Editor's note: This interview was edited for length and clarity.
There are a couple of ways to talk about Brian Paradis. There are his legit leadership credentials: He was president of Florida Hospital's Central Region, a $4 billion enterprise with over 25,000 employees and 2,500 physicians. Under his leadership, the hospital was ranked #1 in Florida by "U.S. News & World Report" for three years. These days, Paradis lives in Chattanooga and is a senior partner with CSuite Solutions, a strategic advisory firm led by former health care industry CEOs. But there's another dimension to his story. In his new book, "Lead with Imagination: Regaining the Power to Lead and Live in a Changing World," Paradis shares real-world leadership lessons he learned the hard way and strategies he has built and tested over time.
Q: You spent decades in Florida, but you moved a couple of years ago to Chattanooga. What's the connection?
A: I came here years ago to go to Southern (Adventist University). Not in a million years would I have imagined I would return. But I've had four children come to the area to go to school, I have a sister-in-law who lives here, and when we got done with the corporate world, I said to my wife, 'I'm going to consult and do some creative things. Where would you like to live?'
Q: What does imagination mean in the context of leadership of teams and businesses. How do you define it?
A: In business we have one language and one set of skills we always lean on — we call that them 'hard skills.' I've never understood it. So, spreadsheets are hard and learning to lead a culture and see the bigger picture, that's soft? It's about being able to see the whole thing at once — like learning to ride a bike. You don't learn to ride a bike by someone giving you a set of detailed instructions and you execute and suddenly you're riding your bike. You fall down and fall down and fall down until suddenly you learn to see the whole picture and you're riding your bike.
Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly first. As we get to be adults, we all enjoy less and less doing things poorly. If you're an executive in an organization, you almost detest doing anything poorly. If we're afraid to fail, we limit our ability to succeed.
Q: OK, that's great, but let's say we've got to hit our numbers. This doesn't sound like the way to get there.
A: A health care environment is incredibly complex and poorly designed in most cases. To fix something like that, you need collective genius. This is all about performance. The whole idea of imagination is engaging both sides of your brain to bring not only short-term results but to get a competitive, sustainable, long-term advantage. To build a resilient, creative, innovation-oriented culture.
Q: So what should leaders do?
A: The first thing is love. I can approach the world around me in one of two ways: based on fear or based on love. Most of our leadership is based on fear. I don't mean the fear of 'I'm going to create fear in you.' But I think most leaders are fearful on some level. Fearful of the future, fearful of failure. I was driven not to fail. That's a fear-based leadership model. Breaking out of that baggage we carry into our leadership roles is really really hard.Do you remember your favorite teacher? People always say: I loved that teacher. What that teacher brought to that relationship was love. We all have an intuitive sense that it's better. If that's true, why don't more leaders do it? It's hard. We have to face ourselves first. That brings us to curiosity. You can't be angry and curious at the same time. Humor is also a completely misunderstood and under-used tool. It's hard to be afraid or cast blame if everyone maintains a sense of humor — and powerful insights come from humor.
Q: Love. Curiosity. Humor. Have you encountered people who just don't see the connection to business leadership?
A: Well, no one changes until they want to. The answer is leading with imagination will at least give you choices about how you respond and relate to others — you model that approach. It comes back to love; if I can look at that person with love and be curious: I wonder why he does that. I have choices about how I respond to the dynamic. Leading with imagination always leaves you with a choice.
Q: How does this play out in your consulting work?
A: You can only help two kinds of clients — the ones that are competent and open, or the ones that are incompetent and desperate. My consultancy has drifted to the competent and open. They're eager for the next challenge. They get excited about these things — there's some element of imagination and love they want to shape and create.
Q: How does this look in real life?
A: In my first month on the job, we already had identified that we had a significant safety and quality problem, and my previous boss had hired a consulting firm to do a deep dive and tell us where we were most at risk and what needed to be done. That was scary. I told the medical staff, we're going to share all of this, but the first presentation will just be with the executive team. I figure, for a family intervention, you don't invite the cousins and the neighbors. The chief of the medical staff was a big guy, a former Navy SEAL, and I was intimidated by him. I thought I'd done a great job persuading him. He didn't push back at all. And then he invited 25 doctors to the meeting. My team called and said 'What do you want us to do?' So I said, 'We need a bigger room.' As I'm watching the presentation I started getting really convicted: I really messed this up. So I got up and told that story to the entire room. I could see my team panicking. I said, 'I need to thank Dr. Sanchez for totally ignoring me; he knew what was right, and he did right.' In leadership, we draw circles too small. If you want the best out of a team, start drawing your circles bigger.