Leadership Lens: Ascension Wisconsin’s Bernie Sherry on zooming in to help your team in tough times

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Ascension Wisconsin ministry market executive Bernie Sherry joins Marquette University president Michael Lovell and BizTimes Media managing editor Arthur Thomas on the latest episode of Leadership Lens.

Sherry discusses some of the challenges of leading a health system through the COVID-19 pandemic, both during the early shutdowns and later surges of cases. He also addresses how the current challenges in health care, including rising costs and workforce challenges, are facing executives to get more involved in the operational work of their teams.

“It’s taking more of our time to support our teams and our leaders to work through the recovery of health care,” Sherry said.

That support doesn’t mean Sherry and other executives are making decisions.

“Rather than just make the decision, I think it’s being there to support the decision, so being a resource when things become more complex, right, and the solutions may not be as apparent as they once were,” he said.

Sherry, who came to Ascension Wisconsin in 2016 to lead the integration of four health systems, also talked about how important communication is during a period of change management.

“You can’t just assume with the size of the change that the messages are always getting cascaded down into the organization like you would want them to,” he said.

Following the merger, Sherry and other Ascension Wisconsin leaders did a number of things to communicate their vision for the organization and to get buy-in from stakeholders. One of the lessons Sherry said he learned was the importance of an effective communication strategy to go with the organizational change.

“You just can’t do enough of that with a big change initiative,” he said.

Sherry also noted one of the seemingly simple ways that leading a Catholic health care system is different from other organizations: Starting every meeting with a reflection or prayer.

“If you have 10 meetings a day, you’re going to hear 10 different reflections before that meeting starts,” Sherry said. “It just sets your mind and your heart in the right place to conduct the mission and the business of the Catholic health care ministry.”

Other topics in the episode include how Lovell and Sherry worked together with their teams to pilot a program for Scaling Wellness in Milwaukee at Ascension’s St. Joseph hospital, dealing with external changes in the market, including the merger of the Advocate and Aurora health care systems, and how moving to Milwaukee helped Sherry get into boating.

Listen to the full episode in the player at the top of the page.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.