The CEO Is Not The Idea Guy: The Importance of Listening to Your Team

Rai Ashok

4-Part Interview with Dr. Ashok Rai, CEO of Prevea Health, and Mo Kasti, CEO and Founder of CTI

Part I: The CEO is Not the Idea Guy: The Importance of Listening to Your Team

Mo Kasti: How do you keep your team engaged?

Dr. Rai:  I want to make sure that I am listening to everybody. When I think about keeping people engaged, my first priority is making sure that we’re always listening, and that it’s true listening.  It’s not E-mailing them back and saying, “great idea,” rather, “Hey, let’s set up some time and talk about this.” And if they’ve got an issue that you need to respond to, do it in a timely manner.

The second thing about engagement is making sure that people feel like that they have purpose beyond just the blocking and tackling every day.  So set goals, set stretch goals, set opportunities for innovation and encourage it when somebody brings you a unique idea. I probably use way too many football terms around here.

I like giving people the ball.  Have you ever seen the movie “The Replacements” with Keanu Reeves and Gene Hackman? It is a replacement football team and Gene Hackman looks at Keanu Reeves and says: “what do you want to do?”  He replies, “I want the ball” and Gene Hackman says: “winners always do” and so, I really want people to want the ball around here.

It’s important to let people engage. They have got to be involved in the project.  So, making sure that people feel like there is an opportunity to continue to innovate, to use their creativity is essential.  I have this meter in my head when it comes to meetings: 75 percent of every meeting should be blocking and tackling, and 25 percent should be talking about doing something new and innovative.

If I hadn’t listened to some of the awesome ideas our team has had, we would not be in the position we are in today.  Good ideas do not come out of my office.  My job is to make those good ideas into great outcomes, but it doesn’t start here. I think for the good of the culture, you have to recognize the people who are moving the company forward, those who don’t have a C-suite title.

Download the Roadmap to Engagement Whitepaper by CTI LeadershipMo Kasti:  Can you think of an example of an awesome idea that you pursued?

Dr. Rai:  I would have never thought about having a medical weight loss or diet program as part of our organization,  but a couple of our operational people went to AMGA, stopped by a booth and met the ideal protein team. They really liked the concept of offering our patients something that was physician and clinician supervised. They were all excited, brought the idea to me, so I said: “Ok, I will give you a little bit of rope here.”

It’s turned out to be one of the most successful things we’ve ever done as an organization.  It’s been profitable, but the impact it had on our patients and the cost of care locally – driving that down through medication reductions- and the return on investment has been amazing.

Mo Kasti: I had the chance to spend the weekend recently with Alan Mulally from Ford and Marshall Goldsmith, the #1 Executive Coach in the world, and the conversation with them centered around what you just said, that as a CEO we have to be careful about what we say because people will take our suggestions as commands. It’s better to hold back and listen, and ask curiosity questions.  Mulally said, “I have to convince myself I’m the dumbest person in the room.” And, swallow my ego and say, “these people are here for a reason” and like you said, I’ve got to give them the ball and see what happens with it.

Dr. Rai: My job is to no longer to be the idea person. I’m supposed to draw that out of people, and that is why I hire people that are smarter than me. I am not afraid of them, I am proud of them. I get to stand in the balcony, facilitate a debate every so often, but more importantly, just shut the heck up.  I think as CEOs sometimes we don’t spend enough time walking away from a great idea and saying, OK, go make it happen and show me.

On occasions, [my employees] will bring things to me when they are stuck, and that is where I get to help them. I become involved when they become stuck or disillusioned or frustrated. A good leader will not discourage them but help them see the road blocks they can’t see for themselves. Then let them come up with logical answers to get through it.  A good leader opens the eyes of others – I think is the best way I can put it.

On January 29, 2009, Dr. Ashok Rai was announced as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Prevea Health. In this position, he carries out the strategic mission of the board of directors. He is instrumental in leading the growth of Prevea Health, while further developing the group’s affiliation with its hospital partners. Prevea Health is a multispecialty group offering more than 60 medical specialties. They employ more than 350-plus physicians and mid-level providers, combined with employees totaling more than 1,700. Read more.