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Stephen L. Mansfield, PhD, FACHE

An interview with Stephen L. Mansfield, PhD, FACHE, president and CEO, Methodist Health System, North Texas

Dr. Stephen L. Mansfield, President and CEO of Methodist Health System, North Texas

Click here to view the introduction letter

An interview with Stephen L. Mansfield, PhD, FACHE, president and CEO, Methodist Health System

What first motivated you/inspired you to pursue a career in health care?

My mom worked in the business office of our community hospital for almost 40 years. When I was a teenager, she helped me get a summer job mowing the lawn for the hospital. While in high school and during my first year of college I worked at the hospital in maintenance, PBX, admissions, and other departments. I had several friends in respiratory care, which in 1970 was a nascent profession. I worked in that department, loved what they did, and decided that was for me. My first degree was in respiratory care and at age 21, I became director of my first respiratory care department. After several years directing respiratory therapy departments, I was fortunate to have a CEO who mentored me and inspired me to pursue a career in health care administration. I assumed my first hospital CEO role in 1986. I feel blessed that Methodist will be my seventh health system or hospital to lead as CEO.

What were your biggest challenges and proudest accomplishments in your previous position at St. Vincent?

When I joined St. Vincent in 2000, it was an organization that was truly on the brink of cultural and financial bankruptcy. Over the years, we were able to establish a winning culture that resulted in dramatically improved financial performance, moving from last to first in employee satisfaction among our peer health systems, improving patient satisfaction from worst to top quartile in our database, and being selected in 2005 and 2006 as one of the 100 most improved health care systems across America for the prior 5-year periods.

What in your background prepares you to take the helm just as Methodist is launching its largest expansion program in its 78-year history?

First, I am blessed to have been raised with a value system that is very congruent with the perdurable truths upon which Methodist Health System is founded. I am hardwired with a work ethic that simply does not accept failure or less than my personal best effort. Professionally, having worked in a clinical role for almost 15 years helps me understand health care from a caregiver’s perspective and helps me relate to physicians at a level that is different from that of many of my colleagues. Having worked with smaller and medium-sized hospitals will help me with Methodist Mansfield and having been the CEO of one of the largest and busiest hospitals in Tennessee and later in Arkansas will help me with Methodist Dallas and Methodist Charlton. A key component of my roles with Baptist Health System in Memphis was the planning and oversight of several hundred million dollars of construction in a variety of locations. Having worked with two very large and successful health care systems (Baptist Memorial Health Care System in Memphis and Catholic Health Initiatives based out of Denver, CO) will help me know how to mine the best from being a system without stifling the creativity and innovation that come from accountable autonomy. My PhD in organizational leadership via a Christian university helped me solidify my belief that leadership is much more about the heart of a leader than the mind of a leader. I have learned so much from each step along my journey. I look forward to applying what I have learned throughout my career to my role with Methodist, but I also look forward to learning from each of you.

What were your first impressions of Methodist Health System?

Because of my schedule conflicts in early June, I ended up making four trips to Dallas to meet all the members of the executive team, medical staff, and search committee. So, my introduction was in small snippets. With each visit, I became increasingly interested and more convinced that Methodist was a very good fit for me. The members of the medical staff with whom I interviewed and the lay members of the search committee and board that I met compelled me to believe that my strengths seemed to match well to the future needs and opportunities of Methodist Health System.

What is your vision for Methodist Health System?

I have many thoughts about this but want to have some time in the organization before declaring on this issue. I think it is very important that I enter the organization with my sensory neurons more engaged than the motor ones; i.e., I will seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Methodist has done many things very well for a long time, and I want to be sure the vision I have for the system is in sync with that history and builds upon what is already being done very well.

Beyond the leadership of Methodist, describe your role in the community.

I believe each employee of Methodist should be an ambassador for the system in his or her respective community. We may each have unique roles within Methodist, but in all cases, it is part of our job to represent Methodist in our community. I view my role as setting the tone and being the example for this behavior, so I have always accepted a very active role with community and civic organizations. As Americans, we have each been given so much. Giving back and passing our blessings on are the best way for us to thank our forefathers and predecessors for all they have done to create the greatest society known to mankind. In that spirit, I believe giving back through service to the community is both a privilege and a duty.

How do you view the role of philanthropy to the Methodist system?

Nonprofit health care must be successful philanthropically in order for us to fully realize our mission. With ever more reimbursement challenges, incredibly expensive medical technology, and a burgeoning load of charity and uninsured care, philanthropy is an area that is absolutely critical to our future. As such, I view philanthropy as a key element of my role as president and CEO. We are blessed at Methodist to have April Box and the Foundation board and staff who are doing an outstanding job of developing friends and funds for Methodist. Both are critically important to our collective futures, and I look forward to partnering with Methodist Health System Foundation in that regard.

As you assume leadership, what are your priorities for Methodist?

Two of Stephen Covey’s principles come to mind: “Seek first to understand, then seek to be understood,” and “Begin with the end in mind.” As mentioned earlier, my initial weeks will be spent listening to Methodist stakeholders (associates, medical staff members, board members, management, community, etc.). Once I think I have a good understanding, I will work very hard to communicate the strategic direction we agree on for Methodist Health System.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

The Bible, The Finishing Touch (daily devotional), Every Man’s Marriage by Stephen Arterburn, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell, and Topgrading: How Leading Companies Win by Hiring, Coaching and Keeping the Best People by Bradford Smart.

