At the Healthcare Financial Management Association’s ANI conference in Las Vegas in late June, I had the pleasure of attending a keynote speech given by Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who successfully landed a plane on the Hudson River in January 2009, saving the lives of the 155 people onboard.
The miraculous water landing was big news, and I remember thinking at the time that there must only be a handful of people capable of doing what Sullenberger did that day. I was in awe of what he had achieved, and it was a genuine treat to hear him speak.
The focus of Sullenberger’s address was leadership. He cited integrity and compassion as being among the key traits of a good leader.
“Some would deride those by calling them soft skills as opposed to hard skills,” he said. “I bristle at that. They are wrong. Those aren’t soft skills; they are human skills…They have the potential to save as many lives as technical skills, as clinical skills.”
According to Sullenberger, leadership is about setting the tone for the team, aligning goals, opening channels of communication and creating a shared sense of responsibility for the outcome.
“There’s a big difference between having a big title and being an effective leader,” he said.
Just days after Sullenberger’s inspiring speech, the Supreme Court released its decision about the Affordable Care Act, ruling all aspects of it constitutional, including the individual mandate.
Immediately, the 24-7 cable TV news outlets were full of talking heads from both major political parties shouting over each other in a contest of who could speak the loudest and score the most points with potential voters. Substantive conversations about the health reform law were tough to find. Instead, viewers were left to sift through the spin on their own.
And, there weren’t many signs of integrity or compassion among the politicians taking to the airwaves to voice their party-approved talking points.
It was a stark contrast to the picture of leadership that Sullenberger had painted. He talked of leadership as a selfless sport. It takes the “discipline to think of someone other than yourself and your own needs,” he said, adding, “Leaders need to do things for the right reasons.”
The media surge that followed the SCOTUS ruling showed politicians being anything but selfless. It was, and still is, a partisan mess.
So now the question is: Where will the leadership come from?
In the obvious absence of political leadership, it falls to healthcare industry stakeholders to take the reins. The true changes that desperately need to be made to the way this country uses and pays for healthcare must come from within. Providers, payers, technology vendors and healthcare financial managers must lead the charge and find ways to address the issue of healthcare reform.
It’s clear that Washington can’t do it. Politicians lack the political will to put country ahead of party. They also likely lack a meaningful understanding of the issues at play.
There isn’t much doubt that as a nation we spend more than we can afford on healthcare. And, whether Republican, Democrat, Independent or Indifferent, we are all healthcare consumers facing certain financial ruin as a country if we don’t get our arms around this issue and find ways to cut wasteful spending.
As Sullenberger put it at the end of his speech to a ballroom full of healthcare providers and financial executives: “I’m asking you to do more because your patients deserve it, your colleagues expect it and your profession demands it.”
We are all counting on healthcare leaders to do more. To find solutions to extremely difficult problems. To say the things that would never get a person elected but might have a chance of leading the nation to a better healthcare system.