Thursday, February 20, 2014

Leading the way for CoxHealth leaders

This month, we sat down with Dr. Bob Lunn, CoxHealth’s executive director of leadership development. Over the past year and a half, Dr. Lunn has developed CoxHealth’s Leadership Institute. For him, it’s the latest chapter in a career that has combined hands-on health administration and leadership as a university professor.

His path has led him from some of the nation’s largest academic medical institutions to Missouri State University, where he founded a Master of Health Administration program 15 years ago. He chuckles when he says that CEO Steve Edwards occasionally refers to him as a “wise old man.” The fact remains: you can learn a lot from a 30-minute conversation with someone who has spent more than 40 years as a leader and a trainer of leaders. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

• I got into hospital administration by accident. During the Vietnam War, the draft drove me to a medical service corps commission and the rest is history.

• When I was first training, I remember seeing patients – especially little kids – who were really sick, and it was troubling to me. I wondered if I could do this long term. The more I got into it, the more I really got a heart for what was going on with patients. We trained right on the clinical floors with house staff and nurses, and that training made me sure I would never do anything else.

• I’ve been blessed to have a career that has combined academic work and hospital administration practice. Being able to do both is what I set out to do – it’s the only thing I’ve ever planned that worked out like I hoped it would when I was 25 or 30.

• I put myself through my MHA with three jobs, working as a guard at a juvenile correctional facility and working overnight in the blood gas lab at Duke. In the evenings after class, I worked as a dancing waiter – but not the Chippendales kind. The bartender and the wait staff at our club were all men and part of our job was to do dance routines – like The Temptations – and to dance with the women in the club. I was glad to get my MHA done and get just one job!

• As part of my life plan, I knew that around age 50 I wanted to run an MHA program. I looked all over the country for opportunities and the one that popped up was here at Missouri State. I was an attractive candidate to them because I was willing to start it from the ground up. I think I was the only one who would take that job (laughs).

• CoxHealth is so attractive because there’s a real commitment to developing leadership, even in a time when resources are tight.

• People are hungry here, they want the opportunity to train. We have our own college, we’re training our own professionals, and as we get involved with the MU medical school and the BJC Collaborative, we have the chance to become more academically oriented.

• To be effective as a leader, you need to have an authentic relationship with the people working close to you. Everybody has their battles; everyone has their scars. Great leaders know and appreciate the backstory and they’re effective in matching the skills of the people they work with to the needs of the organization.

• Leaders don’t have to be geniuses, but they have to be thoughtful and intelligent. They have to be able to analyze data, put things together and see patterns. And they have to have the willingness to lead.

• Great leaders have an intense curiosity, achievement orientation and a high level of conscientiousness – people who grab something and don’t let it go until it’s done. Leaders need tangibles – like critical thinking and the ability to solve problems – and intangibles, like force of personality, what you might call “sparkle” or “thrust.”

• You can get caught up in the drama and the details of doing your own job and you can forget that your main job is to make your boss more effective. We all have a boss and when you’re sensitive to how you can help the boss be more effective, your worth to the organization goes up dramatically.

• Leadership is a huge responsibility. You’re affecting lives – first our patients, and then the people who work for you. To do this poorly is a form of professional ‘malpractice.’

• With my kids grown up, my interests outside of work are mostly church-related. I’m chair of the board of trustees at Schweitzer United Methodist, and I serve as a Stephen Minister – counseling people through bad situations. To some extent the things I do outside of work are still work (laughs). If I had life to do over again, I’d learn to play golf!

• If I wasn’t doing this, I would probably be a teacher. Or maybe a nurse or a psychologist, working with people and helping them with their challenges. If I had it to do over again, I’d look seriously at that.