Developing Leaders – Exposure

Last week I started a series on developing leaders. I wrote about a project I had worked on with a large healthcare system’s Northern California Region of 21 hospitals. We created a leadership development program for Environmental Services (EVS, the department responsible for cleaning and disinfecting the hospital to prevent the spread of disease) leaders across the region.  Where we started, and what I wrote about last week, was the question, “What knowledge and skills do advanced directors in that department need to have to be successful?”

After identifying the list of knowledge and skills we then asked the question, “How do we help people develop that knowledge and those skills?” The first thing most people think of when asked that question is training. What comes to mind first when we mention training is a classroom, in-person or virtual. But, that’s not where we started.

Forty years ago I read a book that still has an influence on my concepts of leadership development. Here is an excerpt from the publisher’s description of that book:

“On March 14, 1948, Douglas Hyde handed in his resignation as the news editor of the London Daily Worker and wrote “the end” to twenty years of his life as a member of the Communist Party. In [his book], Dedication and Leadership, [Hyde] advances the theory that although the goals and aims of Communism are antithetical to human dignity and the rights of the individual, there is much to be learned from communist methods, cadres and psychological motivation. Hyde describes the Communist mechanics of instilling dedication, the first prerequisite for leadership.”

Start With Exposure

If you have children who are or have been in High School, or you remember your High School days, you may remember the question, “Why do I even have to learn this stuff? I’m never gonna use it.” You can fill in the blank with which subject may be referred to by the question. But, do you remember?

A state and/or local body decides what should be in a school’s curriculum for a set of reasons that make sense to them at the time. Students may have some electives within disciplines but largely their responsibility is to show up and learn.  When they don’t understand why they’re learning this or that, motivation to learn is often very low. Only the most internally dedicated students, usually those who see this course as a necessary step toward a larger goal, excel.

The Communist Party, according to Hyde, takes a different approach to teaching new recruits. To instill dedication in new members, one technique of “the party” is to put brand new members on a street corner to hand out party literature. With very little knowledge or experience, they field questions and often endure negative feedback from passers-by. This exposure to the real world creates within the new recruits a strong desire to learn. It gives them questions they want answers to so, by the time they get to a classroom, they are eager to soak up the instruction.

We took a similar approach with the healthcare system’s EVS leaders. We set up the program to begin with Exposure in order to create the desire to learn. In fact, our goal was to focus 20% of the program on exposure opportunities.

Some Examples

One of the competencies for these leaders was “Demonstrates Customer Focus.” In a hospital setting everyone who comes through the door, staff and members/guests, is an EVS customer. A service strategy to address the whole spectrum of customers is to concentrate on service delivered to each of the many departments.

With that in mind, we had new EVS leaders attend the management huddles/meetings of some of the departments they serve. When an EVS manager is present in a meeting of the Surgery department, for example, the opportunity is rarely missed to bring up questions or concerns about between case cleaning, terminal cleaning (at the end of the day, not after someone dies) , or the sterile core, or bio-hazardous waste removal. The new EVS leader may not have the answers to those questions but, s/he  certainly has the motivation to find them. That exposure generates a desire to learn.

Even if those questions don’t come up, the new leaders are exposed to the meeting agenda letting them know what’s important to that department.

We also had them attend various committee meetings. One important committee, of which EVS is always a member, is the Infection Prevention and Control Committee. In those meetings, data and trend analysis about specific types of infections is discussed as well as strategies for preventing them in the future. This committee also reviews and approves procedures and products related to infection prevention including EVS procedures. What a great opportunity to instill a desire to learn about something that may not have been interesting to that new leader without exposure to the committee.

Exposure creates the desire to learn and grow. What are some things you could expose new leaders to in your organization?

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