In my book Peerless, Defy Convention, Lead from the Heart, Watch What Happens each of the ten executive leaders profiled had unique perspectives and gifts. From their stories there emerged a pattern common to great esprit de corps throughout the distinct businesses that each led. It is been a year since the book was published and during that time my understanding of culture, supported by readings, has evolved. I believe there are three pillars of culture. They are the validation of: personal competency, cause and community. In this context community refers to the bonding of individuals who collectively contribute to a cause larger than themselves … somewhat akin to a winning or championship team. In Peerless we profiled Dan Wilford who retired as CEO of the Memorial Hermann hospital system in Houston in 2004. Wilford’s personal passion for healthcare was communicated not just with posters or words, but also by his actions. He wanted everyone to connect with his passion.
Soon after Wilford became CEO of the Memorial Hermann system in 1984 Houston experienced a severe economic downturn, reminiscent of the current oil price impact on jobs and households. It was during this time in 1984 that Wilford called on the employees to adopt a process that would help them support each other. Wilford called twenty five people into a meeting room and told them “I’m envisioning a place where people can serve in an environment where there is a high quality of service and empathy, where people care for each other, treat each other with respect and dignity, and that in turn is offered to our patients and their families. You all tell me what that’s supposed to look like.” Out of the meeting arose the Partners in Caring process, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. It is led by a steering committee of 40 employees who represent all Memorial Hermann’s locations and its 20,000 employees. Throughout the years Partners in Caring has extended emotional and financial support to employee suffering personal tragedy while recognizing colleagues for extraordinary performance.
Another significant episode during Wilford’s tenure was his leadership in creating the Spiritual Leadership Institute at Memorial Hermann in 1996. Wilford, “the Spiritual Leadership Institute focused our people on the ministry. Healthcare needs to focus on values, ethics and morals because we’re different. We’re a ministry.” To create the Spiritual Leadership Institute Wilford brought together a group the leaders in diverse fields – ministers, healthcare experts, and organizational psychologist, a futurist – and developed the curriculum that examines spirituality, spiritual leadership and how spiritual organization behaves. Every manager in the Memorial Hermann system participated, and eventually, an online program was developed and offered to all employees.
Cultures are forged around the leader’s values … passion … and beliefs. What Dan Wilford accomplished intentionally was to embrace all employees equally through a process that he created to earn employees trust and commitment.
Community, thus, is inspiring to all because it fulfills the human desire for belonging. Wilford’s legacy continues to be honored today at Memorial Hermann, eleven years beyond his physical presence.