Why you should know the names of your employees’ family members, With Leah A. Carpenter, CEO of Memorial Hospital West

Being consistent in how you treat people and care for them will always reap benefits beyond what can be imagined. For example, knowing the names of your employee’s family members and showing support during difficult times, like loss, or good times, like births and graduations. I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah A. Carpenter, CEO […]

Being consistent in how you treat people and care for them will always reap benefits beyond what can be imagined. For example, knowing the names of your employee’s family members and showing support during difficult times, like loss, or good times, like births and graduations.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah A. Carpenter, CEO of Memorial Hospital West. She’s one of three women leading hospitals within the six-hospital Memorial Healthcare System in South Florida. The three collectively lead a team of more than 6,000 employees and volunteers in facilities that see nearly 500,000 patients a year. MHS is one of the largest public healthcare systems (by revenue) in the U.S.

Thank you so much for joining us Leah. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

As a child, I decided early on that I was going to change the world by becoming a doctor. After my first semester in college, I learned the people that had the most opportunity to make a difference in the lives of patients were nurses, so I changed my major and began what I assumed would be a career at the bedside.

I initially had no interest in being an administrator at a hospital (we derisively called them “suits”), but there were other factors that would forever change my career path. I had:

  • A strong desire to bring solutions to healthcare problems
  • An unexpected handicap (progressive hearing loss)
  • Mentors insisting I use the leadership skills I was blessed with
  • A little bit of divine intervention

I believed, and still do, that if you don’t like what you see in the world, you must be a part of the change. For me, that was seeing healthcare leaders who were far removed from the realities of what was needed in the trenches show no particular desire to learn what they didn’t know.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your hospital?

Hurricane Irma in 2017!

Memorial Healthcare System is and always has been quite efficient managing disasters and weather-related ones are no different. In this case, we had already successfully survived, or so we thought, the worst of the storm, so I headed home after nearly 60 hours without sleep. Not 30 minutes after my head hit the pillow, I was alerted to a water main break in the city, which would mean we’d be without water at the hospital. That translates to no air conditioning, working sinks, or flushing toilets.

They say necessity is the mother of invention and it was that day, with our team of hospital, community, local, and state agencies finding ways to pump water into our cooling towers (first from fire trucks and then a nearby lake). Not long after, we learned a storm-related, nursing home crisis would result in us caring for several severely ill and elderly patients, so the solutions to our problem came just in time.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I had only been with Memorial Healthcare System for three months, and was working as chief nursing officer at Memorial Hospital Pembroke. I was still getting used to a new system, boss, team, and actively preparing for a Joint Commission survey when I got the surprise of my life. After believing there was no possibility of having children, I was pregnant! Terrified of facing my new boss, ecstatic, and numb, I prepared a six-page plan on how the pregnancy and baby wouldn’t affect how I handled my professional responsibilities.

I was shocked when he started laughing, congratulated me, and said, “becoming a parent will be the most rewarding thing you’ll ever do.” He insisted I not worry because everything would work out just fine. That really changed my attitude. 17 years later, we still laugh about that meeting.

What do you think makes your hospital stand out? Can you share a story?

Our longstanding commitment to always putting the patient and their family first in combination with our quest to provide the safest, highest quality care with service excellence that is second to none.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

All projects and new services are directly related to the ever changing needs of the communities we serve.

Our current focus continues to be on expansion of key service lines and initiatives such as cardiovascular, neuroscience, total joint replacement, bariatrics, oncology, and graduate medical education.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive and what advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Always be consistent, honest, and never compromise your integrity. Communicate frequently, in several different formats and be visible and accessible to all while actively listening.

Examples of my frequent communication would be monthly written updates to the entire organization about what’s happening within our seven pillars of excellence — safety, quality, service, people, growth, finance, and community.

I also have monthly “rap sessions,” high performer luncheons, new employee forums, and make daily rounds through the hospital to provide access, answer questions, address concerns, and reward those deserving of recognition.

All inquiries, recommendations and complaints are followed up on to ensure that we close the loop.

Every employee and physician has my cell and home telephone numbers and are encouraged to use them. I commit to everyone that I will always return a call, text or email within 24-hours, unless I’m on vacation.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have been fortunate to have many influential mentors — family members, teachers, leaders, etc. All have shared wisdom and guidance that I keep with me.

My parents and siblings make me feel like I can do anything. Even when I’ve failed, they’ve encouraged me to pick myself up and keep going.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve always lived by the notion that ‘to those who much is given, much is expected.’ With great success comes great responsibility.

I also recognize that my success isn’t mine alone. It belongs to all those who believed, provided encouragement, and pushed me along the way.

Given that, one of the most rewarding aspects of my job now is to mentor young leaders. I’ve seen them reach goals and achieve far beyond what they imagined was possible.

I hope that by using my influence to improve the safety and quality of care provided in our community, I’m also paying it forward in some small way.

What are your “Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why.

  1. Integrity is the most valuable asset you have as a leader and you must guard it with all of your might.

I’ve found throughout my leadership journey that your team will follow you and carry out your vision if they trust and are confident you appreciate them. That includes their work and having their back, even when they make mistakes. Say what you mean, do what you say, don’t be afraid to have crucial conversations, and, when you have to say ‘no,’ explain why you came to that conclusion.

2. Surround yourself with the very best. In fact, your team should be comprised of people who are far smarter than you.

No matter how educated or experienced one might be, there is no way you can know and do everything well. In not knowing everything and by surrounding yourself with people who are strong where you have opportunities, you exponentially increase your chances of success in whatever your team sets out to accomplish.

3. Treat your team with kindness, respect, and appreciation and they will accomplish whatever goals you have set for them.

Being consistent in how you treat people and care for them will always reap benefits beyond what can be imagined. For example, knowing the names of your employee’s family members and showing support during difficult times, like loss, or good times, like births and graduations.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I read an awesome book recently called “Getting of The Porch” by Alicia Booker. If I could start a movement, it would be called the ‘Getting Off The Porch Movement.’

It would be geared toward developing a sense of worthiness, authenticity, and selflessness in the lives of girls and boys during a time in their development when they are most vulnerable.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s this quote by John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire one to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then you are a leader.”

I’m a firm believer that to be a great leader you must remove your “ego” from the equation when looking at life’s work. In the end, one is not measured by the education, title, or material possessions acquired in life. We’re measured by the number of lives we touch.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO at Amazon. His company has figured out how to provide products and services that are hard to duplicate. As healthcare professionals, we can learn from, and potentially partner with, ‘no-box’ organizations that can help us provide the safest, highest-quality care with a level of service that’s second to none. Our industry would benefit greatly by not only changing the way we do things but doing them in a way no one has done them before.

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