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In the March edition of Dr. Burks’ Discussions on Leadership series he describes the many ways that curiosity serves leaders and advocates for always making time to do the little things.

To listen to an audio recording of this message, click here.

Dear Teammates,

Curiosity is a trait that led many of us to healthcare. Curiosity about a problem and how to solve it. Curiosity about our patients and how to reach them to make sure our care plans are heard and followed. We bring curiosity to our work with teammates, as well. In these letters, I have often said that true empathy in leadership means understanding the unique motivation of every teammate. You cannot find that without curiosity.

As lifelong learners, that curiosity never wanes. Over time, I have taken numerous courses and seminars and read countless books and articles on the philosophy and psychology of leadership. I’ve implemented some things and ignored plenty of others in an effort to stay authentic to my own personal values.

But, one source that I always come back to is The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner. Originally published in 1987, the authors have recently released their seventh edition. One lesson I’ve taken from Kouzes and Posner is the value of stories. As they write, “Research shows that when leaders want to communicate standards, stories are a very powerful means of communication…Stories provide concrete advice and guidelines about how things are done and about what to expect in the organization.”

With that in mind, I’ll share one story from The Leadership Challenge. In the story, a plant manager at a manufacturing facility in Texas thought that the trash he often found around the plant and in the parking lot did not match with the goal of being a world-class facility. The plant manager stopped at a hardware store one day on his way back from lunch and bought a two-gallon bucket. He walked around, filling up the can with trash before emptying it into a larger trashcan in the main control room. His team got the message. Other managers began bringing their own buckets. It prompted a discussion about the best ways to keep the facilities clean. Soon, the trash was no longer an issue and everyone felt pride and ownership of the plant.

The reason we talk constantly about the value of our One Great Team is that each of us contributes to our mission and plays a role in providing excellent care to patients. Much like stories, people are more likely to remember negative events and experiences. Consider all of the people a patient interacts with during their stay in the hospital from the staff at check in, to patient transport, environmental and food services, and numerous members of the care team. An unpleasant interaction with even one of those people has the potential to create an overall negative impression for the patient. Our success depends on each of us understanding how we fit into our mission and always doing the little things. To tie it back to the story, no one is above picking up a piece of trash.

I’ll close with another story to exemplify this attitude, this time from within our system. One of the highlights of my job is reading the many complimentary emails and messages I receive from patients and families. Recently I received one that was extra special, since it came from a teammate. This teammate was in Chapel Hill with his father who was receiving care at the Medical Center. He praised each person his family interacted with, from the valet to the surgeons and OR team. But what stood out was a little thing. People stopping to ask if he needed directions around the hospital. As he put in the note, this experience allowed him to see our Carolina Care culture from a different perspective.

As leaders, let’s commit to doing the little things and showing our teammates that when everyone works together, we can build a world class culture of curiosity and caring.