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ImageDo you want to reach out and help your fellowman and see the difference 100% of your efforts make on humanity? 

A few of my friends have joined overseas missions and can tell you firsthand what that feels like.  The rest of us may have a different story in treating patients here stateside.

Civilization has its costs and following certain rules, regulations, and standards—for better or for worse—are mandated.  Prior to receiving my first job offer to work in a hospital, I’ll never forget the words uttered by my soon-to-be boss:  “You will need to get a haircut and lose the beard.  The revolution is over.”  Gulp! 

Needless to say, I did just that and so began my long career in health care.  I also found that in the decades that proceeded “work casual,” that the expectation was that I would wear a sport coat or suit and tie.  Yes, even on Friday and even on the weekends when I was called in.

Where all think alike, no one thinks very much.  –Walter Lippmann

Before you pass judgment on my stuffy professional genesis, please take a few paces backwards and look at the context in which this appearance edict was given. 

In the 1970’s, it was a world in which people had certain expectations when they went to the hospital.  They wanted their nurses to wear hats and starch white linen, their physicians to wear suites and/or white coats, and their professional staff to look… well… professional.  Just like when you visited a bank, you want to see your banker dressed conservatively because you expected him to handle your money in a conservative manner.  Likewise, you wanted your medical care to be provided in a starched, antiseptic, and professional manner.

A few years ago, I was told by my younger peers to dress down more.   It didn’t feel right, but I finally adjusted to wearing corduroy pants and shirts without ties.  The feedback from my patients was complementary and welcoming.  Oh!

It is the primary job of a leader to identify and clearly explain the context of the why, the what, and finally the how.  This can be a moving target. 

I mentioned in an earlier blog of the important role of an organization’s mission, vision, and values.  This blog will discuss the application of the vision.  The vision shows the direction where the organization wants to go.  (And, by the way, you dress for the job you want, not just for the job you are currently assigned to perform… your career vision, if you may.)

A leader not only looks for opportunities to talk about their organization’s vision with individuals, teams, and with groups, but he/she must have a plan to walk the talk.  This walk is not linear, however, and will demand that the leader take an active role to make the vision a reality.

I recognize that a vision statement can seem fully formed and organic in the sense that an organization grew in this direction pushed by forces such as reimbursement, staff, location, and other variables.  Yet, I have found that planning is key to making a vision manifest. 

Before a leader starts out, they need a detailed outline—with specifics if possible—of the plan from the start to the goal, with measureable benchmarks along the way.  A plan should always take into account competition and other obstacles. 

If a leader doesn’t have marketing savvy—or does not have a marketing professional on the team—now would be the time to find someone with these skills!  A marketing professional should be schooled in making messages and visions come alive, and in ways not considered by people with other strengths (a leader doesn’t know everything, and a wise one recognizes that!).

As an example to the work involved, let’s discuss the efforts needed to fulfill a vision for a health care organization to become a regional leader in sports medicine. 

Currently, the orthopedic and sports medicine arena is hotly contested. 

Customers and patients of such a program are a highly desirable target for health care organizations.  These customers are usually in good physical shape to begin with, tend to be highly motivated to stay physically fit, and once injured work hard to get back in the game. They also have better outcomes from surgery with no to few readmissions, and (also importantly) tend to have good payer sources.  Being active, they will probably spread their good results to others.  Positive word-of-mouth advertising, as we all know, is the very best way to market a product. 

Once a plan is in place, a team needs to be formed.  A sports medicine team will usually be made up of sports medicine physicians and/or orthopedic surgeons, high school athletic trainers, sports performance instructors, physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, and exercise physiologists.   

Physician involvement is crucial for any program in a hospital or health care setting to succeed as anyone pulling together a new program can attest.  Not only can their practice reflect the vision in another practical and results-driven way, but also customers and hospital administrators will listen more closely to what they have to say over the din of competing voices.

The physicians and the others on a team need to understand the vision, the plan, and their role.  In forming a team to actualize this vision, a leader may identify a “champion,” or maybe there will be a few “champions. “

Champions are unusually motivated spokespersons who understand the vision and the plan and can articulate it in a way that recruits and motivates others.  A champion will prove to be a great advantage to a team for moving the vision forward with their commitment towards the program’s success.  It is, however, not unusual for the leader to be the champion at first, to show what the role looks like and identify ad hoc champions or champions for specific tasks.

It is important to note here that with champions or no champions, a leader must keep engaged in the direction that the product is developing making sure that all efforts are fulfilling the vision.  A good leader should not be accused of being asleep at the tiller!  Ultimately all of this—the good, the bad and the ugly—will be a leader’s responsibility.

With a prepared leader, a solid and motivated team with the desired skills, potential champions, a plan that allows for unanticipated variables, a mission, and an inspiring vision, an organization is off to a good start with an itinerary and a destination.

I lost a former colleague and we all lost a wonderfully caring therapist and a quality human being this January.  He had a reputation for coloring outside of the lines in order to get the job done, but that combination of free-styling-high-energy and healing skills made him all the more wonderful.  Although we hadn’t talked in a few months, I will miss Henry Tim Heemstra, LPT as will the many patients and friends he made through almost four decades of practicing. 

Pedal on, Tim.