Akron Children’s CEO writes what he learned from kids about leadership

(Special to the Tribune Chronicle) Akron Children's Hospital staff line up in December for autographed copies of CEO William H. Considine's book "Leadership." Each letter in the word "leadership" stands for two concepts beginning with that letter that help give substance to what leadership means.

He gained some of his greatest lessons on leadership from the kids.

“The simple conversation you have with a child can be the best learning experience of your life,” William H. Considine, CEO of Akron Children’s Hospital for the past 38 years, said. “What I learned from the children around here is optimism. I learned to start with the good. I think it’s good to have a glass half full all of the time.”

Sprinkled throughout his new book titled “Leadership” are stories about a leukemia patient named Angie. Considine said she became a patient at age 9, and over the next four years or so, shone as a constant source of lessons on how to leave a legacy.

“She in her own mind had figured she wasn’t going to get married, she wasn’t going to be in a prom, she had a much shorter time in this earth,” Considine said. “Her mantra was, ‘I have no time for bad hair days.’

“She wanted to make sure her mom and dad were OK, that her siblings were OK, make sure her doctors and nurses were OK. It was never about her, it was, ‘How is your day going?’ This little girl was always caring about other people.”

Angie crafted suncatchers in the hospital’s art therapy program, which she gifted to staff and visitors. After she died, Angie’s mother gave Considine two suncatchers Angie hadn’t completed.

“I’m looking at one of them right now,” Considine said. He keeps it framed in his office. “It reminds me that our work here is not finished as long as there are children who need us.”

In the 112-page book, Considine, 70, shares stories from his life and about the mentors, friends, family, co-workers, community leaders and patients who molded his leadership style. He emphasizes how listening to feedback from colleagues and patient families grew his skills over 45 years in the health care industry.

In his nearly four decades as CEO, Akron Children’s Hospital has grown into a $1 billion enterprise with more than 5,000 employees and nearly 1 million patient visits annually. Its various northeast Ohio locations include the Akron Children’s Hospital Beeghly Campus in Boardman.

Considine said his goal in writing the book was to pack as many lessons as he could as simply as they could be told in as short of a book as possible.

He used a mnemonic device for the word “leadership,” and said he carries it “on a memory card in my mind. For each letter in the word “leadership,” he wrote down two words that begin with that letter that describe concepts that define and give substance to what leadership looks like. For example, the L stands for listen and learn, the D is dream and dedication, the R is respect and role modeling, and the H is humility and humor.

“I point out that these are words that come to my mind when I try to live up to the mantle of leadership that has come my way,” he said. “(I) have found over the years that it’s a simple message, it’s not necessarily an academic message, it’s something that appeals to audiences of all different kinds of backgrounds and ages.

“Some people use different words for the letters,” he said. “They ask me why did you not use ‘execute’ or ‘exact’ for E? That’s the point. There are other words. If they work for you and bring action, then that objective was met.”

The late Charles S. Lauer, former publisher of Modern Healthcare magazine, wrote in the volume’s foreword, “This book is for anyone who is a leader or wants to be a leader, whether in health care or some other field. It is filled with common sense, practical insight on how to set the course of an organization and how to inspire those who report to you and those who serve you.”

In a note at the beginning of the book, Youngstown State University President Jim Tressel wrote, “Society seems to suggest that leadership is a position one holds. However, the Considines believe that leadership is the action taken to serve others.”

The project has its roots both in study and happenstance.

“I’ve read a lot of books (on leadership) but also reflected on it,” he said. “I never heard a lot about the word ‘leadership’ and how you would define it, which is another reason I thought it might make sense to put some of this into a talk.

“I was invited one day many years ago to give a talk to a group — I think it was in Medina County. I thought it was about the hospital. When I got there, the program said my topic was leadership. I said, OK.”

He switched gears on the spot.

“I had never given that talk I gave that day but it was something that I used to think about in my head.”

It went over well and he was invited to present it at other gatherings and conferences, including at an international children’s hospital executives forum a few years ago in Paris.

“Several of my colleagues from around the world said, ‘You know, Bill, you should put that in writing.’ So on the flight home, I decided to do that,” he said. “It took me a while.”

After he wrote out his speech in book form, he asked Ron Kirksey, the retired executive director of communications at Kent State University, to look it over. Kirksey suggested blending it with the stories he tells about lessons he learned from the kids. Considine contacted the various families for permission, then sprinkled the tales about his young role models throughout the book.

“I wanted it to be an easy read,” he said. “I get a lot of stuff that comes over my desk that my eyes blur over when I have to go through it. There are many books that you’ve started and I’ve started that we’ve never finished.

“I don’t consider it a literary masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but if it helps seasoned executives or if it helps students or if it helps people in our leadership academy here at the hospital, it was worth the time and effort.”

The $15 book is available in hospital gift shops, through Amazon and “we’re talking to a couple book chains,” he said.

“Proceeds from the book go to our research institute, which carries my wife’s name in response to a seven-figure gift we made to the hospital at my 35th anniversary,” Considine said.

Now he’s considering a second volume.

“I’m going to play off the letter C in this next book. The key to leadership success is embraced by civility. Civility is something that’s a concern to me right now in this country.

“Collaboration — that’s also important. I’d pick collaboration over competition, but competition is good. There should be rules about how you compete.

Corporate citizenship. Think about the community you live in. Communication. Children. Culture. My last name is a C, my grade school was the St. Mary’s Crusaders, I work at a children’s hospital and I like C students,” he said.

More lessons from the kids likely would be included.

“I daily learn from the strength and courage I see that young children bring in,” Considine said.