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KHA Recognizes Bob Page

Bob Page, CEO and president, The University of Kansas Health System, speaking from a podium at the Kansas Hospital Association luncheon.

September 09, 2022

Overland Park, Kan. — Bob Page, The University of Kansas Health System president and CEO, received the Kansas Hospital Association’s Charles S. Billings Award. Though the honor was bestowed in 2021, the formal presentation took place during the KHA Annual Convention, Thursday, September 8, 2022 in Overland Park, Kan.

Page was recognized for a wide range of accomplishments, including helping establish our health system as a national leader in patient satisfaction, harm reduction/patient survival, staff engagement and long-term sustainability.

He also was recognized for championing the Care Collaborative, which now includes 76 member organizations in 69 counties across Kansas.

During his remarks, Page shared the 7 most important things he has learned over the span of his career.

7 Lessons on Leadership

CEO and health system President, Bob Page, offered his insight into leadership upon receiving the KHA Charles S. Billings Award.

Bob Page, it's our distinct honor and pleasure to present you with the Charles S. Billings Award for distinguished service and outstanding contributions to the healthcare of Kansans. Congratulations, Bob.

Bob Page:
Thank you, everybody. And it's truly an honor to be the recipient of this award. It's always hard to be the guy who stands between you and the rest of the day. And so, I was given five minutes by my friends, Chad and Cindy, and here's what I'm going to do. I said, "What in the world am I going to talk about for five minutes," because I mean, you guys are ready to go. And I thought, wait a minute, this has been some of the toughest time in healthcare. I mean think about it, we've had the toughest couple years. And I don't know about you guys, but when you look forward, it's not going to get any easier. It's going to be really hard. So, I thought, well, I'm going to talk about that. And then I thought, well, that'd be pretty depressing to talk about at lunch.

So, then I thought, I've been in healthcare for 41 years. I thought maybe I could share some of the leadership lessons that I've learned. And I figured out that four and a half minutes is just about how much time I need to tell you what I've learned over the last 41 years. So, here we go. I got seven things and hopefully I remember them all. First, leadership is a team sport. There's only one reason that I get a chance to stand up here today, and that's because of the great team of people I get to work with every day. They're the best team I have ever had the opportunity to work with in my entire life. Now, I have to tell you, I think that leaders who think the world revolves around them are doomed to failure. I think the leaders that cherish teamwork and the leaders are the ones that surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are, and they turn them loose to do great things, those leaders and their organizations will be successful.

And if I've learned one other thing, it is that I don't think there's any place for arrogance or for narcissism in leadership. Second, know your core business and stick to your knitting. So, everybody in the room right now, you know what our core business is, right? It's to take care of patients. So, here's the challenge I have for everybody in this room. The next time when you go back to your place and you have decisions to make, do one thing, put the patient at the center of your decision making. I believe you'll make better decisions. We kind of have an expectation at our place, it goes something like this. If you're ever having one of those days and you don't know the right thing to do, ask yourself one question, what's the right thing to do for the patient? Because if you ask and answer that question, you're going to be fine.

Third, two of the most powerful words in the English language are I'm sorry. I think as leaders we need to be accountable. When something bad happens, don't blame somebody else. If it happened under your watch, it's your responsibility. We have another saying around our place, and that is, own everything that's yours and just a little bit more. Fourth, never, ever, ever give up. If you have experts telling you that something's impossible and you believe that they're wrong, then trust your gut. Now, you heard about me and being a Cubs fan, I've been a Cubs fan for 65 years. And so, it probably comes from that, that I have that sentiment. It took 108 years to get a World Series back in Chicago. It took 71 years just to get back to the World Series. But you know what? Cub fans never gave up.

At our health system in the late '90s, we were talking about selling or closing our hospital, but we never gave up. We had experts telling us that people wouldn't leave Johnson County to come to our main campus for care and we never gave up. So, I think as leaders, it's really easy to say, no, it's the easiest thing, no, we can't do that. The hardest thing is to find a path to yes, and I think that's the challenge for all of us. Fifth, and this is an old cliche and everybody's heard this, culture trump's strategy. I believe that. I think strategic plans are really important, I absolutely do. But I think if they don't have a strong cultural underpinning, they fail. In fact, I would suggest that strategic plans are a dime a dozen. And I would suggest that some in this room might actually know where your strategic plan is located in your office.

But I'm not bashing on strategic plans, we just finished ours. I got board members up here. We just spent like months putting together a four year strategic plan. I'm not bashing that. But here's what I know, when times get tough, people do not reach for their strategic plan, what they reach for is the culture. And if you have a culture as a North Star, you're going to be fine. And I think you'll not only survive during tough times, you'll thrive. But I think organizations that focus on strategic planning and didn't focus on a culture, they're going to have a real tough time when things get hard.

Sixth, people are the most important asset in any organization. Don't commoditize your folks. Don't commoditize your medical staff. Investments in people are equal to, if not more important than investments in technology and investments in brick and mortar. So, that requires that we have to do everything we can with our staff to make sure that we recognize them and reward them. They're working really hard these days. Do not, when things get tough, don't go immediately to, how can I cut staff? How can I reduce compensation? You need those folks to get through the tough times.

And for anybody in the room who thinks that recruitment bonuses or sign-on bonuses are a good thing, I'd like to challenge you with one thought, think about what message that sends to the staff who work in your facilities, who are working side by side with people you just incented to come work with them. What kind of message does that send? And then the last thing that I learned is there's two other really important words in the English language and those are thank you. I think we have to say it more often and I think we have to mean it when we say it, because I'll tell you what, everybody's teams in this room today are working harder than they've ever worked and it's not going to get any easier. So, it's going to require us to be present and we've got to be visible, and we have to know what's going on and we have to listen before we speak, and then we have to thank people for the hard work. So, one final thought.

So, the older I get, the more I start listening to the country music. Who would've thought? And the only reason I listen to it is because I can understand the words. So, here's the deal. There's a duet out, Luke Bryan is featured on this duet, and it's called By Dirt. Anybody heard that, By Dirt? And there's a phrase in there that says, "Find something you love and call it work." So, here's what I know and here's what I've figured out, life is short, leadership is a privilege, cherish every minute. Thank you.


Page served on the KHA Board of Directors from 2009-2019, including chair in 2018.

With 40 years in healthcare, including the past 25 at our organization, Page “continues to be a staunch advocate for Kansas hospitals and the individuals they serve, opening doors, bringing people together and moving the needle,” says Chad Austin, KHA president and CEO.

“He willingly shares his knowledge with local, regional and national healthcare and business leaders,” Austin adds. “His commitment and excellence in service to the healthcare of Kansans is unmatched.”

The award, named after the association’s first president, is KHA's highest honor, recognizing distinguished service and outstanding contributions to the field of healthcare in Kansas.

The Kansas Hospital Association is a voluntary, non-profit organization existing to be the leading advocate and resource for members. Founded in 1910, KHA’s vision is Optimal Health for Kansas.

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