We recently connected with Dr. Jeff Comer and have shared our conversation below.
Hi Dr. Jeff , thanks for joining us today. What did your parents do right and how has that impacted you in your life and career?
After many discussions with family and long periods of reflection, I decided to follow in my father’s footsteps to become a hospital CEO. As I embarked upon my career, dad gave me several great points of advice that he said would help me to be successful. These tips became central to my career success. Obviously, dad got it right in his career suggestions!
The four most important things he told included the following: run any operation like it’s your own business; always be visible with your employees, customers, and community; remember that the job of a CEO is in large part to communicate; and make time for self-care.
First, whether I was a CEO of a small, rural hospital, or large academic medical center, dad was adamant that I will make better decisions if treat it like it’s my own family business. Small mom and pop businesses require fiscal discipline, great customer services, keeping an eye to the future, and creative business partnerships. Thinking that my hospital is my own personal business helps me to keep my decisions in perspective and to take ownership of everything I implement.
Second, dad thought that being visible in any type of a business is imperative for CEO’s. If a CEO is not rounding through the operations every day, it is impossible to truly know what is taking place. Additionally, if operational or customer service problems are occurring (which of course always happen!), if the CEO is visible he/she can address the issues right then. Finally, being visible provides an opportunity to communicate with employees and customers and build credibility with everyone.
Third, dad always stressed that a CEO must communicate and then communicate some more. He believed that communication was the single most important aspect of a CEO’s role. And no matter how much a CEO communicates often people will still say it is not enough! Communication should be a strategic initiative that underlies all other strategies. This can do more to improve morale, increase retention, and decrease employee burnout than anything. It also provides an opportunity for employees to feel that they have a legitimate and sincere say in their working conditions and even organizational strategy.
Finally, both dad and mom always stressed the importance of taking care of yourself. From exercising, to eating well, to always making time to watch the sunsets, self-care will always yield dividends to all entrepreneurs and leaders.
Yes, dad got it right with this advice, which has served me well for 20 years as a CEO!
Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers
As the son of a hospital CEO, I have also served as a hospital CEO for 20 years. I have led small, rural hospitals and large inner city academic hospitals. I have also run several companies as CEO.
As a hospital CEO, I was no stranger to the effects of stress on health. I have witnessed firsthand not only the massive toll of disease states in patients whose stress goes unmitigated but also upon the health care leaders who cared for them. It’s with this unique perspective that I pursued his Psy.D., intent on discovering the neurochemical components of stress and burnout. My dissertational focus was on mindfulness techniques to ameliorate PTSD symptoms in combat veterans—arguably the most stressed group of professionals in the world.
Coupling my psychology degrees with an MHA from Washington University at St. Louis, I distinctly understand the full spectrum of complexity among all stakeholders when it comes to professional burnout, the impact of stress on work performance, and conversely the impact of career stress on an individual’s total well-being.
I have spoken on the topic of stress and burnout for multiple health care organizations and many other groups and have written many articles on stress and leadership.
If you could go back in time, do you think you would have chosen a different profession or specialty?
This is honestly a tough question for me. There are so many things about being a CEO I enjoy. I enjoy strategic planning, developing employee morale, reducing burnout, creating a meaningful culture, leading an organization, working with my board and the community, and making hospitals that are struggling successful . Ultimately, I love that I get to make a difference not only in my organization – but also in the entire communities that are served.
However, being a CEO comes with a cost. I work 12-14 hours days and also on Saturdays and Sunday. When I’m not working I must always be readily available. This is tremendously tough on me and my family. I have often been burned out myself, but unfortunately, most executives do not get much attention or sympathy when they are burned out. I have also spent a portion of my career going into hospitals that had poor management, and as a result, were failing. I had to clean up the mistakes from the previous leaders. Typically, this involved making very difficult and painful decisions, including layoffs, reductions in service, assets sales, etc. This has taken a huge toll on me personally, particularly when I have had to take the burden of negative media and community sentiment.
But all-in-all, the ability to save these organizations and impact people’s health care favorably has made the challenges worthwhile.
Any advice for managing a team?
This is really my forte through my 20 years of CEO experience and doctorate in psychology focused on stress management.
I do a tremendous amount off consulting with organizations that are struggling with retaining employees, addressing burnout, and raising morale, which go hand-in-hand. Often, leaders at these organizations are well-intentioned but have over-complicated the situation and make it worse. Maintaining morale is most effectively achieved through the following strategic steps:
1) Cultivating a shared, meaningful culture
2) Communicating relentlessly
3) Engaging employees in decision making
4) Inspiring everyone through passionate organizational purpose.