What words of advice do you offer to young people?

Develop the habit of writing personal mission and vision statements, which guide a set of very specific goals (in areas of growth and improvement such as spiritual, intellectual, social, financial, etc.). Refer to them often, check them off as they are accomplished, and rewrite them at least annually. If you don’t know where you want to end up, then the road taken is immaterial. I think it is very important for humans to know where we are going and pursue that destination with vigor, passion, and enthusiasm while acknowledging that God is the ultimate authority in control of our lives.

What living or historical figures do you most admire?

I admire Billy Graham, Jermain Taylor (middleweight boxing champion of the world and an outstanding role model for disadvantaged youth), Peyton Manning, and Art Linkletter.  Although not a historical figure, my real hero will always be my dad.

What is your most treasured possession?

Family — Marilyn, Meredith, our parents, brothers, sisters, and their families.

What is your motto?

Carpe diem or “seize the day.” Every day is a blessing, and we have many choices about how we use it – use it well!

What are your hobbies?

We have a farm with a cabin near our family in Tennessee. We have 4-wheelers, tractors, Bush Hogs, a stocked pond, hunting land, etc. It is an outdoors person’s heaven on earth, and my favorite place to truly enjoy real downtime.

I also really enjoy cycling and try to ride 60 to 100 miles a week. Also, time and soil permitting, I enjoy gardening. As a family, we enjoy UT sports (orange but not yet burnt orange) and usually try to make a few football games and SEC tournament basketball games.

What is your leadership philosophy?

I think leadership is more about the heart than about the head, i.e., doing right things for the organization and its stakeholders. I think a major responsibility of the CEO is that of being the “keeper of the culture,” and I believe the culture of Methodist should be built around the principles upon which Methodist was founded 78 years ago.

I am a lifelong learner and am currently pursuing a PhD in organizational leadership. It had been on my list of personal goals for many years. The opportunity finally presented itself a few years ago, and I dove in. Little did I know what I had gotten myself into! It was the most difficult thing I have ever done but also one of the most rewarding.

The title of my dissertation was The Relationship of CEOs’  and Top Leadership Teams’ Hope With Their Organizational Followers’ Job Satisfaction, Work Engagement, and Retention Intent. I believe humans are unique in our ability to be positively inspired by our faith in a hopeful future. Fulfillment of that hopeful future for Methodist is a very important task for the board and executive leadership.

Tell us about your family.

My wife, Marilyn, and I are both from northwest Tennessee, and our parents still reside there. Marilyn is a master’s trained educator and taught elementary school for over 25 years. More recently, she has received her certification as a personality instructor and conducts training and motivational sessions primarily with educators, women’s church groups, and nonprofit groups. We have one daughter, Meredith Grace, who is 17 and will be a senior this year in Little Rock. In order to let Meredith graduate where she has been a student for the past 6 years, we will be doing the family thing long-distance until she graduates in May 2007. We also have an exchange student from Brazil with us until June of next year. Her name is Larissa Cantarella, and we are delighted to have her as part of our family. The only other immediate family member I might mention is our 13-year-old border collie, Sport.

What are your thoughts about establishing and maintaining a constructive relationship with a medical staff?

Great question! I’m not sure there is one best answer, but I know this: Great physician relations are critically important to the success of any health care system. I anticipate that much of my first few weeks will be spent interviewing a cross-section of our medical staff in order to get a feel for their perceptions, issues, and expectations for the future. About 90 to 120 days in, I hope to be able to sit down with the medical staff and share the tapestry of what I heard them say and how I anticipate addressing and proceeding. At that point I hope we are in sync and saddled up for the journey. I think the main things physicians expect from health system and hospital leadership are that we put appropriate systems and people in place to take great care of their most precious resource – their patients, that we make good use of their time, that we work to ensure that they have the tools and technology needed for them to perform their skills optimally, that we be passionate about enhancing our quality, and that we hire, train, and nurture an outstanding group of employees. I am committed to each of those objectives.

Beyond that, I think medical staff needs to be involved in strategy, need to know where we are going, need to know what we need from them in order to get there, and need to get timely responses to their issues. Obviously, accomplishing all that is more than any one person could ever hope to do alone, so my approach will be to ensure that those variables are instilled into the culture of Methodist and are part of our shared responsibility.

What do you believe is the secret to success as a CEO?

The right people! I have been fortunate throughout my career to have been able to attract, retain, and mentor great people. I’d like to think I am a very good strategist but, in my view, it is always people first and strategy second. Further, I think it is very important that we lead through inspiration and influence rather than through direction or coercion. Finally, I think we must work at keeping it simple. For me, simplicity is emphasizing: people >alignment > execution > accountability > reward/recognition. We will talk much more about this model in the months to come.

As CEO, what is your role in improving quality?

Wow, great question. I think I may have mentioned earlier that I view the CEO as “keeper of the culture.” Good or bad, the culture or way we do things is ultimately the responsibility of the CEO. While culture is a team sport, ultimately the CEO cannot delegate final responsibility. Both service quality (customer/partner satisfaction) and clinical quality (outcomes) are consequential to your culture. If your culture emphasizes quality, you will have quality. If it doesn’t or if it does it in “pseudo fashion,” you won’t have quality. My role and the role of our leadership team is to ensure that we have as much rigor and are as metric-driven[?] around quality as we are about operational performance. It is hard work, but if the culture is aligned in a way to mandate and value quality, I believe you will get quality. It is a big job, but there is none more important!

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