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13 important lessons for every leader

March 25th, 2014

by Darlene A. Cunha

What does it take to create a great leader who can survive the neck break pace of healthcare reform? Astute leaders surround themselves with excellence, a team that strives to carry out the mission and vision of the organization, while analyzing ways to continually improve.

But what intangibles make a great leader? While there are hundreds of books on this topic, I always go back to my roots. Some of the basic lessons instilled in me as a child are the same lessons that have supported my growth and success as a leader.

Three years ago, I wrote a book for my three adult sons about the important lessons I hoped I had taught them about life. I was reminded of this when I read "10 Essential Strategies for Leaders Living in a Complex World," an article by Joy Goldman published last week in Becker's Hospital Review.

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I too have worked in healthcare for more than 33 years and am all too familiar with the stressors and challenges facing healthcare leaders. As Goldman pointed out, we must deal with shrinking budgets, misaligned incentive systems, mergers and acquisitions, and reductions in force.

Working within this ever-changing healthcare landscape requires fortitude and patience. But more than that, it requires us to dig deep and remember the important lessons we learned from our parents, former colleagues and bosses.

Here are a few of life's lessons that were instilled in me and I instilled in my sons. These lessons are invaluable in life and leadership. I hope you agree.

1. There is no free lunch. Do not feel entitled to anything you don't sweat and struggle for. While a college degree may get you in the door, it will not get you to the top of the career ladder, or for that matter, keep you there. You have got to work your way up--hard and continuously.

2. Set goals and work quietly and systematically toward them. Try to resist the quick-fix mentality. Easy gains often disappear as quickly as they came. Don't feel compelled to talk if you do not have anything to say that matters.

3. Assign yourself. My mother used to ask me if I had homework, and if I said no, she would "assign" me something. Hard work, initiative and perseverance are still the keys to success. Set the example for others to follow.

4. Don't be afraid to take risks or be criticized. Don't be afraid of failing. It is the way you learn to do things right.

5. Be honest. Strive to live what you say and do.

6. Never give up. I don't care how hard it gets. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, "when you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn."

7. Be confident that you can make a difference. Don't get overwhelmed. Try to take each day and each task as they come, breaking them down into manageable pieces for action while focusing to see the whole.

8. Don' t ever stop learning and improving your mind, or you will be left behind. The world is changing like a kaleidoscope right before our eyes.

9. Slow down and live. "Slow down and enjoy life. It's not only the scenery you miss by going to fast--you also miss the sense of where you are going and why." - Eddie Cantor

10. Be a can-do, will-try person. America is paralyzed by the can't-doers with no vision and no will. "The three great essentials to achieve anything worth while are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense," as Thomas Edison once said.

11. Use your political and economic power for the community and others less fortunate. You do not need to hold a visible public role. Be a quiet leader in your own home, workplace and community. You are in a position to influence either positively or negatively every minute of the day.

12. Remember you are in charge of your own attitude--regardless of what others do or circumstance you face. The only person you can control is yourself. "As human beings," Gandhi said, "our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world--that is the myth of the 'Atomic Age'--as in being able to remake ourselves." Worry more about your attitude than your aptitude.

13. Be reliable. Be faithful. Finish what you start. Steve Jobs said it beautifully: "Your time is limited, don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living the result of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of other's opinion drown your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition; they somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

Darlene A. Cunha, MMHC, BSN, RN is an accomplished senior healthcare executive, who focuses on population health management and the patient caregiver experience.

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