“Excellence Wins” in Healthcare – Leading is an Acquired Skill

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We are reviewing the book titled, “Excellence Wins”, by Horst Schulze, founding president and COO of Ritz-Carlton.

While having a copy of the book is certainly not needed to enjoy the next several BLOG posts, if you’d like to grab a copy to follow along, feel free to pick it up at Amazon here, or of course at your favorite book store.

This week we move into part three of “Excellence Wins”, BUILDING TRUE RELATIONSHIPS, as we review chapter eleven: LEADING IS AN ACQUIRED SKILL

“They’re just a natural born leader.” (1) Don’t believe it! There is no such thing as a natural born leader. You and I have encountered leaders in our careers that appear to be “natural born leaders”, but the truth is, leadership is an acquired skill that takes hard work, much effort, and being intentional. In the article, “Qualities That Define a Good Leader (13 Personal Traits)”, are listed 13 leadership qualities or traits that good leaders possess and/or demonstrate.

1. Honesty
2. Delegate
3. Communication
4. Confidence
5. Commitment
6. Positive attitude
7. Creativity
8. Inspire
9. Empathy
10. Accountability
11. Enthusiastic
12. Focus and drive
13. Responsible

Mr. Schulze says it this way, “I have known too many leaders (including myself) who showed little aptitude in the early going for taking charge. They wouldn’t have won a popularity contest or been voted most likely to succeed. They had neither ‘the look’ nor the assumed requisite temperament of leadership.”(2)

Strong, effective leaders may have different and varied personality types. For example, Mr. Schulze points out that some leaders are ‘affable’, (3) meaning they are friendly, good-natured, and easy to talk to, while other leaders are deliberately quiet and speak few words, and may appear to be somewhat aloof. I love the example that Mr. Schulze uses as he illustrates that effective leaders can, and often have varied personality types.

“Take, for example, the apostles Jesus chose, who ranged from obstreperous Peter to cautious Thomas. Jesus chose both ‘work the system’ Matthew (a tax collector for the Romans) and firebrand protester Simon the Zealot.” (4)

Great leaders can be introverts while others are extroverts. Some of the better known introverts are; Charles Swab, Bill Gates, Brenda Barnes, CEO of Sara Lee and James Copeland, former CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. For more about effective introvert-type leaders, check out, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”, by Susan Cain.

Mr. Schulze emphasizes that every good leader must first, “muster the inner fortitude to first lead themselves before trying to lead others.” (5) Being a good leader requires self-discipline, the ability to stay focused, setting goals, and working toward those goals even when it seems impossible. Allowing ourselves to be transformed from within allows the qualities needed to lead others to develop. Leadership is an acquired skill; or better said, a set of skills, qualities, and behaviors that focuses on the future for the good of all concerned. (6)

Here’s how Mr. Schulze summaries leadership: “My point is, leaders are dreamers. They set their sights on worthwhile goals that will be good not only for themselves but also for their families, their colleagues, their employees, their customers, their investors, and society at large.” (7)

Visions Require Decisions

“Leadership is a lot about conscious decision making. It is about making up your mind that certain things ARE going to happen, because you’re going to pursue them relentlessly.” (8)

Mr. Schulze determined that he was going to make four decisions and stick to them, whatever the cost and whatever the effort. Mr. Schulze suggests we develop our own set of decisions that fit our unique circumstances and lives, and then relentlessly go after each. Below are the four decisions that Mr. Schulze made. Use them as inspiration to create your own.

Decision Number One: Strive to Inspire

“Because employees are important, I will create an environment where people want to do a good job. I will invite, not dictate. I will get results by inspiring, not by controlling or mandating.” (9)

You have heard it said, ‘Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ The origins of that saying dates back to the 19th century British politician Lord Acton. It seems Lord Acton had read the writings of several others before him, and many of those writers had expressed a similar theory, but in different words. Lord Acton is credited with, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”.

Mr. Schulze talks about the trappings of having power and becoming a boss. The hierarchy within the organization tempts us into believing that as the boss, we can order people around, making them do what we want them to do. When we’re wielding power, somehow it begins to feel good, and before you know it, if we are not careful, we can begin to treat people as objects instead of fellow human beings. Our requests turn into orders or even demands. After all, the boss has the power to fire and hire — “they better do what I tell them to do, or else.”

My wife and I recently celebrated our 40th anniversary by joining a group from NewLens Bible Studies here in the Nashville area, having the opportunity of a lifetime of spending two weeks in Italy. Our trip included learning about the early Christian Church and how the first century followers of Jesus encountered HUGE resentence from the Roman Empire. When I think about the saying, ‘Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely’, I can’t help but think about the early Roman emperors who actually declared themselves gods. For sure, the power of the early Romans corrupted absolutely!

Mr. Schulze’s decision to Strive to Inspire is how a good leader leads. Inspire your employees to want to follow you. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can demand their followship — it will not work.

