Power in Vulnerability

Power in Vulnerability

Leadership lessons learned from our boss David Green

David Green has been my boss since January 2002. I arrived at the Gold Coast, as a second-year Emergency Medicine trainee, having worked in Brisbane for four years.  My Brisbane bosses bade me farewell with the portend: “You’ll be back in a year”.  It’s been fifteen.

The old Gold Coast Hospital (GCH) Emergency Department (ED) was dated, dank and chaotic.  And it was hellishly busy.  These days it’s officially the second busiest ED in the country – probably back then it was unofficially so. And we saw everyone from the very young to the very old; from the not-so-sick to the critically unwell. During holiday periods, the population of the Gold Coast would increase significantly, and it seemed like most visitors included a trip to our ED in their itinerary.

Despite the working environment of the ED, I was struck by the cohesion of the staff.  Consultant staff were generally addressed in the Australian manner of shortening or lengthening (but seldom leaving as original) their surname. Dr Green was Greenie; Dr Spain was Spaino; Dr Bowe was Bowie.  There was also Timbo, Bunny, Donny and Stevie G. Leo was Leo. The only female was Lauren, whose name was left intact, perhaps out of decorum.

Around March, I was walking past Greenie’s office door, when he beckoned me with a greeting.  He asked how I was settling in.  Trembling, for he was a formidable man, I said that I was really enjoying being here – everyone had been incredibly warm and welcoming.  He replied that it was all about team here; that if he had the choice between the technically best trainee in the country versus one who would fit into the team, then he would choose the latter. I was of course aspiring to be the former; but I was pleased at his suggestion that I was at least the latter.

David Green is a fisherman first and an ED director second… At my interview some months before I started, Tim lamented “I would like to have introduced you to our boss, but he’s off on a fishing trip. He does that a lot”.

It was October when I had my next meaningful conversation with Greenie.  I experienced my first episode of burnout and Greenie unequivocally rescued me.  I’ve written about this previously.  In addition, Greenie, despite being a man of very few words, intuitively knew me – he knew just what to say in order to give my experience validity and legitimacy.  The absolute kindness, fortitude and advocacy I experienced at that time sealed my lifelong loyalty to Greenie, and by extension, to GCH ED.

Over the last few years, Greenie has suffered the sad loss of both his parents. When he lost his Mum, he also had to finalise both their affairs.  It was evident that he struggled with this, emotionally and logistically.  He would return to work exhausted.  It was clear that his workplace and his workmates provided some familiarity and solace.

His struggle was a gift to those around him – because if Greenie could struggle, then it was okay if we also struggled at times.

More recently, Greenie has experienced the joy of a grandchild. Again, he has openly shared his delight and pride, regaling his staff with regularly updated photos of the little boy.

Despite his personal experiences, Greenie has maintained leadership and stability of our ED for 30 years. During the payroll crisis, Greenie supported his staff members, writing out personal cheques so that mortgage payments were met. During the SMO contracts debate, Greenie gathered his consultants and advised “I will support you whatever decision you make [to sign the contract and stay, or to leave]. But ask yourself – Do you want to be driving past here in six months’ time and know that someone else is running our ED?” Through evolutions of the executive management team, Greenie has buffered the ED so that staff can focus on doing their job – delivering quality health care to the community.

Greenie is a man of paradoxical extremes.  He is at once extremely private and extremely open-hearted, at once articulate but mostly very economic with his words, at once eloquent and then capable of a well-placed expletive. His staff know that he will hold them to account, but that he will unconditionally “have your back” in a crisis. He can be at once aloof and then bafflingly insightful, at once distant but then emphatically warm – at once vulnerable and tremendously powerful.

I realise now that it is Greenie’s attributes of dedication and high standards, but along with acknowledged flaws and fallibility, that are the key to his core skill as a leader: the ability to connect with his team at a very human level, and to create a sense of belonging – of family.

You are worthy of recognition at the highest level, Greenie. And it is our humble honour to be a part of your team – part of your family.