Tag Archives: Bruce Avolio

Reflections on the Japanese healthcare system

This post was written by Management Professor and Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking Executive Director Bruce Avolio.

Bruce AvolioMy trip to Japan this past week, brought me first to Kyoto, then to Osaka and Tokyo. Kyoto is the City of Temples and Shrines, over a thousand, much of which are all in wonderful condition. The purpose of my trip, was to do a keynote presentation to senior Japanese leaders in the healthcare field, on the transformation that is underway in healthcare around the globe. I also conducted a day-long workshop for middle to senior leaders in the healthcare industry, more focused on advancing leadership development in individuals, teams and organizations.

If you have never been to Japan, go! The Japanese are perhaps the best hosts on earth. They delight in making things easy for you and showing you their country.

Intermingled among the work related events, we had opportunities to visit very interesting shrines where Shoguns sat in court governing regions of the nation back in the mid 1800s. We learned about their culture and styles of leadership. One style that was very disconcerting to me, as I am always late to everything, was that if you were late to a meeting with the Shogun, by a minute, and that was after traveling months to get there, it was time to say goodbye to your comrades. There were very strict codes of behavior in terms of who sat where in meeting the Shoguns, and even more strict
when meeting the Emperor.

In advance of my trip, I read up a lot on the Japanese healthcare system. Like most modern systems, it was based on Bismarck’s model in Germany of a more centrally controlled system. But unlike say Canada and the U.K., the primary involvement from government is in setting prices for everything from 4 stitches to an MRI. The costs are kept very low, such as $105 for a night in a hospital, any hospital.

BookScanCenter_2In the USA, that would be comparable to a hotel on the freeway for one night, certainly not our top hospitals, where rooms run into the thousands per night. The rigid cost structure is transparent, and everyone has to follow it, no exceptions. So, it is hard to run a healthcare business in Japan and be profitable, but everyone is covered, and the quality of care is good, based on Japan having the highest life expectancy rate, and lowest infant mortality rate in the world among other statistics. The Japanese can get into see their doctors usually in a day or two, and that can include top specialists. Japanese typically go to their physicians regularly resulting in better preventative care. And there are few if any lawsuits, and no one goes bankrupt in Japan due to medical bills.

Yet, all is not perfect of course. The system is struggling financially with low costs and an increasingly older population. Moreover, while I was in Japan, there was a series of stories of a surgeon who had killed a number of patients over a several year time span, and it appeared many knew he was incompetent, but challenging a senior physician is difficult to do in a culture like Japan. One article termed it a problem with leadership, that should have intervened to stop this surgeon. I would add a problem with organizational culture, not unlike we see in the US in terms of similar incidents.

In the end, we started some potential fruitful relationships between our school and the healthcare leaders in Japan, and going back to Japan in the near future, seems like a great possibility. Between the hospitality, food and beautiful cities and countryside, it seems like a great place to strike up a collaboration.

Leading across boundaries: complexity

The Fall  2014 Leading Across Boundaries (L.A.B.) session focused on the topic of dealing with “complexity” in the workplace. In a recent global study, both CEOs and MBA students identified dealing with complexity as a major area of challenge in their work.  Bruce Avolio, Mark Pigott Chair in Business Strategic Leadership and Executive Director of the Center for Leadership & Strategic Thinking (CLST) describes complexity as;

“1. When you have a lot of competing and difficult priorities to choose from and not all the information you need.
2. When you are trying to lead systems that have a lot of moving parts and you are trying to figure out how to integrate them to get things done.
3. When you have lots of competing priorities and have to determine how to get each done with limited resources.”

During the session, a panel of business leaders (Beth Schryer, Director 737 Business Operations for Boeing Commercial, Karen Clark Cole, CEO & Founder of Blink UX, and Nick Dykstra, Finance Director at Intellectual Ventures) sat with a group of ten MBA leaders to discuss the challenges they have with dealing with complexity in their current leadership roles. The panel then provided their strategies for dealing with complexity and responded to questions posed by the MBA leaders in attendance. Soleil Kelly, Foster’s MBA Association (MBAA) Leader and Bruce Avolio moderated the dialogue.

See photos of the event below:



















L.A.B. sessions enable MBA students to discuss topics of interest with business and community leaders while  developing their own leadership skills. The sessions are sponsored by MBAA and CLST. Visit CLST’s website to learn more.

The art of failing

This event was hosted by Neal Dempsey, the Foster School’s visiting 2013-2014 Edward V. Fritzky Chair in Leadership.

art-of-failing-eventFailure is part of life. In fact, success often starts with failure. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard or painful. On January 21, a panel at the Foster School tackled the art of failing. The panelists were Steve Singh, CEO of Concur; Sean Dempsey, founder and general partner of Merus Capital; and Emilia Griswold, Foster MBA, Class of 2014. Bruce Avolio, professor of management and executive director of Foster’s Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, moderated the discussion.

