Stay the course, but keep listening for the need to make a detour. If your planning and decision making processes are good, be confident in your decision, and clear about your direction. Explain your reasoning and how it will all work. But, don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything. As you push out your plan, expect to get feedback, some of which you hadn’t picked up earlier. Show that you will listen, and take new information into account. During my career, joint planning with another hospital went well for a shared unit until the physicians from the other hospital bolted from the commitment. In this case, relying too heavily on the other hospital caused us to relax our listening skills in the community or we may have picked up the unrest by those physicians with the plan.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maren Cooper. Maren has had wide-ranging experience as an organizational leader in health care. With a BA in Social Work and a Master’s in Hospital Administration she started as a patient advocate and eventually worked her way up to to Vice President of a hospital, took a stint helping a community clinic organization get managed care contracts and was then recruited to COO and then CEO of a large public hospital system. She has created and re-organized physician businesses, sold practices to hospitals, and changed the governance model of a hospital system along the way. Maren has now traded in her career in healthcare and has written a novel about a successful healthcare consultant and recent divorcee in A Better Next (May 2019, She Writes Press).
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My sensibility as a social worker was to help patients through the foreign territory of a hospital. It became clear to me early on that customer service was lacking and I was interested in changing the culture of hospitals to become more patient-focused.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Interesting as it is a telling view about human nature. I was CEO of a large teaching hospital when we needed to invest in the electronic medical record. Not only did we need to sell the incredibly expensive purchase to the governing body of the hospital, but we had to coax the entire staff of our large system into a change process that affected every interaction they had with a patient, and almost every interaction they had with one another.
It went extremely well due to the talent we imported to market it internally and manage the entire process from start to finish. But, I believe the secret to our success was that we had youth at the helm. Medical students and resident physicians, nursing students and clinical students of all areas were the vanguard of our work with patients, and so they were able to lead the way with their sometimes older teachers who, in many cases, were not so attuned to the digital age.
Community won the day!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
This story is only funny to me, in retrospect, and it has taken years to recover from it. As an up and coming mid-level leader of my organization I was responsible for a portion of the program that explained our operating model to a group of VIP’s. The program ran fast, and for some reason that I can’t recall the Chief Financial Officer was not in the room when the complicated finances of our organization were to be presented. In his absence, I was asked to present financials that I had not seen, in a way that would be understood by outside folk. Nervously, I tried to explain that I didn’t know the ins and outs of the statements, but of course, I was asked many questions anyway. Rather than confidently calling for a break until the CFO could join the group, I stumbled through, hurting my own reputation as well as wasting the time of everyone in the room.
It is funny to me now, because many of the VIP’s are now close to me, and we sometimes get a laugh remembering my young innocent days of trying to do it all…..
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
A version of the Golden Rule: treat your team members as you would like to be treated. Share information, help, encouragement so that the team wins. You will still be a winner, and in the process, all of your team members will encourage you in any individual effort later on.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Motivate the whole group by personally describing the stakes for their effort. Tell them you will be watching, but will not micro-manage, and then pick your strongest leaders to mentor others in the group to achieve the results. Again, the entire team win will belong to all of them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Too many to count or individually identify. But, there was a moment in time that I remember well. I was a middle manager attempting to get a large group of clinical folks to support a rather difficult physical move to another part of the campus to make way for a large renovation effort. They were annoyed at the inconvenience, and outspoken in their opposition to the imposition. Heckling occurred as I addressed them. While I stood my ground, I was rattled, and totally exhausted as I walked back toward my office.
The hospital CEO saw me walking down the corridor and took me into his office and allowed me to let off steam, commiserate, and then cool off. He never discounted my discomfort, understood it, and of course, we both knew the renovation was serving the higher goal for our patients. That human touch re-doubled my commitment to staying the course, even when difficult.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I like to believe that my efforts to bring high-quality health care to the uninsured, without regard to any other factor beyond need for service of their medical needs is a worthy goal.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
1 — Don’t duck the hard stuff
I learned early that people are motivated by authenticity and turned off by leaders who skirt the issues. When I had to give hard news, I always kept in mind one of my first experiences attempting to get a group to move my way.
In order for community clinics to coalesce and obtain one managed care contract thereby helping their uninsured patients take advantage of the changing market forces, I was leading the effort as Executive Director of the trade association trying to make it happen. One night as I presented to the board of one of the clinics, a hand went up and someone asked me “why should we trust you not to make us all into cookie cutter clinics around town and give away our unique identity?”
I thanked the person for the honest question and went on to explain that the contract was an infrastructure change to benefit their patients, and would not effect their neighborhood identify. While it was a risk, their patients would get coverage. And it was a risk they had control over.
2 — Pay attention and give feedback
A large part of any leader’s job is to mentor and encourage others into doing their best job, and preparing them for their next job. Sometimes, people do not fit the job they’re in and need to leave the job, and perhaps the organization. I have had more than one instance when someone I supervised had to be let go who then sought me out in later years to thank me for the honest feedback, which helped them find a job more suited to their skills, or that they were able to take the feedback and apply in a new way.
3 — Remember that 99% of any leader’s job is the human factor
Making decisions is the mainstay of any leaders’ work. A problem-solving method that doesn’t take into account the human factor, down to the level of the pros and cons of every person affected by a decision is suboptimal in a people business.
I have had the experience of one of my most important physicians to my hospital, responsible for the most lucrative product line, oppose a course of action if I didn’t address the resulting cut in three nursing positions.
4 — Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know”
These three little words show humility, authenticity and transparency and should be used as often as needed. People are smart and can usually tell if you don’t know what you are talking about. So, use this phrase and promise to find out and let them know!
5 — Stay the course, but keep listening for the need to make a detour
If your planning and decision making processes are good, be confident in your decision, and clear about your direction. Explain your reasoning and how it will all work. But, don’t make the mistake of thinking you know everything. As you push out your plan, expect to get feed-back, some of which you hadn’t picked up earlier. Show that you will listen, and take new information into account.
During my career, joint planning with another hospital went well for a shared unit until the physicians from the other hospital bolted from the commitment. In this case, relying too heavily on the other hospital caused us to relax our listening skills in the community or we may have picked up the unrest by those physicians with the plan.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Diversity in the board room is good for the organization, and society. Don’t be afraid of it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
To women I mentor, and who have worked with me through the years: “Yes, of course you can do it all, just remember you don’t have to do it all at the same time.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Michelle Obama. Classy lady who stayed true to her roots and used her experiences in the White House and beyond to become a powerful influencer in our world today.
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