Stop, Listen, Learn and Apply

Learn and Lead

Stop, Listen, Learn and Apply… Lessons from the Life and Work of Jim Wetrich

By: Dan Nielsen


Jim Wetrich, President, U.S. Wound Care Division and General Manager of Molnlycke Health Care, United States & Latin America, and graduated number one in his class with an MBA from Emory University. Not bad for a tall redhead from Southern California known affectionately to all who know him as “Big Red.” Jim also earned a Master of Health Administration from Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in 1982.


This former “box boy” at Stater Bros grocery in Southern California is a whirlwind of energy and activity.  Jim is a world-class networker and collaborator with an active Rolodex as thick as the largest encyclopedia.  He has served in significant leadership roles with a number of successful healthcare provider and supplier organizations and is a fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.


After months of trying, I finally succeeded in getting this very busy world traveler to sit down long enough for an interview.  During the one hour recorded interview, Jim responded to a wide range of questions focused on personal and professional lessons learned, Tips for Success and Leadership Excellence.


It would take a book to adequately explore and discuss the rich, universally applicable lessons learned and the excellent perspectives and advice of this highly successful life-long learner.  Below is a brief summary of several important Tips for Success from the experience, wisdom, and life of the man they call Big Red.


Deep, sincere appreciation and gratitude… for the people, Jim has worked with and for.  This appreciation and gratitude drive Jim’s desire and commitment to help, serve and mentor others.


“I have absolutely been blessed with the people I have had the opportunity to work with and for.  Every person I have worked for over the years, probably fifteen different people, has become a very successful President, CEO or corporate officer in either a public or private company.  Each and every one of these people contributed greatly to my personal and professional development. Really, really great people and I owe them all so much.”

Diversity….  Jim has experienced a growing appreciation for the positive impact of intentional diversity throughout his life and career.


“The diversity of working with and for many very unique and wonderful people and organizations in diverse environments and diverse cultures has had an enormous positive impact on my life… no question about it!  I am very much a proponent and supporter of diversity. Diversity is one of the core themes and principles I use today in terms of how I lead.”

Find meaningful work and create a value-added legacy… not just jobs or positions or money… but work for which a person truly has high interest and enduring passion.


“One example is having been in on the ground floor of helping the University Health Consortium carry out its vision through the creation of the very successful purchasing programs for pharmacy during 1985 through 1987.  Tremendous learning, growth, and satisfaction came from that experience and it is still going strong. Great people to work with… truly great people! I have been richly rewarded and very much blessed being around those people.”

Carefully select and adopt personal and professional philosophies and attitudes that will take you where you want to go…  Jim quoted the following, which is his credo:


“Whoever you serve, serve them with care and respect.  Wherever you reach, reach beyond your grasp. Wherever you go, go as a leader.  Above all, have fun.”

Count your blessings and allow them to continually reenergize you throughout your career…


“We are so blessed, as providers and suppliers, to be in healthcare… working in an industry that has a sense of purpose and an industry that is improving lives.  In my current role, we launched a new product a couple of years ago that has played a major role in changing how burn patients are cared for in the US. How great is it, at the end of the day, to know that you have positively impacted the way people are being treated!  What a great place to be… that is healthcare!”



“Nothing happens unless you execute!  You gotta execute! You gotta make it happen.”

Develop, support, nurture and mentor others…


“I am very committed to helping people develop and I am very committed to continuous self-improvement… both for myself and for those with whom I work.  I like what Tim Russert used to say… ‘the best exercise for the human heart is to bend down and pick someone else up.’ Robert Kennedy said ‘You’re happiest while you’re making the greatest contribution.’  To me, the greatest contribution is helping and supporting others as they become what they choose to be.”

Travel the world and learn from other countries, cultures, and people…


“Before I started traveling extensively, and before I had responsibilities outside the United States, I was so very naive as to how the rest of the world works… the intricacies of other countries and cultures… including the way, healthcare is delivered, purchased and paid for around the world.  It has been a very enriching and rewarding experience for sure!”

Be a highly committed, highly dedicated life-long learner…  Jim explained why he went back to school for a second master’s degree.


“It wasn’t about a degree.  I didn’t need another degree.  I am at a point in life where another degree doesn’t mean a whole lot.  It was all about admitting that the world has changed dramatically since I earned my first master’s at Tulane in 1982.  I wanted to go back and get exposed to the world as seen now by some of the finest academicians in the country and world.  By the way Dan, I believe the last time I was number one in my class was kindergarten!

