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In this edition of “Discussions on Leadership” Dr. Burks outlines how leaders can balance daily demands with longterm success.

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Dear Colleagues,

Over these last months, we have all faced decisions that forced us to weigh today’s survival against tomorrow’s success. That is true from the organizational to the individual levels.

One thing that we did very early on was to state our priorities: “to provide the very best care to our patients and to keep our team members safe.” Safe in this case meant both physically safe from the virus, and protected from layoffs or furloughs, it expanded further to mean safe and respected in the workplace.

Stating your priorities – especially publicly – has a way of making certain choices much more clear. It does not make them easy though. The challenge as leaders, especially leaders in a time of crisis, is to set goals, stick with them, and then deliver in a way that instills trust among our teams. Equally difficult is tackling many daily challenges while also acknowledging that today’s circumstances are not permanent and making sure that the decisions, we make now do not negatively impact our long-term success.

Over the last several years, we have talked about how growth in our system is essential to meeting our mission to the people of North Carolina. While the momentum around new partnerships in our industry slowed during 2020 and through the heights of the pandemic, it was also obvious that the financial and business strains of COVID-19 would prompt a good deal of activity in this area. As an organization, it was vital to pursue partnership opportunities that will set us up for the future we desire. We knew that if we were not proactive, we might lose the opportunity to set our own path for success, lessening the impacts of our work.

The goal was not just to grow, but to pursue the right mix of partners – partners who share our mission to improve the health of the state that we serve.

So, we approached this work with a key question: How do we ensure we are the right size and can provide the broadest scope of services for care when people are sick and in helping keep them well?

We set out criteria for considering new partners: expanding our Carolina Care philosophy to more patients and ensuring they can receive the best care locally, increasing access and value, promoting greater health equity in our state, and extending our research and educational mission.

While this work accelerated as we were still feeling the many stresses of COVID-19, I believe that we were able to keep moving it forward because it was so perfectly aligned with our mission.

I hope that in this example of our system strategy you can see some connections to growing and expanding the impacts of your teams.

To move forward and to bring others along, establish the “why.” Outline your vision and ensure that whatever goals you are pursuing tie directly back to your departmental and our organizational mission.

If you can define that “why” then it is much more likely that your teams will be more highly motivated and everything will turn out well in the end.

As you begin to bring others along, it is essential to ensure everyone’s role is clearly defined. Team members need to understand both how what we hope to achieve connects to the mission, but also how their individual responsibilities fit into the overall effort.

When setting these roles, think critically about the ways that you outline the scope of the projects. Balance sharing the details of an individual’s responsibilities and their contributions to the goal while avoiding overwhelming with minutia.

As Nobel Prize winning economist Herbert Simon once said: “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

Finally, set benchmarks through the process and interim goals and timelines. Make these markers public for your team on a collaboration site or white board. Schedule regular check-ins and report outs so that everyone can be aware of progress. Make clear how delays in any individual work stream can stall the overall work and hold people accountable for meeting the deadlines they have set forth. Acknowledge and stress the priority of this work and make clear plans for managing the immediate crises that can arise and need to be handled quickly. Strive to minimize the distractions these can cause.

As we begin to focus more clearly on the future and our goals for success with the impacts of the virus – hopefully—continuing to diminish, how can you expand your impact, both for your departments and for the growth of those you work with? What new capabilities have you developed through COVID and how can they be applied to new areas? Set some ambitious goals, engage your teams, and track your progress. After all we’ve done in this last year, there is no limit to what we can accomplish together, as One Great Team.



This is the fourth installment of “Discussions on Leadership.” Previous editions: