Living Your Leadership Vision With Authenticity and Purpose. An Interview With A Truly Exceptional Leader, Patch Adams, MD

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Living Your Leadership Vision With Authenticity and Purpose. An Interview With A Truly Exceptional Leader, Patch Adams, MD

In this half-hour interview with the world’s pioneer of patient-centered care, Patch Adams speaks of love, care, truth, authenticity, and serving humanity to Louis Carter, founding director of the Best Practices Institute. Dr. Hunter “Patch” Adams, played by Robin Williams in the major motion picture, “Patch Adams,” is a living example of a warrior of change – who lives his ideals to the fullest. He does not give in to demands that run counter to sincere care and love – and he is emphatic about it. Leadership to Patch is more about serving humanity and less about serving yourself. Patch views exceptional leadership as serving society through making connections with others, accepting complexity in relationships and in healing, and using laughter and heart to stop violence and conflict. Patch wants to see a world where “compassion and generosity,” wins over greed and power. As Patch says, “There’s no place where loving, compassion, fun, creativity, understanding, and generosity are not needed in the world.”

The problem to Patch, and to us all, is not only in our actions, rather, it is within the very structure in which we live. “Our presidents don’t lead. They do what multi-national corporations tell them to do. That’s not leadership. That’s puppetry.” He plays a loud bugle call to an otherwise apathetic world. Patch is a strong example of a leader with compassion, heart, and a willingness to stand up for and practice what truly lives within each and every one of us – the ability to serve humanity through sincere care and generosity with authenticity and purpose.

Louis Carter (LC) from BPI: Patch, What does it take to be an exceptional leader?

Patch Adams (PA): If you’re happy, love your work, and are doing something to serve humanity, how can it not help but make you exceptional?

LC: So you’re talking about being true to yourself and wanting to help others as being the most vital aspects of being a good leader.

PA: Well, wanting something is really important. I want peace and justice, and so I’ve given my — and will give my life to those two things: peace, justice, and care. And the thing is that–most people lead because they have money and power, that’s most people’s perception of leadership. And if you choose not to lead through money and power, then you must do it through seduction, by being something somebody wants to be with. And so those qualities and house calls make you, I think, a better instrument for that. People, who’ve been interested in our project or me, have all done it because I’m a happy, caring person — not a hierarchical person.

LC: And to mention some of the thoughts — you wrote about in your book, House Calls, such as peace and wisdom, you’re at peace with yourself and others. And what is it about what you can provide to the world and to others through service, it’s a different level of leadership, as I understand it, a different frame of reference.

PA: I don’t consider leadership for money and power a level. I consider it a sell-out. There you’re not leading; you’re a puppet to wealth. I mean, our presidents don’t lead. They do what multi-national corporations tell them to do. That’s not leadership. That’s puppetry.

LC: How can presidents begin to change that frame of reference? Who do they need to begin listening to more?

PA: They can stop all of the money that they get from wealth. That’s one start. They can realize the huge mistakes made in pandering to wealth. And return the presidency to a servant of the people. Bush and Gore, or Bore and Gush, they’re as one can see, just watch them on TV, they’re fake people, they’re not real people. They’re liars. They’re lying so bad that it reeks from the television set. And because they say that they care about our people and they don’t. They only care about multi-national corporations. Their gestures, their behaviors, all show that. There’s nothing authentic about them being of the people, by the people, and for the people at all. Screw the people, is their truth.

LC: What types of leaders today actually do exhibit more authentic leadership types, and more in tune with what you just described–

PA: People who have a lifetime of service. I think Nelson Mandela is a global figure that has certainly shown a lot of courage and leadership. And a lot of it is the leadership through service, like Jane Goodall, or Julia Butterfly Hill or people like that, who lead by example.

LC: So, leading becomes something that you do as a service, rather than as something to gain more power.

PA: Right. Power over and money are the things that will make humans extinct. It is the bottom line of money and power that has caused every single problem in the world that we have. All of our environmental problems, all of the wars, all of the discrepancies between rich and poor, the place that media now has in the world. The two favorite TV shows last year were both horrors to humanity’s intelligence: “Who Wants To Be a Millionaire? and the “Survivor” show. They’re so shallow; tadpoles couldn’t grow in the water that they exist on. I mean, unless the leader is there to serve, then they are being served by power and money.

