Cultivating Trust: Why This Is the Most Important Job of Any New Hospital Leader

Whether a hospital leader’s exit is expected or not, uncertainty is sure to follow. While the new leader, either an interim or permanent executive, will likely have numerous issues to deal with right from the start, there’s one that rises above the rest in importance, and that’s cultivating trust. 

Mike Lieb, vice president, interim services, for HealthTechS3, calls the cultivation, or in many cases the restoration, of trust the first and single most critical thing to be done. 

“Transitions are always scary, even in the best of circumstances,” he says. “If you are sincere when responding to people and you gain their trust, they will relax and give you the space and the help you need to be successful.”

Lieb will be presenting a webinar on Friday, Dec. 4, that will explore what the critical early days of a new executive should look like, and he plans to talk at length about building trust and how it can be done.

Cultivating or restoring trust is a delicate process, but the good news, Lieb says, it involves mostly common-sense measures, like being transparent.

Being transparent doesn’t mean telling all—and it also doesn’t mean telling lies. “Being transparent means being open and being honest and knowing it’s OK to tell people you don’t know or can’t say,” he says. “And if you’re unsure, tell them you’ll find out and get back to them—and keep that promise. Trust and credibility go hand in hand.”

Lieb recalls an interim placement he had at a hospital that was preparing to declare bankruptcy. “I couldn’t utter the b-word because the physicians would have fled and the hospital’s staff would have been in a constant state of worry,” he says. “We were able to reorganize and restructure and it ended up working out very well, but in the seven weeks it took to get there, I stood up in front of everyone twice a week and couldn’t say a thing about it.”

What he did say was as critical as what he didn’t. “I told them we were in a tough spot,” he says. “And I told them there were things I couldn’t say. I also asked for their trust, and I asked for their help. It was important to me and to the process that we had that.” 

But asking for trust and getting it are two different things, and the latter takes some additional effort. In addition to being transparent, garnering trust as a new executive also takes being highly visible.  

Whenever Lieb has served as an interim leader, he says he makes it a point to “never call people into the principal’s office.” As much as possible, he meets with other hospital leaders and staff on their turf, or at least in neutral territory, like a conference room. And this simple gesture can make a huge difference, he says. 

“New leaders have to get out, go onto the floors, and ask a lot of questions like ‘What do you need?’ or ‘What can we do for you?’ Listen more, talk less.”

Hospitals should always be prepared for change, and that’s even more true now. Lieb has seen an uptick in demand for HealthTechS3’s interim placement services since this summer, and he expects the need will continue to grow in the first half of 2021. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think the timing is good for interims for a lot of reasons, and the pandemic, of course, is a big one.”

That makes Friday’s webinar one you won’t want to miss. Reserve your spot today.