You Can't Lead Without Communicating


Early in my health care career I was head of security and safety at a Los Angeles area hospital, a position that gave me access to information from throughout the organization.

It just seemed natural to share that information with my staff as long as it wasn’t confidential. So I would periodically gather them together for updates on the hospital’s operations.

About a year into the job I noticed something: None of our security officers had left. This was a surprise because the profession was notorious for a high turnover rate.

I asked a couple of my supervisors why our team was so stable. The answer? Their loyalty was a direct result of the time I spent talking to them. And as sources of information to other hospital employees whose supervisors weren’t as open, my staff felt more valued.

That experience opened my eyes to the importance of leaders serving as teacher and communicator in their organizations, which only increases the higher up the chain you rise.

That approach remains a hallmark of my management philosophy. Every week, I visit workers on the front lines of our operations and hold candid, honest question-and-answer sessions on any topic they raise, except personnel matters and confidential negotiations

With more than 14,000 employees, the reality is that I can’t possibly visit with everyone in person. But I can connect with each one of them through email, which is why I invite messages from staff with only three exceptions: I won’t violate patient confidentiality; I won’t discuss personnel issues relating to specific individuals; and I won’t discuss confidential business arrangements. I view these exchanges as a core part of my job, and I make a point of responding to most messages within a few minutes of seeing them.

Another mode of communication is something I call Market News, a compilation of relevant articles that I email to Scripps physicians, managers and some other employees every day, seven days a week. And I don’t hold back the bad news, whether it’s about us or some other part of our industry. It’s important for employees to feel they’re getting the honest truth from me.

Of course, this blog serves as an additional communications channel and I am active on Twitter through the handle @ChrisDVanGorder.

Other leaders might scoff at my approach and argue that it’s a waste of a leader’s valuable and limited time. Experience has proven to me that they’re wrong.

Creating an open, information sharing culture at Scripps has closed gaps between debating parties, fostered a deeper sense of loyalty among all ranks and enabled all of us to know each other better.

I’ve built personal connections that never would have been possible had I employed a more conventional management style. It’s convinced me that you can’t really know your organization without opening direct and deep lines of communication.