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CIO Unplugged – 2/1/10

February 1, 2010 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.

Leadership Equations
By Ed Marx

It was the department chairman, emergency medicine, University Hospitals Case Medical Center. “Ed, this is Dr.Michelson, do you know what is going on in our emergency department right now? He was so upset that I thought I was on speaker phone. I could tell he was calling from our pediatric level1trauma center. I politely ended the call. As a new CIO, I did not want to have impersonal relationships. I wanted to talk face to face.

There he was directing traffic and evaluating patients. One of the IT applications had failed which was wreaking havoc on their process flows. While there I noticed that we could alleviate some of the cramped conditions by updating their technology. While it took a couple of hours to restore the application, the next day we gave back additional space to the ED. Simple things like replacing monitors, PCs and printers.

I received a call the next day from the Chief Medical Officer. “Ed, I heard what happened yesterday. Nice work. That is the first time a CIO ever did something like this. Left the comfort of the ivory tower and walked the walk”. Soon the story went viral and the benefits to an eye to eye approach become clear. I would coin the term i2i and encouraged its adoption by all in my IT division. I started to live it. I stopped handling serious matters by email or phone. I did presentations of i2i for other departments. I was maturing as a leader.

I also began to use i2i for crucial conversations. I began to confront others i2i. We had a physician executive who routinely abused anyone who he believed stood in his way. Because he produced results, his behavior was tolerated. After exhausting escalations with chain of command and human resources, I took matters into my own hands. Over coffee, I mustered my courage and laid it out in no uncertain terms to this senior officer. He tried to look away but we connected i2i. He hid behind his coffee cup but my message landed. That was the last time he abused my staff.

I received a call from the medical director of one of our newborn intensive care units (NICU). This NICU is consistently ranked in the top 5 across the nation. After several attempts to get resolution on some technical matters, she and her administrative staff had become rightly exacerbated with IT. They had 20 mobile carts for their NICU and only 2 were operational. She stated that their nurses and physicians would literally stand in line to update charts and enter orders taking care of the sickest of the sick. I myself was growing angry listening. I had seen this escalate over the last couple of days and was certain IT had provided resolution. I told the medical director I would be right over. I called the Service Desk as I walked over to have the manager and 3 technicians meet me at the unit. I could not believe what I saw. All these beautiful tiny babies and sure enough, nurses and physicians waiting around to use the limited carts. The sides of the halls were littered with unusable carts as if a tornado had passed through. I became indigent. I approached the medical director and you could see the tears in her eyes because she was so upset. The only thing I knew what to do was to embrace her and we both cried. Frustration, anger, compassion. There was release. Someone cared. Now time to execute. I learned it was key to meet emotion for emotion, or e4e.

My staff arrived and I had them go to the other floors and see if we could borrow carts from other units. In 30 minutes we had 10 working carts. Others were replaced or repaired within 48 hours. I returned to our IT offices and my director and VP of operations were still talking about what to do. I replaced them.

i2i and e4e are part of my nature today. While there is no formula to leadership, these equations provide a reminder that at the end of the day, nothing demonstrates care and commitment like looking someone in the eye, and weeping with those that weep and laughing with those that laugh.

Technology is the easy stuff. You are not a leader because you know technology.


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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