• Brandminds 2020

6 leadership lessons
from New Amsterdam, the popular TV medical drama

New Amsterdam is the latest TV medical drama watched by viewers worldwide.

The series follows Dr Max Goodwin as he becomes the medical director of New Amsterdam Hospital, one of the United States’ oldest public hospitals. His responsibility is to make changes that would improve the hospital’s financial situation while providing high-quality medical services for patients.

Max’s decisions are great examples of good leadership.

new-amsterdam
Max Goodwin / nbc.com

6 leadership lessons from the popular TV medical drama New Amsterdam

1. Serve your people

If I were to sum up Max Goodwin in four words they would be How can I help?

This is the question that Max asks every doctor in his team. He doesn’t tell people what to do, he doesn’t boss them around. Instead, he invites them to tell him what they need to do their jobs better.

How can I help? is one of the most powerful questions a leader could ask. And one of the most uncomfortable too.

It is powerful because it shows so much in so few words.

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When a leader asks an employee How can I help?, he opens a communication channel. Instead of a speech delivered to the whole team at the same time, the leader chooses to talk to one person at a time. It’s a conversation, not a speech; it’s one-to-one, not one-to-many.

The leader offers his undivided attention to the employee and trusts them to tell him what they need to do their jobs better hence get better results for the company.

It is also an uncomfortable question because it puts the leader in a situation that many might find uneasy.

Some leaders believe they provide employees with everything they need to deliver the best results. Others believe they know better than their employees or that the company is running so well there’s no need for improvement.

Max Goodwin is the servant leader type.

Servant leaders tell their employees My job is to meet your needs. In a company led by a servant leader, team members feel heard and supported in their work which leads to high worker satisfaction rates.

The servant leader strives to help people grow, has good listening skills and a high level of empathy and emotional intelligence.

Of course, it’s not enough to listen and nod in approval, the leader must also deliver on his promise.

2. Implement radical decisions, challenge the status quo

At the first all-hands meeting since his appointment as the medical director of New Amsterdam Hospital, Max’s first decision is to fire the entire cardiac surgical department.

The department had the highest infections and death rate in New York City and the doctors were corrupt and greedy placing their earnings above their patients’ interests.

A decision deemed outrageous by the rest of the city’s medical directors. This is Max’s first in a series of controversial yet beneficial decisions to both the hospital and the patients.

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When something needs to change, change it.

Be fearless and make the necessary decisions to improve your company or your team’s productivity.

Change the guidelines, change the requirements, change the company’s values if they don’t reflect your vision any longer.

Provide your team with the opportunity to support the change.

3. It’s ok to go back on your decisions

After Max fired every cardiac surgeon at New Amsterdam Hospital, he went back on his decision regarding dr Reynolds.

Dr Reynolds was a cardiac surgeon who stood out among his department colleagues as the only surgeon who had always put his patients’ well-being above his surgeon paycheck.

Max hires dr Reynolds back, promotes him to Head of Cardiovascular Surgery and assures him of his full support in putting a team of the best and diverse cardiac surgeons.

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No one sets out to make bad decisions.

We make decisions based on the information we had at the time. If later those decisions prove to be wrong, it’s no use feeling bad about it. It’s the best we could have done at the time being.

Tell your team about your decision and the reasons behind it, why it was a good decision at the time and why it isn’t good anymore now.

Be open and honest, your team will appreciate and respect you for it.

4. Find a partner to keep you in check and brainstorm ideas with

Some studies on startups have reported that startups with two or more co-founders are more successful while others argued that startups with a single founder do better. This article writes about the pros and cons of married co-founders.

On one hand, if your startup is looking to raise money, statistics showed that companies with two or more founders were able to attract more money than those led by a single founder.

On the other hand, companies with a single founder were more likely to still be in business than those with two or more.

Whichever option you go with, whether you are leading a company or just a team, it’s always better to have someone to run your ideas by and keep you grounded.

A different viewpoint on a certain situation could provide additional insight and a potential solution.

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Dr Helen Sharpe is Max’s partner. She is the Head of Oncology and Hematology and the Deputy Medical Director of New Amsterdam Hospital.

Helen is practical and realistic. She understands what Max is trying to achieve and is totally supportive although sometimes she sees things differently and pushes against his decisions.

5. Find creative solutions to difficult problems

There are many reasons viewers enjoy watching New Amsterdam. One of them is seeing Max find creative solutions to difficult problems which would be easily solved by firing employees or accepting the status quo.

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Like the time he tried to find a solution for hospital employees doing obsolete jobs.

Instead of firing them, he decides to open a new hospital in a city where medical services were needed. These employees had a new hospital they could work in and feel useful.

Or the time he tried to help save the hospital money by finding a solution for a homeless patient, whose frequent hospital visits had cost New Amsterdam over a million dollars in one year. He realizes the patient knew the hospital inside out so instead of sending him to live on the street again, he gives him a job in the hospital.

6. Always do what’s best for your stakeholders

The Shareholder Theory states that a company’s main responsibility is to its shareholders i.e. owners of shares in the respective company. Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize recipient, economist and the author of the Shareholder Theory which he published in 1970 argued that the business goal of any company is to maximize returns to its shareholders.

This theory had a great influence on the business world and laid the foundation for corporate America. Big for-profit corporations had negative consequences on the American economic system and society at large.

Things have changed. Today, 181 CEOs of billion-dollar companies say it’s time to put the Shareholder Theory where it belongs – in the past and focus their efforts towards stakeholders.

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For New Amsterdam, the stakeholders are the patients.

Max Goodwin’s decisions are always focused on providing exceptional care to patients by fighting bureaucracy and overturning the status quo.

For companies, stakeholders are their customers, employees, suppliers and the communities they do business in.

Corporations like Apple, Amazon and Coca-Cola have committed to deliver value to customers, invest in employees, deal fairly and ethically with suppliers and support the communities in which they work.

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