Delivering Results Requires Building Trust (Podcast)

Operations leader Rita Pappas, MD, on leading in crisis

Rita Pappas, MD

When Rita Pappas, MD, was named Medical Director of Hospital Operations at Cleveland Clinic, she made a point to meet the chair of each medical institute within the enterprise at their offices — “not in my office,” Pappas emphasizes.

In her role, Pappas is responsible for occupancy across the Cleveland Clinic health system in Northeast Ohio and Florida.

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”We had meetings with the chief medical officer, the CNO and the hospital president for each regional hospital,” says Dr. Pappas. “Building those relationships helps people to reach out when they reach challenges.”

Once relationships have been established, it’s essential to “actually deliver” with regard to operations, Dr. Pappas explains during a recent interview for “Beyond Leadership,” a podcast by Brian Bolwell, MD, Chair of Physician Leadership and Development in the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Global Leadership and Learning Institute.

Dr. Pappas also has been a nurse and is a staff physician in the Department of the Pediatric Hospital Medicine. Her interests include pediatric hospitalist medicine, residency education, patient safety and care paths. Hear her interview with Dr. Bolwell on the podcast.

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Podcast excerpt

Dr. Bolwell: If you’re going to be a leader, you almost have to be somewhat evangelical in how you communicate your message and your vision to your constituents and your team, and other people who are associated with your group. Not necessarily an easy thing to do and I think it’s an acquired skill. How did you do that effectively?

Dr. Pappas: I believe it started with my parents. I’m the oldest of five of Lebanese immigrant parents. My parents both worked. I was in charge of my four siblings, and responsible for getting them up and getting them to school. I learned very quickly not to be authoritative or dictator-like, but actually to communicate effectively on things that needed to happen.

I really believe it started with my parents, and then I learned from others. I learned from watching role models. I attended Beaumont High School, which was an all-girls school. I believe I found my voice there by running for student office and participating in activities.

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Then I was a nurse for 10 years. I learned pretty quickly that I needed to give data up front, offer a recommendation and closed loop communication in order to be effective, in order to care for my patients. But the inspiration piece, as you said, came later, really through watching role models and how people communicated effectively. I took a lot of leadership courses to try to improve my executive presence and how to actually deliver messages in a clear and concise manner.

I follow this rule of three, that people will only hear about three things. As you said, it took time. Before meetings, I would sit down and write out what was my message for that meeting for that day? What did I need to ensure that everyone walked away with? I used terms like, “to be clear, this is my ask.” It’s very difficult. It takes time and effort, while you’re trying to juggle a lot of needs. Your patients’ needs, your staff needs, everyone else’s needs.