Leaders Show Up and Care
My first meeting with my new Navy boss, the commanding officer of the base, went pretty much as expected until he said, “Oh, and if any of your people or their family members go to the hospital and are admitted, you need to let my office know.” I was a little confused. This guy was really busy. His assistant was constantly trying to keep him on a schedule. He arrived at the office at 6 AM and was often there way after 6 PM. I wanted to make sure I understood. I thought he was micromanaging me. “You have a lot to worry about. Why do you want to know about whether or not my people get sick?” He matter-of-factly replied, “Because they are my people too. And if they are in the hospital, for any reason at all, I show up.” I persisted. Was there was a threshold involved? Did the people actually have to be seriously ill? What if they just broke an arm or a pinky finger? What if they were having their tonsils out? What if they were in the hospital for just a few hours? He clarified, “I show up. And you do, too. That is what we do.” Got it, boss. Sure enough, after a few months, one of my people landed in the hospital. I dutifully left the relevant information with my boss’s office and then I drove the 20 miles to the hospital, parked my car, and trekked to my sailor’s hospital room. About 20 minutes after I arrived, so did the commanding officer. Three things happened: First, my sailor’s eyes lit up when the big boss called my sailor by his name and asked how he was doing. My sailor sat up straighter in the hospital bed. He smiled. The visit was a huge morale booster to the patient. He visibly perked up. He felt cared for because this important leader took the time to check on him. My sailor felt like he was more than a number, more than a name on a list of employees. The commanding officer showed that he cared at a time when the young man needed to know that he had support that extended throughout the entire organization. Second, the arrival of a Navy captain (that is one rank below an admiral or general) in a military hospital generated some attention. While the staff had ignored me (I was a mere Lieutenant Commander at the time), suddenly hospital personnel gave my sailor a little more attention. Having a Navy captain show up to visit made staff take notice of his case. Mary’s note here: In over 30 years of military medicine, I have consistently received fantastically conscientious care by knowledgeable and thoughtful providers. Shout out to military and civilian medical providers, practice administrators, medical group managers for making patient care your priority! Third, my boss reiterated that it is when things go wrong or when times are tough that our people need us to show up the most. It is easy to show up when things are going well. Most of us also have stories about fair-weather friends and co-workers who abandon us when we are going through a difficult time or are experiencing a life crisis. This commanding officer made it clear that leadership is most important when supporting people isn’t glamorous, easy, or convenient. Leadership means sacrificing our own time, energy, and resources. Want to be a great leader? Show up, show you care, and show that you can help.