This month, Greg Christian, Hawaii Market President for Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan, took
time to share insights into his background and approach to leadership, and some
words of advice.
for us your unique path to leadership.
I graduated from Westmont College in Santa Barbara with a
Bachelor’s in Business & Economics. During my senior year we had a guest
speaker – the founding Father of ServiceMaster Management Services, LLP - in my
International Business class. This guest speaker became my mentor and I joined
ServiceMaster in June of 1982. His philosophy and leadership style were
“Servant Leadership.” ServiceMaster had
strong Christian principles guiding the organization. For example, the name ServiceMaster came from
“Service to the Master” referencing Jesus Christ. I learned a lot about the
importance and power of building culture within an organization. It requires having strong values for your
people. I believe some executives manage
up and peer to peer well, but the ones who develop amazing culture are those
that have a genuine heart for their people.
This does not mean a passive approach, quite the contrary; to me it is
like good parenting. As family members,
we all want to be loved. In business,
all want to be valued. It is up to the
leader to create that culture throughout the organization.
Tell us of an individual who influenced you
the most and why:
My mentor as noted above was Ken Hansen. He was a devout Christian man. He honored everyone!! He was very strict, yet caring… He was so well liked that no one wanted to
let him down. I always say this is one of
the best outcomes of culture - the team does not want to let the leader down or
their colleagues down. This was the
culture leader Ken was. I tried to learn
these things each day, often with failure, but knowing it was all about the
journey to refine and get better.
Who or what influenced your leadership style?
of this is covered above. I have been blessed
with many amazing managers that were Servant Leaders. My current boss is amazing! She is genuinely caring and is all about my
success. She sees her role as to mentor,
yes, but to also clear barriers so I can be more effective. This is the role of the Servant Leader. They are low on EGO and but solid on “WE GO.”
This is the leader I want to be for my team.
My role is to help my leaders lead and grow in this way too.
What were important early leadership lessons for you?
in public, counsel in private.
on potential, not just on past performance.
communication must have 3 solid ingredients: Honesty, Directness and
Respectfulness. Without all three,
people will not listen or hear OR they will not want to follow or go along with
the objective you are trying to achieve.
your calendar or it will manage YOU!
Time management is critical.
visible, don’t hide in your office! Your
Servant Leadership conscience should pull on your coat tails… nudging you to be
out there showing your care, concern and focus for the organization and its
your metrics, know what questions to ask, engage in learning from your people.
results oriented in all you do, while growing your culture! They go hand in hand!!
types of professional development activities did/do you find of value and why:
enough I loved Toast Masters when I was at Hoag Memorial Hospital in Newport
Beach. As a young man, it forced me out
of my comfort zone and developed my nerves as a speaker. I still get nervous, but it gave me some
solid training to organize my thoughts. The Graduate level Executive Development
programs offered by ServiceMaster and Kaiser Permanente help you form amazing
relationships with your colleagues, while problem solving real organizational
there any habits, practices, or activities you established to further cultivate
your leadership style?
I came to Hawaii, I gave my team a simple book to read. It was: “Honest, Direct and Respectful – 3
words that will change your life” by Dennis Adams. I wanted my team to know that their voice matters. In healthcare, developing a “speak up”
culture is imperative. It sets the tone
for a culture focused on quality and patient safety. It is a book that forces you to examine
yourself in a very honest way. Then it
helps you to learn how to develop your communication style so that “Honest,
Direct and Respectful” become a routine in how you communicate. We could all use a little more of this style
of communication in leaders, especially in our country right now!! Good communication is of upmost importance!!
make rounding a habit. It is a challenge, but one I am often working to ensure
there is time for. It is a chance to
model your expectations of your managers in how they should spend time with
their people. Ensuring our people know
how valued they are to organizational success is HUGE!! I am constantly trying
to get better at this.
review my calendar nearly every day looking two weeks or more ahead so that I
am prepared or making time to prepare for what is coming. Also, I do this to make sure to remove
meetings that are not aligned and set with organizational goals and objectives.
relationship is important. It is
important to build trust at all levels.
It is impossible to attain 100% from everyone, but we should try. Sometimes some of the strongest trust I have
attained was out of conflict, using Honest, Direct and Respectful
Conflict – over the years I learned some solid tools that I have applied to
manage conflict. A big piece of this is
managing my own emotions so that my behavior models what I expect of
others. This is not always easy but look
at it as an opportunity to develop strong trust.
Balance – find time to be with family, to rest, to rejuvenate…
What advice would you give to those looking to advance in the area of health care
administration and leadership?
much of this can depend on where you are.
you are a new Post-Graduate, look for Fellowship Programs. Kaiser Permanente hires up to 6
Post-Graduates every year. They are our
future. They are selected from a base of
200 – 250 top schools in the country.
Seek a Fellowship. Next, I
believe it is important to take a role with a leader that will challenge you
and help you to advance based on your development. I started out as a housekeeping manager after
college. My mentor, the organizational
goals, and growth opportunities were huge.
So, connecting with a mentor is so critical.
you are a manager looking to grow… again, find that mentor that will help you,
guide you. Also, ask your manager if
they would be interested in helping you develop skills and abilities
commensurate with the direction you want to go.
Some leaders don’t always have managers who are focused to develop their
people. That is sad, but it is not the
end. Find someone else in the
organization or outside the organization that will help you.
– Network through groups like ACHE, or your Association, or other Community
Business Roundtables or Chambers. This
will lead to the development of relationships and who knows, maybe a path to an
organization that is more aligned with your personal goals.
What are some things you've done in terms influencing your
facility’s organizational culture?
I’ve noted a few above, e.g. rounding, HDR communication,
developing relationships, etc. Another important thing is to help influence,
develop and encourage the development of people organizationally. I do believe learning is a life-long
experience. This was a strong principle
and focus of ServiceMaster back in my early years. Kaiser Permanente is very much as focused and
it compliments the “walk and talk” in taking a genuine interest in our people.
Any reflections on leading a healthcare organization through
the unique challenges of the past year?
We must listen to the consumers of healthcare like never
before. We must find ways to meet their
needs in quality, service, convenience, and affordability. COVID-19 really forced many organizations
like KP to find ways to strengthen virtual capabilities in the primary care
arena and in the specialty arena. There
is much more to do here.
We must listen to our people and take care of them. KP has learned from the Department of Defense
about how PTSD can be supported or managed.
Many of our physicians, nurses and staff have seen a “battlefield” of
critically ill patients. The impact on
our people is huge. A recent report
showed that nearly 30% of young healthcare workers are thinking about leaving
the healthcare industry. That is all due
to the impact of COVID-19. We must find
ways to care for and reassure our people. We haven’t been hit as hard in Hawaii, but our
people have gone through similar challenges.
Mahalo, Greg, for sharing your story and thoughts with us!