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‘Dr. Bob’ changed Delaware

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By Kathy Canavan

When Dr. Robert J. Laskowski first arrived in Delaware, an older woman buttonholed him at an event to give him some advice: “Delaware is a small place and, being a small place, everybody knows everything. So be good.”

Laskowski, retiring after 11 years as CEO of Christiana Care Health System, was feted last Tuesday at a Delaware State Chamber of Commerce breakfast.

A. Richard Heffron, the chamber president, said everyone was asking how to pronounce “Laskowski” 11 years ago.  “We’ve gone from that to ‘Dr. Bob.’ It’s a household name in Delaware,” Heffron said. “In that 11 years, he has made tremendous changes, not only to the medical center but also to the state of Delaware.”

Heffron read off a list of things that didn’t exist until Laskowski came to Delaware – the new 1 million-square-foot medical center in Wilmington, the expansion of Helen F. Graham Cancer Center, the Center for Heart and Vascular Health, the Middletown Freestanding Emergency Department. He lauded Laskowski for his work with the Delaware Health Sciences Alliance and the Delaware Health Information Network.

Laskowski, discussing leadership before a breakfast meeting of Delaware leaders joked that listening is crucial because Delawareans sometimes speak “Delawarean” – a very genteel language that skirts the issues.

“There’s always somebody who know more than you do, so it pays to have your ears out there so you can hear them,” Laskowski said.

He gave an example: He told a local group that his favorite leadership book is “Servant Leadership” by Robert Greenleaf. He explained the author’s philosophy of leadership as an inverted pyramid with the leader at the bottom helping others to do the best work they can.  Then a local man let him know Greenleaf had lived in Greenville until his death in 1990.

He said one of the most important things a physician or a business leader can do is listen. “There is no leadership without a sense of community,” he said. “The most important thing to do as a physician is to listen to people. If you listen to people, they actually will tell you what’s wrong with them.”

Laskowski discussed the importance of carefully chosen words, especially the “Christiana Care Way,” the hospital system’s carefully chosen motto, which is now posted in every room: “We serve our neighbors as respectful, expert, caring partners in their health.”

Laskowski will split his time between living on Martha’s Vineyard and his new home in Wilmington. 

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