Freedom: The First Principle of Great Leadership
Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you are right. At first glance this phrase seems contradictory. But the gift of freedom allows all those in leadership to empower others to make decisions especially when a “teachable” moment presents itself.
Case in point: The CEO of a major health system was known as “the wise old fox.” After receiving an offer to join his organization as the first-ever vice president of marketing I asked: “John, why would you hire someone who has absolutely no experience in health care? He retorted: “Son, you’re not tainted.” And to be sure I remained that way his first assignment for this 35-year-old executive was to walk around the organization, ask questions, and come back and tell him what I learned.
Several months later I was having trouble with a few physicians who tried to undermine my hospital marketing strategy. I had all the evidence I needed to take my case before the CEO. I also had key members of the medical, nursing, and administrative staff supporting my position. All of my arguments were spelled out in a letter addressed to my adversaries highlighting their bad behavior and self-serving attitudes.
I met with John to articulate my grievance and shared a draft of the correspondence I intended to mail to the physicians. He read the letter, handed it back, and said, “David, you are absolutely right. The doctors are wrong.” John paused a moment and then continued. “But I’ll tell you what I want you to do. Put the letter in your desk until you have had time to think about your action. When you’re ready pull it out and read it again. If you still believe that mailing the letter is the best way to handle the matter, then send it. I will support whatever decision you make.”
As you probably guessed, I never mailed the letter. A short time later the physicians became my strongest supporters—all because someone gave me the freedom to choose the right action, attitude, and agenda.
Marketing & Public Relations Officer
Consumers Mutual Insurance of Michigan