Call and Response: Bill Manns on Leading

What kind of leader do you want to be? According to Bill Manns, President of Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, leadership is more than making decisions or having a title; it’s about bringing people together through relationships and “call and response” listening in order to solve problems and meet high expectations.

In August 2013, Manns returned to Michigan to serve in his new post at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s after building a successful turnaround as chief operating officer at the Alameda Health System in Oakland, California. Manns recently commented on his own path to leadership resulting from his skill as a consensus builder and analytical problem solver, and he encouraged those who aspire to lead with his story and leadership insights.

A native of Detroit, Manns learned his early lessons in leadership as well as a strong foundation in character development from Father Richard Polakowski at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy:

  • Say what you know.
  • Say what you don’t know.
  • Question what you believe.
  • Label accordingly and examine fearlessly.

Manns also shared with the Chamber that he really took to heart the mantra “be a man for others” and learned to practice a “call and response” method of communication that has since enabled him to provide due diligence in the business world.

There is a need for leaders to question and reserve judgment, to listen actively and provide constructive feedback, Manns pointed out. He also noted the need for executives to have balance in their life—not to take work

too seriously and to find ways to “learn to chill.” For him, that means tinkering with his collection of nine cars and keeping up an active social life with his wife and 13-year-old son. He also believes that you have to take the time to personally invest and give back to the community.

“I could work 24 hours a day, and the job would allow for that with all that needs to be done,” Manns said. “But then I don’t smile as much and people notice. I get irritable when tired and stressed from overwork…and that affects my effectiveness as a leader.”

For Manns, leading is like being the coach of a team—harkening back to his youthful days playing basketball. “Think about it,” he said. “When is the last time you saw a coach hit a last second winning shot?” According to Manns,

it’s not the leader’s job to make the shot, but it is his/her job to prepare the team and draw out excellence.


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