The recent extensive publicity about my approach to addressing budgetary problems at BIDMC is a bit discomfiting to me personally. While it is always nice to get good reviews and favorable press, I view what we are doing as so consistent with the values of the people at BIDMC that I think that the praise that is being applied to me individually seriously misses the point. Yes, leadership really matters. But after all, it is our staff who are choosing to make sacrifices to help avoid layoffs and to help the lower wage workers in our hospital. They are the true heroes, whom people need to be focusing on most. If they didn't have the core values they are showing these days, nothing I or any other leader could do would matter.
Clearly, there is something bigger going on, something I had not fully understood or anticipated. I have come to conclude that the credit being given to me is reflective of something that people seek and need during these rough times. Thomas Friedman writes about it in yesterday's New York Times, citing a lack of leadership at the national level that would draw people to think more deeply about their values and to act on them.
“There is nothing more powerful than inspirational leadership that unleashes principled behavior for a great cause,” said Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book “How.” What makes a company or a government “sustainable,” he added, is not when it adds more coercive rules and regulations to control behaviors. “It is when its employees or citizens are propelled by values and principles to do the right things, no matter how difficult the situation,” said Seidman. “Laws tell you what you can do. Values inspire in you what you should do. It’s a leader’s job to inspire in us those values.”
Dr. Lachlan Forrow, an ethicist at BIDMC, thinks that Mr. Friedman has it just slightly wrong. In a note to me, he says, "I do not think it's true that what the most effective leaders do is "inspire in us those values" (though yes, that's part of the story), as much as embody them, honor them in the rest of us, encourage and facilitate their expression/release, and then celebrate that release so there's a positive feedback loop."
I really like Lachlan's formulation of the case. In an earlier post, I referred to Lois, a manager in our Department of Medicine, who taught me that our community's approach had contributed to her ability to deal with the fear of the moment, enabling her to be able to be generous to others. This was extremely touching and meaningful to me and supports Lachlan's statement.
Last week, I heard about a priest in Duxbury, MA who was using our hospital's experience to make the same points. I thought this was an isolated case, but then a friend sent me this link to a pastor in Concord, MA. I remain a bit abashed by the personal nature of the post, but I need to share with you the lesson that this preacher set forth and to commend his leadership in doing so for his congregation. And I am grateful, too, for how he empowers our own staff at BIDMC -- regardless of their religious beliefs -- to further greatness by specifically citing their good deeds.
The employees at Beth Israel Hospital may or may not be Christians, but they certainly give us Christians a sign of the kind of giving our faith requires of us.
It’s always easy to give from our surplus, from what we don’t really need. But the love of Jesus asks us to give from our want: to give even when we don’t have enough to give or when it seems we have nothing left to give.
The more this economy pinches and squeezes and drains us, the more real will become the options faith sets before us.
May the sacrament we share here nourish in us the love that gives freely of itself for the sake of others.