When the first U.S. case of Ebola virus disease was discovered at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, the hospital had to quickly learn not only how to handle the disease itself, but also reactions to it from both inside and outside the hospital.
Every time the Texas Health leadership team had to make a decision regarding the Ebola crisis, they reflected on the RICE values — respect, integrity, compassion, and excellence — written on the white board in front of them. “Doing the right thing for your patients, for your employees, and for your community isn’t really written in a manual in a situation like this,” says Texas Health CEO Barclay Berdan. “It has to be what underpins the culture of your organization.”
Berdan outlines three key lessons Texas Health learned about leadership from this crisis:
- “Transparency is important — but only when you’re ready.” When talking to the media, you need to be well informed of the facts and circumstances if you want to be helpful and productive, says Berdan. The first press conference that Texas Health held was “the right thing to do,” he notes, but it was also premature — the speakers didn’t yet know that the Ebola patient had been at the hospital before but left, undiagnosed.
- “Listen to what people are hearing and saying.” Listen to what the media is saying about the crisis and to what people inside your organization — both patients and staff — are hearing about it, Berdan advises. He describes how Texas Health set up a camera for staff to “speak from the heart” and share their stories. “The passion from the nurses was so authentic and genuine that the community-wide response was very positive and warm,” says Berdan, noting that support began pouring in from the community and the health care industry at large. The nurses were even approached by 60 Minutes. “Letting people talk was how we restored confidence and pride in the organization,” Berdan says, “both inside the organization and to the community.”
- “Understand the role you play in a big crisis like this.” While public officials handled the situation outside the hospital, Texas Health focused on supporting its system internally. “By understanding your role, you’re also helping people understand their roles,” says Berdan. Texas Health also worked with government representatives, reached out to the local community to address their concerns, and set up a clinical call center to answer questions from citizens and private physicians.
The overarching lesson? “Leadership during an event like this is about what you do long before the stressful situation and the crisis begins,” says Berdan. “If you stick to your core principles, your values, in stressful situations, they will help guide you through.”