Breathtaking Leadership

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Breathtaking Leadership

In reading this article last week on 5 Underrated Habits of Great Leaders, I recalled a column written by Rich Karlgaard in the April 23, 2007 issue of Forbes. It actually is a story told to him by Nancy Ortberg, who once was an emergency room nurse and went on to work under the great leader, Max De Pree, former CEO of Herman Miller. Late one night in the emergency room she witnessed something that astonished her. The room was a mess and she was finishing up some work on her chart before going home. The doctor with whom she loved working was debriefing a new doctor, who had done a very respectable, competent job, telling him what he’d done well and what he could have done differently.  Then he put his hand on the young doctor’s shoulder and said, “When you finished, did you notice the young man from housekeeping who came in to clean the room?” There was a completely blank look on the young doctor’s face. The older doctor said, “His name is Carlos. He’s been here for three years. He does a fabulous job. When he comes in he gets the room turned around so fast that you and I can get our next patients in quickly. His wife’s name is Maria. They have four children. Then he named each of the four children and gave each child’s age.” The older doctor went on to say, “He lives in a rented house about three blocks from here, in Santa Ana. They’ve been up from Mexico for about five years.” Then he said, “Next week I would like you to tell me something about Carlos that I don’t already know. Okay? Now, let’s go check on the rest of the patients.” Ortberg recalls, “I remember standing there writing my nursing notes—stunned—and thinking, I have just witnessed breathtaking leadership.”

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