More than 40 years ago, I was working the overnight shift alone as a security guard in a Los Angeles area hospital.
The work was important but could also be quiet — checking hospital floors, doors and other access points that must be secure for the safety of patients and staff after visiting hours ended and before the sun rose. My office was in the basement.
It was past midnight when I heard footsteps that would signal one of my first important lessons in discovering a part of my style both as an employee and leader that I carry with me to this day. What happened didn’t involve any crime, life-saving moment or dangerous threat.
The learning moment was a result of what didn’t happen.
As I looked up to see my hospital’s CEO approaching, I prepared to greet him and shake his hand. Never mind why he was passing through the basement hallway at that late hour. He was the CEO — a high-profile executive whom I was paid to recognize by sight even if I’d never personally met or spoken to him.
Without making eye contact or saying a single word, the CEO zipped right past me and disappeared from sight. Demoralized as a then 20-something security guard, I vowed from that day forward never to do the same in any personal interactions.
The game-changing experience reinforced the importance of acknowledging employees when coming in close contact with them anywhere. Job title, function or position within a department didn’t matter. I used what could have been a negative and non-productive experience to discover a positive and proactive style for myself.
My work today as CEO of Scripps takes me across the system and its hospital campuses, medical clinics, specialty centers and administrative offices where I’ve been afforded the unique opportunity to meet and hear from many employees.
These conversations and face-to-face engagement help me see system operations differently from the front-line, much like law enforcement personnel who walk a beat or assignment on city sidewalks versus patrol by squad car.
When developing as a leader, be sure to ask yourself what style and approaches best suit you as a person and can help make your company or organization a better place that focuses on customers and employees. By growing through this kind of discovery process, you’ll be the type of leader who blends empathy with the bottom line while never losing sight of individuals.
We all bring unique personal and professional life experiences into our roles as front-line employees and front-line leaders. Some are learned and formally taught in universities or through special training; others, though, can happen when you least expect it.