Decision Number Two: Don’t Settle for Less

“I won’t settle for less than the vision.” (10)

We have all been guilty of this one, and because it happens sometimes so slowly, we don’t see it coming. One day you look up and it seems that a substandard product or service-level is somehow now the norm. It usually starts by making excuses for the subpar performance or service.

Mr. Schulze describes how one of his hotels in Boston experienced a terrible blizzard one winter, which caused the hotel’s occupancy rate to drop from an expected 68% down to 55%. The general manager of the Boston hotel explained how the blizzard impacted the guest’s ability to get to the hotel, which of course resulted in the 55% occupancy rate. Mr. Schulze and the general manger even discussed how a competing hotel, Copley Plaza, had a similar low occupancy rate as a result of the blizzard. Instead of looking at the situation and declaring that the excuse was a reasonable explanation, and accepting the low occupancy rate as unavoidable, Mr. Schulze suggested that there might have been an opportunity to attract some of the Copley Plaza’s customers during the blizzard. After all, many people were indeed able to travel during the blizzard, and some stayed at The Ritz-Carlton and some stayed at the Copley Plaza. Between the two hotels there were more than enough customers to fill The Ritz-Carlton to the planned 68% occupancy.

The general manger, with Mr. Schulze’s leading, developed a plan where they contacted all of the companies planning conferences in the Boston area during the next year’s winter season. Those companies were offered discounts, and were willing to pay in advance in order to receive those discounts.

It takes a special leader to think beyond what seems impossible. Just allowing yourself to think past, what appears to be a reasonable excuse, to find potential solutions is the mark of a good leader.

“I don’t pay people to think up explanations; I pay them to find answers.” (11)
— Horst Schulze

Decision Number Three: Let Nothing Cloud Your Vision

“I will not let my company’s growth and complexity cloud my vision.” (12)

If you are reading Thinking Thursdays TIPs, chances are you are part of a larger, much larger organization. As organizations grow, as departments are added, as new revenue streams are sought, as new levels of management are layered into the organization, the more COMPLEX the organization becomes.

Complex organizations can quickly lose sight of the organization’s mission and vision. Territorial managers stake out their turf and silos are built higher and higher. Something happens to hurt the department’s performance, so the siloed department head writes a new policy to prevent that type of mistake from ever happening again. Before long, there are multiple policy manuals, some in excess of hundreds of pages, all across the organization. This is called BUREAUCRACY.
“People are afraid to get outside of the rules and regulations.” (13)

When bureaucracy increases, creativity, innovation, and enthusiasm decreases. Growth is stunted. The organization goes from nimble and energetic to sluggish and dysfunctional.

Decision Number Four: Always Look to Improve

“I will always keep looking for new ways to improve, to be more efficient.” (14)

My career of 40 plus years has largely been dedicated to helping service companies improve by examining workflow and reinventing processes. First in the airline industry, from 1979 into 1994, and then in healthcare from late 1994 to present. Having led hundreds of service improvement initiatives during those forty years, I can present to you the most common “red flag” ever spoken. Here it is.

Ask about a policy, procedure, or process: “Why do you do it that way?”

Answer: “Because we’ve always done it that way”.

That’s it — THE red flag. If there is not a clear, easy to understand reason why a policy, procedure, or process is in place, there’s a real good chance that the policy, procedure, or process is long overdue for an overhaul.

As the manager of your practice or department, make challenging policies, procedures, and processes part of the normal, excepted, and even encouraged scrutiny of the practice’s operation. If existing policies, procedures, and processes continue to work toward the organization’s vision and mission, great, if not, ask your experts (your support staff) to help you examine and evaluate the policy and procedure. Allow your team to discover and reinvent obsolete policies, procedures and processes.

Are You Actually a Leader?

Mr. Schulze summarizes five key points as he closes out chapter 11. I’ll outline them for you below. You’ll need to get the book to read the details — it’s worth it!

  1. Understand the Vision
  2. Make a conscious decision to achieve that vision. Clearly communicate the vision.
  3. Execute the Plan
  4. Maintain Focus
  5. Energize Employees



Don’t forget to comment with your success story.

Please let us know if you have comments or questions, and subscribe to our Email Updates , so that you can be assured to receive Thinking Thursdays TIPs.
Thank you!

Jerry L. Stone
MedicalGPS, LLC.

Names: SCHULZE, HORST, 1939 author. | MERRILL, DEAN
Title: Excellence Wins: a no-nonsense guide to becoming the best in the world of compromise / Horst Schulze, with Dean Merrill
Description: Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan, [2019]


(1) Page 166
(2) Pages 166, 167
(3) Page 167
(4) Page 167
(5) Page 167
(6) Page 167
(7) Page 168
(8) Page 169
(9) Page 169
(10) Page 170
(11) Page 171
(12) Page 173
(13) Page 173
(14) Page 175
(15) Pages 176-178

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