Want to build your culture -- start by sweeping the floor!

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By Rand O’Leary

Over the years, I’ve heard many stories inspirational stories on leadership, one of my favorites involves President John F. Kennedy and his first visit to NASA in 1962.  As the story goes, the President was touring the facility when he came across a janitor carrying a broom down the same hallway as the touring President.  Kennedy, a great lover of people stopped the and asked him what he did for NASA, not missing a beat he replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”. 

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by the absolute simplicity of this statement, but also the way it speaks volumes.  This individual clearly understood that he was an integral part of the team, no matter what the role.  If he did his job well, he contributed to the overall success of the team, engineer, scientist, astronauts etc.  His job, although different in almost every way imaginable from his colleagues, still contributed to achieving the overall goal, that of putting a man on the moon.

Too often in healthcare I’m afraid, we don’t take time to find the value in the contributions of each member of the team.  Clearly, we know the value of the Physician, Nurse or Allied Health Professional. But when is the last time you took the time to appreciate the contributions made by the staff in housekeeping, food service, bio medicine, supply management, clerical and the multitude of other staff that make our organizations hum on a daily basis.  Each one integral, each one woven into the fabric of a highly successful organization, and no one more important than the other, all are critical to success. 

Now imagine an organization where everyone understands and believes in how their job contributes to the overall goals.  How much happier would they be? How much more would they be engaged, and how much happier would they be knowing that what they do matters?

As leaders, this is where our contributions really count, we set the tone, we are the cultivators of the culture that we create.And we set the expectations with our team on how we treat each other.I don’t know who was leading NASA in the early 60’s, but it is clear from this one brief interaction with a sitting President, that this individual understood that when you set big goals, it takes everyone working together to be successful.