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7 Questions on Leadership with Javier Amador-Castaneda

Name: Javier Amador-Castaneda

Title: Chief Executive Officer

Organisation: Interprofessional Critical Care Network (ICCN)

Javier Amador-Castaneda, BHS, RRT, FCCM, stands at the forefront of innovative respiratory care as the CEO and founder of ICCN. With a distinguished career rooted in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, he brings expertise and dedication as a Respiratory Care Practitioner. His commitment to excellence traces back to his academic achievements, graduating with honors from Gwynedd Mercy University in Gwynedd Valley, PA, where he specialized in Respiratory Care within the realm of Health Sciences.

Beyond his academic accolades, Mr. Amador-Castaneda's resilience and dedication are evident in his 15-year tenure with the United States Army, where he honorably served and retired as a combat veteran. His passion for critical care has led him to specialize in adult critical care, mechanical ventilation, non-invasive ventilation.

His commitment to elevating the field of critical care doesn't stop there. Mr. Amador-Castaneda is an active member of various prestigious organizations and has served on several committees within the Society of Critical Care Medicine, including the ICU Liberation Committee, the Program Committee, the Future of Critical Care Committee, and the Respiratory Research Section. An esteemed educator in his field, Mr. Amador-Castaneda has lectured nationally, further amplifying his influence and expertise. His contributions to literature include authoring a book chapter for SCCM.

As the visionary behind ICCN, Javier Amador-Castaneda continues to inspire, lead, and champion advancements in healthcare, embodying a legacy of service, knowledge, and innovation.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Javier's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As the CEO of the Interprofessional Critical Care Network (ICCN), one of the most challenging aspects of leadership has been effectively integrating and harmonizing the diverse expertise that our interdisciplinary teams bring to the table. Critical care is an inherently complex and multifaceted field, requiring contributions from practitioners across a variety of specialties—respiratory care, nursing, cardiology, anesthesiology, among others.

The challenge lies in fostering an environment where these experts can collaborate seamlessly while maintaining their individual specializations. This demands a nuanced understanding of each discipline, an open line of communication, and a leadership style that is both directive and inclusive. Moreover, as a proponent of evidence-based medicine, ensuring that we are continually updating our practices in line with the latest research requires a rigorous system of ongoing education and adaptation.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My path to leadership has been a fusion of academic achievement, clinical expertise, and invaluable life lessons. My academic foundations were laid at Gwynedd Mercy University, specializing in Respiratory Care within the realm of Health Sciences. Following graduation, I was privileged to begin my career at the esteemed Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where I further refined my clinical skills amid some of the best in the field.

Yet, a pivotal chapter in my leadership journey was my 15-year tenure with the United States Army. The military experience instilled in me a unique set of values that I carry to this day—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. These values guided me in combat, in relationships with my fellow servicemen and women, and in every decision that required a leader's resolve. They taught me the importance of being part of something greater than oneself, to make rapid but considered decisions, and to work as part of an integrated team—all crucial elements in effective leadership.

After my honorable discharge from the Army, I sought to blend these values with my clinical expertise. This synergistic fusion led to the conceptualization and founding of the Interprofessional Critical Care Network (ICCN). Further, my engagement with various committees within the Society of Critical Care Medicine has offered additional avenues to lead and collaborate on a national scale.

To encapsulate, my leadership ethos is a unique blend of academic rigor, clinical excellence, and a military discipline anchored in the Army values. This harmonious blend has enabled me to strive for and contribute to elevating the standards of care in critical medicine.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

Certainly, the nature of my work involves a unique blend of clinical practice and executive leadership. It's a challenging yet rewarding dichotomy that demands meticulous planning. Here's an outline of how I typically structure my work days, given my dual roles:

Hospital Days at Columbia University Irving Medical Center:

6:00 AM - Wake Up

I begin the day with a quick review of patient cases I'll be overseeing and catch up on the latest research.

7:00 AM - Rounds and Patient Care

Patient care takes precedence as I engage in medical rounds, consultations, and hands-on interventions in the Medical Intensive Care Unit.

12:00 PM - Lunch and Administrative Tasks

Quick lunch while catching up on any urgent correspondence or administrative tasks related to the hospital.

1:00 PM - Continue Rounds and Patient Care

The afternoon is again spent in patient care, often in complex mechanical ventilation cases and acute interventions.

7:00 PM - Wrap-Up and Handover

I wrap up the hospital day by updating patient records and handing over necessary information to the night shift.

8:00 PM - Family Time

A short but quality period to unwind and recharge for the next day.

9:00 PM - ICCN Brief Check

A brief catch-up with the ICCN team, ensuring that operations are running smoothly even in my absence.

11:00 PM - Sleep

Sleep is non-negotiable, given the intensity of my clinical role.


6:00 AM - Wake Up and Strategy Review

I start my day early, reviewing our latest campaigns, metrics, and ongoing projects.

8:00 AM - Content Creation

This time is reserved for creating content for our members, be it articles, webinars, or courses.

12:00 PM - Lunch and Meetings

Lunchtime often involves virtual or face-to-face meetings with team members, partners, or guest speakers.

1:00 PM - Course and Lecture Preparation

I spend my early afternoons working on lectures, and lately, developing three new courses for our upcoming mechanical ventilation course.

4:00 PM - Administrative Oversight

This involves budget reviews, strategy planning, and member outreach activities.

