What do Mountain Climbing and Healthcare Leadership have in common?

Michael Rose

I am 36,000 feet in the air, winging my back to Seattle from the HFMA Region 11 Healthcare Symposium  in San Diego, CA.  As I sit here, looking out the window at the beautiful scenery of the Cascade Mountain Range and the Pacific Northwest, I am reflecting on a keynote presentation that struck a deep chord within me.  Alison Levine, New York Times Bestseller author of “On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership”* spoke to the audience about her journey to scale Mt. Everest and the lessons and beliefs that kept her going.  Levine makes the case that the same leadership skills necessary in successfully summiting the world’s tallest peak can also be applied to today’s pressure-cooker business environments, including healthcare.

The journey from volume to value-Michael-Rose-quotebased payments requires organizations and individuals to be innovative and nimble to survive. The world challenges us to think and act in new ways and push our boundaries.  As a GE employee we are continually challenged to excel, lead and innovate. We are encouraged to be entrepreneurial and have the courage to “pivot or persevere” – know when to keep going and know when to change course.  I thought about the role I have within GE Healthcare and the lessons that I’ve learned as well as the most important leadership qualities that– according to Levine– aren’t necessarily learned in corporate America.  These lessons can help us succeed during this turbulent time of Healthcare Reform and can apply to anyone in healthcare – whether you are a healthcare leader, clinicians or staff.

  • Fear is OK. Complacency is what can derail you.
  • We think progress happens in one direction only. Sometimes one has to go backward to move forward.  “Backing up is not the same as backing down”.
  • The lack of tolerance to fail prevents us from learning and progressing. A leader has to give themselves and their teams the freedom to fail.
  • Break down the big, intimidating goal into small steps and focus on achieving those small steps. As Levine put it “Five to ten breaths for every step and I need to cover a distance of more than 3000 vertical feet.  There’s no way I can do this!”  Instead she focused on the short term goals – the next rock, a certain piece of ice – to achieve the larger goal.
  • Sometimes you have to toss out well-laid plans and take action based on the situation that exists now rather than plodding along according to the “plan”.

Let’s take a page or a chapter from Levine and develop our own high-impact leadership muscle to scale the peak of Healthcare Reform (and make it back down again).

*Alison Levine. On the Edge: The Art of High-Impact Leadership.  Grand Central Publishing, 2014


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