Nelson Mandela. Desmond Tutu. The Lady. Pope Francis. You've probably heard about all of them before I covered them in recent blogs for what they teach us about leadership: patience, forgiveness, humor, self-sacrifice, and spiritual beliefs were prominent.
Though not by design, here's one more leader who unexpectedly came to my attention who we can learn from, but I doubt anyone has heard of him. You should! I stumbled upon him in Cambodia, of all places.
On a recent tour to Southeast Asia, where I found out so much more about The Lady who resides in Burma, we finished our tour in Cambodia. Driving on the main street and passing a surprisingly modern hospital, there was a large sign stating that there was to be a free cello concert of music by Bach and others that evening. Why not skip dinner that night and be comforted by Bach after another hectic day of sightseeing and hearing the native gamelon based music?
The name of the cellist was not familiar, but so what? Bach in Cambodia seemed too intriguing to pass up.
Beatocello, the sign read. Was that the name of the musician? The concert? Or what?
When we returned, we entered a spacious, very modern Children's Hospital. Literature on it and Beatocello was in the reception area and we took some. My wife and I entered the auditorium, which turned out to also serve as a lecture hall. Soon it became apparent what Beatocello referenced. It is Beat Richner, M.D., the Swiss pediatrician who founded this hospital and who just happens to play the cello.
Certainly, in my career, I have known a lot of musicians who became physicians, partly due to the financial security of the field, but I have also come to conclude due to the healing aspects of music which could be displaced onto the healing aspects of medicine.
This concert was to turn out to depict both the epitome of musicianship and the epitome of clinical and administrative medicine.
Without saying a word, Dr. Richner (though many of us didn't know who he was at the time) took out his cello and played a Bach cello suite and played it magnificently. He then went on to alternate musical selections with information on this hospital and its other branches in Cambodia.
As it turned out, the combined Kantha Bopha Children's Hospitals, including an HIV-positive maternity ward, is the largest in the world. It also has the best cost/healing ratio in international evaluations. Administrative costs are only 5%, a far cry from our for-profit managed care company costs.
Dr. Richner was asked to start this system in the early 1990s, when Cambodia began to recover from the "Killing Fields" of the Pol Pot regime. He was asked in part because he started his medical career there in the early 1970s, but was forced to leave when Pol Pot came to power. In his early career pursuit of medicine, he developed the alternative character of "Beatocello," an artistic and comedic clown who played the cello and published children's books.
What became clear was what the inspiration of one man could accomplish in a setting of few apparent resources. About 10% is funded from his Swiss government, the rest by donations, from private visitors like us to grants and large donations, mainly from Europe.
The services to the children are of a Wraparound nature, including picking up the children and their parents in the villages. Life-threatening epidemics are common, including a current one of dengue fever.
In his comments, Dr. Richner was not only critical of the Pol Pot regime and its remnants still in the government, but also the USA. He makes it clear that he thinks the US bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War paved the way for Pol Pot. Not stated directly, but implied, is the sense that the USA should pay back for the destruction in one way or another. Although this is almost hard to believe, it is said that the USA government couldn't contribute funds to Kantha Bopha because the patients do not contribute anything to their care (see www.beatocello.com).
Although Dr. Richner seems unique in our time, he reminded me of the legendary physician and musician, Albert Schweitzer, M.D., from the last century. As a medical missionary, he founded the Albert Schweitzer hospital in West Central Africa. He was also devoted to Bach, especially his organ music. Instead of blaming the USA, Dr. Schweitzer emphasized the guilt of the European colonizers. He posited a universal concept of ethics: reverence for life, or perhaps more accurately, to be in awe of the mystery of life.
Dr. Richner closed his concert lecture by saying what Cambodia needed now was forgiveness. He went on to play Kol Nidre, that song so often played on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. Surely, we also need much forgiveness in the USA: for slavery, for the treatment of Native Americans, for inadequate mental healthcare, and more.
In our own lives as administrators, don't we have to ask for forgiveness for our own inevitable wrongdoings? I once had an administrator who derailed my career for his own personal gain. Twice he asked for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, the only times I saw him after his decision. Forgiveness was granted, but the full extent of forgiveness could not be obtained because he was no longer in a position of power to right some of his wrongs.
Cambodia and the USA are indeed in a position to ask for forgiveness and have the power to rectify some of their past harm.
Here is how Dr. Richner ties together his music, the hospital, and behavioral healthcare. He was interviewed in the liner notes to his compact musical disc, Beatocello in E-Moll.
Interviewer: On this CD you only play works in E minor. Why is that? Does it reflect your mood?
Dr. R.: E minor is a sad, solemn, almost grave key, but one which always dissolves into light and hope. And that precisely reflects our life here in war - and crisis - torn Cambodia . . . My work is performed in E minor.
Interviewer: E minor also for the mothers and children who come to your hospital?
Dr. R.: Yes, it is the same for the thousands of mothers with their children. They come to us for serious reasons, and they are sad. But once they are here, that mood disappears in most cases and the children are able to leave healthy and happy.