The discussion covered a range of topics and often oscillated between risk, failure and success. It’s difficult to have real success without risk and the potential for failure. There was also an emphasis on the ability to adapt to change, particularly when faced with the potential for failure.

Griswold spoke about changing her strategy for finding an internship after several months of no success. Ultimately, she was successful in landing an internship because she approached her goal from a broader view and was willing to risk failure. She said this experience taught her three things:

  1. Focus on the goal. She came to the MBA Program as career changer. For her, conducting informational interviews with people who had successful career paths, not people who worked at a particular company, was most effective.
  2. Believe in yourself. If you’re trying to convince someone else you can do something before you have convinced yourself, it won’t work.
  3. Embrace risk. Look for opportunities that scare you—ones where you could actually fail.

In order to cope with risk, you have to possess the patience and persistence to work until it pays off. Dempsey said, whether you are building your career or a company, “You should be short-term impatient and long-term patient.” In other words, you have to keep moving forward on a day to day basis, but you also have to realize change happens over time. Persistence, even in the face of failure, is critical for success.

Trying to accomplish a goal too quickly can also lead to failure, especially if you don’t consider the big picture. Instead of making decisions based on the next 90 days, Singh, who has been the CEO of Concur for over 20 years, said he considers the impact of his decisions on the next five to ten years. He said he realized, “There are goals along the way, but there is no end goal.” For him, getting to success is a long-term process. He tells his team, “Your job is to define the world the way it should be defined. Not in the way that is best for you, not in the way where you get the most value out of it, but the way it should be.” Once you figure that out, he said, “You step back and think about how you get from here to there.”

When implementing what you’ve defined as the way the world should be, be prepared to face challenges and failure. Dempsey likened this process to being at the top of a black diamond ski run. From the top, it looks long and intimidating and there are obstacles to overcome, but he said, “The thing to do is only worry about what you can control.” From there, the strategy is to take it one step at a time.

The panelists also talked about how failing can be the ultimate teaching tool, and they pointed out that not failing is also risky—it means you’re not challenging yourself. Click on the video below to watch the entire discussion.

Organizational leadership

Bruce Avolio, executive director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, led a discussion on organizational leadership on April 24, 2013 at the UW Foster School of Business. Panelists were Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, Phyllis Campbell and Brad Tilden.

LTG Robert Brown was commissioned into the Infantry in May of 1981 after graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point. In 1986, LTG Brown completed the Armor Officer Advanced Course at Fort Knox, Kentucky and then attended graduate school at the University of Virginia, where he earned a master’s degree in education. Throughout his career he has held a variety of leadership positions, including Commander, 1st Brigade (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), 25th Infantry Division; Chief of Staff, US Army Europe and Seventh Army; and Commanding General, U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence. LTG Brown transitioned to Joint Base Lewis-McChord on July 3, 2012, where he serves as Commanding General, I Corps.

Phyllis Campbell is the chairman, Pacific Northwest for JPMorgan Chase & Co. She is the firm’s senior executive in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, representing JPMorgan Chase at the most senior level to clients. In her role, she manged JP Morgan Chase’s operations during a tumultuous time. She joined Chase shortly after it acquired Washington Mutual during the banking crisis. Previously, Campbell was the president and CEO of The Seattle Foundation, the largest community foundation in Washington. She has also served as President & CEO of U.S. Bank of Washington. She holds an MBA from the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program.

Brad Tilden is president and CEO of Alaska Air Group, the parent company of Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air. As CEO he leads the nation’s seventh-largest airline, with 9,600 employees, 60 destinations and 117 aircraft. Additionally, he oversees regional carrier Horizon Air and its 3,200 employees and 48 aircraft serving 39 cities. Previously, Tilden served as Alaska Airlines’ president. Before joining Alaska, he spent eight years with the accounting firm Price Waterhouse in its offices in Seattle and Melbourne, Australia. He holds an MBA from the Foster School’s Executive MBA Program.

The panel discussion was incredibly interesting and insightful. They covered a wide range of topics, including leadership obstacles, women in leadership positions, managing risk and more. Watch video highlights from the lecture.

Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, Phyllis Campbell and Brad Tilden were Foster School of Business Dean Jim Jiambalvo’s guest speakers at the Leaders to Legends Breakfast Lecture Series, which include notable leaders in an array of industries from greater Seattle and around the country.

Driving Porsches, Chevys, and camels?

Amidst the Bentleys, Mercedes, Porsches and the real fancy cars in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, all may not be as well as it appears on the surface. We learned that a very large percentage of Emeriti’s doesn’t graduate high school and many are functionally illiterate. Yet, when they do leave school – most can and do apply for a government job and of course get it – being paid $90,000, while also receiving 60 days vacation a year, housing and car allowance, all utilities paid for and many other benefits including healthcare. So why learn! As one Emeriti entrepreneur told us, most Emiratis who want to be entrepreneurs, and they are few and far between, cannot compose an email or structure a sentence! On the other hand, there are Emeriti’s that you could compare to the best and brightest in the world. So as someone said, they have a ‘software’ problem not a ‘hardware’ problem that the government’s rulers have to address to sustain this amazing growth over the next 100 years, let alone 50. In this regard, a most telling saying we heard about the past and future in this region goes as follows: My grandfather drove a camel, my father drove a Chevy, I drive a Porsche and my son drives a Bentley, but likely his son will drive a camel….again.

