Healthcare Integration: Ship-to-Shore Work and the Ultimate Weapon

by Rob Thames

Veterans Day reminds me of my father. In WWII, he landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day.

As Steven Ambrose details in his book “D-Day,” the Allies planned the Normandy invasion for three years, but as soon as our troops hit the beaches, the plans went out the window. To the ‘man on the ground,’ NOTHING was as planned. And on the beaches, formal leaders were dead or not available. Survival and progress to save the free world depended on rapid learning and action, i.e., adaptive leadership. Our troops felt empowered to act, German forces felt compelled to wait for Hitler’s direction. The rest of this leadership story, as they say, is history. 

Despite asserting to my Dad, in my youth, the growing impact of technology, e.g., pilotless planes, long-range capabilities, etc., he remained convicted of the mantra “the ultimate weapon is the man on the ground.”* My Dad and his colleagues, some of whom made it past D-Day, are heroes. I have since learned that there were others “on the ground” back in the U.S. who heroically enabled these heroes. During the planning for the largest invasion in modern history, a significant challenge was figuring out how to get our troops from ‘ship-to-shore.’ The U.S. federal government knew how make large ships to get our troops across the English Channel, but they could not get our troops to the shore. Enter Andrew Jackson Higgins, who was described by Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1964 as “the man who won the war for us.” 

Why? Because Higgins’ innovation and leadership helped the Allies address this critical ‘ship-to-shore’ transition. 

How? He too recognized that “the ultimate weapon is the man on the ground.” But the ground of Higgins’ influence was New Orleans; and the time was early 1940s. When he got the contract to produce nearly 24,000 LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle and Personnel) boats, Higgins had to do what no one had done: integrate a highly segregated – siloed - workforce. To integrate the workforce to perform well functionally, he had to integrate the workforce culturally. 

So What? “Freedom is not free.” Veterans Day is a reminder to me of the inherent sacrifice and import of the leadership work we are called to do in service to others.  

Sacrifice - Veteran’s Day serves as a reminder to embolden us in our work.

True leadership involves sacrifice. Sacrifice requires courage. The popular or easy way is often not the right way. It is not a coincidence that “integration” and “integrity” share the same root which involves creating ‘wholeness.’ Sacrifice comes in the form of choosing integrity to mission, vision and personal values over self-preservation and career risk. Choose wisely. 

Import – Let Veterans Day remind you that you make a difference. As healthcare leaders our role in helping people through daunting ‘ship-to-shore’ transitions is critical to our patients, families and colleagues. It also reminds us that it is our people - the Triple Aim’s “PlusOne” which transforms it to the ‘Quadruple Aim’ - who advance the Triple Aim mission. This Veterans Day, let us remember that our fundamental work in leading transformation, involves helping others through many ‘ship-to-shore’ transitions. And that the real work being done is the development of the people doing the work.  

The ultimate weapon is the man on the ground.

*Noting that my Dad had seven daughters, in addition to three sons, it is emphatically clear that he used the term “man” as short-hand for ‘person.’