Leadership and the feasible

Talented political leaders, like talented generals, can win battles and campaigns that would overwhelm those less able or less energetic. So, asking if a policy is feasible is, in part, asking a question about the advocates of reform, especially their creativity, commitment, and skills—and about their opponents.

Getting Health Reform Right, p. 66

Although I’m still only early on in Getting Health Reform Right, there’s food for thought in every section. The quote above is from their chapter on the politics of reform, and although the political context of health care reform (particularly in third world countries) is an animal unto itself, this quote got me thinking about what makes a successful first-world corporate leader.

I’d start by rephrasing the meat of the quote: Asking if a corporate initiative is feasible is, in part, a question about the leader who sponsors it, especially their creativity, commitment, and skills—and about their opponents’ creativity, commitment, and skills.

I’ll have to be honest, I love this vision of leadership, not only because of how it describes the leader (creative, committed, skillful) but also because of how it expresses the interrelation between initiatives and the leaders who support them.

Isn’t this the kind of leader we all want to work for? The kind of leader whose initiatives we want to be a part of? And for what it’s worth, isn’t this the kind of leader any of us would want to be?

And while I’ve been fortunate enough to know many leaders who fit this bill, I’d be hard pressed to count on more than one hand the number of CXOs I’ve run across who lived up to this vision. Certainly any reasonably competent CXO will have at least one of these qualities, and more often than not two, but for some reason I simply haven’t come across many who have all three.

To be fair, I’m a latecomer to the corporate world, so maybe ten years is not enough time to have bumped up against more of these exceptional CXOs—but then what does that say about corporate leadership that you could spend ten years working and not encounter lots of great leaders?

Anyway, I took away two things from this vision of leadership. One, I want everything I do at work to draw me towards leaders who have creativity, commitment, and skills and away from those that don’t. Two, I want to have experiences that help me develop these same qualities so that I can live up to this vision of leadership when I take the reins at an organization.

So how about you all out there: What do you think about this vision of leadership? Have another one that you think works better? And what about the lack of exceptional leaders at the C-level? Have you had better luck finding them than I have?

As usual, jump in and let’s get the conversation started.

The execution cycle

I’ve cracked the next book in my quest to better understand the health care problems facing the U.S.: Getting Health Reform Right, by Roberts, Hsiao, Berman, and Reich. This is another long one, so a dedicate review is a ways off, but I came across an interesting framework in the opening chapters, one that, with some slight changes in emphasis, could have applicability beyond government policy to include corporate decision-making.

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Review of Health Care Will Not Reform Itself, by George Halvorson

George Halvorson is the CEO of Kaiser Permanente, the largest not-for-profit health plan and care system in the U.S., and has been a leader in the industry for over 30 years. Health Care Will Not Reform Itself is his attempt to spell out what he thinks are the key problems and most promising solutions to the health care problems we face.

For Halvorson, as the title of the book suggests, we cannot expect our health care system (which he calls a “nonsystem”) to spontaneously, organically transform to become more efficient, less expensive, and more effective. He would disagree with Christensen that disruptive innovation is acting like some invisible hand, making care more affordable and effective day by day over the long haul. The only invisible hand Halvorson sees at work in the U.S. health care nonsystem is profit…and our nonsystem is structured to reward things most folks would consider less than desirable for the country as a whole and its citizens as individuals.

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Review of The Innovator’s Prescription, by Clayton M. Christensen

So, at long last, I’ve finished The Innovator’s Prescription by Clayton Christensen. This was a bit of a slog, but worth it. In every section, Christensen delivers solid ideas and compelling frameworks to understand and address some of the main problems facing health care in the U.S. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to dig in more deeply to this issue.

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Words of wisdom – CIO roundtable, Oklahoma IT Symposium

I was lucky enough to attend the Oklahoma IT Symposium two weeks ago and hear a great CIO roundtable with leaders from a diverse set of organizations:

  • Dan Barth, CIO, OPUBCO Communications Group
  • Gina L. Bradford, CIO, TMA Systems
  • Scott Martin, CIO, Nonni’s Food Company, Inc
  • Gene Rindels, Director of IT, Charles Machine Works, Inc.
  • Hugh Scott, VP, Direct Energy
  • Chris Truesdell, CIO, QuikTrip

I jotted down some things that struck me at the time and wanted to share them here.

One caveat: I was handwriting notes, not recording, so the quotes here should be taken as paraphrases of what was said. And if anyone was there and remembers differently, please jump into the conversation and add your take as well.

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