LC: Patch, you’ve traveled all around the world and seen many different horrors and difficult situations where people are disadvantaged, and you yourself have led by example. Can you name a situation or circumstance in a country you’ve been in where you can show that more light has come out of the tunnel [without the train coming and hitting us], where you’ve seen others come out of their disadvantaged situations and become more healed?

PA: Well, whoever is universally friendly in life, sees it every day, all day long. They see it in what happens on an elevator when they go and say, “Hi everybody, how’s it going? That’s a nice tie.” Whoever’s sweet and kind, they see it in that moment. Instant gratification. Thirty years, whenever I’ve seen violence in public, changing into my clown character, stopping the violence 100% of the time. And I’ve probably stopped 20 or more thousand fights. I mean, that’s what’s so beautiful about compassion and those efforts, is that you instantly get a great experience.

LC: Has there been something recently that’s happened, or an experience you can share with me where that’s happened recently?

PA: I swear, every single day it happens. It happens with me all day long. I’m universally friendly. So in the grocery store, the interaction with the check-out person who–you see their name right on their chest. You can call them by their name and you can see how just calling them by their name they look at you in the eye and something happens. If you just do even rudimentary communication with them–How’s your day? If they’ve seen you in the store before, you already have a relationship with them, if you’ve been doing that over the years. So they call you by your name, even though you don’t have a label. And you start building community. Instead of strangers being a frightening thing that we lock our car doors, our house doors, look away from when we meet eye contact, the world becomes your world.

LC: Are these the types of things that we need more in hospitals today, and how can we bring that into hospitals today?

PA: Tell me a place where it’s not needed? It’s needed everywhere. There’s no place where loving, compassion, fun, creativity, understanding, generosity are not needed in the world. It can benefit every single environment, from churches and prisons, to hospitals and legislative halls, to city streets and elevators. There’s no place where I haven’t done it that it hasn’t obviously added something.

LC: Regarding the area of empathy: does one have to feel empathy for another person in order to connect/care for that person?

PA: How does anyone who can safely call themselves human not feel empathy, in general? Unfortunately, mostly we come at these discussions through a history of the way men have spoken of them, and men have been not the repositories, in history, of empathy. Mothers have been. And it’s women who are empathetic.

LC: So it’s something anthropological/sociological, men in general–in the roles that we [they] traditionally play-

PA: Well, money and power are male goals. I mean, they try to sell a bill of goods, and they’ve done a good job for a lot of women, but that didn’t come from women, it came from man. Most our concepts of leadership are from men.

LC: When you mention that most of the concepts of leadership are from men, is there any leadership example that you wouldn’t follow from a certain man? Is there someone in particular that you think might embody less desirable attributes in our society today? And vice versa?

PA: Almost everything you see on TV is a pathetic example of everything human.

LC: And I know you mentioned Gore and Bush as well.

PA: They’re pathetic.

LC: Because they’re not sincere. That’s what I’m hearing.

PA: Who is sincere on television? The newspeople? Where does one see any sincerity on TV? TV is fake. It’s owned by five companies whose sole purpose is to keep your attention to a set to sell products.

LC: If we were to change society in that matter, what would it look like, in terms of being able to work together or able to appreciate one another, in a way that you describe, without those attributes?

PA: Certainly, eliminate all of our weapons, instantly. We would–as far as I’m concerned, whoever had more than $50,000 would be taxed and it would be taken away from them. Every single person. The world would be communities, interdependent on one another. See, I’m looking for a world where compassion and generosity replace the position that money and power now have. Money and power own everything. I mean, I could give you good books to show you how abysmal. The leadership today is responsible for our extinction by mid-century. That’s the current leadership. And we’re all giving out that it’s admirable.

My mother could have done a better job at presidency than Bill Clinton, and she wouldn’t have made as many mistakes. She wouldn’t have kissed ass to corporations.

LC: Patch, one of the things that strikes me about you is that you’re one of the only people I know that truly lives his ideals to the “t.”

