Naji: Hello leaders of the world. Welcome to spread love in organizations, a podcast for purpose driven healthcare leaders, striving to make life better around the world, by leading their teams with genuine care, servant leadership and love. I’m Naji, your host today, honored to be with Dr. Barry Stein, chief clinical innovation officer and chief medical informatics officer for Hartford Healthcare.
He also practices as a vascular and interventional radiologist. Dr. Stein is also an assistant clinical professor at the University of Connecticut school of medicine and has held numerous prestigious leadership positions at Hartford Hospital. Barry graduated with his executive MBA from MIT Sloan school of management, where he received also his postgraduate medical training at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard medical school and his medical degree from the University of Stellenbosch in Cape town, South Africa.
Dr. Stein is a recognized and expert in cardiovascular MRI and CT, and was one of the pioneers in magnetic resonance and geography. Barry continues to remain engaged at MIT participating as an invited lecturer in courses on innovation. He’s also mentor for LinQ programs in the MIT Institute for medical engineering and science, a host to students from the MIT initiative for health system innovation, as well as co-principal investigator conducting clinical and operational health systems analytics research in collaboration with Sloan faculty at HHC. He is currently focused on leveraging technology and building a differentiated healthcare innovation ecosystem at Hartford Healthcare to accelerate clinical transformation.
I can go on and on about Barry, and I’m delighted and excited to have you with me today on this podcast.
Barry Stein: Hi Naji. Thank you very much. I’m very honored and looking forward to our discussion today.
Naji: Barry, I’m eager to hear more about your personal story and what’s in between the line that took you from South Africa to now leading one of the biggest health institutions in new England.
Barry Stein: So Naji, thanks for that question.
I grew up in South Africa during the apartheid era, a horrible time in South Africa. A time where oppression was the law of the land and, just a lot of injustice. I grew up in a wonderful, family with parents that were both immigrants, one of which who fled Nazi, Germany and the other from Russia, and grew up in a very modest home with a lot of love, a lot of caring with a lot of focus around education and, serving our community at the same times. Our parents, always role modeled that was the only thing to do, the right thing to do.
We felt it and lived at every day. I was one of three boys, and always had a passion to become a medical doctor from the age of four. Again, just with an absolute sort of drive to want to serve others, to heal others, to impact others, in a selfless way as possible.
I went to medical school in South Africa and that in of itself was very sensitizing to the atrocities of oppression, apartheid, and I can remember very vividly being at a medical school and one of the hospitals in South Africa, of close to 2,000 beds. And, the hospital was literally splitting off, mirror image, one for whites and the other for everybody that wasn’t white. Duplicated services, different class of services, but an absolute distinct difference between the two.
I also grew up when Nelson Mandela, who is, I believe one of the greatest human beings that ever lived was imprisoned on Robin island. And actually, an island that we could see in Cape Town, seven miles from the coast, very easily visible, but at a time where someone was not able to have a book written by Mandela, a picture by Mandela, without being worried about police repercussions. So it was really a very, very intense time. And then I remember right at the end of medical school, when I was doing my internship at a really famous hospital where they did the first heart transplant hospital. And I remember taking care of a patient without mentioning names, a very famous patient, a very famous prisoner together with Nelson Mandela in the hospital, shackled to a bed for one reason only: because he was fighting apartheid. He was deemed a criminal, a terrorist because he was fighting apartheid.
And I think that backdrop really lives with me every day. And, it was really difficult to live in that country for that long. And as soon as I could, I left the country before military conscription, I left the country and didn’t really have much money. I had a few hundred of dollars in my pockets. I had two suitcases. I had just gotten married a few weeks and immigrated to, or left to go and work in Canada, in Saskatchewan, the boonies of Canada. And think about Cape Town being an absolutely spectacular country, with climate, with beaches, 80, 90 degrees F, no humidity in the summer. And then immigrating to Canada as a general practitioner, family practitioner earning some money before immigrating to the United States.