Democratic versus authoritative leadership

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management. 

Personally, I believe in more inclusive, transparent and democratic leadership, even at Universities for God’s sake. However, when you witness what has been created in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, there is something about tribal authoritative and authoritarian leadership that cannot be ignored.  Such leadership builds cities very quickly, efficiently and majestically…well, depending on your taste in architecture. Indeed, the parallels in the world that I could think of where similar leadership has had such positive impact are in places like Singapore and Chicago under the leadership of the Mayor Daley’s. When there is chaos to be controlled and a myriad of interests to be aligned, sometimes authoritarian coupled with authoritative leadership—if they know what they are doing, can be very effective. Yet, to sustain this model of society and leadership is tough, in that it oftentimes in the case of a Dubai or Abu Dhabi depends on the choice of the ‘right son’ or the ‘right brother’ in the succession plan.

A controlled approach to leadership in Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management. 

There are several things that one cannot ignore when traveling in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. First, in 42 years since the founding of the United Arab Emirates, these global citizens have built massive cities with the most impressive and innovative architecture on earth. Second, you cannot find a more controlled society on earth that doesn’t appear to have any interest in overthrowing the ruling families. Indeed, what one sees in this part of the world are sheer opulence everywhere, and a largely satisfied group of indigenous citizens. The reason being is that the rulers in this part of the world, rule with an iron fist, but they also rule with tremendous generosity and smarts towards citizens. If you are a so-called Emirate and not living well, call your ruler because you are clearly missing out on all of the bennies, e.g., subsidized housing, utilities, car payments, healthcare, schooling, higher educational scholarships, or a new iPad!

The vastness of the Middle East

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management. Bruce traveled with Technology Management MBA students as part of their International Study Tour to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

I, like the students from Foster’s TMMBA program and staff, have visited many parts of the world. However, none of the staff or students had been to the Middle East. Of course, when we say Middle East, it’s like saying North America, in that the Middle East is made up of many different types of people, regions, climates and of course cultures. My goal for this trip was to develop our respective global mindsets as a basis for being a global leader—our assumptions, framing, perceptions and knowledge about other cultures. During our time in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we certainly triggered A LOT of challenges to our respective global mindsets. Indeed, during our first corporate visit at Thompson Reuters, one of the top managers hosting us said, “Next time you hear the words—The Gulf—on CNN or Fox or where ever, I hope you consider how vast and diverse an area that reporter is referencing.” Boy was that ever an insight to retain in our global mindsets!

Bruce Avolio TEDx video: showing up for leadership

Bruce Avolio, executive director of the Foster School’s Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, spoke at TEDxUmeå on January 17, 2013. The theme was “Leadership, creativity and innovation” and Avolio’s talk was titled, “Showing up for leadership…Ta Dah!” In his talk Avolio discusses three types of leadership: leadership that grows people, leadership that sustains people and leadership that diminishes people.

When a leader grows people, she empowers them to take ownership and challenge conventions. Leaders who grow people share a common trait—they all had people in their lives who set extremely high expectations for them. When they failed to meet these expectations, they were supported and encouraged to get up and do it again, and this process was repeated over and over. As a result they developed the ability to transform other people into leaders.

Avolio shared examples of how people can show up for leadership. You can be a leader who grows people by:

  • Showing up with great expectations.
  • Showing up claiming leadership.
  • Showing up over and over.
  • Showing up with everyone.

Avolio said, “We can all grow a better world together. Why don’t we do it?”

Watch the 20-minute video.

Jepson School 20th anniversary

Guest post by Bruce Avolio, Executive Director of the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Marion B. Ingersoll Professor of Management


I recently attended the Jepsen School’s 20th anniversary celebration in Richmond Virginia. The Jepsen School was the first school in USA to focus specifically on leadership as an undergraduate major as its main thrust and did so taking a broad humanities perspective. They have now graduated over 1,000 students who approach leadership with a very, very broad mindset from the great books of literature and history to the R.O.I. focus of corporations.

During one presentation at the conference, we talked about a program called Shakespeare Behind Bars. From its website, “Now in its 18th year, Shakespeare Behind Bars is the oldest program of its kind in North America. SBB programming serves incarcerated adults and youth using exclusively the works of William Shakespeare.” So try to imagine someone from the African American gang in a correctional institution working with someone from the white supremacist gang on Hamlet. That is exactly what happens, and this program has participants with a significantly lower recidivism rate, lower rate of violence and infractions, etc. So next time someone is in a brainstorming session with you, and they suggest something so out of the range as Shakespeare Behind Bars must have been when it was first proposed, I suggest you suspend your judgment!