The ASHE Annual Conference & Exhibition kicked off Monday morning, with opening remarks from president Jeff Arthurs, CHFM, CHSP, FASHE and awards presentations at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio.

Bill H. McCully Sr., CHFM, SASHE was given ASHE’s Crystal Eagle Leadership; Steve Spaanbroek of MSL Healthcare Consulting won the 2012 President’s Award; and the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, took the Excellence in Healthcare Facilities Management Award.

Also announced during the morning plenary session were 13 senior and 7 fellow status members to the organization for 2012. (For more awards details, please go here).

Capping the morning was an opening keynote given by Scott Waddle, former submarine commander and leadership expert, titled "Failure Need Not Be Final."

Waddle served as captain of the USS Greenville, which on February 9, 2011, collided with a Japanese fishing vessel, sinking the ship and killing nine civilians. Waddle assumed full responsibility for making the fateful call that sent the submarine into the ship’s path and decided to take the stand during a Navy Court of Inquiry, risking a potential court-martial.

His experience, which cost him his military career, has allowed him to now relive these events to communicate not only how to prevent costly mistakes but how to maintain integrity, even in the worst scenario: “It’s a tool; it’s a value; it’s a standard you should never compromise,” he says.

Some of the tenets of leadership and command that took him to the high level he achieved in the U.S. Navy included the following:

  • Lead by example;
  • Invoke exactly standards;
  • Listen;
  • Communicate effectively and with a sense of purpose and meaning;
  • Foster a climate of trust;
  • Build up your people;
  • Improve quality of life; and
  • Accept responsibility for your actions.

Waddle equated his experience to the daily drivers in the healthcare space, where those managing facilities must answer to the bottom line, performance measures, board approvals, and so on, and balance those external pressures with how they feel the facility should be operating.

“Are you willing to compromise your standards to walk that gray line?” he asks.

Waddle got his vessel to the standard where he wanted it to operate, but still a mistake occurred.

Despite doing a sweep for ships in waters nearby the submerged submarine on that day in 2001, Waddle did not pick up on any potential problems. So to close a civilian cruise the USS Greenville was providing, he ordered an “emergency blow,” a move that causes the submarine to rocket out of the water but that can’t be deactivated once set into motion.

The collision with the fishing boat ripped a massive hole in its bottom, sinking it within minutes.

In Waddle’s case, he was unwilling to compromise his standards when the time came to answer for what had happened during the accident, testifying without immunity, meeting with families of the victims, and eventually making a trip to Japan for a remembrance ceremony.

As for his crew members, he asked them to do the same—to tell the truth, and if they didn’t remember a piece, not to embellish but to simply be honest.

In the end, Waddle says he didn’t compromise the integrity he held dear and he owned what happened, and today he works to encourage others to do the same, no matter the circumstances, and to hold true to the those tenets of leadership and command.