Diana Hendel has seen the fear in the eyes of the people who come to her hospitals for care. It arises not only from the situation that brought them to the hospital, but the challenges they face in their everyday lives.
“As folks become unemployed or uninsured or as work stress increases because of uncertain times, that certainly creates a lot more need for health care in our communities,” Hendel says. “So as we see our communities struggling economically and becoming more stressed economically, certainly the need for additional services and more health care services increases.”
Hendel understands the challenge that comes with her role as CEO at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children’s Hospital Long Beach and Community Hospital Long Beach. All are part of the MemorialCare Health System.
It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the challenge and worn down by the loss of the people who don’t make it or the sight of people who walk into the hospital down to their last penny and in need of medical care. It would be understandable if some people weren’t up to all that stress. But Hendel doesn’t see it as stress.
“For me, I don’t get overwhelmed; I get challenged by it,” Hendel says. “At the times when you think you’re most overwhelmed or don’t have the time to plan, that is the signal to stop and plan with your team. Taking the time to be very clear about what the business is, what the business needs to be and coming back to that mission piece.”
Whether you’re a hospital or a manufacturing company, you’re going to have good times and bad ones. And while it’s lots of fun to be leading a business that is making money hand over fist, it’s those tough times when you earn your paycheck by showing the way back to prosperity.
You need to focus on what you can do instead of wasting time obsessing over what you can’t. If you take that approach, odds are your people will too.
“I have a little saying in my home that I see a couple times a day coming and going,” Hendel says. “It says, ‘Worry is the misuse of your imagination.’ I remind myself frequently that I love problem solving. But when it crosses over to worrying, it’s a misuse of my imagination. It helps to refocus and put my imagination to creative and positive use that is so much better for the organization and for me personally. I remind myself frequently of that.”
Here’s how Hendel works with her team to always find a way to turn challenges into opportunities.
Do you want to prove to your people that you’re not running scared and that you’re willing to listen to their thoughts and suggestions? You could start by actually responding to the good ideas that they bring to you.
“My experience is that everybody wants to contribute,” Hendel says. “Everyone wants to be part of something that has great meaning. Every company is creating value and making a contribution to their community in one way or another. Everyone wants to have a sense that what they do brings value or contribution.
“Regardless of the kind of company, it’s about people contributing and people finding meaning in their work. Companies that focus on people’s strengths and on their contributions and how people are adding value, they are much more successful than those that just put out a product and focus on the product. It continues to come back to people regardless of the kind of business.”
Leaders who struggle making connections with their people have a hard time because they aren’t really focused on those people. They’re doing management by walking around, but they’re not engaged and are instead thinking about their next meeting and how they need to get back to their office.
“When I’m walking around, I’m trying to ask questions,” Hendel says. “Ask what is on that particular person’s mind. They often have a great number of ideas on how something can be improved.”
But it’s still not enough just to talk to people. Respond when they have a suggestion that you feel has merit, even if it wasn’t your original idea.
“We have a lot of focus on health and wellness, particularly with our own employees,” Hendel says. “There were two ideas that actually came directly from employees. As I was walking around, they said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had a walking path around our campus inside and out? People could take a break or a lunch break and know how far they are walking.’”
The other suggestion was to provide healthier foods in the cafeteria.
If you struggle with getting good ideas from your team, it could be that you focus too much on one way of receiving comments and suggestions.
“You actively look for ways and then you ask people,” Hendel says. “Here are the 10 ways you have input right now. Are there any other ways we haven’t thought of that might make it easier to provide input? The best ideas in a company come from everyone in a company, not just one or two people.”
You’ve got to get your people to see you not as an obstacle but as someone who is working right alongside them to make things happen.
“The leader is the facilitator and the guide and the strategic visionary of the organization,” Hendel says. “The most effective leader is not a micromanager. It’s the person who facilitates the very best out of every single team member. It’s much more like a coach. So I think it’s knowing the strengths and knowing the skills of each unique player on that team and honoring that. Just like a coach is best served by maximizing the skills and talents of every single player, a leader needs to do the same thing.”
Once you get the input, it all comes down to what you do with it and how openly you share your plans with your people.
“If someone has an idea, there is an expectation about what can be done with that idea,” Hendel says. “You’re not hearing someone’s idea and saying, ‘Oh, I can make that happen tomorrow,’ if in fact logistically, you can’t. It’s following back through to that person and saying, ‘Hey, we took your idea seriously. There are a few logistical issues with it, but we’re continuing to work on it.’ Keep people informed.”
There was a time not so long ago when electronic medical records were pretty rare in hospitals. Now they’re present at just about any hospital you go to. MemorialCare was a trendsetter in this realm, paving the way for other hospitals to make the upgrade.
Hendel says you can’t be afraid to be a trailblazer, even during difficult times, if you think the step will help your business and energize your people.
The trick is knowing when it’s time to blaze the trail and when the effort isn’t worth the gain.
“We went first and early, and it’s a long road, and it’s challenging, and it can be complicated,” Hendel says of the adoption of electronic medical records. “But we knew it was the right thing for our patients and we knew it was the very best thing for the future of medicine. So we made a decision to be leaders on that and be on the first part of the curve rather than lagging behind on that. We persevered.”
