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New book by Gundersen Health System CEO emeritus stresses ethical leadership

Posted: Sun, Jun 11, 2017 6:13 PM

There are more than 7,000 employees of Gundersen Health System in Western Wisconsin, Northeast Iowa and Southeastern Minnesota.  How can you lead an organization that large?

Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, who served as Gundersen's Chief Executive Officer from 2001 to 2016, says the process of leading that big an organization is the same as leading a smaller organization, although he admits, "the larger the organization, the harder it is."

Thompson's new book, "Lead True," stresses the importance of being true to your values.  It also discusses the importance of living those values and not just talking about them.  To that end, Thompson would frequently hold lunches or open forums with Gundersen staffers in Decorah or West Union or other Gundersen facilities.  That's because he wanted to spread the organization's values in as many ways as possible.  He also stressed that such a system is a two-way street--saying that staffers have a responsibility to carry out the organization's values as well.

It's a difficult process, he admits, adding, "In real life, people fail on a regular basis."  But he has seen the process pay off in numerous ways.  "In a town of 55,000 people, we had 25,000 job applicants in one year," he notes.

That's due in part to stressing the importance of not just delivering health care and making a profit, but building the community as well.  Thompson made a point of looking for "like-minded partners" as a way of combining strengths so that everyone benefits.

Even though La Crosse is not a big city, Gundersen has consistently ranked in the top five percent in the country for its quality of care.  Most recently, Gundersen was named one of "America's 50 Best" by Healthgrades.  Thompson says awards like that are the result of the entire staff working together to support consistent values.

Thompson's book, "Lead True," is available at Dragonfly Books in Decorah in addition to being available through other booksellers.  More information about Dr. Thompson's leadership theories is available at his website,