Welcome to the latest installment of “Leading Questions: Wisdom from the Corner Office,” in which IBJ sits down with central Indiana’s top bosses to talk shop about the latest developments in their industries and the habits that lead to success.
Dr. Lisa Harris, 54, presides over one of the most ambitious health-care projects in Indianapolis history: construction of the $754 million Wishard Hospital project that will replace the sprawling, 17-building Wishard Health Services campus by 2014.
As CEO and medical director of Wishard Health Services, Harris helped spearhead the campaign drumming up public support for $661 million in bonds to fund the hospital project. And she now spends a great deal of her time preparing for the transition to the new 327-bed facility, which will feature an 11-story hospital tower adjoining a 200-room ambulatory care building, and a 90-bed emergency department with an adult trauma center.
Obviously, she has more than enough on her plate as the girders go up on the west end of the IUPUI campus, but she remains connected to her roots as a physician in internal medicine by continuing to see patients once a week.
“I don’t think there is any better way of knowing what’s working or not in our system than to be a physician practicing in that system,” Harris said. “I’ve noticed that our administrative suite tends to clear out on Thursday evenings [when I see patients] quicker than at other times, because they all know I’m going to come back with all these ideas, or just frustrations.”
Growing up in Terre Haute, Harris from an early age had an intense interest in wellness—the process of maintaining good health and avoiding preventable diseases and other health problems. She graduated from the Indiana University School of Medicine, where she completed residency training in internal medicine, the specialty dealing with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of adult diseases.
She was pegged as Wishard’s chief of medicine in 1999 and became CEO and medical director in 2004. (Wishard is the chief teaching hospital for Indiana University.) Initially concerned by transitioning from research and patient care to managerial responsibilities, Harris soon found that her experience as a physician could be applied to administrative and strategic functions.
“I think what I learned is that I had more capacity than I appreciated,” she said. “I think you can learn some of these things about decision making and leading an organization in business school, but also you can learn it in a number of settings.
“A lot of what I have to do [as a doctor] is ask lots of questions, listen very carefully and gather information from a wide variety of inputs. And then you have to make a decision. I think internal medicine, too, is an area where you have to be comfortable with uncertainty and be able to operate in the gray zone," she said. "And I think you can translate that directly to working to lead an organization. If you have to know every answer before you make a decision, you’re not going to be as nimble as we need to be now.”
In the video at top, Harris further expounds on the value of leaving the administrative offices and donning a stethoscope. In the video below, she provides an update on the construction of the new Wishard and what she expects will be a principal challenge in the transition. She also reveals the best advice she ever received.