Leading with Grace (Podcast)

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William Peacock brought extensive leadership experience from a 24-year career in the U.S. Navy when he joined Cleveland Clinic in 2009. He has built on that as Chief of Operations, where projects have included development of Cleveland Clinic hospitals in Abu Dhabi and, more recently, London.

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In an interview with Brian Bolwell, MD, for the podcast “Beyond Leadership,” Peacock explains that the opportunities for leadership learning began early in his career – when he was in the Naval Academy.

“You’re given leadership opportunities over (peers), where you’re accountable for the most minuscule aspects of them, as well as their grades, their behavior, and their ability to interact with others. I think you start to gain some perspectives, but you’re in a college university type of environment; it’s a narrow set of society,” Peacock says.

“When you get out and you’re actually serving in the fleet, you’re almost immediately thrust into a position where you’re not only responsible for that age cohort you were working for before, but people from all across society who elect to serve in the armed forces,” he adds. “People who in some cases are much older than you, much more seasoned and experienced. I think it forces you to step back and reflect and to take input from many directions.”

In the podcast, Peacock explains how he translated that experience to his work on complex projects at Cleveland Clinic, and why grace is a key attribute in any leadership role.

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Podcast excerpt

Brian Bolwell, MD: Tell us a little bit more about Abu Dhabi and working in the Middle East. For our listeners, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi is something that we manage, but it’s actually part of the Mubadala wing of the government of the UAE. But it’s an important part of the overall organization. What are some of the lessons learned about how to execute over there?

Bill Peacock: I will tell you, that’s been the most fascinating experience, along with London.

First building a partnership with Mubadala and establishing trust, that really was scratch cooking together, the two of us, trying to figure out what service lines to bring to that environment back at a time when their repository of data on their population was not what it is today … and trying to project what kind of heart vascular volume, what kind of GI volumes we would see, and how should we staff. It was a largely public health system, so we knew we were coming in as maybe a threat to the existing public health system. We had to navigate that particularly.

It was a sandbar. It was not an established residential or business district at that time or retail district, as it is today. There were scant regulations on everything from medical malpractice and really no insurance policies, no insurance vehicles whatsoever. It was all government pay. All those things evolved over the course of the construction, and then the construction was impacted by the 2008 global financial situation. It was also impacted by the fact that this was a sandbar, and it needed a couple extra months to settle as we started to compact and drive piles.

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Looking back, I think it was fortunate for us, in that it allowed us time to further get our wheels on and make our opening a success.

The day they opened, there was a rocket attack down in Yemen. It was on a munitions facility where Emirati troops were housed in tent camps around the perimeter, and they were decimated. The Nation of the UAE never had to deal with that type of mass casualty event with their armed forces. They staged, rather rapidly, the best-put-together evacuation medevac flights that they could to get their wounded up. Where’d they end up? They ended up at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. Our ICU teams, our surgical teams, our ED was called to action immediately.

I would never wish this on anyone, but talk about endearing a new delivery to a country and to a nation and to the nation’s leadership. That really was a very pivotal opening and timing that I think brought us together.