PA: Well, there are many. You’re traveling in circles that want exceptional leadership to be the kind of exceptional leadership you see in the business section of a bookstore. We don’t know that a good mother is the meaningful leadership in our lives — we don’t talk about that–or a good schoolteacher. That’s the meaningful leadership in our society. Not these pathetic CEOs of companies.

LC: I’m interested in hearing how you can keep that stance, and how teachers can help to keep that stance in society, where they’re living their ideals — in a world that doesn’t support them.

PA: In my mind, it takes no effort to be my ideals. The effort it would take to be a liar and a greedy power over person is the thing that would take effort. It’s easy to be me. It would be much harder to be a fake human being and to be a liar to the world. And to think that somehow money and power mean anything relative to a good kiss and tender moment.

LC: Patch, when you run into folks who don’t believe in you, and I do it every day, do you let it get you down?

PA: I can’t possibly let it get me down. It’s pathetic. It’s like saying if somebody handed me a plate full of shit, how do I prevent from eating it? I’m a political activist. Every situation, I’m sizing up for how to move towards peace, justice, and care. When I see violence, when I see and feel the evil of our society, it hones me. I’m not fake– I’m thankful that I’m a real person. I know that I’m so privileged, at 55, to be a man who can’t remember the last time he did something he didn’t want to do. My life–I’ve lived an exemplary life, and, I’ve lived a very selfish life. I’ve lived me.

PA: When I bump into somebody who–I’ve never met a person who put money and power in any meaningful position that wasn’t just pathetic to the bone. They were fake. They couldn’t look me in the eye. You could just see they were fake. And so there’s nothing to depress me or worry about me keeping up my spirits. I wonder how they keep up their fakeness.

Louis Carter (LC): Patch, I’ve read and seen a lot about your life – you went through a difficult period and you experienced horrible treatment in the hospital and in medical school, but you still had that inner light and you moved forward, you pressed forward, so you could–as I saw it, help others.

When you’ve run up in front of people who don’t see your vision, and you know that you have to get things done immediately because people are dying — and are being treated horribly–anything from within hospitals, mental institutions, psychiatric wards to countries that are starving their children, how do we press them to action more quickly? Because I often get that feeling, in terms of “this is very much an immediate action that needs to happen, please see through your own immediate greed and needs.” Is it just patience? What’s the virtue, here that we need to learn?

Patch Adams (PA): I don’t know about virtues. I base my life on intentions: What do I want? And what do I intend to do to move myself towards my wants? I want peace, justice and care. So among the millions of possible performances in any given moment, for that particular intention, I will try to move myself towards a performance that will best put that forward.

I want these things, and so my knowledge of their want is how much they drive my performance. I don’t need things to bolster me up to live true to myself. If I were living a lie, that’s when I would need things to bolster myself. Younger and younger women, more and more BMWs and more and more people going, “Yes sir, Mr. Adams-” what my performance partner calls assisted living. We talk about an elderly who’s got 2 hours a week of somebody coming in to kind of set her meds up for the week, etc., but they’re assisted living, where Bill Gates has probably 1,000 people in his assisted living. That’s pathetic. I wonder if they wipe their own bum.

LC: What I’m hearing is that your wants are –far nobler than the wants of folks like Gates–

PA: Well, the thing is, I don’t know about noble. I know what happens to me, what would happen to me if I saw, if I thought I could either make a million dollars profit and in the making of that million-dollar profit I had to screw over 100 families. But if I knew the families and knew the million dollars, there would be nothing attractive about the million dollars. The families are much more attractive to me. And the same is true of our environment.

I have the capability of being a really rich millionaire. The movie made me that. I’ll make a million-dollars this year.

LC: And as I understand it, you contribute those million dollars to the formation of your Geshundeit! Institute every year.

PA: Right.

LC: And also accept funding from folks out in the public who want to provide help.

PA: Mm-hmm.

LC: Patch, How does your vision of the Geshundeit Institute help to fit more of that ideal of sincere care, of real help, of a true holistic approach to healing and real leadership in society today? What does it look like? Can you give us just a brief sketch? I know it’s a much larger than the answer–

PA: Well, we are a medical model to address every single problem of care delivery, that’s what we started out as. If you look at every single problem of care delivery, and we have looked for solutions for every single one. That’s what we are. Whether it’s cost or malpractice or insurance or time with patients or complimentary medicine or fun or burn-out, we address everything.

