Maggie BleharJune 14, 2024
Topics: Talent Experience

What They Don’t Teach You About Leadership: A Conversation with Temple Health CEO Michael A. Young

When Michael A. Young arrived for his first day of work as CEO of Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital in 2008, he encountered an immediate crisis: An ICU patient’s life was on the line after his ventilator failed. The hospital had no back-up, and finances were in such dire straits that the supplier refused to deliver the replacement part until payment could be made.

Young ended up purchasing the part himself, and the patient lived.

The next challenge? Making payroll. Young collaborated with other hospital leaders. Together, they worked out a creative solution that allowed them to pay staff through the quarter until more funds could be secured.

“Those are things you don’t learn at Harvard,” Young said. (By the way, yes, he is a Harvard alumnus.) “It’s cognition; it’s understanding that a problem has to be solved now, and then pulling people together to figure that out,” he said.

Young is the current CEO of Philadelphia’s Temple University Health Systems — his sixth CEO position to date. He joined us at IAMPHENON this year, sharing insights on authentic leadership, building a great team, fostering workforce resilience, the potential of AI, and more.

Read on for highlights, or view the keynote conversation here.

In This Article

    The Right Team Is Everything

    In Young’s opinion, the Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls remains the best basketball team ever assembled. The team embodied an effective combination of offensive and defensive skills – and was led by a coaching staff committed to helping players thrive in their positions, which powered win after dazzling win.

    “Everybody had a role on that team, and people didn’t fight over playing time, who played, or who took the last shot. Everybody knew what their role was,” Young pointed out.

    Leaders in the workplace should follow that same playbook to assemble a successful team, hiring the right people with the right skills into key roles, and then fostering their development. “Selecting the right team, developing that team, focusing on who they hire, teaching them how to get things done — I think that’s the difference between success and not,” Young said.

    Here are two other tips he shared:

    Hire “Yes” people

    Look for “yes” people, Young advised. They’re the ones who will see what’s possible and figure out a way to get around obstacles, rather than turning them into an excuse to say no. (“Yes” people are especially important to assign as leaders on a new technology implementation, he added.)

    Empower career growth to become a talent magnet

    Serving as a mentor to your team is so important — and that may mean encouraging a great employee to move on if they’ve found an external opportunity that will springboard their career. As star performers grow and rise up in their fields, others will take note of the skill and value they’ve developed at your organization, Young pointed out.

    How to Cultivate Outstanding Performance and Engagement

    When you’re at the helm of a 12,000-person health system, how do you evaluate staff’s effectiveness?

    For Young, it’s receiving a letter expressing gratitude for a life saved. It’s hearing from a grieving family that their loved one’s care was unbelievably respectful and compassionate. It’s seeing people regain their quality of life after receiving treatment at Temple.

    It’s also helping an employee thrive and mentoring them to reach the next career milestone. “That’s what really makes my day, is watching people do great things,” Young said.

    Taking care of people through small acts of appreciation on a regular basis can translate to a big long-term impact. “It’s recognizing people for the special stuff they do every day,” emphasized Young, who will send staff gift cards with personal notes of thanks to recognize accomplishments.

    How Leaders Can Instill Resilience

    Healthcare employees are exposed to trauma and tragedy on a regular basis. Even in industries where the stakes aren’t quite so high, times can get tough. What’s the most effective way for leaders to instill resilience?

    You get down in the frontline and help shoulder the burden, Young said.

    Walk the talk

    For employees to develop resilience, they need to know that leaders are truly by their side — not locked in an ivory tower. When a patient who was 40 weeks pregnant experienced a ruptured placenta, claiming her life and her unborn infant’s, Young responded immediately. “I got a call. I went down to the ER and cried with the nurses... they know that we know that we’re there for them.”

    Similarly, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Temple converted its medical office building into a temporary hospital for Covid patients. Young rolled up his sleeves and helped move equipment and transfer patients.“[Staff] know we’re behind them when we have an issue.”

    “When you do this, people learn resilience. They learn to get the yes, they learn to get it right, and my job is teaching that.”

    Make leadership decisions that align with mission and values

    Temple’s leadership makes it clear to staff that people’s lives and well-being come first. “Every caregiver knows that I care about the outcomes and our team cares about the outcomes. We treat first, and we worry about billing later,” Young said.

    He shared that Temple is expanding its ER and behavioral health crisis services into an underserved area of the city. This expansion might not have fantastic financial projections behind it, but it’s in line with Temple’s mission and values. “Someone needs to take care of these people. They’re our brothers; they’re our neighbors,” Young said.

    He's learned from experience that decisions like these pay off in the long run. “We have people who, because of what we do … wouldn’t work anywhere else.”

    In another example of leading according to values, Temple decided they didn’t want to expose residents — who are just learning their discipline — to an unsafe environment during the Covid pandemic. By assigning only experienced physicians to take care of Covid patients, Temple saw better clinical outcomes compared to many other Pennsylvania hospitals.

    AI: Its Potential and Demand for New Skills

    AI is poised to bring significant improvements to the healthcare industry, said Young, who serves on the board for the company Aidoc. Aidoc uses AI to help physicians read medical images more efficiently and detect critical results.

    Those benefits include moving the needle toward preventive care, using AI to surface early indicators for chronic illnesses and conditions, and recommending interventions to help offset those risks.

    With that and other medical advances, Young is optimistic that people can look forward to a higher quality of life and longer life span.

    Of course, reaping the benefits of AI will require employers to seek out new skill sets, such as data and analytics expertise. “It’s going to make a difference in who you bring in the door,” Young said. From his perspective, the most important quality is willingness to learn. “If you hire people who are very rigid, very incapable of learning, you’re doomed,” he said.

    If You Could Say One Thing about Being a Leader…

    What’s the most critical thing that Young has learned about leading people? If you act with the best interests of employees in mind, you’ll attract and keep top talent.

    “Always remember it’s about the people and what you’re doing for the people,” he said. “If you think about them from a 20-year perspective — their career perspective — and you’re always doing what’s right for their career, you’ll always be the employer of choice, and you’ll always get the best people.”

    Learn more about using AI technology and skills for hiring successfully in our Workforce Intelligence Guide.

    Maggie Blehar

    Maggie is a writer at Phenom, bringing you information on all things talent experience. In addition to writing, she enjoys traveling, painting, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends. 

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