Paul Hiltz, President of Mercy Healthcare, might be the toughest interview I’ve had recently. But for reasons you might not expect.
It’s not because he isn’t articulate. He is widely praised for his ability to clearly communicate a compelling vision of the future. His mind is sharp. His ideas are clear. His voice is calm and assuring.
It’s not because he’s too busy to talk to me. He answers all of his email personally and promptly, and gave me his personal cell phone number and encouraged me to call with any questions. I called him once without a scheduled meeting, and after we said hello he asked me if I had a couple minutes to talk. I called him, and he asked me if I had a few minutes to spare.
It’s not because he conceals key parts of his business which he can’t share. Not at all. Paul is known as constantly initiating projects of transparency, and building education campaigns to ensure that everyone clearly understands how the business works. He once hired financial consultants to conduct workshops to teach everyone how the healthcare business works.
And it’s not because he is inaccessible tied up in the boardroom, or in meetings. Quite the opposite. Paul spends almost the entirety of his time in the hallways, having lunch with patients, or families of patients. The staff describe him as constantly visible both in the hospital, and in the greater community.
The real reason Paul is such a tough interview is because most of the time when I ask how he led a big process reinvention, or developed a remarkable financial turnaround, or constructed an entirely new service roll-out in the hospital, he tells me I should talk to this department head, or that nursing administrator, or the other communications director. Every time he tells me it was really their doing. Paul tells me, “She took the lead on that.” Or, “He made it happen. Talk to him.”
So I talk to them. I interview the people Paul points me to, and they all tell me the same thing. Yes, they were part of the equation, part of the team, but they all point back to Paul. It’s Paul’s leadership, they say.
They say everyone in the hospital is simply rallying around his clear vision of a comprehensive and high quality healthcare environment – a healthcare system fully integrated with the greater community. Everyone understands the goal, and everyone is committed to the mission. One of the doctors in the hospital system described Paul as “a healing leader” – a leader who is able to heal wounds of distrust, heal the lacerations of broken communication.
Welcome to a new style of open leadership – a leadership style that believes in:
- influence not coercion
- collaboration instead of individual heroism
- treating employees they way we want customers treated
- continuous, not episodic, habits of learning
- giving, not taking, credit
- assuming accountability, but giving autonomy
- building inclusive, not homogeneous cultures
Paul Hiltz represents the epitome of a 21st century effective leader who guides not directs, influences not commands, and encourages instead of threatens. He has managed to galvanize the entire organization around a higher goal by constantly giving credit, and constantly giving the spotlight to someone else.