It's time for the VITAL Physician Executive's Monthly Leadership Favorites – April 2017 Edition. In this feature I share inspiring and enlightening advice from respected leaders, generally from outside of healthcare (but not always).

Leadership Favorites – April 2017 Edition

This month's favorites follow…

United Airlines Faux Pas

United Airlines provided some obvious examples recently of how NOT to treat your customers (a.k.a. patients). Without getting into the weeds, here is what was reported:

  • United Airlines overbooked a flight;
  • UAL subsequently found that it needed four of the seats for its own employees to travel;
  • The discovery did not happen until after the paying passengers were already seated;
  • Four passengers were reportedly selected, using an unclear algorithm, to leave the plane to accommodate the employees;
  • Three of them left quietly, but one passenger refused to exit;
  • The passenger that refused to give up his seat was confronted and forcibly removed by airport security personnel;
  • Much of the altercation was videotaped by other passengers and has been extensively shared on YouTube and other social media;
  • The initial responses to the incident by the CEO of UAL was less than stellar.

There are several lessons to learn here, for sure. I think two of the best analyses that I have seen, especially regarding the importance of leadership in the face of a public relations nightmare, are provided by Skip Prichard and Michael Hyatt.

A Sincere Apology is a Must

Skip Prichard presents several very astute observations, and offers suggestions for dealing with a situation like this:

“United apparently chose policy over principle, chose employees over customers, chose to save a few dollars only to lose millions.” – Skip Prichard

leadership favorites - april 2017 edition apology


His advice for addressing an incident such as this:

  • Avoid it in the first place by establishing protocols and giving employees freedom to do the right thing.
  • Admit your mistake and don't trivialize it.
  • Apologize sincerely for the mistake.
  • Assess the situation thoroughly before it spirals out of control.
  • Acknowledge what went wrong.
  • Act to resolve the issue and take steps to prevent future occurrences.

The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging. – Molly Ivins

Next is some sage advice from Michael Hyatt: Why United’s PR Disaster Didn’t Fly.

He notes that Oscar Munoz initially gave a “defensive, legalistic apology” and then tried to blame the customer. He recommends that leaders display “extreme ownership” when attempting to control the narrative in a situation like this.

Making Excuses

One of the traps that Munoz fell into was making excuses for the failures at UAL that led to the PR embarrassment. It is unusual for a seasoned leader to fall into that trap.

leadership favorites april 2017 edition excuses

But our teammates and direct reports can easily forget the difference between the cause of a failure and an excuse. In How to Confront Excuse Makers, Leadership Freak Dan Rockwell provides specific responses for the four most common excuses leaders hear:

  • “I didn't have time.”
  • “I'm not ready.”
  • “It's just the way I am.”
  • “I'm afraid I might fail.”

Have these responses ready the next time of your direct reports tries to lower your expectation of him/her using one of these excuses.

Reverse Delegation

There is another maneuver that employees sometimes use to avoid accountability. Dan Rockwell calls this reverse delegation and provides some advice for combatting it in 12 Sentences That Prevent Reverse Delegation.

He explains what reverse delegation is:

Reverse delegation happens when delegated tasks end up back in your bucket.

A couple of examples of statements that can be used to deflect reverse delegation follow:

  • “What’s the next step you can take?” Use “You,” not “we.”
  • “No. It’s better for your career for you to grab this opportunity.”

You can find the full discussion by Rockwell in his recent article.

More on Powerful Language for Leaders

As leaders, we need to use language to inspire and motivate others. This is not manipulation. This is using our words to bring out the best in those that we influence.

Skip Prichard provides a list of Powerful Phrases that every leader should use regularly. The first one brings us back to the UAL debacle that I started this post with:

I'm sorry.

Prichard goes on to explain that this short phrase demonstrates self-awareness and personal responsibility, and is very powerful.

Moving away from accountability, his list of powerful phrases includes:

Tell me more.

What's working?

I'm proud of you.

I think you'll appreciate the other 8 phrases and Prichard's explanation of why these work so well.

Tools for Quality

On a more practical note, Becker's brought together a list of 19 Quality Improvement and Patient Safety Toolkits. Several come from the AHRQ, an organization whose tools I described in Six Steps for Delivering Outstanding Patient Safety and Addressing Disruptive Behavior.

These toolkits can help to address quality and safety issues in ambulatory, hospital and nursing home settings. I recommend that you or your quality staff check them out and use the ones that can help in your QI efforts.

In Closing

Those are some of the articles I found inspiring and educational this month.

I will be attending the AAPL Spring Institute and Annual Meeting in New York City in a few days. My plan is to write a couple of posts with fresh information and/or news from the meeting.

To keep this content coming Subscribe here.

Tell me what you'd like to read more about:  Survey Page

Contact me:

And if you enjoyed this, then share it using the links below!!

See you in the next post.