Leadership: Start with Integrity

by on August 4th, 2011
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“You want me to what?” she asked.

I inflated my chest and, in deep a baritone as I could muster, responded, “I want you to tell your staff that we will not be paying for overtime from this moment forward.”

Her face contorted at first. Then it went slack. Her head wobbled a bit, and then very slowly she shook it from side to side.

As a new manager in a leadership position, I had just been given my first order from above. I did not want to seem incompetent. I was over my head in this new position as it was. I could not imagine denying my superior’s demands in the first week. I was about to learn how important integrity was going to be in my future. I filled the silence, “We are pretty over budget year-to-date, and it can all be linked to your salary costs. When I break that down, I see that each of your staff is getting about 12 hours of overtime a week. If we cut that out, our problem would be solved.

“If we cut that out, we would not be able to do our jobs,” she whispered.

“Well, Ruth, your the manager, you will just have to find a way,” I nodded in support of my statement. I had the wind at my back, so I continued, “Or, maybe we will just have to find a manager that can.” I had nearly twenty years of history as a successful director, regional manager, and CEO. The only difference was that my history was with rehabilitation, not an acute care hospital. Lucky for me I was going to learn that some leadership qualities are universal.

I felt a certain pride in delivering my lines in a controlled fashion. I imagined how much recognition I would get from my boss when I told him how I had handled the problem. I could see him nodding at me, maybe even giving me a Mona Lisa smile for the job I did. This is what I thought leadership was all about.

Ruth was shrinking. Her hands were feeling the contours of her face. She did not look comfortable. She did not look happy. I began to not feel so good myself. There had to be a different way. I did not think I could be comfortable leading the pharmacy, a department of skilled and knowledgeable people, if I was going to force directives on them. Despite the fact that I had only a few days of history on the job, I felt that if I had to feel like a bully every time I wanted something done, I couldn’t do it. This would be the hill I would “die” on.

I changed course, “Why do you think we have so much overtime?”

Ruth looked back at me. She seemed confused. “Because,” she squeaked. “We don’t have enough pharmacists to cover all of our shifts.”

It made sense to me. I nodded.

“If my staff did not come in for overtime, then some patients would not get cared for.”

That made sense too. I probed the obvious question, “Why don’t we hire more?”

Ruth was inflating, “Well,” she grew some more. “We have such a tight pay scale; we can’t compete with other area hospitals and other retail locations.”

It made perfect sense to me. Next obvious question, “Why don’t we pay more?”

Then came the dagger, “Why don’t you ask your boss?”

So there it was. I thought I was climbing the corporate ladder. I thought I was done treating patients and having to deal with individuals. I thought I was above the trenches. The truth was, however, that my trenches just got bigger and deeper.

“Let’s not do anything right now.” I said.

“But you said…”

“I know what I said, Ruth,” I cut her off. Then I said the statement that would become a valuable relationship builder with Ruth and the pharmacy department, “I was wrong. I need to hear more about overtime, our pay scale, and honestly you, before I can support changing how we do things.”

Ruth looked suspicious.

I felt stronger being wrong and owning my error than I did pushing a weak idea that I knew nothing about forward. “Let me talk with my boss again. Let me be sure he understands where we are at.”

“Won’t you get in trouble?” she asked.

I was not so sure how much she really cared. “Maybe, Ruth. But if you and I are going to work together, we need to know each other, our jobs, and our situations. Until that happens, I need to pull up my big boy panties and tell my boss I need more time.

This is how I think you lead. This is the essence of leadership. You know your staff. You know them on a personal level, their strengths and weaknesses. You know what their jobs are. Then you help them with their job. If you can help, do so. If you can’t, stay out of the way.

The funny thing is that my boss was impressed that I declined to do his dirty work at that time. As time passed, I fought for the pharmacy and their needs. It proved to be fruitful.

Leadership is about leading, not demanding. If you want to get more information and thoughts on leadership.


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