Every CEO has stakeholder groups whose interests he or she needs to balance: customers, employees, the board, shareholders, regulators, partners, nongovernmental organizations, and local communities. Bernard J. Tyson, chairman and CEO of managed care giant Kaiser Permanente Health Care, arguably has more than most. In addition to the nearly 12 million people who receive their health care from Kaiser Permanente, Tyson’s stakeholders include thousands of physicians, nurses, medical technicians, administrators, and managers — as well as unions, government agencies, industry watchdogs, pharmaceutical suppliers, and more.
Given all the competing priorities and pressures (including political and economic uncertainties associated with the U.S. health care market), how does a CEO stay grounded? Tyson recently spoke about his views on leadership with MIT Sloan Management Review editor in chief Paul Michelman.
On Hiring “Wherever in the organization we are hiring, we need to ask if the employee’s personal mission in life aligns with the mission of the organization. My job is to maintain an environment conducive
to attracting people who fit our culture. Making sure we are all clear on the mission is core to that.”
On Dealing With Complexity “I would argue that, in simplistic terms, the old model was [that] those in management were the thinkers, and the rest of the workers were the doers. Now we live in a day and age where everybody gets to think and do. I want the frontline nurse, who has access to the same information I do, to act on the information pertaining to his or her profession and, with that access and freedom, come up with new ideas and new ways of getting work done.”
On Empowerment “In the past, power was centralized in the hands of the few people who had access to information and who used that access to direct the narrative for the company. So we were benefiting from the intellect of just a handful of people. Now that information is available everywhere, the leader’s critical question is, ‘How do I charge up the organization so that we’re maximizing the intellect of all of our people?’… As I’m talking to you right now, a medical team is likely attending to someone with a near-death experience in one of our emergency departments. My job is not to call to see what they’re going to do next. It’s to make sure they have the tools, the equipment, the know-how, and the decision power to make the right judgment when called upon, in the interest of the person whom they are serving.”
On People Speaking Their Minds “In senior management meetings, when one of my executives feels strongly about an issue and they want to take me on, sometimes they’ll ask, ‘Freedom of speech?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yes.’ And they’ll repeat, ‘Freedom of speech?’ And I’ll say, ‘Absolutely.’ And then they’ll come out with it: ‘I think you’re dead wrong.’ They don’t have to sugarcoat it. They just simply put the code out there: ‘Freedom of speech?’ Now our management needs to continue to get comfortable that freedom of speech exists everywhere in the organization. Everyone has the freedom and the right to share their views and even disagree with others.”