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Successful leadership requires integrity, compassion

Integrity, compassion and perseverance are the key traits of an effective leader, Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who successfully landed a plane on the Hudson River in January 2009, saving the lives of the 155 people on board, told an audience of healthcare financial managers at HFMA’s ANI conference in Las Vegas on Monday.

“Some would deride those by calling them soft skills as opposed to hard skills,” said Sullenberger. “I bristle at that. They are wrong. Those aren’t soft skills; they are human skills… They have the potential to save as many lives as technical skills, as clinical skills.”

Leadership is about setting the tone for the team, aligning goals, opening channels of communication and creating a shared sense of responsibility for the outcome, said Sullenberger.

“There’s a big difference between having a big title and being an effective leader,” he said. “A good leader creates more productivity, more innovation and actively mitigates risk.”

“When people come to work, they want to do a good job,” said Sullenberger, noting that the two things most employees want is for their leadership to create an environment where they can be successful and to occasionally tell them that what they do matters to the organization’s overall goals.

“Ego can be a leader’s enemy,” said Sullenberger. “It shuts down communication and closes you off to the input of others.”

“As a team, we can accomplish things that we would never be able to do as a collection of individuals,” added Sullenberger.

In his speech, Sullenberger related the concept of passenger safety in aviation to patient safety in healthcare.

“In evidence-driven domains like medicine, it’s the evidence that tells us what to do and how to do it, but it’s our humanity that tells us that we must do it,” he said.  

He also stressed the importance to both industries of capturing data.

“You need to know the numbers. That’s how you can make informed decisions. That is how you can make a business case for safety,” said Sullenberger. “You need data to determine whether or not something is adding value. Will it save money or not?

“It’s always less costly to get it right the first time than to get it wrong and have to remediate."

“I tell my children that at the end of our lives, it’s unlikely that we’ll be counting our money or cataloging the deals we have made. It’s more likely we’ll be asking ourselves the question ‘did I make a difference?,”’ said Sullenberger.

“I’m asking you to do more because your patients deserve it, your colleagues expect it and your profession demands it.”

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