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DR. BEN CARSON
SECRETARY DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
OCHCO EXCEPTIONAL LEADERSHIP CONFERENCE
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14th, 2017
WASHINGTON, D.C.


As prepared for delivery. The speaker may add or subtract comments during his presentation.

Hello, and welcome to the OCHCO Exceptional Leadership Conference!

It's great to see so many of you here. Not just from our headquarters, but our field offices around the country too! We're all in this together.

This conference is more than just educational: it's a wonderful opportunity to get to know other team members at HUD-and lots of folks from other areas in the federal government, and trade your best leadership strategies.

This year's theme is "Impacting Organizational Excellence."

It sounds grand, but what does it really mean? How do you impact the excellence of your organization?

There are the obvious things we should try to do every day: get to work on time. Get our tasks done in a timely fashion, and give everything your best effort. Be a team player, and a good resource for your coworkers.

I find that if someone checks all those boxes, they're already halfway to taking my job!

But there's more. Leadership isn't only making sure your personal performance is good. It means keeping an eye out for things that can be improved, and taking steps to help fix them in a spirit of cooperation.

That second part is important. It doesn't help anyone if we sit around pointing out faults in other people-a true leader proposes a solution, and often takes on the extra work and problem-solving needed to make it a reality.

Let me use a quick example.

You know how bathrooms in restaurants say "employees must wash hands?" Or that surgeons need to sterilize up to their elbows before a procedure? Or a parent scolding us to "wash your hands before dinner?"

Well, that wasn't always the case.

In the 1840's there was a man named Doctor Semmelweis who ran a maternity ward in Vienna, Austria.

His maternity ward was full of doctors and medical students. But there was one next door that was just run by midwives.

Doctor Semmelweis noticed that the ward run by doctors had almost 5 times the mortality rate for mothers than the one ran by midwives. These important professionals were somehow worse than the so-called amateurs!

He looked at all the things they did differently, and none of them seemed to make a difference.

Except for one.

These doctors were dissecting cadavers and performing other operations on sick people before they delivered babies. And the midwives didn't do that.

Nobody knew about germs yet, but Semmelweis decided that something from those sick people was getting carried over to those unfortunate mothers. So he told all the doctors to start washing their hands.

...and they HATED it! He was implying that a gentleman's hands weren't clean all the time! They persecuted Doctor Semmelweis, and gave him a lot of trouble. Nobody in Europe would listen.

But he was right! During this hand-washing experiment, mortality rates fell in the doctors' maternity ward. The doctors might have been inconvenienced, but it saved a lot of precious lives. He definitely made his organization more excellent.

Of course we know who won in the end, every time we wash our hands before we eat-or perform surgery-or deliver a baby.

Maybe we won't invent something as life-changing as hand washing in our careers. But I think we all have something in our workplaces, programs, and systems that could change for the better. Something that nobody has thought of before, but just might be a smarter way of doing things.

This means soliciting ideas from our team members. It means keeping an open mind, and knowing that there might be years of resistance to change. It means knowing that we can't just sit around and complain about a situation-we need to rise to the challenge.

And above all, when we tackle these challenges, we must do so in the spirit of kindness and humility toward everyone. That might be the biggest key to impacting organizational excellence.

Because again, we're all in this together.

I know you'll have a great time at this conference. Learn a lot. Be brave. Look for things you can improve as a team.

Oh, and don't forget to wash your hands!