By Eric George
Twenty-seven years in hand surgery has taught me the value of living by a certain philosophy, what I like to call the “We” mindset. The We mindset calls for investing your time, energy, and intelligence into understanding other people, and it leans heavily on staying actively curious, compassionate, empathetic, and patient. It’s about learning how others experience the world, recognizing that this knowledge can enable you to help them, teach them how they can help you, and collectively accomplish something rare and remarkable in today’s world.
As a physician, the We mindset is about creating the conditions that enable my patients to achieve the best health outcomes. And I believe it’s a mindset that is entirely necessary to providing great care. That’s because the provider-patient relationship is one based on mutual dependence. My patients rely on me for expert guidance and support, just as I rely on them to follow my recommendations and accept full ownership of their health. The We mindset is the philosophy of the caregiver. Medicine lends itself perfectly to this discipline.
Yet over time I have come to learn that it also suits a different profession, one rarely associated with medicine: leadership. As my career transitioned from strictly practicing medicine to leading several companies as CEO, I began to see the usefulness and importance of this discipline in an organizational setting.
Just like patients, employees need us to create the conditions that enable them to succeed. They need us to listen, empathize, motivate, deescalate, direct, confront, and so on. They need us to empower them, as well as hold them accountable. Leadership, like medicine, is a human-oriented endeavor, one entrenched in the rises and falls of emotion and personal circumstances. Employees, just like patients, put their well being in our hands, a fragile, sensitive connection that brings psychological, emotional, and social consequences, not just professional ones.
Fortunately, medicine prepared me to accept this important responsibility. I practiced the We mindset for years before leading an organization. Hospitals, ERs, and patient rooms throughout New Orleans served as my training ground for developing the kind of curiosity, compassion, empathy, and patience I referenced earlier. By the time I took over as CEO of a large surgical hospital, practicing the We mindset came naturally. And I observed the benefits in the performance of my employees.
Yet, I also noticed areas that needed improvement. Unhealthy disagreements still lurked among our teams, customers still periodically complained, and other problems still surfaced. I realized I wasn’t doing enough—that the We mindset could only get me so far. That’s when I recognized my shortcomings. I wasn’t teaching others about the importance of this mindset but keeping the knowledge to myself—a classic example of “me.”
So, I began teaching what I practiced. Not, “here’s how you do it,” but “here’s why it’s important.” I preached about this importance drawing on examples, experiences, and observations from my own life. I avoided providing cookie-cutter formulas or blueprints for success. That’s because I’ve learned each of us approaches this discipline differently; we must adopt and adapt it accordingly. Besides, I also knew it would only work if people bought into it, and buy-in comes from a process of cultivation from the top down, not formal directives.
The results showed—both qualitative and quantitative. Together, we fostered a culture that reinforced the importance of We not just for ourselves and one another, but for our customers, their customers, and all our stakeholders. We created an environment that encouraged calling out examples of “me” and celebrating instances of We. And sure enough, customer satisfaction increased. Employee retention neared a perfect mark. Departments across the board demonstrated better performance. And our bottom line improved. But here’s the important part: we didn’t start the process with a focus on the financials. Of course, it was a motive and an important one at that, but to focus on the end and reverse engineer all the rest would have made the exercise artificial and unimportant. And, it would have been another classic example of “me.”
Over time, I have applied this mindset to other organizations I've founded or assumed control, including ERG Enterprises. Yet I’ve realized that my responsibility to teach goes beyond the stakeholders of my organization. It rests with the vast network of leaders who have yet to discover the benefits and potential this philosophy can bring. My message to these leaders, to you, is that if we truly want to create winning organizations, then we need to spend more time looking outward and engaging in that space. Of course, many of us spend most of our time invested in our employees, yet it’s always a healthy exercise to consider what more we could be doing to inspire a workforce of givers who are hungry to help others receive. Are we truly listening when we talk to our employees? Are we considering their points of view fully and honestly? Are we telling them what we need from and expect of them? Or are we letting some degree of our interests, needs, and pursuits get in the way of that?
I feel inspired by this newfound responsibility. Because I recognize its potential to make a difference. Helping one leader adopt this discipline brings the potential to impact the tens, hundreds, if not thousands who follow that individual. Imagine the positive change that would occur just by reaching 500 top business leaders. What would our organizations look like? Our industries? Our economy? What problems would we solve? What innovations would we engineer?
I would argue much, much more than what we see today. And it’s exciting to think about.