlights the practices of developing a company “World Tour,” where new employees receive a “passport” with lists of to-do training and customer-service classes. Another company hired its best customers, resulting in a turnover rate of less than 10% while competitors routinely face 70% turnover rates. Companies must continue to recruit people even after they’re onboard.

Buoy up your people – inspiring everyone to be their best.
In this chapter, he states, “A great leader defines excellence and then inspires his team to exceed it through training and staff development.” He then reviews several companies who have developed innovative training programs.

No more aye-aye men (or women) – cultivating truth-telling.
Wishful thinking is dangerous and he gives suggestions on how to deliver bad news and how to keep communication flowing up and down. Honesty and integrity are to be nurtured and encouraged.

All hands on deck – unifying a crew.
Abrashoff says, “Mindless rivalry leads to backstabbing, an ethos of every man for himself, and probably unit failure when danger threatens.” He adds, “Nothing beats the power of unifying disparate people, of showing them the magic of working with and for each other instead of against each other. Quite simply, the first law of leadership in today’s world is to give people irresistible incentives to collaborate for a purpose that enhances everyone.”

Foul weather doesn’t respect rank – creating a climate of trust.
An ancient proverb says a fish rots from the head down. Abrashoff discusses the importance of developing trust, pursuing excellence without arrogance, and treating all with courtesy and respect. He also reviews the principle of fairness and justice.

Navigate by the stars – Clarifying what it’s all about.
Do you know the mission of your organization? Then you have to communicate, focus on what matters, and teach your organization’s core values.

Sail close to the wind – taking the right risks.
Good leaders calculate the odds so risks are minimized.

Fly your true colors – Leading by example and getting results.
Abrashoff discusses the importance of courage. A leader’s main function is to set the right example and leaders can be found at all levels throughout an organization. It’s important to know that good leadership can inspire people to do their best everyday.

In conclusion, collaborative leadership is what makes an organization unbeatable. I highly recommend this book for the interesting situations and the vivid examples leaders at any level can put into play at their companies.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

True Leaders Good at Giving Bad News

The Selection List for Staff Corps Commanders was released two days ago. One of my colleagues was up for promotion and I've talked to her over the past few days. I thought she was holding up remarkably since she was passed over and I'm not sure why I didn't say anything to her about it.

In the passageway this afternoon, the Division Officer for the Emergency Department confided to me that she had told C she was so sorry. C whitened and gave a little gasp. "Is the list out?" she wanted to know.

"You don't know?" the Division Officer asked.

"No," C replied. "I've been checking the message boards constantly." So our esteemed Director for Nursing Services took the cowardly way out of delivering bad news---he let someone else do it inadvertently.

The Division Officer also told me the Director for Nursing Services failed to contact the candidates for the DUINS program (Duty Under Instruction----full-time graduate schooling) who were not selected at this last board. "'I can't get in touch with them," he said,'" she told me. "Well, that's BS because I had no problems contacting them. He just didn't want to be the one telling them the bad news."

Leaders don't get to give only good news. Being able to give bad news and temper it with constructive thought on being competitive the next go-round is a vital communication skill and can make the difference between having a demoralized worker and one energized with a plan for success the next time.

Dr Robert Buckman, an oncologist, knows how difficult it is to deliver bad news. He suggests active listening and kindly communicating reality. When the reality hits, it's important to legitimize the emotions, but not to become emotional yourself.

Perhaps I should be kind and understanding---but I can't. When you wear the rank of CAPTAIN, you lose the privilege to delegate the hard tasks to your subordinates. That's why you're the captain.