Leadership Course Corrections: We Must Listen, Learn, and Be Humble

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As a leader, sometimes you want an opportunity to redo. Recently, I sought to reverse a decision I made in 2017 when we pulled non-diet sodas from Intermountain healthcare facilities. Intermountain has made changes to its dining environments, including replacing sugary sodas in cafeterias, coffee shops, vending machines and staff lounges.

One of the original goals of phasing out non-diet sodas was to encourage dialogue about the role of organizations in promoting healthy behaviors, and that’s what happened. But it also created an underground economy in our facilities for those who wanted sugary soda, with local vendors offering to deliver it to our hospitals and clinics. Many of our caregivers have taken full advantage of this offer.

I thought the change we made in 2017 was the right one from a health standpoint. I still do. But was that my decision to make or was it a decision that individuals had to make for themselves?

Many caregivers and patients have shared their thoughts with me on this topic through surveys, internal social posts and roundups. The message was loud and clear: they wanted to collect regular soda. An overwhelming theme of the feedback we received from them was the desire for more choice.

At this point, I had a choice to make. I could ignore the comments and firmly stand by my decision. Or, I could listen, learn, and humiliate myself to make a different decision. I chose the latter. We recently announced that non-diet sodas will be back at Intermountain Healthcare soon.

In an age when our hospitals are overwhelmed by the pandemic, talking about soda and choice may seem trivial in comparison. In many ways it is. But this decision to reverse the course is a matter of respecting the individual choices of people. In addition, it is about respecting them as individuals.

It’s a flawed decision anyway when we’re trying to help people live the healthiest lives possible. But making choices for others about drinking soda wasn’t helping. These days, tensions are only increasing in society. Hope even the smallest of gestures like this can help bring the temperature down a bit.

After sharing this perspective online, I received a lot of support from other leaders. And I have also received criticism. It comes with the territory of being a leader. But my pole star doesn’t completely agree with my decisions. Instead, my goal is to serve patients, caregivers and communities. I can only do this by listening to them and respecting them, even if I do not agree with them. A dose of humility never hurts either.

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