Leadership lessons from Schmidt

by Anna Ferraro

Strong leadership skills backed by an ardent desire to serve – those are the values that carried Harry Schmidt through 20 years of service in the U.S. Navy, to 10 years of service in the Memorial Health System in Springfield, all the way to his current position as the new president and CEO of Passavant Area Hospital.

A man who strives to live out his values in practical ways, he believes that everything about leadership can be summed up in four words, what he calls the “Four C’s of Leadership” – competence, courage, commitment and consistency. Incredible beliefs, for sure – and for him, they were forged in decades of experience and practical application.

Graduating from the United States Naval Academy in 1987, Schmidt took on countless jobs and responsibilities in the following two decades of active naval service. As he flew airplanes around the world, he garnered lessons in service and leadership while supervising safety protocols, spending time in supply chain management, overseeing logistics, and more. “Something about the military,” he chuckled, “they make you into a jack-of-all-trades.”

“A lot of military retirees like myself go into civilian flying after their retirement,” he explained. “But I didn’t want to say goodnight to my kids on a cell phone each night.” Together with his wife, Lisa, he settled in Central Illinois, began raising a family and put his degree in computer science and mathematics to work in Memorial Medical Center’s IT department as their systems analyst.

“I started with a staff-level position,” Schmidt stated, “because I needed to learn the industry. You can’t step in and lead without understanding what you are going to provide.” He summarized that during the subsequent ten years with Memorial, he forged a unique perspective on his job – “We’re in the service industry – what we deliver is healthcare.”

From his entrance into Memorial’s system in 2007, Schmidt quickly rose to management levels, and was selected to become the vice president of support services and facility management in 2009. While that job description may sound routine, since every facility has a manager in some form, Schmidt landed this position in time to oversee the largest expansion in Memorial Medical Center’s history – a $170,000,000 project that was completed over a three-year period.

The logistics of the project were staggering. On the grounds each day, Schmidt put his leadership skills to work – and to the test. He shares, “It was such a multifaceted project, with so many stakeholders. In my role, I had to bring them all together on a timeframe.” He highlighted that expansion project as the pinnacle of his career – not just for the magnitude of the endeavor, but the sheer complexity of it, describing it as being, “very complex, challenging, high visibility, very high impact.”

The high visibility aspect alone was mammoth. How do you coordinate building multiple stories on top of a large hospital’s front entrance and lobby without ever closing the entrance or lobby? Schmidt led his team to do just that, bringing the project to completion with smoothness and satisfaction. Upon completion, the Lincoln Foundation for Performance Excellence recognized them with a Quality Supplier Award for operational excellence. Schmidt expressed gratefulness for the experience, saying, “I was really proud of the team I was a part of.” With a smile, he added, “I look forward to doing similar things here at Passavant.”

When Passavant Area Hospital began their search for a new president and CEO, Schmidt explained, “I was in the right place at the right time with the right experience.” On January 1, 2017, Schmidt assumed his role – “just 20 days ahead of President Trump,” he chuckled.

He admitted, “It’s not what I anticipated.” Schmidt explained that possibly the most common misconception about those in the role of CEO is that the CEO “is in charge of everything and makes all the decisions.” In leadership, he clearly understands that it’s not about him dictating his desires to his employees. He explained, “Really, I’m trying to balance the requirements of a whole number of stakeholders. I work for the community … I also work for the patients – they’re the primary stakeholders of the organization. I work for the physicians – they’re the key providers in what we deliver.” In the chain of command for his job, Schmidt visualizes his position uniquely – I’m not at the top of the triangle telling everyone what to do – I visualize myself at the bottom of the triangle.”

Looking at the big picture, he stated, “I felt prepared to take [this job] on, but it is more complex than what I anticipated.” In his position at Memorial Medical Center, he managed around 450 people. As the CEO of Passavant, he manages over 950. And thus, he continues to put his leadership values into practice every day – yes, his “Four C’s.”

Talking about competence, Schmidt shared, “I’m trying to fulfill my role and responsibility in the organization … it’s like an airplane that’s already flying. How do you jump in the cockpit and take over controls? Through team building.” For Schmidt, team building is comprised of big steps, as well as little ones, like sending out thoughts on leadership to his staff and assuring them, “as a new leader, I have to earn your trust.” Earning trust is his goal in order to be the champion of Passavant, and most importantly, Passavant’s patients.

He shared about the second “C” – courage – a matter of doing the right thing, even when it’s hard. He commented, “I’ve already had to deal with some hard issues here … if we keep the patient at the center of everything we do, that clarifies the decision-making process.”

Schmidt smiled broadly when he came to the third “C” – commitment, saying, “The team here is terrific.” Personally, he believes commitment includes “showing that I’m willing to do anything that I ask my staff to do.” He explained his smile over the concept of commitment by sharing about Passavant’s recent upgrade to their IT system – a project which required groups of staff to work long hours over a weekend, even through the night, to implement the new system. “We had to have that commitment – asking the team to do something hard, but the leadership sticking with them to enable them through it.” That weekend, Schmidt didn’t clock out on Friday at 5 p.m. Rather, he and his leadership team were with their staff through the thick of it, supporting, encouraging and lending assistance when possible.

Finally, Schmidt talked about consistency – through each day, and each task. He commented, “I have to show up and be the same today, as I was yesterday. I have to be consistent in how I treat my team. And I have to be consistent in my response – being levelheaded regardless of what comes through the door.”

From his days flying airplanes, to managing Memorial Medical Center’s mammoth expansion project, to his role as Passavant’s president and CEO, Schmidt concluded, “That leadership mentality – lets you be successful regardless of what type of organization you’re leading.”

In conclusion, as Schmidt looks into the future of his career at Passavant, he shared his feelings – “Respect for the role and the responsibility … and incredible excitement … I’ve had a service mentality for all of my professional career.” Building on his 20 years of service to the nation in the U.S. Navy, his 10 years of service to the city of Springfield through Memorial Medical Center, Schmidt looks to his new role with excitement, saying, “I look forward to continuing that in Jacksonville and surrounding counties” – serving and leading well – with competence, courage, commitment and consistency.

Harry Schmidt, a retired military officer, holds his bachelor’s degree in computer science from the United States Naval Academy and his master’s degree in business administration from Washington University. While entering his new occupation as the president and CEO of Passavant, he currently resides in Menard County with his wife, Lisa, and his two sons.

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