The Christmas story is counter intuitive. It’s a story about a virgin birth; God in human flesh, and a king who served. The story of Jesus of Nazareth, a sovereign ruler who could not find a place to lay his head. He came to pay a debt he did not owe to give us a freedom we could not earn.
Who would do that? A servant leader.
Since it is a perfect time of year to introduce a unique servant leader and the concept of servant leadership in general, we are pleased to have done a recent interview with the Founder of the Servant Leadership Institute, Art Barter.
Servant leadership is considered a new business model and being adopted by many of our fortune five hundred companies. Some of the same tenets are referred to by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey in his recent book “Conscious Capitalism,” or in Pastor Rick Warren’s book “The Purpose Driven Life.”
Working as San Diego care managers, in health care and elder care in particular, we see plenty of examples of the opposite of servant leadership in many organizations. As I reflect on the importance of this topic to my personal history and the present struggle to provide quality care in a health care system that has become even more difficult, I suddenly realize it’s been sixteen years since my first article about this very topic was published in the North County Times on December 25th, 1997.
Another Christmas surprise; that article turned out to be an award winning piece in professional journalist circles, but more importantly it was the beginning of a long journey of patient advocacy for me. It is an unlikely first step on a thousand mile journey, which continues to lead through the lessons of servant leadership. That article was about the very opposite of servant leadership, an expose on the results of poor management in a San Diego skilled nursing facility. After seven years as a staff nurse, I’d become increasingly appalled at the callousness of a management team that was willing to accept the unacceptable for both patients and staff, as long as it benefited the bottom line. It was about the unnecessary suffering of the frailest of elders, about poor staff to patient ratios, and subsequent inability to provide appropriate care.
In years since, I’ve continued to see the same thing in most every skilled nursing home where I now advocate for those same patients who are still falling through the cracks. I see the same harried, stressed out faces of the middle managers trying to fit square pegs into round holes. I see the same poor nurses pushing medication carts, scared to death they will make a life threatening error because they are pulled in so many directions at once. The Certified Nursing Assistants still have too many patients and are rushed to get through to all of them without hurting themselves or their patients. Most importantly, without forgetting something such as; putting up a side rail to prevent a fall, turning a patient so they won’t get bedsores or stopping a feeding pump before lowering the head of bed to prevent tube feeding from ending up in the lungs.
A million and one seemingly small but critical things that are compromised due to myopic management trying to eke out a more “robust” bottom line at the expense of the workers. It’s easy to blame line staff for poor care, but quality care is simply a result of quality management and a commitment to excellence by every single person in the system.
As servant leadership is applied to the health care arena, it would assert that management needs to serve not only the patient but also those that provide direct care to the patient. One simply cannot expect healthy outcomes from sick systems. Healing environments cannot be created when those who deliver care are not cared for and valued in real ways.
Servant leadership is becoming an important and widely validated model for success in business. We are thankful for people like Art Barter who dispel the myth that profitable business and human compassion are incompatible.
Following a higher purpose of advocating for elders and creating value for all stakeholders, clients, patients, staff and professional associates is something Grace Care is committed to for the long game. It may be counter intuitive to believe that business can be a great force for social, economic and even spiritual change, but we believe it!