LC: One of the things that impressed me the most from your book was the high degree of patient-centered care you deliver to patients – both as a doctor now and in your model of the Geshundeit Institute in the future. For the reader’s benefit, I have included an excerpt from your book Geshundeit!, that speaks directly to the degree of patient-centered care you envision for your Institute. To me, this also applies to good leadership, coaching, and managing – truly caring about those who you are leading – and taking the time to understand the complexities of human relationships, human nature, hope, and healing.

Excerpt from Gesundheit! By Patch Adams, MD (Healing Arts Press:1998)

Initial Interviews with patients last three to four hours and explore not only their health needs but also everything about them. The following synopsis gives an idea of the detailed information we seek from patients in attempting to know them and to assess their health needs. Ideally, we would like each person in our care to write (in a readable form) a detailed history of his or her life from a health perspective, and include the following:

  1. Any facts pertaining to birth or the first years of life
  2. History of immunizations up to the present
  3. Hospitalizations, with dates and details
  4. All remembered illnesses, with current perspectives on each
  5. Drug-taking history, legal and illegal, including perceptions of drugs; including tobacco, caffeine, sugar, azithromycin, alcohol, etc.
  6. History of spiritual perspectives, including past influences and current attitudes
  7. History of love life with present perspectives and how they evolved, with comments on each of the following in detail, parental love, romantic love, sexual love, love of life, self love, and other
  8. History of major disappointments, past and present, including solutions found, and perceptions of other people’s disappointments,
  9. History of life highlights, including significant teachers (either formal education or on one’s own). List of skills of any sort gleaned from these high points: how they were acquired, appreciated, and shared with others. Also include highlights derived from books, movies, music, intellectual pursuits, etc.
  10. A detailed family tree with health and other perspectives on each branch.
  11. Thoughts on what growing up was like, descriptions of homes, schools, neighborhoods, best friends, pets, travel, clubs, dates, cars, motorcycles, hobbies, and whatever else seems significant
  12. History of diet past and present, including present practices, perspectives, and theories about nutrition
  13. Dreams for the future
  14. Comments on success/failure, right/wrong, winning/losing, happiness/unhappiness as they related to dealings with parents, children, jobs, lifestyle, community, country, spiritual values, friends, enemies
  15. Perspective on present state of body: strength, stamina, and joint flexibility; exercise habits; use of baths, oils, saunas, massage, and herbs; bowl and urine habits; condition of eyesight, hearing, and other sensory organs
  16. Perspectives on mental illness, in oneself and in others; is there a such thing as mental illness?
  17. Ways to expand health consciousness, including how to use resources to help give health to yourself and others
  18. Other details about health that this list has stimulated

LC: And you understand that illness comes from all these different factors, rather than just from a genetic factor, one specific variable, or solved through a more linear diagnosis.

PA: Everything is multi-factorial.

LC: There’s a lot more complexity to medical diagnoses than what meets the eye. What is exceptional about leaders such as you is that you accept complexity in your life and in your interactions with those you help heal.

PA: But you know, the word exceptional, people would say is true of Bill Gates.

LC: Could you say more about this–

PA: I mean, for me, — I don’t count Bill Gates’ billions of dollars that he gives away. He does that reluctantly. I don’t count any of his donations to be worth a hill of beans.

LC: I’m looking for people like you, who can give this kind feedback, about how to be a good person and lead at the same time.

PA: Do you know any leaders you respect?

LC: Yes. For me, Dr. Kyle Pruett, I think he’s a wonderful leader. He lives by his heart and his example. He’s the President of the Zero to Three Foundation, that helps child development practitioners in the field to heal children who have mental illness or different types of disabilities. He’s a sincere caregiver. He believes in caregiving throughout the entire life cycle, which I really admire.

PA: Are there any political leaders you admire?

LC: I really don’t.

PA: They’re pathetic.

PA: I think women should take over every job above janitor for the next 500 years.