When I applied to Emory, I wrote the following in my application, ‘The human life cycle is similar to a product’s life cycle: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline.  My primary purpose for attending Emory is to redraw my human life cycle graph and to extend the maturity phase. I see the process as a period of renewal, re-education, and revitalization much like the Spiritual Exercises that new Jesuits undergo.  Instead of an intensive process like the Jesuits, my “exercises” will be spread over a longer period of time. I expect to learn many new things, to challenge some of my current assumptions, to correct misunderstandings and frankly relearn things that I have long since forgotten.”

Integrity…  I asked Jim if he could offer only one word of advice, what one word would he select and why.


“Integrity!  It takes a lifetime to develop and can be lost in a nanosecond.  Once it’s gone… it’s gone. Nobody can take integrity away from you.  Only you can lose it or give it away. Don’t ever do anything that puts you in a situation where you feel compromised… just don’t do it.

Integrity is the currency of business.”

Jim then told me a powerful, simple, true and very interesting story about keeping one’s integrity.  Summary of the story… Jim got up and walked out of a room filled with a couple hundred executives so that he would not be a part of a discussion he felt was inappropriate, if not illegal.  Jim voted with his feet. He simply walked out of the room. “I am not going put myself in a situation that will put me and my company in jeopardy.”

Passion…  I asked Jim for another single word he might offer as advice and why.


“If you don’t have passion, you are just not doing the right thing.  Sometimes the best thing we can do for people is to help them find their passion, even though that may result in that person leaving your organization.”

Jim then told me another true story… Jim helped a colleague find his true passion.  It was teaching, not sales. The colleague left Jim’s organization to pursue a teaching career.  Jim couldn’t have been more supportive and delighted for all concerned.


Be engaged, or get out of the way…


Jim relayed another story regarding Karl Bays, the former CEO and chairman of American Hospital Supply.  “Karl used to have a saying, ‘Would the spectators kindly leave the field?’ You need to be a part of what is going on… or you need to get out of the way.  Get in and play or just get out of the way.”

Read widely and with great diversity…


“My siblings and I were not allowed to watch TV during the week.  So, after completing our schoolwork, there wasn’t much to do after dark other than read.  I just finished the book, On Becoming A Leader by Warren Bennis. I highly recommend that book.”

Nancy (Jim’s wife)…  I asked Jim to tell me the best advice he has ever received.


“Probably when my dad followed me out to the garage one day and asked me what my intentions were with Nancy.  I responded that we were having a good time dating and being together. Dad said, ‘well, what are you waiting for?’  Nancy has been a major and very positive contributor to my life… no question about it.”

Follow your instincts, step out and take risks…  I asked Jim to tell me the worst advice he has ever received.


“There have been so many that I don’t know where to start.”

Jim’s point was and is… follow your instincts and go for it… who knows better what is best for you… than you?

Be a long-life student of Leadership…


“Listen, watch, read, evaluate, compare… then internalize, and most importantly, apply the very best… and your very best to whatever situation in which you find yourself.  This is extremely important!”

Leadership lessons from Boy Scouts of America…  I asked Jim about his very significant involvement in Boy Scouts of America.


“My dad got his Eagle Scout when he was sixteen, in 1934.  I am an Eagle and my two sons are both Eagles. The great thing about Scouts is that it gives kids an opportunity to develop leadership skills.  I have spent well over 100 nights with my boys outdoors. Each summer, I took a vacation and went to summer camp with my boys. The Scouting program has such rich resources.  It has been an amazing experience for my dad, me, my two boys and our entire family. I was very touched and honored when I was awarded the Silver Beaver Award in 2009. This is the highest award that can be given by a Boy Scout Council.  Absolutely excellent leadership training and opportunities.”

Take the time to stop and listen…


“There is so much we can learn from each other.  We are just too busy. We need to take the time to stop and listen to those who are important to us.  This is time well spent. We are just too busy for our own good these days. We don’t stop at all these days, not to mention listen!”

More diversity…  I asked Jim what he would do differently if he could do it over again.


“More diversity in all areas of my life… whether in high school, college, graduate school or throughout my personal and professional life.  Diversity adds incredible value, perspective, and applicable knowledge, both personally and professionally.”

