Building Relationships: The Secret to Success (Podcast)

Chief legal officer leads team that understands a physician-led healthcare system

As Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Legal Officer, Chief Governance Officer and Secretary, David Rowan is responsible for all legal matters at the health system. He joined Cleveland Clinic after working for years as a partner at Squires, Sanders and Dempsey, LLP.

During a conversation with Brian Bolwell, MD, for the podcast “Beyond Leadership: At the Intersection of Leadership and Everything Else,” Rowan described the importance of building a strong and trustworthy team, and allowing them to grow and develop in their roles.

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“The model we have tried to aspire to is to attract great people,” Rowan says. “We retain the people because they see what I see. It’s very rewarding and challenging to work inside an organization like this. But when I say challenging, what our job to do is really to find ways to carry out the mission of the Clinic.”

Podcast excerpt

Dr. Bolwell: You mentioned the importance of building your team and that you think you’ve done it successfully. How have you done that and how do you recruit and what do you look for? And once you’ve got your team in place, how do you continue to get it to thrive?

David Rowan: It’s an evolutionary process, as you know. And I’ll lay out a few things that I think are important to do that.

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One, recruitment. I think that it doesn’t have to be a long process, but make certain you touched all the bases. Have I had some misses? Yes, I’ve had some misses. Everybody does. But I think that what I’ve done is to try to include as many people in the interview process as possible, including with regard to some key hires, having the business people … look at key people that would be involved so that that chemistry is there as well. And that’s just one example. But you recruit great people. I think that those people, then, are leaders.

I have five deputies and I also cover government relations. Those deputies then are talented people with regard to running the teams, giving those people opportunity for face time and using judgment. I think we are an innovative organization. But that means that you need to empower people to make decisions and then realize that they’ve looked at all of the right issues. And this applies across the organization.

And if something doesn’t go right, you cannot be a second guesser. You need to be able to say, if you did all your homework, you did all this stuff, you took risk the right way and you were not cavalier about those issues, that you have to support your team. And that doesn’t mean you don’t learn from it or make corrections. But you support that approach, because if you’re going to delegate authority, which I firmly believe you have to, those people have to have the right to make decisions and be supported if they’ve done things the right way.

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They need to have exposure to other key individuals. They need to find that successfully rewarding. They also have to know [they have support] if the time comes where they want to become the general counsel. I’ve had I think five people who I supported and became general counsel at other organizations. It’s a success. I don’t want to lose them, but you have to support people like that.

But also, I’d say that you need to provide a track internally for people to advance and succeed in various positions. I think that with a strong CEO model, it’s really empowering to let people have exposure to the board, let them have exposure to the CEO.