Dawn of the Leadership System

Intersecting Core Values with Human Behaviors

It is Tuesday morning, 7:00 AM. The executive team of Virginia Mason Medical Center meets in a drab hallway with charts and graphs on a wall. Once a week, they meet like this to review progress toward strategic objectives. Virginia Mason has been recognized by the Leapfrog Group with 17 consecutive ‘A’ Hospital Safety Grades, for preventing medical mistakes and other potential harm.Virginia Mason is one of the safest hospitals in America, maybe even the world. This may sound insignificant because we assume hospitals are safe. The reality is not so clear

. A most recent study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality found that 160,000 people die from deaths due to errors, accidents, injuries, and infections while in hospitals. This puts avoidable deaths in hospitals right behind heart disease and cancer in America as a leading cause of death.

Virginia Mason has a unique approach to leadership. They do not rely on the myth of the transformative leader. Instead, they have designed a system of leadership with a unique DNA and then trains every leader to the system’s requirements. The system transforms, but not just a few. It transforms the entire culture. The system starts from a core value of respect, respect for the patient, respect for the work, and respect for the worker. Everything hangs on respect. Through rules and routines, respect also drives behavior. For example, respect requires the executive team to be on time. Being late is disrespectful to others and their time. Respect also requires the executive team to stand as they review progress. Sitting around a conference table discussing progress wastes time.

At the end of that hallway is a laminated poster. It lists ten behaviors, expected to be modeled by leaders. On closure inspection, I see small green post-it dots by several. Each has an initial written on it. The initials represent members of the leadership team who commit themselves to practice specific behaviors for the year. Here they are, ten behaviors that are driven by a value of respect.

• Listen to understand
• Keep your promises
• Be encouraging
• Connect with others
• Express gratitude
• Share information
• Speak up
• Walk in their shoes
• Grow and develop
• Be a team player

What would the workplace be like, if organizational core values could be tied to specific behaviors of leaders and management?

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