Being Vulnerable

Scripps Health President and CEO Chris Van Gorder’s new book is making genuine connections.

In 1987, I was vice president for support services at an Anaheim, Calif., hospital. Among my duties was overseeing environmental services.

I held regular meetings with that team on their turf — the environmental services break room downstairs.

We didn’t just talk. I often tagged along on the job. I even learned how to operate one of those big circular electric floor polishers. The staff members got a kick out of watching me buck around as I struggled to hang on to the metal handles.

For me, this experience wasn’t about embarrassment or foolishness. It was about being accessible.

If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you can’t be a distant boss and hope to be an effective leader.

Leadership requires connecting with people as much as it involves strategizing, making decisions and directing staff. That requires time and energy spent getting to know your employees and the work they do.

Most leaders do what I call fly-bys — rare and brief visits to the organization’s front lines. Employees at all levels can see straight through these hollow efforts, and they do little to build staff loyalty and goodwill.

The more meaningful kind of engagement that I like to practice requires overcoming the discomfort of devoting time to something you might consider less important than other aspects of your job. In other words, it requires a bit of humility.

But the payoff can be huge for you and your organization as a whole: A deeper knowledge of how the company is operating, a better sense of what might be driving bigger issues, a more informed staff, and employees who feel valued and respected.

I regularly put this into practice by scheduling a Q&A session with a different group of front-line employees every Friday.

Try doing this yourself by meeting with a front-line group in your organization.

Just speak honestly and openly. Find a way to make it fun for everyone. And always be yourself.