By Lee Ann Liska
I recently spent the weekend retreating with a group of executives, the top females in their respective companies. We have strict rules for our group – we cannot solicit business from each other and we cannot share our member information. Even though many of us have business relationships with each other, the purpose of our forum is to share camaraderie and friendship. We have retreated together for years, locally and across the country.
The weekend was exceptional. We sailed together, dined at two of our member’s fabulous homes and enjoyed retail therapy at local boutiques.
I came away renewed. This group of women is so important to me, even if I don’t see them more than once or twice a year. I especially enjoy the downtime together, discussing everything from health, our relationships, the stress in our jobs and general challenges in leadership. I can’t stop reflecting on an important conversation about courage in business. We noted that in our respective fields, many of our coworkers were no longer as courageous as they once were, when they were appointed to their CEO roles. The courage that may have helped them get promoted has now been adapted on a situation-by-situation basis. These particular colleagues include becoming less sure of themselves, and more absorbed in their own success. This change of focus on self vs. the company or its primary consumers (patients, shareholders, clients) is a danger sign for many advanced leaders.
A recent LinkedIn article by Dan Eichenberger, MD, MBA, a healthcare consultant and physician executive, entitled “A Maxim of leadership,” was a perfect read after this great weekend retreat. His article suggests that successful leadership is rooted in a healthy, unchanging foundation of principles.
Dan lists these “A’s” as Approachability (a leader’s ongoing approachability at all levels of the organization), Adaptability (a leader creates a culture that embraces change), Accountability (welcoming accountability for self and one’s staff) and Affordability (balancing demanding resources), with firmly rooted morals and ethics. By not adapting to our new CEO roles with courage and having a disproportionate focus on self, we can’t be foundational leaders for the future.
Back to the wonderful retreat – I always listen carefully to these colleagues, probably more than they know. Some are retired, some are launching new businesses and others have changed industries. I learn from all of them. One colleague recently retired at an early age and is starting a new company with an incredible purpose. Everyone who spent time with her was excited to hear about her focus and passion, and can’t wait for the next retreat for an update on her new company.
We reflected over mimosas how important this annual weekend retreat is to all of us. As busy executives, getting away for a long weekend is not easy. Many of our forum members can’t attend and we miss them terribly. Those of us who can be there remark on the priority of our time together. The ability to be ourselves is treasured. We laugh, cry and passionately disagree with each other. We don’t leave until we’ve planned next year’s retreat. We settle on a date and revise the daily schedule based on this year’s retreat’s success.
I consider the women from the retreat both colleagues and friends. The prioritization of the retreat keeps me connected with these amazing women, providing unexpected gifts of advice and warmth. I learn from them and care for them deeply.
Making new friends while serving as a top executive in one’s company or field is complicated. When making friends in our own companies, we have to be careful that those friendships are not misinterpreted as favoritism. Making genuine friends later in a career is also hard. Many of us have deep friendships to maintain already, in addition to our extended families.
For young leaders, I encourage you to build new professional relationships and to keep them alive. Hopefully they will turn to sincere friendships over time. The gifts they will bestow upon you are treasures for your future and will continue to give back to you in personal renewal and growth.
Lee Ann Liska is a CEO with over 30 years of integrated health systems management experience in successful provider organizations. With a background in hospital operations, physician practice management, and ambulatory services in academic and community health systems, she shares her expertise on leadership and patient experience at leeannliska.com.