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The Leading Edge – President elect Barack Obama – Silomaster

I first wrote this in August, 2007 for Fast Company.  It was about the fact that we have bee


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I first wrote this in August, 2007 for Fast Company.  It was about the fact that we have been turned into silos.  This has enabled us to focus on our areas of expertise, but has hurt the ability to cooperatie, collaberate and innovate.  President-elect Obama has implored and will continue to implore us to work together across the aisles, across the country and across the world.  Let’s hope he can be the silomaster we need.

Until you rise above the fray of WIIFM (”what’s in it for me”)-minded participants,
everyone will put their needs above that of their company or their country.

A couple years ago, the San Fernando Valley Business Journal reported: “Mike Wall has led Northridge Hospital Medical Center to become one of the strongest high-tech hospitals in the San Fernando Valley. He has taken the Catholic Healthcare West facility from a position as a money-losing operation in 2000, to one that netted a $10 million profit in 2004.”

How did Mike accomplish this? I spoke at an offsite for Northridge Hospital in 2006 and was especially interested in discovering the answer to this after I observed Mike receiving five spontaneous standing ovations from the heads of the hospital departments who were attending the retreat.

I asked Mike the secret to his success. Like most “Good to Great” (Level 5) leaders, Mike is too busy discovering the “meaning in life” by living it through his actions and deeds to search for “the meaning of life” by endless, often meaningless, introspection. Like such leaders, he doesn’t focus on himself too much, but on defining a vision, articulating it, and then actualizing it.

Therefore, it didn’t surprise me when he smiled shyly (when the spotlight was focused on him) and said with great humility, “I don’t really know or spend much time thinking about that. However two things were clear to me when I arrived at Northridge Hospital: a) it’s lousy to be sick and b) it’s lousy for the families of people who are sick. So one of the first things I did was tell those two things to everyone who worked at our hospital with the two directives: a) let’s give every patient and every patient’s family the best possible experience when they are sick when they come in contact with Northridge hospital and b) don’t be sending me a lot of emails about stuff that would distract me and that you can handle on your own.”

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I don’t think Mike realized it at the time (because he is not needlessly introspective), but that ability to see and articulate an observation about how lousy it is to be sick was something that everyone understood and had experienced. Furthermore, making illness a less lousy experience for patients and their families was a noble vision that everyone in the hospital would want to make happen.

It was on the heels of that offsite that I coined the phrase “silomastery,” because I had seen first hand what a great “silomaster” Mike Wall was. What is silomastery and who are the silomasters?

As I sat at tables with people from different departments of Northridge hospital I observed how different — or siloed if you will — each of them were. Purchasing was different from housekeeping; housekeeping was different from human resources; human resources was different from nursing; nursing was different from doctoring and the list went on. It was clear to me that these departments would never truly understand what it is to walk in each other’s shoes or understand and empathize with each other’s concerns. In other words, despite all of these different departments trying to cooperation with each other, they would still be siloed because of how specialized each was.

What was also clear to me was that Mike Wall, who had a bachelor’s degree in science and a master’s degree in hospital administration, had transcended all of his prior specialized training to become a “dyed in the wool” leader. As such, he was able to sit atop the siloed departments,enspire and embolden all of them to achieve the vision of “giving ill patients and their families the best possible experience when they are sick.” So compelling was his vision that siloed departments put aside their own self-interests to be part of something grander, something more satisfying, fulfilling, and gratifying.

Silomastery is not only something that has application within a company or organization, it also plays a vital role in any merger or acquisition forming a “new” company. In those instances, there is a great hazard that the pre-merged and pre-acquired companies will have such entrenched, self-interested silos between and within each company that they will never be able to get in the same canoe and paddle in the same direction.

In order for the merger or acquisition to succeed, “merger mastery” between companies is every bit as important as “silomastery” within a company. In both instances leaders must do the following: 1) develop and articulate a compelling vision that people from both companies will not merely share, but will passionately want to be a part of; 2) develop a consensus of the most important processes to focus on to get there (one of the best people and best companies I know to do this is Ward Wieman, owner of Management Overload; 3) identify the strengths and passions of your key people and make sure they align with those processes to getting there; 4) get rid of distractions and of people who will never climb aboard and whose negativity and naysaying will only sap the energy of those who want to make it a success.

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One of best examples of a merger master and the merger both between reality and fantasy and father and son was portrayed in the iconic father-son movie, Field of Dreams. In that movie Kevin Costner played Iowa farmer (and “merger master”) Ray Kinsella who was compelled to build a baseball field that fulfilled the unfulfilled dreams of the long forgotten and disgraced Chicago Black Sox baseball team. In doing so, Ray not only fulfilled those players’ dreams, but also his own of: 1) helping his worn down father fulfill a dream to play baseball; 2) having his father meet his wife and daughter; and 3) getting to “have a catch” with his dad (get out your handkerchief). When the field was finally built with the promise that “people will come” the movie ends with a pan away from Ray playing catch with his dad and miles of cars of coming to the field.

Interestingly, despite that movie being nearly twenty years old (filmed in 1989), the baseball field built for the film continues to be a top tourist draw in Iowa.

I guess the merger lasted.

About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit.

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