Of the many qualities that make a great leader, personality is not one of them.
That was a refreshing, and surprising, message coming from the author of “Good to Great,” Jim Collins, on Monday. It came during the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living’s annual meeting opening general session.
“We confuse personality for leadership,” he said. But many great leaders had a “charisma bypass.”
It’s humility that makes a difference, he said, returning frequently to the story of Roald Amundsen and Robert F. Scott, two explorers attempting to reach the South Pole in 1911-1912. The story of the men and their journey has been well-debated and documented, but the one takeaway for long-term care providers Monday was the story of ponies versus dogs, and for the importance of persistence and consistency.
Scott used ponies – which froze — Collins pointed out. Since the system was set up with a pony per sled, that meant the men had to drag the sleds themselves after the ponies died. The entire group of men died 11 miles away from a supply station.
Amundsen, in contrast, hung out first with Eskimos, who recommended using dogs. With six dogs to a sled, it matters less if one dog perishes; while Scott arrived with 11 of his 16 dogs in Australia, he and his men made it.
“It was a beautiful system of dogs,” Collins notes, and it was a system that had been empirically validated. (If you’re wondering, the Eskimos in this analogy are your directors of nursing).
What’s also noteworthy: Amundsen made it a point to walk 20 miles every day, whether the weather was bad or not, whereas Scott was erratic about how far he led his team.
“What’s your 20-mile march?” Collins asked. “The idea of the 20-mile march is to say, ‘What do we have to do today?’”
We live in a world that tends to focus on personality, not substance; on aesthetics, rather than data; and on the bare minimum, rather than diligence. But there’s been a sea change at AHCA that reflects that numbers and persistence are where the organization is headed.
Unlike last year, when President and CEO Mark Parkinson had to coax convention attendees to their feet to pledge to fight, this year he laid out a fairly basic plan delivered in a pragmatic style that nonetheless received a rousing reception. No matter who wins the election, “These are not normal times, and we are going to survive,” Parkinson said. “Under any scenario, we are going to be facing additional cuts.”
The key is to focus on improving quality within the facility, to document those improvements and to be a voice to politicians, policy-makers and journalists about the good things happening.
Parkinson and Neil Pruitt, the AHCA Chairman, chat many days at 7 a.m., and a lot of those conversations revolve around quality and hard data. These are not sexy topics – especially at pre-coffee, near-dawn hours — but they stick to it, because the data and indicators are the sled dogs leading their 20-mile march. Behind them, they hope, are providers just as resolved about reaching the desired destination.