Michael Stanford Part 2 - Former Group Chief Executive Officer - St John of God Health Care

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Intro  0:13  

Many aspire to reach the upper echelon of the healthcare industry, but few are able to successfully navigate the corporate ladder. As Asia becomes the world epicenter of the healthcare industry, C-Suite Partners sits down with international healthcare executives asking the tough questions and unpacking the personalities of the top industry leaders.

Welcome to the boardroom.

Michael Murray  0:51  
You’ve got the empathy side of being a leader, something that we don’t often talk about is when do you draw the line with executives that aren’t performing? Because that’s that’s a tough part being a CEO, because that reflects on you. Where’s your thought process around that?

Michael Stanford  1:08
We used to train people in what are called crucial conversations. It’s often people sometimes have trouble having a good conversation in saying “Great job”. You think that would be easy, but actually people don’t always find that easy. And similarly, people don’t always feel comfortable talking about something that hasn’t been achieved. I’ve learned over time to think about developing people. So if you’ve appointed reasonable people, they’ve done the coursework, whatever you how do you help them clarify the problem they’re trying to solve? How do you help them deal with options? How do you help them think about how to implement and then how to monitor? So how do you work with the people now some people need more assistance or need more assistance at different times in the careers and others, just say, give me the outcome, you want Michael, out of my way, you know, if we see each other in two years, that’s fine. So you’ve got to titrate it depending on on the personality. But in my experience, I didn’t end up needing to have too many “Thanks very much but it’s the end of your time working with us” conversations because mostly, you’re able to develop people in a way that brings out the best. Some of the hardest parts of the job I’ve had have been doing things like closing hospitals and making large groups of people redundant or merging something. And that’s really hard to do because in except in that example, there’s a difference. It could be you work brilliantly, we’ve had to make the structural decision is nothing to do with you you don’t feel is something to do with you. I think the difficulty is going to be where it’s about the person will perceive it something to do with performance that’s really going to impact their ego and you need some delicacy and with it in an ideal world and I wouldn’t pretend I’ve always done it right. But some of those conversations, but I have found very good HR departments will help support a person who’s getting bad news beyond leaving the office that day, to make sure that they’re sort of plugged in there, okay, because usually they’ve given years of their life to the organisation and they put in it just maybe that is a reason to move to a different dimension. 

Michael Murray  3:03
What about in terms of mistakes, that you’ve made some something that you regret you? Did we talk about, like closing down hospitals, and you have to make these decisions? That’s your responsibility? Is there anything you look back on your career and say “That was a mistake, I’d like to have that over”? 

Michael Stanford  3:18
Well, there’s this, I think my earliest mistakes were relatively small, but sort of, from my point of view, quite funny when I was involved with ordering equipment without anyone thinking about with the room actually accommodate the equipment and then the war had to get knocked down too. So so. So some of them weren’t the most dramatic, expensive thing. But they were pretty dumb in retrospect. There’s no doubt when I had my first CEO role, I made mistakes. There were, it was quite a difficult time. I mentioned one before that, that whole issue, what’s a unifying purpose? What are our values? and our members, some somehow some information got leaked in the public environment that could happen big budget issues, and I don’t think I handled as well as I needed to hear you bring people with you. So that you don’t have people feel this is a thing I need to go off to the press to talk about. There’s a point in time where you should shift into learning, you still never stop learning, but do a lot more in terms of that development, mentoring of others, as opposed to I’m trying to work it out for myself. And, and, and then engaging with others. To do that boards can be very helpful boards of directors. I was blessed often with the people who had his chairs and boards, all of them want to add value. And I think one of the things in healthcare that’s interesting is people come out of nursing background, medical background, there might have been a finance person or an HR person has worked their way up. And there’s a whole set of skills we don’t have. And if you’ve got well chosen and board members with different set of skills, you can tap into them and work out well. How can we add even more value to our thinking and decision making. I think the other thing for CEOs is to work out how to get other inputs from other CEOs, ideally in other industries, and often people are in executive groups. I was in at an executive group where you had those ability to learn from others and ask questions in a way, that’s that is a hardship and it can be lonely at the top as a CEO. 

Michael Murray  5:09
What about strategy for your career? Did you sit there and say, this is where I want to be? And I’m gonna do five years, seven years, because it’s something that I deal with a lot of executives, they, they want guidance from myself or our firm, where where am I going to be in five years? How can I get there? Did you clearly see where you wanted to be? Or was it fortuitous in situation? 

Michael Stanford  5:31
It’s a great question. And I would echo the people who talk to you and I’d say they’re smart to talk because of my experience of search and recruitment firms is often you can give dispassionate advice to people in a very confidential and discreet way and it’s very hard for people to get good career mentoring advice, so good on them for asking you, obviously fantastic that do you do that. I think careers are often easier in retrospect than they were at the top, you can go back and you can understand the links later, but not necessary and I think, I think mostly for people have a general sense of where you’re trying to get to. I do also know from early conversations with recruiters, people saying to me, well, we can’t help you until you know what you want to do. You better tell us what you want to do, then we can maybe help you. So some clarity in that. But I think the best things are best advice I would probably give to people on the way is just work hard and do your job well and get on with people. If you do those things, that’s a good starting point people notice. And that’s true, as I’m discovering in the non-exec director world, where I’m developing a career at this late stage of my total career, but the beginning of a new career. It’s the same principle get on with people work on the job well, and opportunities will follow from that. But I wouldn’t leave it to just people being like a raft floating along and raging river, you’ve got to actually do something purposeful about it because if I think about my own career, my first four CEO jobs finished because someone else made another decision. And what I mean by that is, three times governments made decisions to put after I was appointed to my first one, to then merge that into a healthcare network and then for another reason, there was another merger into another network. Well, I got promoted, I was lucky. I moved into the for-profit world and there was a takeover. And then it wasn’t a job. And so that those experiences taught me that everyone owes it to themselves and their families to be thinking about their career, which is why you’ve asked that question. And to be a little bit purposeful, certainly to get experiences diverse experiences to get the sort of academic qualifications that you need to have all those relationships that I mentioned, and to be thinking ahead about moving and do your own time, not someone else’s time. 

Michael Murray  7:40
And Michael to finish it off. How would you describe your career in one word?

Michael Stanford  7:45

Michael Murray  7:46
Perfect Michael. Thank you for spending time with C-Suite Partners in the boardroom.

Michael Stanford  7:50
Thanks, Michael

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