Leadership Lessons from John Kueven: In a Crisis, Consistency & Commitment are Key

Published Wed Sept 16, 2020

(JK) – How hard has it been to work in healthcare during COVID-19?  What are the top leadership characteristics you have had to use during COVID-19? Did you feel prepared to help lead your organization during COVID-19? These are just a few of the questions I often get when people find out that I am the President of a hospital. 

People are, rightfully so, curious to know how healthcare leaders manage through the most difficult time in healthcare in decades. I often wish I had some great answer forged in the challenge of the last six months that would impart a unique takeaway and inspire the questioner to be the leader they can truly be. The truth is, I do not believe that is often how leadership works.  

I love movies and if you have not seen Remember the Titans or Braveheart, go watch them. They are great movies, and both include epic speeches where leaders bring together teams or troops. As much as I yearn to be Coach Boone in Remember the Titans inspiring his team to greatness by referencing the Battle of Gettysburg or William Wallace motivating the troops in Braveheart, the fact is, this is rarely how great leadership plays out. We rarely get the opportunity to stand in front of our entire team and, in a single speech, motivate our teams to greatness.

Those leaders that attempt to lead through words and not consistent actions, often fail.  

As leaders, we must be inspirational, we must put our team ahead of ourselves, and we must, above all else, be genuine in our leadership styles. These characteristics rarely manifest in an awe-inspiring speech. I believe it is the consistent acts we do every single day in a structured approach that ensures we make a difference.  

Leaning on the Sterling Criteria in Category 1 gives a framework for becoming a leader your workforce will look up to. Creating a systematic approach to personally living your organization’s Mission, Vision, and Values, driving ethics, and ensuring frank, two-way communication are not exciting and do not resonate in the history books the same way as Coach Boone uniting his team with a single speech. However, leaders need these consistencies much more than the words in a speech, a single characteristic, or even some sort of natural gift.  

Consistency and transparency in how you lead will trump any words you can say, any single characteristic, or natural gift. There is no silver bullet to leading.

So, when asked about leadership characteristics to get through a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, my response is simple. We lead how we have always led, follow our processes, and make intentional decisions every day to support our team through consistency and a systematic approach to leadership. This commitment to our leadership system is our inspirational leadership.  

I may not get to jog through the woods or ride a horse to make a speech, but I get to leave work every day feeling like I did my best to motivate our team. Perhaps one day my William Wallace will come out, but for now, I believe my team appreciates a leader focused on consistency and what is best for the employees we serve, and I bet your team will too.


John Kueven, who specializes in health care management, strategic planning, performance improvement, and utilization management, has been SVP of Wellstar Health System and President of Wellstar Paulding Hospital since March 2018. While at Paulding, John has helped lead the organization to achieving an “A” rating from leapfrog, a 5 Star CMS rating, and the Georgia Oglethorpe award, the first and only hospital in Georgia to receive the State Baldrige Award.