I have long held that leaders can’t fake authenticity. When you’re passionate about your vision, it is felt by others whether they support you or not. It’s a realization that has been easy to come by because I’ve had so many great mentors.
One of my favorites has been Stu Hanson, a pulmonologist, a health care executive, and a prime mover in Minnesota’s historic national leadership role in creating smoke-free workplaces. Stu would often say, “I’m trying to work my way out of a job.” Putting aside his recent retirement and the fat-chance odds behind his conviction even when he was mid-career, to know Stu is to understand that he wasn’t kidding. Stu’s mantra was the ancient proverb: “When you are through changing, you are through.” Perhaps it is a philosophy born out of the Herculean-sized stubbornness needed to take on the intractability of an addicted smoker. Or maybe being wired to push for change helps you cope with the blowback and disappointments that come from working to change something as unyielding as a culture.
As a student of leadership as well as one interested in the intersections between health care business and public policy, I also can’t help but follow Toby Cosgrove, a cardiologist who became Cleveland Clinic’s CEO. I have assumed that his equanimity about the controversy that surrounds his ban on hiring tobacco smokers is grounded in the righteousness that only a cardiovascular surgeon can feel at his core after having performed 22,000 operations, at least half of which were lifestyle-induced. What else explains his more recent foray into smoking bans at universities? In a speech to the Harvard Business School Club of Cleveland, Cosgrove said: “The fact that American universities are not smoke-free appalls me.” Though being right is a powerful buffer, it doesn’t change the likelihood that he’ll be disparaged.