Thoughts on 2011 AHA Health Forum Leadership Summit: Coach K’s Five Challenges

The opening keynote address by Tom Brokaw was a motivational, inspiring start to the AHA Leadership Summit. Coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) reluctantly spoke after Mr. Brokaw, his long-time friend and admittedly, “a tough act to follow.” Coach K spoke about what good leadership is and how it relates to those of us in healthcare. One of the most impactful lessons his mother ever taught him was told as a simple metaphor: “On the bus you drive through life, be sure to only let good people on…and if you’re trying to get on another bus, make sure there are only good people on that bus too.” It’s pretty straight forward – recruiting and scouting is everything. Just kidding….as he was, but it means a lot. The way you lead is reflective of the type of company you keep, and the ways in which people feel about your company and leadership.

In addition, Coach K emphasized the importance of a cohesive, collaborative healthcare environment. He leveraged a story Tom Brokaw told. Tom mentioned how during the Nixon Watergate scandal, the political environment was so divided, that before a Republican and Democrat came on his news show one day, they called ahead and wanted to be sure each other was not in the Green Room at the same time. How were these political leaders supposed to achieve anything if they literally couldn’t even stand in the same room as one another?! Coach K spoke about his emphasis on team-building exercises because every year he had new players to incorporate into their offensive and defensive schemes. The challenges, though, were similar. Players would come from backgrounds in different systems with unique styles, and the coaching staff had to find the right ways to make the collective team mesh. More importantly, he had to help his team win. Most importantly, he had to turn boys into men and prepare them for challenges bigger than a basketball court.

The challenges he posed to the audience were these:

  1. Communicate – “When you communicate, do you look your patient in the eye? Do you address them by their name and remember their kids sport? Their husbands name?”
  2. Trust – “Are the principles and practices of your office/hospital/clinic trustworthy? Are you honest and straightforward with your patients about your level of care? Compared to others? Is there full transparency to all the things you do?”
  3. Collective Responsibility – “When was the last time you/your people got hit? Something that knocked you back, knocked you down…and you really felt it? When something bad happens does everyone get together and help solve the problem? Or does a blame game start? You’re all in this together; you got into healthcare to help people. Make sure they know you’re a team.”
  4. Care for One Another – “Anger is a good emotion if it destroys something bad. Cancer is bad, diabetes is bad, and Alzheimer’s is bad. You should be angry at these diseases and, at the same time, empathetic with those struggling to survive with them. Always put yourself in the patients’ shoes before saying or doing anything” – healthcare must become more patient-centric, or as one comprehensive cancer center has tagged it, “personalized medicine”.
  5. Pride (in something bigger than yourself) – “You have to feel it (visualize it, hear it) in order to effectively address, resolve, and improve it.”

“You can want to win, but you must prepare to win”. Preparation starts with an understanding that healthcare has become a team sport –specialists and clinicians must leverage each other’s experiences and expertise to provide patients the best possible outcomes. And since this is my area of expertise – I can add, “it starts with sharing data!”

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