Ethical leadership – Bob Clarke

Greg, the chief operating officer of a Midwest health system, knew the decision he was about to make was the right one for the organization, even though it would cost him politically. He went ahead anyway. It was not the first or the last time he would do so.

Sharon, a physician in her first hospital CEO job, was faced with the option of having to cut costs from a service, which would result in inferior quality of care for patients, or approve continued spending. She chose the latter.

At a time when health care organizations are moving toward value-based business models, providers are assuming greater levels of risk, and ethical dilemmas are perhaps more prevalent than in previous years. And more is weighing on the outcome as well.

There are many real examples that point to successes and failures in ethical decision-making. Leaders who successfully address ethical considerations tend to have certain traits in common:

  • Their behavior is predictable. Peers always know how they will respond in situations, and that invariably means they will err on the side of being open and honest.
  • They allow others to grow and take the lead. They are secure in their identity and their position and know that their organization is best served by developing leaders.
  • They communicate clearly. They don’t dwell on the symptoms of an issue; instead, they get to the root of the problem. They are candid in expressing their feelings on a topic.
  • They are genuine and take a sincere interest in the people around them. They demonstrate true respect for the people in their organization.

These qualities are evident in Jeff, a board chair who faced an unexpected curveball from one of his trustees. The board was vetting three internal candidates to replace the longtime CEO, who had announced his retirement. But Sandra, a director with much experience, had decided she might be interested in the position. She even floated the idea with several other directors. Jeff was livid.

“A board has two significant priorities at all times,” he told us. “The first is overall financial stewardship. The second is succession and the success of the CEO. I would have jumped in front of a train if necessary to stop that, because it threatened the integrity of the entire process.”

Jeff did just that. He addressed Sandra directly. He told her in no uncertain terms to stand down and convey that action to the board members she had shared her musings with. Six months later, the board chose Carly, one of the three original candidates, as a successor, and she has been a great success as the new CEO.

Bob Clarke is CEO of Furst Group and NuBrick Partners.

The FurstGroup website
The IIC Partners website