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CIO Unplugged – 7/15/09

July 15, 2009 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

Legacy Leaders
By Ed Marx

How can so many of us hold the title of leader, yet never be remembered? Why do some leaders make a difference while others do not? Fear.

Fear keeps us from making a difference. Too often leaders fade without notice or with merely a modicum of fanfare because of their longevity in a company, because they stuck with tradition, and perhaps they achieved small wins. Conversely, legacy leaders stick their necks out and occasionally go against the flow. They spin the roulette wheel while their peers play it safe. Anyone can play safe – status quo. But legacy leaders fight fear, calculate options, then jump in with both feet. Leaders who leave legacies take risks.

No risk, no legacy. Our founding fathers pursued a risky mission, and look at the legacy they left us. Martin Luther King Jr. took risks that prematurely ended his life, but his legacy endures. Pause for a moment and think of a legacy leader who advanced with nothing at stake? Thought so.

I overhear leaders say they want to make a difference, want to transform healthcare locally and nationally. Yet healthcare is stuck in neutral, if not reverse. Decision makers are overly conservative in their approach to innovation and opportunity. Paradoxically, some I know in management were risk takers early in their careers and enjoyed success. For whatever reason, they shifted gears into a risk-averse posture and ran out of gas short of their destination. We as healthcare leaders must intrepidly drive forward, or surrender the wheel to someone who will.

I want to encourage and reward the courageous, and the best way to do it is to lead by example. Push the envelope. Try new programs, systems, and services before they are mainstream. I don’t settle for giving lip service, I fund and staff risk ventures. Then I reward my risk takers publically, even in failure, because they gave it their all. Perseverance will eventually pay off.

Risk provides a competitive advantage. Do you want to create separation and differentiation in your marketplace? Risk. Tap into the creativity of those employees with a passion to innovate and transform. Yes, there will be failure. Use failure as a catalyst to increase your risk tolerance, not shy away from it. Learn and embrace failure. Edison did.

Stop analysis paralysis. Adopt Colin Powell’s leadership lesson #15, “P@40 to 70.” P stands for the probability of success; the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired. Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut. Procrastination in the name of reducing risk actually increases the potential of failure or falling behind.

To those who favor remaining conservative. Do you fear losing your job? When you play safe, you’re rewarded with keeping your position, right? But if you don’t rock the boat or challenge the status quo, do you lose part of your soul?

A board vice chair told me, “Ed, if you do your job right, you won’t be here a year from now.” I took his comment as encouragement to take risks on behalf of our patients and providers. If I lose my job in the process, so be it. I do not operate under the fear of man but under the fear of not influencing my part of the world.

Risk is a lifestyle not just a work mode. When hiring like-minded staff, determine the risk quotient of potential candidates by finding out what they do outside of work. If they stick to the standard fare, move on. If they play it safe, move on. They won’t act any different in the workplace.

What about you? Are you a legacy leader making a difference? Will anyone remember your years of effort? Will healthcare be transformed because of your actions?

What are you doing today that is risky? What are you doing today to encourage risk?

Demand it. Live it.

Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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