Expense reports!  I asked Jim what he least enjoys about his work.


“Expense reports!!!  I hate taking time to fill out expense reports.”

Jim and I had a good laugh after this response.  I also hate taking time to fill out expense reports.  After the good laugh, Jim said, “Oh well… you may as well go ahead and get them completed and filed… it is what it is… and it’s not going to change.”

As we were concluding the interview, Jim reflected back on a question I had asked him early in the interview.  “I had a very, very good friend in high school. His name was Marcus Forcinelli. He was a couple of grades behind me but we were really good friends.  When each of us graduated from high school, we went to different universities. When I was in my first year of grad school at Tulane, Marcus lost his one year battle with leukemia.”  At this point, Jim was breaking up and could barely talk. When he regained his composure he continued, “Marcus’ death had a tremendous impact on my life. I named his first son after Marcus.  When you have something like that happens at such a young age, you realize just how fragile life is… you take a different approach to your work and your life. I think about Marcus every day… each and every day.  This devastating loss has helped me to not take myself or life too seriously.”


What a powerful way to end an interview!  What a powerful, beautiful and memorable way to summarize what Big Red is all about… and what successful working, contributing, serving and living is all about.


Big Red… a man worthy of your time to stop, listen, learn and apply!



Why Leadership is Difficult & Why Leaders are Failing

Why Leadership is Difficult & Why Leaders are Failing

Roles of Leadership

  • In spite of technology, communication is regressing
  • Diseconomies of scale place extraordinary burdens on the organization and front-line managers
  • Leaders are not present (locked behind a door and captive to email)
  • Little or no investments in training and development, cannot afford it, don’t support it, don’t know what to do.
  • No handbook (like parenting) (in spite of all the effort, there is still no certification or accreditation in management or leadership)
  • Few useful feedback mechanisms (at best, although some progress is being made at Google and GE, among others)
  • Insufficient numbers of bona fide and qualified role models
  • Little or no supervision and mentoring
  • A weakened HR function; need power like a Chief Quality Officer…break the glass and pull the handle
  • Weak boards focusing on the wrong things
  • No transparency. So many examples but one notable one:

“The Talent Strategy Group surveyed 200 companies
in 2014 and found that 73% of companies have
decided that lying to their employees about their
potential to advance is the right choice.” Leadership
BS by Jeff Pfeffer, page 123

  • Positional authority that destroys the notion of


Going Forward, What Will We Need?

  • Audacious and tenacious leadership. What do we work for? IMPACT
  • Boldness
  • Coalition building: matrixed organizations and
  • Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck)
  • Customer intimacy and centricity: products and
    services; accepted and relevant messages or they will
    get it somewhere else
  • Our economy is based on connections: need
    coordination, trust, and permission…connections are
    an asset
  • What impact will automation have on your

Get Back to Basics:

  • Leaders light the fire within, not the fire beneath
  • Everything is in a constant state of change, businesses have to change
    and leaders have to change!
  • Power and authority will increasingly be given to the employees
    (and/or teams), not the managers
  • New management skills will be needed as tasks are becoming
    exceedingly complex
  • How do you manage the autonomous souls (cell phones) into
    collaborative souls?
  • Transparency (Google and EPIC)
  • Stand Up…Speak Up…Stand Out…Walk Around…Be Visible…Be
    Present…Disconnect and Re-connect
  • Train, Mentor, Teach, Coach, Advise
  • Do What is Right



Leadership Lessons from Warren Bennis

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From my perspective, one of the truly great modern writers about leadership is Warren Bennis.  Warren Bennis (March 8, 1925 – July 31, 2014) was an American scholar, organizational consultant, and author, widely regarded as a pioneer of the contemporary field of leadership studies. Bennis was University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.

Excerpted from Wikipedia;

“His work at MIT in the 1960s on group behavior foreshadowed — and helped bring about — today’s headlong plunge into less hierarchical, more democratic and adaptive institutions, private and public,” management expert Tom Peters wrote in 1993 in the foreword to Bennis’ An Invented Life: Reflections on Leadership and Change.

“Management expert James O’Toole observed that Bennis challenged the prevailing wisdom by showing that humanistic, democratic-style leaders are better suited to dealing with the complexity and change that characterize the leadership environment.

