So You Want To Be A CEO?

As I’m now a few months into my fourth CEO role and I’m adjusting to a recent significant broadening of my responsibilities I thought I’d share the content of a typical day. People sometimes ask me what being a hospital CEO is like.

My short answer is that it’s the best job anyone is ever likely to have. However, that isn’t the whole story. Clearly, people are different and this means that CEOs will, in turn, inhabit their roles in ways which are unique to them. One person’s experience is likely to vary significantly from the next and I don’t think there’s a formula that inevitably leads to success.

Back Your Jockeys

My day starts with the first conversation with one of my direct reports. Because I’m still relatively new we are still tuning into one another. An old friend once told me that as an avid horse-racing fan, he’d learnt to back the jockey when deciding on where to place his bet.

That’s what I do. I work hard to establish a team of direct reports that I can trust and who know I’ll have their back. This takes time and sometimes you’ll need to rearrange the people, moving on anyone that you realise isn’t going to fit. My strong advice is to make such decisions early and then act decisively.

After a quick touch base with the office manager, it’s time to review any important emails and messages. I do this at defined times each day and ask my business manager to triage what I need to see. I find this works well and speeds things up significantly.

Meetings Are Like Polycell

During each day it’s likely I’ll attend several meetings. Those I chair I like to prepare for the day before, checking my own understanding of what I want to achieve and how long I’m prepared to let the meeting run.

In my experience meetings are like Polycell: they’ll expand to fill the available spaces in your day if you let them.

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Meetings which I'm invited to fall into categories. Those that are pointless I don’t attend. If these meetings are taking place inside my organisation I’ll see if they can be deleted so other people aren’t subjected to them.

Then there are those meetings which I lead or which have some other important leadership function.

Finally, there are meetings with third parties where I need to pay attention and potentially communicate the results to others. I use the note-taking method outlined here to make this easy.

Pressing The Flesh

Leadership is a contact sport. While there are important leadership tasks which can happen behind a closed door – like thinking (see below) – many more of them require contact with the people in your care.

There are multiple reasons why this is important and I will simply highlight three of them.

  1. Seeing things for yourself deepens your understanding of what’s going on and allows you to see where first hand how things are going. You’ll learn much about the reported pressures in a department by visiting it and talking to the staff who work there.
  2. Meeting people who are working on the front line allows you to communicate directly with them any key messages you’re keen for people to hear. It also opens a space for concerns and issues to be ventilated with you before they morph into bigger problems.
  3. Being visible ensures that people know where your focus is – the end product of service delivery. You’re demonstrating you’re not a distant or remote leader, but an active and engaged one.

If you want to empower your people there are three questions you can tell them to as which can really empower them.

Thinking Time

Each day I find time to think. Since I travel between sites now that’s a good time to consider things. I find it’s useful to have a pen and paper handy, however – which is not something you can do while driving.

There are times when you need to take a step back and work out what’s happening and why. I’ve got a notebook full of my scribbles and sketches. I’m not very good at drawing but I find that even my very rough and ready sketches help me to clarify and organise my thoughts.

It’s a good practice to flick back to the last few week’s pages. I find that quite often something I was wrestling with two or three weeks ago will suddenly fall into place this way.

A visual record of your thoughts helps spot when you’re developing tunnel vision – over-obsessing about something. It also allows you to learn whether your first instincts as depicted in these diagrams is as reliable as you think it is. Mine isn’t always right – so I’ve learnt to let things settle for a while before following what intuitively feels right.

Closing Out

Each day I pop an entry into Day One, the journaling app I use. I’ve got some questions that I’ve put into TextExpander and I just type the shortcut and they immediately appear ready for me to answer them.

For some practical advice about how to set up apps to help you – take a look at this post.

Journalling this way helps to maintain a positive outlook and as Shawn Achor maintains, happiness fosters success. It’s been surprising to me having implemented this practice how much of a difference it makes. Priming yourself to look for positives really helps.

Every day is different which is one of the great pleasures of the job I do. I do feel fortunate to enjoy my work and to have the privilege of working with so many talented and compassionate people. I guess some people would say I’ve been lucky. I’ve got no quarrel with that. After all, Napoleon was very clear on the subject of luck:

I would rather have a general who was lucky than one who was good.

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