Three Questions for a Social Work Leader with Hartford HealthCare CEO Elliot Joseph

Elliot Joseph (center) with several of the BCSSW students who attended the Leadership Luncheon on March 4.

Elliot Joseph (center) with several of the BCSSW students who attended the Leadership Luncheon on March 4.

Elliot Joseph is president and CEO of Hartford HealthCare. According to his official bio, Joseph has “championed the transformation of healthcare delivery to create efficient, high-quality, regional health networks. Throughout his career, he has focused on reshaping healthcare organizations through the building of regional integrated delivery systems and creating and sustaining organizational cultures that reward innovation, accountability and engagement in service to patients and families.”

This March, Joseph visited BC Social Work to share his expertise with students as the latest featured guest in the school’s Leadership Speakers Luncheon SeriesIn this Q&A with BC Social Work, he discusses a new model in healthcare, the importance of “not making stuff up,” and the imperative to “be curious.“  

What does it mean to be a social worker in 2015?

Elliot Joseph: Part of the excitement of what is going on in healthcare in this country is that we’re beginning to recognize the societal causes of poor health. We’re moving from a purely clinical model, where we prescribe medication and take care of symptoms, to a model that kind of moves backwards, towards addressing the fundamental grass root issues that are the causes of poor health. These causes are rooted in poverty and poor nutrition and mental health issues, and as a country we have spent a disproportionately low share of our attention and resources on these causes historically. As the healthcare ecosystem moves in a new direction, social workers will play an increasingly important role in linking the lifestyle and psychosocial issues that are related to poor clinical health, to new ways of thinking about treatment.

Tell us about the most important lesson you’ve learned as a leader in the field.  

EJ: Don’t make stuff up. It’s hard when you are new in your profession, or even if people see you as an experienced leader, when someone comes to you and expects you to know the answer that you might not have. A lot of people, if they don’t know the answer, make it up. But learning early to say, “I don’t know” or “let me think about it” or” let me do some research and get back to you” is a much healthier response. Making stuff up leads to a loss in credibility, and when this happens, as a leader, as a social worker, or even just as a human, you inevitably pay a price.

What recommendations do you have for those who aspire to be social work leaders in the future?

EJ: I would recommend that you find people who are great leaders and talk to them and learn from them and gain some wisdom. It’s important to understand that great leadership is a rare finding and when it does occur, it is often the outcome of a lifetime of learning. Start early and learn from others whom you respect. Be curious.

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