Three Leadership Lessons for the NICU

By Sue Ludwig

My husband and I attended the EntreLeadership® Summit last week. While this unique event focuses on becoming a better leader in business, the principles are universal to leading well in any space, with or without a leadership title or position.

We were on the edge of our seats the entire time, learning from 12+ world class leaders from a myriad of industries. You were on my mind the whole time. You are the focus of my desire to become a better leader.

In order for NANT to far exceed my lifetime, I must continually learn how to be an intentional and forward-thinking steward of this community. In order to co-lead LAUNCH, I must be refueled by the latest lessons and evidence (yes, evidence) from those far beyond me in this journey.

When you return from NANT Conferences, your head is often overflowing with ideas, new practices, inspiration, and overwhelm. Same here! So, after pouring through notes, here are three takeaways that you can bring into the NICU today:

1. Negativity can be lethal.

Carey Lohrenz, the first female F-14 Tomcat pilot shared riveting accounts of experiences such as landing a plane on an aircraft carrier in total darkness with nearly zero room for error. This reminded me of the very slim margins of error afforded to anyone working with the tiniest humans on the planet.

One of the many takeaways from her interview was this:

When one is under tremendous pressure, making life and death decisions in seconds, negativity is banned because it is lethal. This means that even if a pilot is out of fuel and coming in to land under horrible circumstances, the language and culture of the entire team remains simple (directive) and positive. Per Carey, permitting any amount of negativity in that situation has been shown to lead to dire results. The mindset and words of the leader and the team must remain instructive, brief, and positive if there is to be any success.

Make a list of ways in which you can infuse this concept into every single interaction at the bedside with your fragile patients and with each other.

2. Three attributes of the ideal team player.

Best-selling author Patrick Lencioni, one of the best extemporaneous speakers I’ve witnessed, described the ideal team player as being humble, hungry, and smart. Two takeaways:

1. If you lead committees or teams, and/or are involved in the hiring process, read The Ideal Team Player and use the humble, hungry, and smart lens when adding new members to the committee/team. Consider it imperative.

2. The foundation of healthy teams is vulnerability based trust. The fear of being vulnerable with team members prevents building trust within the team.

Healthcare is full of stoicism and often lacks vulnerability for fear of appearing inadequate – one quick way to lead this within your team is to simply admit when you have made a mistake.

3. Lead with a just cause.

Simon Sinek delivered wisdom in every sentence. I couldn’t write fast enough. But the one thing that stuck out for those of us passionate about the NICU was this:

Lead with a just cause – a cause so just you’re willing to sacrifice your own interests to advance it.

In the NICU, we do not go to work merely for a paycheck. We want to make an impact. We go to help babies and families. At NANT, we run everything we do through that filter – all roads must lead back to therapists, babies, and/or families or we do not engage with it.

When leading a meeting, a committee, research, or quality improvement project, tie it back to your just cause. This solidifies the team around a common goal, one that everyone can support because it’s bigger than any one person, one hospital, or one lifetime.

Ready. Set. Grow.

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