And I remember very clearly arriving new in Saskatchewan, it was minus 78 within a winter. And I remember as a young person just being stocky aware of the privilege that I had in South Africa, of having amazing experiences around me, good and bad, in a beautiful climate. And then sort of going to another part of the world where people were equally happy or unhappy, living in a very, very, very extreme kind of environment, but sort of functioning in the same ways as all of us. So it was just really difficult to reconcile, and this is a young, I was a young physician.
I then went off to Philadelphia to do some research, two years of research, not necessarily because I absolutely had a passion to do so, but it was a way for me to get my immigration, status correct. And actually that was a really fantastic time, where I got off the wheel of having to work 18 hours a day and do research and actually reflect on what I really wanted to do and, enjoyed the academic rigor of the research. And then decided I’d go into radiology because of the lifestyle at the time, appealed to me. And very quickly, once I started radiology at Mass General, realized how much I missed direct patient impact, really serving others, helping vulnerable people.
And as soon as I could, then went in to do interventional radiology, which is procedurally based angioplasty, stents, biopsies, embolizations really making a difference every day to every patient in a very, very impactful way. Now, because of that specialty being such a cutting edge specialty I developed and always had an interesting technology. And when I discovered using the wonderful privilege of my education, both in South Africa, as well as at Mass General at Hartford, really wanted to make a difference. And I used technology as well as my training to help develop a technology, magnetic resonance angiography, so that you could visualize blood vessels in a non-invasive way, as opposed to an invasive way.
And what I learned at that time was, it wasn’t just about taking your education. It wasn’t just about caring, but it was really having to develop a capability of change management, leadership. How do you change paradigms that are fixed in mindsets, not just regionally, not just nationally, but globally? And quickly realized that you either get lucky, like I may have been, but to be able to do it in a sustainable, repetitive way in a bigger organization.
In the years to come, some of the skill sets that I was lacking, I wanted to go and immerse myself in to crew to get. And that sort of led me to MIT, where I realized it was important to do big change management, to make huge impact in a sustainable organized way. There were a lot of capabilities as a physician I never developed. I didn’t understand strategy in an immersive way. I did understand it, but could never sort of articulate it or execute upon it in a meaningful way that others could understand, rather than instinctual, I wanted immersive marketing, finance, accounting. But the real reasons why I wanted to go to MIT was to understand innovation, entrepreneurship, which I believe was the catalyst, the frameworks, to be able to take technology and solve real recalcitrant problems in healthcare in a way that perhaps here to four was not possible or difficult to do.
I wanted to understand how to accelerate new ideas, matching new ideas to problems and accelerating them to impact. I also understood that one of the fundamental fuels for innovation and entrepreneurship and transformation in healthcare was next generation analytics, understanding how to apply predictive and prescriptive and optimization analysis to do so.
So I went off to MIT and I was very honored and privileged to be able to go there, and of course learn a ton of frameworks. And then came back to Hartford Healthcare to start an innovation ecosystem as the chief clinical innovation officer, to be able to develop an environment, where larges amount of people, organization is 33,000 plus, understood what it meant to be innovative, to be entrepreneurial and to be able to accelerate good ideas to impact.
I’ll stop there. I mean, I could go on and on and on, but I think the most important thing for me was the privilege of education, the privilege of wonderful mentorship and colleagues and the influence that those folks had on how I developed over time as a leader. .
Naji: Wow, that’s powerful, inspiring, Barry. Thank you so much for sharing your story.
Barry Stein: Yeah, and there’s one other thing that I wanted to mention that I’m married to somebody who really with her guidance, her support, her teaching me right from wrong, Reagan, a marriage and family therapist, an executive coach. Those are the privileges. Those are the fortunes that someone like myself has being surrounded by persons like that. That can guide you, support you and show you the north star.
Naji: Thanks Barry. And I can’t agree more. My wife is also my coach since many years. I’m totally with you. It’s definitely the support system, it’is super important.
During your leadership journey, all that you learned, you know, coming from South Africa and in those moments of tension. I’d love to hear from you and potentially I’m sure last year, without going through the pandemic, even though, you know, we all wanna forget it, but I think there are so many important lessons that I hope the word will not forget.
