We asked local CEO Art Gladstone (ACHE past Hawai'i-Pacific Chapter President and current FACHE), "What was your unique pathway to leadership?"
Q. Would you describe for our readers your early years and your unique path to leadership?
A. My path was unique in that things happened for me very fast. I trained as a nurse in Canada and moved to Hawai‘i to work as a nurse here during the nursing shortage. I started as an emergency room nurse at Pali Momi and then became a nursing house supervisor, over time moving into different management positions and later into Pali Momi's administration as Chief Nurse Executive, Vice President, and eventually its Chief Operating Officer.
Early in my career at Pali Momi, I was fortunate that the director of nursing was also my mentor. She encouraged me to apply for the OR nurse manager position that had just opened up. Keep in mind that at that time I had no OR experience to speak of. Still, she felt I had the foundation to be a good manager and she knew of my interest in moving from the bedside into management. I remember that interview where the first question asked was, “What are you going to do for us?" I was genuine and sincere when I said I could help bridge the gap between the OR department and the rest of the hospital so they would be more integrated into the organization. And even more important, I said I was highly interested in learning from them. I said, “Teach me. I’m willing to learn from you.” What I knew I did have was a way of connecting with people and a willingness to learn all that I can. After that, I had an interview with the OR staff and could feel they knew that even as manager, I would connect with them on the human level. Those two interviews sealed it for me, and they all did teach me a lot about the OR and managing others.
Years later, when the chief nursing executive (CNE) of the Kapi'olani and Pali Momi medical centers was leaving, the CEO asked me to serve as interim CNE for Pali Momi. I was happy to do what I could to support the organization and after serving in the role on an interim basis, I decided to apply and was selected to be the head of nursing at Pali Momi. In 2003, I was promoted to be head administrator as chief operating officer (COO) of Pali Momi. I held that position for a year after which I moved to Straub to be COO of Straub's hospital, clinics, and physician group. This was a major career milestone for me because professionally I had “grown up” at Pali Momi where everyone knew me and I was comfortable. I knew going to Straub would be a very different environment and a new challenge. I also knew I would take skills and strengths learned and honed at Pali Momi that I would have to use to demonstrate and build trust and build upon the organization’s existing culture. By developing a patient-first culture at Straub, we were able to achieve excellence in quality and patient safety goals. Every time we achieved specific goals, it strengthened our commitment to do even better.
Advice: “It’s important to recognize staff who do the work to provide the great care to our patients to also show that you are there to support and assist them."
Q. What individual or individuals influenced you the most and why?
A. I've been fortunate enough to have had great mentors throughout my career in healthcare at every step of the way. A fun example of individuals who influenced me at a young age is related to my passion for the game of basketball. I played for a lot of years. I learned and played the game from a very young age and so I really understood the game. I had basketball coaches along the way who understood my passion and tapped me in various ways to provide leadership to others via playing and coaching. People who know me well know this passion and my tendencies to utilize basketball analogies in my daily work.
Another person who influenced me is a patient who became somewhat of a friend. I’ll call him Mr. H. I was working the night shift as the house supervisor at Pali Momi and knew of this patient in the ICU who was extremely sick. One night during my rounds, I saw this family that had been sitting in the ICU for days on end. I stopped to greet them and check on how they were doing. Eventually, Mr. H was moved from the ICU to the nursing floor. By this time, I had gotten to know his family. Each day as he was recovering, I would stop in to see him to say hi and to bring him the newspaper. Eventually he recovered and went home. Years later, our paths would cross again when he came back to the hospital. One day we ran into each other and as I put out my hand to shake his, he pushed it aside and put his arms around me and gave me a big hug. He shared he had been diagnosed with cancer. He was back at Pali Momi to have surgery. It was evident the cancer had advanced and he was not going to make it. He ended up in the hospital again and was there for several weeks. On his last day in the hospital I went to visit him before discharge. I grabbed his hand and said, “Don’t worry, you’re going home”. He replied with a smile, “Yes I’m going home”. He passed away shortly after that. After his passing, his family said Mr. H had wanted them to ask me if I would be the emcee at his memorial service. That meant a lot to me. It was a very meaningful health care moment for me. I always share this story with staff, especially new nurses, to relish and reflect on those special moments. "Although there will be tough days in our chosen field, there will also be many of those special moments that serve to remind us why we do what we do and keeps us going.”
Q. What unique characteristics and strengths played a role in your professional development?
A. I think my ability to connect with people and my working style, which is collaborative. You also need to be decisive as well as know you will make mistakes and that you will have to take some risks. When mistakes do happen, you need to own them, learn from them, and move forward.
Q. Early leadership lessons for you?
A. It's important to do your homework when implementing something new. Work out the process and when you do implement, be sure you have a balance of clear direction and support. Do not pull back on the direction too quickly and ensure the project has lots of support throughout the change process. Once the process is hardwired, you can move yourself into more of a supportive role.
Q. What advice would you give to those looking to advance in the area of health care administration and leadership?
“Put yourself out there. Opportunities will continue to present themselves to you, but you have to put yourself out there.”
“Be willing to also understand and accept that you may not be ready when an opportunity does present itself. It really comes down to timing. In the meantime, until the next opportunity, you are gaining experience along the way”.
“Learn humility. It’s the best way to really connect with people.”
“Talk to your supervisor. If your goal is to grow in your career, then let that be known. Be clear and intentional about your career goals. Be fully transparent. Your supervisor or manager will not know unless you tell her or him. When they understand and support you, they can help guide and make things happen for you."
Q. What are some things you’ve done to create and support the organizational culture that is Hawai'i Pacific Health?
A. I really enjoy mentoring staff and leaders. Being a mentor to different people helps to build the culture because it’s an opportunity to connect and communicate the organization's vision and mission. The other thing I did was to have what I call “Monday Huddles” for the purpose of connecting with staff, setting a positive tone, and gearing up everyone for the new week. I then added our “Friday Huddles” at Straub. This was specifically a time to recognize staff and end the week on a high note. Huddles are meant to engage everyone and send the message that everyone is on the same team.
Setting clear goals is paramount to success and that includes setting goals to achieve the highest level of quality and patient safety. I would say it is important to recognize and celebrate, even the “little things”. This helps us ensure that we're focusing on delivering the best possible care to our patients, their families, and our community.
Thank you Art. Any final thoughts?
Here at ACHE, our foundational principle of why we belong is because we are leaders who care. I am proud that we want to provide the best health care to patients, families, and community and that we are committed to being a part of the solution to improve systems of care while addressing challenges and costs. Just as one of my early mentors encouraged me, I encourage everyone to look at more opportunities for growth in leadership.