7:00 PM - Dinner and Family Time

A moment to step back and spend time with family.

8:00 PM - Final ICCN Tasks

The evening is spent finalizing tasks, possibly inviting guest speakers, or reviewing content that will be published.

11:00 PM - Sleep

A good night's sleep is imperative to maintain the high-energy levels required for my roles.

Managing this dual commitment demands a rigorous yet fulfilling schedule. It's a testament to the passion I have for both patient care and advancing the field of critical care through ICCN. Every minute is allocated to maximize impact, be it at the bedside in the ICU or at the helm of ICCN.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A recent leadership lesson that has resonated with me anew is the importance of vulnerability in leadership. The traditional image of a leader is often one of invincibility, a person who has all the answers. However, I've found that showing vulnerability, be it admitting to not having all the answers or acknowledging areas where I need to grow, has made me a more effective leader.

The culture in critical care, and indeed in medicine at large, can often value clinical proficiency over emotional intelligence. Yet, whether it's on the front lines in the ICU or in the boardroom, being open about one's limitations creates an environment where team members feel empowered to speak up, offer solutions, and invest themselves in collective goals. This not only fosters a more collaborative environment but also promotes a more holistic approach to problem-solving.

This lesson is particularly salient in the medical field where the stakes are extremely high. Errors can be costly, and hence a culture that encourages open dialogue and learning from mistakes can be particularly beneficial. The concept of vulnerability aligns well with evidence-based practice, where questioning and continuous learning are integral to advancing care.

So, vulnerability should not be seen as a weakness but as a strength that enriches the team and contributes to better patient outcomes and organizational effectiveness.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Reading "The Leadership Challenge" by James Kouzes and Barry Posner had a profound impact on my approach to leadership, especially when combined with my formative experiences leading soldiers in the United States Army. The book emphasizes five practices of exemplary leadership: Model the Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge the Process, Enable Others to Act, and Encourage the Heart. These principles deeply resonated with me and provided a structured framework that complemented the army values I live by—loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

The army taught me the essence of selfless service and the importance of a mission-focused mindset. "The Leadership Challenge" built upon this foundation by emphasizing the human aspects of leadership, such as building relationships, fostering collaboration, and uplifting those around you to achieve common goals. This holistic approach was a paradigm shift for me, reinforcing that effective leadership is not just about completing missions but also about nurturing the growth and well-being of team members.

For example, the practice of "Enable Others to Act" mirrored the army value of respect—trusting others and giving them opportunities to take ownership. It also aligns well with my role in critical care, where multi-disciplinary teamwork is essential for positive patient outcomes.

This book, along with my military experience, have shaped my leadership style into one that is not only mission-oriented but also people-focused. They’ve given me a balanced perspective that I continuously strive to apply, whether it's in the ICU or while steering ICCN toward fulfilling its mission to advance critical care.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If I could impart just one piece of advice to a young leader, it would be this: Learn how to be a great follower in order to become an exceptional leader. Leadership isn't just about directing others; it's about understanding the dynamics of teamwork, the nuances of motivation, and the importance of collective goals. By learning how to be an effective follower, you cultivate essential skills such as active listening, empathy, and the ability to execute tasks diligently. These skills will not only make you a valued team member but also equip you with a more nuanced understanding of what your future subordinates will experience.

In the military, the importance of this principle is quite evident. One begins as a follower, absorbing the army values and understanding the intricacies of teamwork, discipline, and mission focus. Through this process, you internalize the attributes of great leaders you serve under, thereby shaping your own leadership style in a more holistic and effective manner. The same applies to any organization or setting; the attributes that make a good follower often form the foundation of a great leader.

In the realm of critical care and at ICCN, we operate in an environment where the stakes are incredibly high. A leader who understands the perspectives of their team members is better equipped to make informed, considerate decisions that benefit both patient outcomes and team well-being. So, strive to be the best follower you can be, and you will find that the path to exceptional leadership becomes much clearer.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

One of the most meaningful stories that comes to mind from my leadership journey dates back to my time serving in Iraq. It was there that I truly honed my skills as a leader, coming to grips with the essence of my leadership style. There are several archetypes of leaders: those who delegate, the authoritarians, and others. However, I found myself in a different category. I was the kind of leader who earned the respect of my subordinates by working alongside them to accomplish our mission objectives, a principle steeped in the army values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage.

This approach wasn't just beneficial in the theater of war; it was incredibly effective as I transitioned into the civilian world, particularly in the medical field. The notion of 'getting down and dirty' with my team, understanding the challenges they face, and working together towards a solution has been a cornerstone of my leadership style, both in the military and now, as the CEO of ICCN.

The key takeaway for me was that the fundamental tenets of leadership—hard work, selfless service, and influencing others to be the best versions of themselves—are universal. Whether on the battlefield or in the critical care unit, these principles hold true and have been instrumental in shaping the leader I am today. I was able to seamlessly apply the same tactics and values from my military experience to gain the respect and camaraderie of my civilian peers.

So, for those in leadership positions or aspiring to be leaders, know that the attributes that make you effective in one setting are often transferable to another. It all boils down to understanding the nuances of human interaction, teamwork, and shared objectives. This adaptability and deep understanding of leadership dynamics are what I believe make a leader genuinely effective and respected in any setting.

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