What is the one leadership trait or one leadership piece that you really take with you throughout all those experiences globally? And now as you’re leading your teams?
Barry Stein: You know, I’ll go. And that’s such a wonderful question, because obviously there are many, there are many, many different pieces, but I think at the core of this, it’s combining something that crystallized with impact for me at MIT, together with my experience since South Africa and this was it. Growing up, as I said, one of my idols, a folks, person that I looked up to was Nelson Mandala. How somebody like that, who had every reason to be angry when he was liberated, it was never about him. It was never about spinning the rest of his life with paybacks, good and bad. It was solving the most difficult problems it had, collectively. And when I think, I didn’t realize when I was young, but as I got older and as I started to be more and more blessed with more and more incredible people around me, certainly like MIT, I realized one thing and understanding the problem to solve is key, and then surrounding yourself with folks that have different talents.
And some of those folks, you may not agree with. In fact, some of those folks, you may not even like, some of those folks, you may actually even have a reason to want to have resentment towards for all the reasons. But the magic happens when you forget about the persona, that’s sitting around the table and you can focus on a team of people that are very different. That’s a lot of interpersonal potential tension and conflict, and focusing them on a problem, a vision that excites them all. And it may sound cliche, but it proved out last year, over and over and over again, when we had to rapidly create solutions for problems that we had never confronted before. And we could either do it in silos and with the exclusion, or we could bring everybody in with that talent, focused on actually solving a meaningful, impactful problem, and it just simplifies it and sort of distilled to that essence. Forget about yourself, forget about all your interpersonal issues, focus on a mission and a vision that is meaningful, not just the group you’re working with, but your community, your region, the world. And extraordinary things can happen.
Naji: Can you share with us? Can you share with us one of the examples, I’m sure you’ve done amazing things, obviously, you know, before the pandemic hit and the pandemic, as you said, well, I know that you have done really impressive things for the communities you serve and even more globally.
Can you share with us one of those example where, in moment of tension, how you manage to get your people together, to be able to deliver on those. Especially in healthcare, where you guys were really on the front line all the time with, with tough moments for the healthcare system. But yet, you manage to overcome and serve us all and be able to take us through it the best you could. Any example that you can share with us on this?
Barry Stein: Sure. You know, there’s so many and it’s not me. It’s the environment that you work. It’s the people that you work with and then certainly the opportunities that arise. And I’ll give you a few examples that may sort of reflect on what at least I believe servant leadership can do, and all the possibilities available. And I remember very clearly, let me give you some of the anti-scene history to this. For years and years and years, we all, all of us believed that virtual delivery of care had a very significant purpose, and potential of removing a lot of friction to get access to healthcare. And by that, I mean is why do I have to get into a car to go to a doctor’s appointment for her or him to tell me something that I could easily have done in a virtual way? Why does it take me to block off an entire afternoon from my work, weeks and weeks ahead of time to go and visit a provider, a clinician for something that I could do in my car, from my house, from my vacation, from my work, wherever. Simple stuff. Why was that the incredible friction in the system to maintain status quo? and in a self righteous way, in a way, and I’m just bringing that up. The payers, oh, it’ll cost too much money. The providers, well, how do we support our bricks and mortar? All the different things. And as you can imagine before, COVID just moving that concept through a system that had business models that were hardwired, created enormous friction on itself. Incredible antibodies, incredible resistance. And those discussions created animosity and sometimes ill feelings and ill world, not just in our organization, and I am not saying it happened in our organization. No ill world, just tension, but that played over and over and over again around the world.
We have an existential threat that comes upon us in a second, without the virtual ability to take care of patients, there was no connection between patients and clinicians. That’s an existential threat. We understood the problem to solve, which was very clear: connect our clinicians to our patients, so that they can remain healthy. That was the singular problem that everybody, no matter what walk of life they came from was super focused on solving. So something that would ordinarily take five years of change management, simply took within 10 days, we were doing thousands of visits a day and within three weeks, tens of thousands.