“The Wall Street Journal named him as one of the top ten most sought speakers on management in 1993; Forbes magazine referred to him as the “dean of leadership gurus” in 1996. The Financial Times referred to him in 2000 as “the professor who established leadership as a respectable academic field.” In August 2007, Business Week ranked him as one of the top ten thought leaders in business.

“His work On Becoming a Leader, originally published in 1989, lays the foundation that a leader must be authentic, i.e. the author of one’s own creation; a combination of experience, self-knowledge, and personal ethics. This need for an effective leader to remain true to their self-invention would be further expanded upon by others into what has become known as the Authentic Leadership approach.”

And that is the focus of my note this week, reflections from perhaps what is my favorite book on leadership, Warren’s “On Becoming a Leader” which I first read about a year after it came out for publication in 1989.  Since that time, I have read this book several other times over the past 25 years.

Some of the notable quotes from this book:

“Leadership is synonymous with becoming yourself.  It’s precisely that simple, and it’s also that difficult.”

“The first basic ingredient of leadership is a guiding vision.”

“The second basic ingredient of leadership is passion.”

“The next basic ingredient of leadership is integrity.”

“Two more basic ingredients of leadership are curiosity and daring.”

“Leadership courses can only teach skills.  They cannot teach character or vision…”

“What is true for leaders is, for better or worse, true for each of us:  we are our own raw material.”

“To become a leader, then you must know yourself, become the maker of your own life, don’t let ambition get in the way of your intellectual growth”

There are lots of other gems in this book….but I will close with one more:

“So the point is not to become a leader.  The point is to become yourself, to use yourself completely – all of your skills, gifts, and energies – in order to make your vision manifest.  You must withhold nothing. You must, in sum, become the person you started out to be, and enjoy the process of becoming.”

In August of 2011, I had the great pleasure of spending several hours with Warren at his home in Santa Monica, California.


Maintain Integrity


Integrity is the currency of business. It takes a lifetime to develop and can be lost in a
nanosecond. Once it’s gone… it’s gone. Nobody can take integrity away from you. Only you can lose it or give it away. Don’t ever do anything that puts you in a situation where you feel compromised— just don’t do it.



Coach John Robinson is a former American football player and coach best known for his two stints as head coach of the University of Southern California (USC) football team (1976–1982, 1993–1997) and for his tenure as head coach of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams (1983–1991). Robinson’s USC teams won four Rose Bowls and captured a share of the national championship in the 1978 season. Robinson is one of the few college football head coaches to have non-consecutive tenure at the same school. In 2009, he was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame. He is a Board Member for the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is named after Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott, and is awarded annually to college football’s Defensive IMPACT Player of the Year.

Coach Robinson has become a good friend.  I had the pleasure of getting to know him almost 10 years ago when I asked him to present at a Molnlycke Health Care national sales meeting.  Coach Robinson was the head football coach when I was at USC. So, while I knew of him, I had not met him before he came to speak to us at Molnlycke.

Coach had a number of key points about coaching and leadership that he made at the national sales meeting:

  • Understand what (as a team) we do well.
  • Teams often get distracted from their core when times are good.
  • Great teams know their strengths and stick with them….the 49ers were a great passing team under Coach Bill Walsh.
  • The Rams under Coach Robinson were primarily a running team.  (The same is true about the USC Trojans during his tenure.)
  • The Rams eventually lost focus and began to become a passing team…in the end, they were mediocre at both passing and running.
  • Great organizations know who they are and they tell people who they are (they live their mission and values).
  • Focus on the positive in all you do…remember the sales call where you really made it….not the ones where you failed…..the same is true about sports, focus on the positives.
  • There is no substitute for practice:  Kobe Bryant uses a number of drills to stay at the top of his game.


My younger son, Matt, and I were able to attend Coach Robinson’s 80 birthday celebration in Los Angeles.

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Leadership Lessons from Coach Robinson

What Do Authentic & Grounded Leaders Want?

leadership word cloud

Several years ago, when I was reading Sheryl Sanberg’s book, “Lean In”, I saw a reference to one of Sheryl’s favorite books, “Might Be Our Powers” by Leymah Gwobee. I picked up that book right after I finished “Lean In”. It is a powerful story of Leymah’s work as a peace activist responsible for leading a women’s peace movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. Her efforts to end the war, along with her collaborator Ellen Johnson Sirleaf helped usher in a period of peace and enabled a free election in 2005 that Sirleaf won. She, along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Leymah’s work and determination are an amazing and unfortunately brutal story of an
important peace movement; she is a strong person who was willing to always go way beyond what most of us could imagine. One of the quotes that are attributed to Leymah is:

“The one thing I have never been afraid of is standing before important people and speaking my mind. I represent women who may never have the opportunity to go to the UN or meet with a president. I’m never afraid to speak truth to power.”

