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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Leadership Lessons from Knee Surgery


For readers in the United States, I hope you had a nice Memorial Day weekend. I spent mine recuperating from some minor arthroscopic knee surgery last Thursday morning. That may come across as TMI – Too Much Information. If it does, I apologize, but I actually found some great leadership lessons from surgery that I want to share with you.

Sometimes when you least expect it, you get a great customer service experience. Believe it or not, knee surgery was one of those experiences for me. Great customer service doesn’t just happen, especially in a process that requires as many people as surgery does. Delivering great customer service through a multistep process requires thoughtful leadership. They must have that in buckets at Reston Surgery Center where my procedure was done. I looked through their website so I could give a shout out to whoever is in charge but couldn’t find a management team roster.

So, to whoever’s in charge there, thank you for the great experience and the following leadership lessons:


  • Come Up With a Process and Use It. A couple of days before surgery someone from the Center called and asked me to go to their website and answer the questions on a system called One Medical Passport. It had all the questions you typically have to answer when you start with a new doctor. The difference this time was that, on the day of surgery, I actually saw the staff referring to my answers. At that point, I started really paying attention to the way they used processes there. They use a lot of checklists. which is very comforting when the plan for the day calls for general anesthesia. (For more on checklists and why they’re a good thing, revisit this post on The Checklist Manifesto.)
  • Little Things Matter. How many times have you been in a doctor’s office when a staffer comes out to the reception room and, in a ear-splitting tone, yells out the last name of the next patient? So many times, likely, that you don’t even notice it anymore. That’s just the way it is. Not at the Reston Surgery Center, however. I was startled in a very pleasant way when a woman walked into the waiting room and in a very pleasant voice said, “Good morning everyone. Mr. Jones, would you like to accompany me to the preparatory area?” It was a little thing that made a big difference to me and the rest of the patients. You could feel the room relax. I loved the fact that she was working in an environment where she felt appreciated enough to bring her best self to her role.
  • Hire People Who Like Each Other. My prep nurse was a woman named Jen, and she was terrific. She was professional, thorough and personal all at once. One of the things I noticed pretty quickly in the time that she worked with me was how comfortable and personable she was with her co-workers. I commented that it looked like the staff was a real team. She said that was definitely true but they also just liked each other. “This doesn’t stop at work, we like each other and hang out together after work,” she told me. A team like that doesn’t happen by accident. People in leadership roles at the Surgery Center have made some excellent hiring decisions and probably do a lot of things to encourage the camaraderie.
  • You Get What You Measure. Before I was taken back to surgery, I’m guessing there were four or five people that stopped by to introduce themselves and ask if I had any questions. The list included the OR nurse, the anesthesiologist and the surgeon, Dr. Fleeter. I was impressed by that at the time and was more impressed the next day when I filled out the patient survey form someone gave me as we left. One of the questions on the survey was if each of the team members including the anesthesiologist and the surgeon had introduced themselves prior to surgery. As they say, what gets measured gets done. That’s only true, though, if leaders set the expectations and follow up regularly to review results. I’m guessing that happens at Reston Surgery Center.
  • Respect People. Over the course of the morning, I never sat in one place for more than 5 to 10 minutes without the next step happening. In fact, the entire process took a little less than three hours and that included the hour required to recover from general anesthesia. This is just one example of the respect that the leaders and staff of Reston Surgery Center have for their patients. I’d be willing to bet that the staff gives that respect because they get respect themselves. Better surgery through karma I guess.

What connections between leadership and outstanding customer service have you seen lately?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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