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Lou Holtz: Leadership Tips for a Successful Healthcare Team

At the Becker's Hospital Review Annual Meeting in Chicago on May 10, college football hall of famer Coach Lou Holtz gave his winning tips for healthcare leaders to inspire their teams and confront challenges by sticking to the fundamentals.

Mr. Holtz, whose career record was 249-132-7 when he retired from coaching in 2004, credited the audience of healthcare executives with making the types of decisions and managing the types of institutions that treated his wife, a throat cancer survivor.

A writer of three New York Times best-sellers and "the only man to have written more books than he's read," the coach recounted his experience coming to the University of Notre Dame in 1986 to coach the faltering Fighting Irish. School officials told him their challenging athletic policies maintaining rigorous academic standards for athletes and refusing transfer student athletes. "But they didn't tell me anything that said we can't win. They didn't say we couldn't have 11 players on the field," he said. "If there weren't problems, they wouldn't need you."

The same is true in healthcare as hospitals face a challenging business and regulatory climate primed for major changes. To succeed, leaders must have a vision for the future, a plan to get there, lead by example, enforce accountability for themselves and others and ensure all members of the team share the same core values.

To get there, he said attitude is more important than anything else, and the responsibility for keeping positive lies solely with the individual. He said a poor attitude led to his decision to resign from his only professional football coaching stint with the New York Jets, breaking his five-year contract in only eight months — a decision he regrets. "Good jobs don't open up, only bad jobs do," he said. "You've got to make them good jobs."

As coach at Notre Dame, Mr. Holtz said he was given two tasks: graduate the athletes and win games. Everything else was secondary. Similarly, he said hospital executives must do two things only: help patients and keep the organization solvent or profitable. "That's it, don't complicate it," he said.

Embracing change is imperative to fix the problems the healthcare industry faces. He gave the example of typewriter manufacturers who needed to find a way to keep the keys from jamming from fast typists. The teams couldn't find a way to make the machine faster, so they instead found a way to force people to type slower — the QWERTY keyboard layout. It seemed crazy at the time, but it became the standard that is still in use today.

All leaders should follow three rules, he said. Make good choices, do everything to the best of your ability and require others to do the same, and show others you care. The last rule is especially important for those who have wronged you, he said, because bitterness serves no purpose. "When people need love and understanding the most is usually when they deserve it the least," he said.

His final tips for a happy lifetime were to move past regrets and grudges and help others be successful.

More Articles on Hospital Leadership:

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5 Leadership Dimensions Needed for Patient Safety Initiatives

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