What I’ve Learned as a Leader

David Wennberg, MD, MPH

CEO of Quartet

December 16, 2019

Leading a team is the most rewarding work of my life. At Quartet we work every day to make it easier for people to get the mental health care they need — a big vision, but incredibly important for the millions of Americans who need high-quality care, and has the potential to save people’s lives, and while managing change is really hard, I get up every morning so excited to lead such a mission-driven team.

Today, as we celebrate five years at Quartet, we have a lot to celebrate: We’re available to people in seven markets around the country, with more to come, and we’re rapidly growing our ability to get people into care: since 2017, the total number of people we’ve worked with has grown 350%.

These achievements are thanks to everyone at Quartet who works so hard and cares so deeply; and to get more people to care we’ve nearly doubled our workforce in size over the last year.  When I first joined the team in 2015, I didn’t even have a title, but like so many others, I believed in the mission so much that I knew I had to be a part of this work. Over the years, I’ve worn many hats and held a number of roles at the company, and today, I’m thrilled to be CEO.

I’ve learned a lot about leadership over decades working in healthcare, over my last year as CEO of Quartet my learnings have accelerated.

Here’s what’s worked for me, and has helped the team at Quartet to be successful:

  1. Listen and learn. Immediately after becoming CEO I did a listening tour. I spoke with over 90% of all Quartetians to learn what they wanted and needed to be able to do their work successfully. I also make it a point to be present – eat lunch with the team and take walks in the park with them so that I’m accessible and built trust.Top-down decision-making is often too myopic, and as a leader, you want to engage people who may have a very different perspective based on the work they do.
  2. Stay true to the mission. We have an incredible and ambitious mission at Quartet to improve the lives of people with mental health conditions. As a trained internist, I take the Hippocratic Oath very seriously: Patients are our North Star and central to everything we do, and I made sure they were central to our vision, our mission, and our values. We created a Care Navigator model so that people get personalized care that best meets their needs. I encourage everyone to keep their mission front of mind. When you remember what you’re working towards, it makes it easier to set ambitious goals and make hard decisions.
  3. Communication and transparency are key. I wanted to create an environment where people feel comfortable being vulnerable and asking questions. Today we share information regularly so everyone is aligned on what’s happening and what’s next for the company. At Quartet, we hold biweekly all-staff meetings, as well as what I’ve dubbed “Wennberg’s Free Form Food Fights,” where people can ask me anything. We routinely share updates from our Leadership and Board meetings. It makes a huge difference when the team is heard, appreciated, informed, and part of the conversation.
  4. Trust your team. Your team is your strongest asset, so you need to hire a diverse and inclusive team of great people to get the work done. Then, you need to trust them. This is true for all levels of the company, especially your leadership team, and I’m thrilled to have some of the best and brightest in the business here at Quartet. It’s equally important to invest in your teammates to help them reach their potential: Quartet was recently named one of the Best Places to Work in Healthcare, which is a huge honor and a testament to the people who work here. I know our mission is possible because we have an incredible team.
  5. Be open to tough feedback. It may be hard to believe… but not every idea you have will be the right idea. To grow as a leader, you have to be open to feedback that you might not want to hear. This humility was crucial for my growth as a leader, as well as helping to develop the skills of the people around you.  It might work for you as well.
  6. Embrace change. You have to recognize and embrace the change that’s needed. You should always have an idea about the direction you need to go, but you also have to be nimble and make adjustments for the good of the company and your mission. I know change can be hard, but it’s necessary for growth, and it’s when people need a leader the most.

I also urge leaders to prioritize your mental health and don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, which sets an example for your team to do the sameLeading a company that works to make it easier for people to get mental health care means I have to walk the talk. For that reason, at Quartet we offer unlimited vacation and enhanced mental health benefits because mental health is health. When I take a vacation, like going fishing for a few days or biking with my family, I’m offline and unreachable (well, there is one person who knows the secret code to the Bat Channel if I’m really needed). I trust my team to handle the ‘unforeseens’ that come up when I’m out. Trust builds trust and gives people the confidence they need to really drive good outcomes.  Having time away also means I come back to work calm, rested, and with fresh eyes. I highly recommend others do the same.

Five years in, I know there’s so much left to do to improve the lives of people with mental health conditions, yet we’ve accomplished so much already. It takes time to lead and build a great company and vibrant culture, and if you keep your values front and center, you and your team will thrive.

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