That was done by a very clear focus, bringing the right people to the table to solve a problem. Here’s another example. Analytics in healthcare. I would argue that healthcare has been way behind other industries in using analytics. What can it do? What does it mean? We can’t change this, we don’t believe this, et cetera, et cetera.
Pandemic hits. How many patients are gonna get infected? How many patients are gonna be coming into your hospital tomorrow? How many patients are gonna need an ICU? How many patients are gonna need a ventilator? Where are your ventilators? You’ve got eight hospitals, seven hospitals. How do you plan your PPE? No one knew. How can you operate a huge multi billion dollar company providing healthcare without knowing any of that?
So we were very fortunate. And again, this is relationships, caring, having community that coalesced around solving a problem. We had a wonderful relationship with MIT Sloan Professor Dimitri Bertsimas and in his team. We had been working on lots of different analytics before, but this was the moment where the resistance, the sort of trepidation disappeared. The operational folks in our organization, the clinical folks in our organization, the ITS teams in the organization all came together to convert the data that we all know exists into clinical intelligence, into operational intelligence that allowed us very quickly to be able to plan ahead and be equipped, to be able to take care of the patients that we predicted that would come in, the number of patients that would need ventilators, our PPE inventory, we were able to really manage more effectively than we’ve ever ever before. And what happened in that moment was the resistance, the black box kind of what is this? All of a sudden disappeared. The animosity just disappeared because we were focused on solving a problem, the same people that were at log ahead, sometimes with one another. All of that disappeared. And we were all able to collectively with all the talent around the table, solve that problem.
I can go on and on and on about how important it was to make sure that everybody thought that the problem we were trying to solve was impactful. Then everybody wanted to get up 18 hours a day, 19 hours a day in the middle of the night to work on this, to solve it, and to forget about the interpersonal disagreements. .
Naji: Yeah. It’s this laser focus, as you’re saying on the purpose that is beyond individuals. You know, as I reflected on now, we’re feeling in some places in the world, we are starting to get back to normal, somehow. I’m always afraid that all the energy that we’ve seen, all that you’ve shared, my question to you is how you gonna make sure that we keep it? Like it took us so many years to get into those transformations that might have been crucial to your eyes, but as you said, many barriers didn’t let us go there. So now that we’ve seen the power of being together, to actually act and change radically things, how are you going to make sure that it’s maintained in your organization?
Barry Stein: Great question. I’m sure you ask many great questions. And I think that the most important piece is first of all, to name it. We went through a lot of change last year, because there was an existential threat. We had no choice and we managed to do amazing things, and we had to change. So change was not an option.
What I’m hearing you ask is now that change could be an option, how do we guard against the strong gravitational pull to go back to the way we used to work? Because that’s our comfort zone. The way, and I can give you an example. It’s first of all, name it. Say last year, look at the amazing things we did, look at the impact we had, and actually describe how we did it. Not to say we did great things, but actually use examples. We had a clear problem statement and rather than sequential kind of activity, we got around the table once a day, three times a day, once a week, depending on the cadence necessary to talk about number one, agreeing on the problem, and number two, clearing up ambiguity, to be able to rapidly translate the task.
What we’ve learned at MIT, from also repenting and team, is dynamic work design. Understanding the problem, and creating teams to solve the problem, cross-functional multidisciplinary teams. And to make sure that’s the norm, rather than the exception and the exception is working in silos, not really understanding what the others lens is appreciating, generating multiple emails, amping up the friction and the misunderstanding, not understanding the elective goals. And I can give you many examples, but just in my world of innovation and clinical transformation using technology, what we are in the process of doing is number one, we all recognize the magic of being able to work as teams and respecting one another ideas.
And again, going back to understanding the problem, not bringing solutions until we understand the problem and everybody on the team being excited to solve that problem to impact. And what we’ve done now is rather than the exception of using that model of getting together, listening to one and other it’s become the norm, of work groups that understand the problem, multiple lenses, take off your hats of which silo and which function you’re in there as a team to solve a problem. And you’re there because you have the talent and the lens, and you leave everything behind and it does require reinforcement around that model. And here’s the wonderful thing, Naji. It’s not abstract anymore. I believe many organizations, most organizations that thrived during the pandemic, meaning they were able to continue to impact have many, many examples of how they worked to call on, to support a different way of working, to support a different kind of purpose, a different kind of meaning to the work and the gratification on being able to impact others in that way.
