Leadership lessons

What it means to be a values-infused organization

After 38 years at Akron Children’s Hospital, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be the leader of a values-infused organization. We witness miracles every day at our hospital, but not every patient story has a happy ending. It takes real-life heroes to keep fighting when there is no guarantee of a successful result, and it is from these courageous children and their families that I’ve learned my most important lessons.

At Akron Children’s we are motivated by helping children. We share a natural sense of mission and contribute to a lasting legacy through our meaningful work. To infuse that same sense of mission in other organizations, you must examine the internal forces that drive performance. To use a medical analogy, I believe there are four vital signs that are the indicators of a healthy organization: trust, purpose, beliefs and respect.

Trust is the blood pressure that carries energy to each member of an organization. Every act of trust is an expression of confidence that empowers people and increases their self-worth. Do managers trust their employees to do their work? Are team leaders willing to let go of the ball and trust their coworkers to be there to catch it?

A sense of purpose is the second vital sign. As humans, we crave meaning in our lives, particularly in our jobs, where we spend most of our waking hours. Purpose is about making a difference and serving the greater good. It defines where an organization is going. Do people know their work is valued? Are they excited to come to work, to find the opportunity in challenging situations?

An organization’s beliefs are the third vital sign. By emphasizing certain values and attitudes, an organization tells its members what kinds of actions are approved to move forward. An organization’s beliefs indicate the path it expects people to follow, but they must be put into practice. Every action an organization takes becomes part of its history. Does an organization’s record reflect its beliefs? Does it walk the talk?

The fourth and most vital sign of a healthy organization is respect. It is the great unifier that acknowledges each member’s worth. Respect builds teams, bringing different ideas to the table in a safe space. Everyone is excited and willing to innovate because there is no blame game.

Respect makes trust possible, reinforces purpose and gives credibility to beliefs. If trust is the blood pressure of an organization, respect is its pulse. If it is steady and strong, all the members of an organization can focus on their tasks and achieve great things together.

Being CEO of a children’s hospital can be humbling because you can’t fool sick kids. You must be worthy of their respect and earn the privileged mantle of leadership every day through your words and actions. Organizations that focus solely on results at the expense of their values cannot hold the loyalty of employees and those they serve for very long.

William Considine has served as CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital since 1979. He has dedicated his career and personal life to improving pediatric care and the quality of life for children and families.