Over thirteen years ago I read an article in a Fast Company magazine titled, "Do You Have the Will to Lead?" The article is the summary of an interview with philosopher Peter Koestenbaum. While the context is dated, I return to this article often to help shape my thoughts and development as a leader. One passage in particular has kept me grounded as I have learned to lead CCMU and lead change in our health care system:
"Authentic leaders have absorbed the fundamental fact of existence - that you can't get around life's inherent contradictions. The leadership mind is spacious. It has ample room for the ambiguities of the world, for conflicting feelings, and for contradictory ideas...The central leadership attribute is the ability to manage polarity. ...Polarities are in the nature of things. How we act, how we respond to those polarities - that is where we separate greatness from mediocrity."
The idea of managing polarities has resonated with us at CCMU, and has allowed us to explicitly define the five fundamentals with which we approach our work:
- Fanatic Discipline
- Empirical Creativity
- Productive Paranoia
- Strategic Passion
- Realistic Optimism
The first three we borrow from the great business thinker Jim Collins, and the last two we developed through reflection about when we feel we are at our best. We believe our strategic plan guides us to what we work on, while these tenets guide us in how we do our work.
It is often challenging for us to allow these and other polarities to exist within our work. It can mean making difficult decisions about where to concentrate our energy and resources, or learning to accept that there is more than one right answer to a problem. Fortunately, it has also been very rewarding for us. CCMU was recently recognized by The Colorado Trust as the recipient of the 2013 John R. Moran, Jr. Grantee Leadership Award. In addition, we have received great feedback on our recent releases: our 2012 Annual Report, 2013 General Assembly Session Overview, and a new Community Planning Toolkit designed to help local health care leaders come together and effectively plan for health care reform. These and other successes remind us that our approach is helping to make our contributions more valuable to the larger effort of health systems change.
As we as a state move forward in this work, we encourage us all to find more room for ambiguity, contradiction, and polarity in our approach. There must be room at every table for differences in opinion. Our path forward must accommodate a shared vision of the future that is broad enough to resonate with us all but open-ended enough to allow for interpretation and diverse tactics. We should not attempt to dispel every conflict and understand every paradox but accept and embrace them as a valuable part of the process of transforming health care; then we will really be leading change for a healthier Colorado.