The Wallace file Featured

7:00pm EDT February 28, 2007

Age: 53

Born: Oklahoma City

Education: Baccalaureate degree, hospital administration, Oklahoma Baptist University; graduate degree, health administration, Washington University, St. Louis

What is the best business lesson you’ve learned?

It’s leadership through service. The best way to lead is to serve. Employees are so responsive to a leader they think cares about them, values them and likes them, and treats them with dignity and respect and wants to help them do their jobs better.

Too many leaders think they are the boss at the top and think they are overly important, that subordinates ought to serve them. That’s wrong. And that’s where a lot of CEOs get into trouble with performance and with ethics.

When you are at the top, you had better have the heart of a servant. It’s more gratifying and more fun, and the results are a lot better.

What traits are essential for a business leader?

One, you have to have a positive attitude. Two, you have to have an overwhelming work ethic.

Three, you have to have the heart of a servant. Four, you have to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually because these jobs are so consuming and taxing. You can’t bring it every day if you don’t have that level and state of health.

Integrity is a given, as is honesty. And it’s incredibly empowering to a leader if you can have genuine vulnerability. People don’t want to think that their leader has the answer for every single thing.

They respect leaders that, on occasion, say, ‘I don’t know,’ or own up to it when a mistake has been made.

What universal truths have you learned about being a leader?

One is that we lead in our professional lives as we lead in our personal lives. If you have a leader whose personal life is falling apart, that’s a red alert. That performance is going to seep into the organization.

I’m not talking about someone that’s going through a divorce or someone who has a teenager who got in trouble. I’m not talking about an episodic problem that happens, because that’s called life.

I’m talking about someone who just has chaos in their life month after month. That is what will always seep into the organization.

Another is we should all have our own personal definition of leadership. I have two huge three-ring, industrial-strength binders full of leadership snapshots of the 400 or so leaders at Texas Children’s Hospital. In these leadership snapshots, every leader is listed, their name, their title, their salary, what they’re working on, what committees they’re on.

Also in this snapshot is their definition of leadership. Defining leadership is a very personal thing, and there are hundreds of adequate definitions of leadership, and I think it’s very important that leaders think through what leadership means to them and then be able to articulate that, especially to their subordinates.