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HL20: Nancy M. Schlichting—Leadership for the Organization and the Community

Jim Molpus, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2012

Schlichting says her role as CEO boils down to doing three things correctly. First is, of course, leadership itself, which she defines as "how you build the team, how you create the culture, and how you manage conflict," she says. "It's also how you provide leadership both within and outside the organization. And it is having a good sense of yourself and what drives you—your values and guiding principles that help you make decisions that are not always perfectly aligned with everything."

Schlichting says she relied on those values when she and her leadership team made the difficult decision to close Henry Ford Macomb Hospital, Warren campus, this year after years of declining census and revenues.

"It was tough," she says. "I have closed three hospitals in the past 10 years. We have also built and doubled the size of the organization, but you make some very hard choices. It is not just what you do but how you do it." The "how" in this case was to close the hospital but to find new assignments in the health system for the approximately 500 affected employees. "We just could not make it work at this hospital. The scale was too small, but we tried everything," she says. "We did not want the employees to suffer so we made the decision that we were going to absorb those 500 people into the organization. It was a cost hit for us, but it would have been a cost hit no matter what we did. Those issues really define our organization."

The second leadership quality that defines her is "having clear and sometimes risky strategies," she says, which for her included investing in the health system's main inner-city campus at a time when other employers were leaving.

"We did it because our hospital in Detroit, the flagship, is a jewel," she says. "It had been undervalued, underappreciated, and under-invested in for a long time. I also wanted to tell the community we had not abandoned them in any way. While we were building a hospital in the suburbs, we were very committed to the city. Those things end up being very strategic but are also symbolic of who were are and what we stand for."

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