Healthcare needs servant leaders for improvement, inspiration

Today as I think about the many amazing relationship centered and servant leaders who each day serve to benefit others … like my good friend Melinda Sheehee who in addition to her day job and many other foci has also worked to reduce gender based violence as the board chair of Maine Boys to Men and transform the lives of women and girls as the board chair of the Maine Women’s Fund … I have opted to tweak slightly and reshare the following post previously shared via Hospital Impact …

“Thank you. Thank you for being inquisitive, for asking questions, for making me want to think more deeply about X, Y, and Z. I am so grateful.”

This message came from a colleague (a leader at another healthcare organization) late last fall, and it told me far more about my colleague than it ever did about me.

This leader showed gratitude and vulnerability. She led with an open mind and heart, and based on the content of our discussion, lived the traits of a servant leader–the exact opposite of an egocentric leader. And it’s exactly what we need to truly adapt, innovate and improve the healthcare system to better serve our patients, families and communities.

Once I hung up the phone, I sat back, looked up, and gave thanks for leaders such as this: Leaders who are not so set in their ways, not so stuck in their own dogma or their own ego that they are open to considering new ways, new perspectives, new options, all in an effort to better their organization and those they serve.

“[C]ontrary to the myth of the ‘all-knowing-all-powerful’ leader, inspired leadership requires vulnerability: Do we have the courage to show up, be seen, take risks, ask for help, own our mistakes, learn from failure, lean into joy, and can we support the people around us in doing the same?” Brené Brown shared in the post “Leadership Series: Vulnerability and Inspired Leadership.”

Now, perhaps it was the time of year (Thanksgiving) but my conversation above was linked to some sad news that actually led to a place of gratitude and now (the beginning of a New Year) a vision for a new beginning.

In following up this conversation, I reached out to my contact at the Joint Commission to schedule another call and learned that Jerod Loeb, M.D., executive vice president of Healthcare Quality and Evaluation at the Joint Commission, [whose wife Sherri Loeb (a wonderful nurse) is also another amazing servant leader] had passed away in October after courageously battling cancer for the past two years.

Jerod is another extraordinary, brilliant leader. He used his own experiences as a patient to further improve the quality of care provision. He focused on improving patient safety, set a vision for creating high reliability organizations (HROs) and much more. I was blessed to have spoken with Jerod and his team on a few occasions (and to have read much of his work), noting every experience as inspiring.

As I mindfully considered my colleague, Loeb, and the leadership required to truly make a difference, the following questions came to mind:

As a healthcare leader …

» When was the last time I was courageous?
» When was the last time I was vulnerable and shared this vulnerability with my team?
» When was the last time my team saw my authentic self?
» How have I celebrated my and my team’s failures? How have we together grown, learned and improved care provision (as another colleague calls it “failing forward”)?
» How have I taken risks in order to benefit those I am blessed to serve?
» When was the last time I leaned into joy and brought joy to all those around me?
» How have I led, served and supported others to do the same?
» When was the last time I truly inspired others to achieve the mission of my organization and to serve others with care, compassion and love?

The U.S. healthcare system is profoundly broken and sorely needs the type of leader each of us can and should embody. People like my colleague and Loeb have inspired me, and I am so grateful.

Today I commit to serve and inspire others to carry on their message and to be a courageous servant leader. Will you join me?


  1. Yes I will! What you outline here is exactly what I aspire to, and what I try to achieve in my personal relationships as well.

    I am an LPN about to graduate with my ADN-RN in May. I used to run a nurse support group, and after getting a job as an RN I plan to do it again. This will make a great topic for one of our meetings!

    • How wonderful, Tammie. Congratulations on all you have done to date and the amazing future you will have in service to others. You truly are living as a servant leader. Please keep me posted on your healing the healer work (nurse support group). So very important … and especially at this time. Physician and nurse burnout, leaving the healthcare realm, and worse is significant…

      [] …

      The Schwartz Rounding model is a wonderful process that if you are not familiar with you may want to look into as well …


      I am so thrilled to hear from you and so thrilled you are engaging in such a profound way to help others.

      Please let me know if I can be of service to you.

      Thank you.


  2. I enjoyed your article. I spent my formative leadership years working for the Daughters of Charity. Servant leadership was taught, modeled and expected. I am forever grateful to have learned how to lead by serving others.

  3. Thank you for this revelation of leadership. Exactly what healthcare needs. I’ve been on the other end of working for the egocentric and it’s painful. As one of my former colleague said, abusive. Thank for providing us with some inspiration and a positive direction with servant leadership.

  4. I’ve had the chance to meet James C. Hunter, author of the great book “The Servant: A Simple Story About the True Essence of Leadership” and to teach some workshops about his book. I highly recommend the book for anyone seeking to learn more about Servant Leadership. The book is written in a “fable” format.

  5. Servant leadership is the only way in HealthCare… We have the ultimate role model .. He was born 2016 years ago ..

  6. I would love to be a servant leader but sometimes your not allowed or given the opportunity to show what you can offer. However, this is something that is needed in Healthcare.

    • Thank you for sharing, Danielle. And please know you can be of service and lead in many ways in many roles. And yes healthcare and beyond needs us all to do so. Please let me know if I can assist. Thank you.

  7. Many leaders struggle to realize that his/her job is to “create the environment where improvement happens daily”, not to have all the answers. It is through the servant leadership that they enable others to make improvements.

  8. As always, it is refreshing to read Tom’s very insightful writings. We need to continue the fight and never ever give in to anything less than perfection.

    • Thank you, Quint. You have exuded servant leadership throughout your career and continue to lead and serve brilliantly in all your community improvement initiatives. An inspiration to many.

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