LC: That’s the thing, Patch. I think women have wonderful aspects and qualities, using their emotions and being able to experience life in a different way, that not many men do. I love making connections with people, the way I look at them, the way I see them, in much the same way. And I think we need more of that everywhere. I do it every day, walking in my office: I smile at people, I joke around. And I know, sometimes, it can be difficult to be too open. And that’s why I am focusing on these kinds of questions.

PA: I don’t know those difficulties.

LC: I know, because you’re in this 100%. You really live it, completely.

PA: Every single day, all day long.

LC: I know, it’s amazing. Sometimes I’ve got to shut down a little bit, maybe because I’m living and working within a more closed paradigm.

PA: And if a person does need to shut down, they should. My thing is, I only do what I want and love to do, and I see the consequences move towards peace and justice and care, and that’s what I want to do.

LC: I know, and you’re doing it every day — I’m trying to bring out what you’re saying to the world as well. I know you’ve done it already, but I want to do it in my paradigm, which is for profit, because the folks who are reading this interview want to know how to be better leaders. And I figure the way to really help them to begin practicing your “thoughts on being well,” is for them to see the benefits. And there are a lot of benefits to being a good person. Everyone listens when you treat people like human beings. And in for-profit organizations, no one wants their managers to be bad people.

PA: Yes they do. They are always putting their managers in a position of “Do the ethical thing” or “do our thing,” and if you do the ethical thing you’re screwed. So it puts people, every day, on “my way or the high way.” So that’s happened in my profession through the most vulgar of ways. CEOs of hospital chains make tens, twenties of millions of dollars and they cut back on nurses, claiming they don’t have money. And a nurse speaks up, creates a little storm, she’s fired. They have a strangle hold. That’s why Bush and Gore and all of those people are fake. Because if they tried to be a president with reality, they would be squished. They don’t know that they actually wouldn’t be squished, but everything tells them in the society they will be squished.
And so women who have their butts pinched, or sexist remarks, or lewd comments by men, constantly, where they work, and they know if they speak up they’re fired. And they’ve got their single mother with two kids. The doctors that walk around the halls of hospitals ignoring the cleaning staff, bossing nurses around. Fuck ’em, fire those bastards.

LC: Have you thought of [becoming a president/president of a hospital]- obviously, it sounds like you wouldn’t want to be in that environment.

PA: I would be assassinated. Were I president, the first thing I would do was expose everything that I was told–as I was getting to be president, I would see and hear all these things from multi-national corporations, and I’d wire myself, tape their conversations with me, and then play them to the nation.

LC: That would be doing a justice to us all… —

PA: And I would expose the lying and the cheating that has gone on, and they would kill me. And, if I was in the position, I would do it, and I wouldn’t care about being killed.

LC: Kill the messenger?

PA: You can’t kill me. I’m not buyable, or tradable, or impressionable. Only service impresses me. Love. [end of interview]

As the founder of the Gesundheit! InstituteDr. Patch Adams has dedicated his life to the belief that “healing should be a loving human interchange, not a business transaction.” Gesundheit is working to build a 40 bed hospital/healing center in rural West Virginia which integrates traditional medicine with complimentary therapies in the context of a joyful community. The Gesundheit Institute is a holistic medical community that has provided free medical care to over 20,000 patients since its beginnings in 1971. In its heyday, Patch and 20 medical workers, including two physicians staffed the Institute and served patients through humor and compassion.

Louis Carter is CEO of Best Practice Institute

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Louis Carter
Louis Carter is CEO and founder of Best Practice Institute, social/organizational psychologist, executive coach and author of more than 11 books on leadership and management including his newest book just released by McGraw Hill: In Great Company: How to Spark Peak Performance by Creating an Emotionally Connected Workplace. He has lectured globally in the U.S., Middle East, and Asia on his work and research in organization and leadership development and is an executive coach and advisor to CEOs and C-levels of mid-sized to Fortune 500 organizations. He was named one of Global Gurus Top Organizational Culture Gurus in the world and was chosen to be one of 100 coaches to be in the MG100 (Marshall Goldsmith) out of 14,000 people as one of the top 100 coaches in the world .