So it’s naming it, we can’t go back, naming an alternative, and having last year with many examples to support the alternative. Before COVID, I would’ve say before the crisis, the alternative was somewhat abstract. I think our job and our opportunity is much easier now because we’ve got multiple rich examples of impact working differently.
Naji: Yeah. I love it. You know, I will take it even for myself, for my work, you know, what you’re bringing is actually we’ve seen what we can do. So, how we frame it, we frame the problem. We see actually what we did with examples. And I love your idea of actually practically building in the process we’ve done to get to this solution and making it now part of the way we operate.
So great, thank you so much for those advisors, Barry.
I’m gonna switch to a session that is a little bit different. I will give you one word. So I have three words. I’m gonna give you, and every time I give you a word, I would love to have your first reaction to it.
So the first word is innovation.
Barry Stein: Taking new ideas that solve real problems and executing upon those ideas so that they have impact. Matching new ideas to real problems and taking those ideas and translating them to impact.
Naji: That’s a great frame for innovation. What about LQ2?
Barry Stein: Oh, Qualitative, and quantitative leadership. Left brain and right brain. Harmonizing, leadership, emotional quotient, sensing how people are feeling, wanting to help one another, inspire one another, that’s leadership. That’s the qualitative part. The quantitative part is the data that helps you drive in the direction that you’re trying to get to, and making sure that both are harmonized. Using the quantitative and the qualitative in a harmonized way has a force multiplying effect.
And I would you argue that one without the other is not even additive. That you really need both. And without either one, you’re not gonna get too far anytime soon.
Naji: Thanks. And, that was where we met. I had the pleasure to listen to you during the lecture, and it’s such a powerful lesson for me, this Q squared, in fact, right? Quantitative and qualitative, as you shared. The last word is spread love in organizations
Barry Stein: And I couldn’t think of a more powerful few words, that opened up the doors of opportunity. And I think to spread love is probably the most important thing that we as leaders in an organization can attempt to do. And I believe the way we can express love and feel loved, is by feeling heard. When somebody’s in pain, really understand where that pain’s coming from and how we can help them. And vice versa, it’s really feeling heard to me is another way of expressing love. Having deep interest in what matters most to the person that you’re working with, and being sensitive to that, as often as you can, whenever you interacting with that person.
And that is what my wife taught me, how important making the other person feel heard. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, that you hear them and understand them.
Naji: Yeah. You know, I think many times of each of those interactions you have, as you’re saying, it’s the person you’re interacting with, they should be on the scene, right? Like you’re here for them and they are heard.
Barry Stein: Yeah. And much like our kids. Those of us who are privileged to have kids and I do too, two beautiful young men. To teach me about the importance of making them feel heard, and often we forget. We use the word love, but love means making somebody else feel heard.
So thank you for asking that and thank you for your leadership and your beautiful wife’s leadership in spreading that word and that concept.
Naji: Thanks Barry. Any final word of wisdom for leaders in healthcare around the world?
Barry Stein: Remain curious, remain curious, ask as many questions as you can, and assume that, you know, very little relative to the richness around you.
Naji: Thank you so much Barry for such an inspiring discussion.
Barry Stein: Thank you very much. Looking forward to the journey that you are and supporting and helping. Thank you. Thanks. A special person you are.
Naji: Thanks Barry. Thank you all for listening to spread love in organization’s podcast. Follow us on social media and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re looking forward to reading your feedback and reviews on your favorite podcast app, and most importantly, spread love in your organization for people to feel safe to thrive and reimagine the world.
Follow us on LinkedIn and connect with us on spreadloveio.com. We’re eager to hear your thoughts and feedback. Most importantly, spread love in your organizations and spread the word around you to inspire others and amplify this movement, our world so desperately needs.