Leadership course corrections: We need to listen, learn and be humble


As a leader, sometimes you want an opportunity for a do-over. Recently, I sought to reverse a decision I made in 2017 when we removed non-diet sodas from Intermountain Healthcare facilities. Intermountain implemented changes to its eating environments including replacing sugar-sweetened soda in cafeterias, cafés, vending and staff lounges.

One of the initial aims in getting rid of non-diet soda was to encourage a dialogue about the role of organizations in promoting healthy behaviors, and that is what happened. But it also spawned an underground economy in our facilities for those wanting sugar-sweetened soda, with local vendors offering to deliver it to our hospitals and clinics. Any many of our caregivers took full advantage of that offering.

I believed the change we made back in 2017 was the right one from a health perspective. I still do. But was it my decision to make or was it a decision for individuals to make themselves?

Numerous caregivers and patients shared their thoughts with me on this topic through surveys, internal social postings, and rounding. The message was loud and clear: They wanted regular soda back. An overwhelming theme from the feedback we’ve received from them was a desire for more choices.

At this point, I had a choice to make. I could ignore the feedback and hold firm on my decision. Or, I could listen, learn and humble myself into making a different decision. I chose the latter. We recently announced that non-diet soda will soon return to Intermountain Healthcare.

In an era when our hospitals are overwhelmed by the pandemic, talking about soda and choice may seem trivial by comparison. In many respects, it is. But this decision to reverse course is about respecting people’s individual choices. Moreover, it’s about respecting them as individuals.

It’s an imperfect decision either way when we’re trying to help people live the healthiest lives possible. But making choices for others about soda consumption wasn’t helping. These days, tensions have only been rising in society. I hope even the smallest of gestures like this can help lower the temperature just a bit.

After I shared this perspective online, I received a lot of support from other leaders. And I received some criticism as well. That comes with the territory of being a leader. But my North Star isn’t complete agreement with my decisions. Instead, my aim is to serve patients, caregivers and communities. I can only do that by listening to them and respecting them, even when I disagree with them. A dose of humility never hurts either.



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