Former VA Secretary Bob McDonald | A Second Opinion | Healthcare Podcast

Former VA Secretary Bob McDonald on How to Build Trust and Compassion in Times of Upheaval

Former VA Secretary Bob McDonald

For our August 3rd episode, Senator Frist sits down with former Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald, who shares some powerful leadership lessons, including how you build trust and compassion in times of upheaval.

When asked about the challenges we are facing in our healthcare system, Secretary McDonald said, “I think the VA is the canary in the coal mine for American medicine.”

Bob McDonald served Procter & Gamble for 33 years with the last four as Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer.  Following his career at P&G, Bob was named Secretary of Veterans Affairs by President Obama in 2014, taking the helm of an organization in crisis.  An Army veteran and graduate of West Point, Bob was able to apply his military training and years of private sector experience to help transform the agency into one that delivered better care for our Military veterans.

When describing one of the biggest challenges the VA faces, Bob McDonald says this, “If you took the VA, and you put it on the list of the Fortune 500, it would be number 9.  No corporation in this country of that size, would change its leadership every 1, 2, 3, sometimes 5 years.  I auditioned for 28 years to become the CEO of a Fortune 25 company.  We need to figure out a different way to lead this organization to provide it the right leadership.”

Secretary McDonald also shares unique insights into how to effectively run a major organization: “My experience at Proctor & Gamble, which was a relatively large company at the time — $85 billion in sales, 120,000 employees around the world — was it’s easy to criticize a bureaucracy because a bureaucracy has no intimacy.  If you can put a face with that bureaucracy, and know the heart of the leader of that bureaucracy, it’s much more difficult to criticize. And in fact you can become part of the solution.”

While most corporations are run like a pyramid with the CEO on top, Secretary McDonald has a different approach: “My concept of a customer service organization is you take the pyramid and put it on its point. The CEO is on the bottom and across the top are the patients you’re trying to serve and those front-line employees who are doing that important work.” He also drives this point home by telling what he did in his first national press conference. “The appointed or elected official needs to be accessible and transparent.  And that why …I gave out my cell phone number.  And it’s still my cell phone number today and I still get calls from veterans every day of the week, and I try to solve their problems for them.”

Click here to listen to this week’s episode and hear more from Secretary McDonald about how to effectively lead in crisis, create culture change, and what America can learn from the VA to improve our healthcare system.