Although the context was diametrically opposed to what we face every day in our
work/business lives, the message still holds for us…we have to be willing and free to speak our minds and to say what is right. At the end of the day, most authentic and grounded leaders want the truth, not something short of that.



True Wisdom is Knowing What You Do Not Know

WISDOM -   3D stock image of Red text on white background

“True Wisdom is Knowing What You Do Not Know.” – Confucius

Over the years, I have been most fortunate to have worked with many great leaders and managers and well as consulted with some great companies. I have seen that great leaders know what they do not know. It is one of the key ingredients to managerial success. Credibility and respect come to those who admit what they do not know. More than ever, in today’s complex information-rich environment, specialization is more important in a number of areas so it simply is not possible to have great depth and breadth. It is, as we know, the smart leader who surrounds himself or herself with people more talented than he or she; however, this necessitates an understanding and appreciation of personal weakness and gaps that need to be compensated and reinforced. The good news is that with a variety of analytical tools and assessments such as 360-degree reviews, there is no excuse for not understanding what you do not know.


Always Compete

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I have had the great pleasure of meeting Pete Carroll on a few occasions and watching him both from the stands as well as the field during football games at the University of Southern California (USC).  My wife, Nancy, and I were on the team plane heading to South Bend one year when we hit rough weather right before the landing in South Bend. Here is a note of coverage from USA Today:

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The plane carrying USC’s football team to South Bend plummeted during a severe thunderstorm, forcing the pilot to abort his first landing attempt.

There were about 125 people, including 82 players, on the chartered flight Thursday night for the cross-country trip for Saturday’s game.

“That was terrifying,” fullback Stanley Havili told the Los Angeles Times. “I thought I was going to die.”

Some passengers were thrown from their seats by turbulence as lightning crackled around the storm-tossed plane, USC sports information director Tim Tessalone told The Associated Press on Friday. Safety Taylor Mays was screaming.

“It was a little bit of a roller coaster drop there for a minute,” Tessalone said. “We had some people fly out of some seats. Everybody is fine, but it was a frightening little dip there.”

The pilot aborted the approach and circled around the storm before landing without incident about 20 minutes later to the relief of the shaken team and the spouses of some staff members also on the flight, Tessalone said.

Having watched a number of USC coaches over the years from the stands (John McKay, John Robinson, Ted Tollner, Larry Smith, Paul Hackett, Pete Carroll, Lane Kiffin, and Ed Orgeron), I have seen some great coaches in action.  The things that Pete Carroll did as coach that I found most inspiring were that he was always “In” the game; he paid very close attention. His enthusiasm and positive attitude were infectious and it was always great to see how he greeted a player at the sideline once the player had done something really great on the field.  Pete lives the adage, praise in public.

As many of you know, Pete has written a book, “Win Forever: Live, Work and Play Like a Champion”.  One of the great sayings from Pete is, “Always Compete”. Pete dedicates a short chapter to the topic and here is the opening paragraph:

“Lots of people talk about competition, especially those who seek to achieve high performance no matter what the profession.  In my experience, however, the real essence of competing is often misunderstood. Competition to me is not about beating your competition.  It is about doing your best; it is about striving to reach your potential; it is about being in relentless pursuit of a competitive advantage in everything you do.”

Early in the book Coach Carroll talks about the influence on him of the work of Abraham Maslow.  Pete writes:

“What I learned from Maslow’s insights challenged me to start asking:  What if my job as coach isn’t so much to force or coerce performance as it is to create situations where players develop the confidence to set their talents free and pursue their potential to its full extent?  What if my job as coach is really to prove to these kids how good they already are, how good they could possibly become, and that they are truly capable of high level performance?”

At my alma mater, USC, Coach Carroll introduced the three rules:

Rule 1: Always Protect the Team, Rule 2: No Whining, No Complaining and No Excuses, And Rule 3: Be Early.”