When new ideas are brought to your attention for consideration, you need to do your due diligence and ask questions as to how it might fit.
“All of our decisions start with what we are here to do,” Hendel says. “There are always many terrific ideas. We have a pretty disciplined and rigorous process that we go through on doing business planning and strategic planning.
“What are the financial implications for it? Does it have the ability to serve the greatest number of people? Do we have the skills and resources to make it successful? If we don’t, what do we need to do to obtain those?”
You can’t be afraid to reject a good idea that you’re just not in a good position to implement. On the other hands, if you believe an idea is worth pursuing, you’ve got to take the leap and go after it without hesitation.
“We’re able to say to folks involved, ‘Here is exactly why we’re pursuing this,” Hendel says. “Then we’re able to say, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do it. Here’s what we know. Here’s how we’re going to train, here’s how we’re going to design it, here’s the timeline and here’s how we’re going to provide more education.’ Here’s how we’re going to make what seems like a daunting project into one that is very doable. Then we stick with it. We don’t give up halfway through. We don’t start something that we haven’t thought through and defined well.”
Don’t be afraid
You can’t lead your business out of fear or out of too much deference to the past. If you don’t allow new ideas to be discussed and then given a shot to succeed, you’ll never change and the world will pass you by.
“An organization that just takes what has happened in the past and uses that as a basis for what’s going to happen in the future narrows its opportunities,” Hendel says. “It narrows its possibilities. It often makes organizations hunker down or become paralyzed and fearful of making any change or taking any risk. That’s the time when calculated and conscious risk is what is needed for a lot of organizations.”
It would have been much easier for MemorialCare to stick with what it was doing in terms of keeping medical records instead of tackling the conversion to electronic data storage.
But if you want to have a culture that always is looking for ways to do it better, how could you pass up that kind of endeavor?
“A lot of time is devoted to what-if kinds of thinking,” Hendel says. “What if we could create this? How might we do it? What would it look like? What would it result in? How would it benefit people? We do a lot of brainstorming and a lot of thinking. We take data, but we also take seeds back from our own community and certainly from our work force to create a lot of what-if scenarios.”
Fear becomes a major factor when you get into this type of thinking.
“Even for an organization that is really solid financially, they are likely to have people on their teams who are fearful of what could happen,” Hendel says. “People are more fearful about what might happen that never does happen than putting their energy toward creating their own future.”
So what can you do to help people overcome that fear?
“I’m surrounded by talented, passionate, caring people who are right there on our team together,” Hendel says. “I keep a lot of balance in my life making sure I exercise and take care of myself. I think in the past when I’ve gotten stressed, perhaps I would not get enough sleep or eat very well. I learned quickly that getting enough sleep and eating well and taking care of myself helps me to be much better at work and much better with my family. That’s a time when you rely on relationships with a lot of people. Don’t isolate yourself. Connect with them.”
Once you’ve got your own house in order, see what you can do to help your people see the great value in what they do each day.
“We have to love what we do and we have to find reward in what we do and deep meaning in what we do,” Hendel says.
“There’s a famous story of a woman who worked in a suture factory. She was the person who made sutures for operating rooms for surgeons to use. Day in and day out, she made sutures. Someone interviewed her once and said, ‘Well, isn’t that boring? You just make sutures.’ She said, ‘I don’t make sutures, I save lives.’ She related it to her connection to something else. That is true for all of us. Those of us who can find that connection, find that meaning and find that contribution, that’s the secret to great leadership. But I think it’s also the secret to great living.”
How to reach: MemorialCare Health System, (714) 377-2900 or www.memorialcare.com
The Hendel File
Diana Hendel, CEO, Long Beach Memorial Medical Center, Miller Children's Hospital Long Beach and Community Hospital Long Beach
Born: Long Beach, Calif.
Education: Bachelor’s degree, biological sciences, University of California, Irvine; doctorate in pharmacy, University of California, San Francisco
What was your very first job?
I was a waitress at the Knott’s Berry Farm [Mrs. Knott’s] Chicken Dinner Restaurant. It taught me a lot about people. Everyone should work in food service. It was a good learning opportunity to realize that sometimes people will say things or do things that either caught me by surprise or hurt my feelings. I didn’t take it personally. It was an opportunity to learn to be flexible.
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
My mother, Barbara. She encouraged me and supported me and really taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do, as long as it was something I loved to do.
What did you want to be growing up?
I didn’t have any one thing. I wanted to do lots of things. I wanted to be an author, a veterinarian, a jockey. I wanted to be lots of different things. I was one of those children where every year, I had a different thing I wanted to be. I loved variety and I didn’t want to do any one thing. And wouldn’t you know, all these years later, I’m in a role where I get to do lots of different things with a lot of variety and a lot of challenge.
Best piece of advice: My favorite quote is from Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.’ In a roundabout way, that was the best advice. Create your future, follow your dreams, don’t be limited. It’s up to you to create and not someone else’s responsibility.