King of the Mountain

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King of the Mountain

 

Umpteen times I’ve tried to finish this blog over a span of almost two years.  It seemed that every time I’d return to this draft that there would be an even bigger national tragedy that would force my attention away from discussing healthcare leadership.  What we see now and what we will suffer for years to come, humbles and grieves me.  However, to call me a snowflake would show a lack of understanding of the power of a snowflake.  I am from Michigan and I’ve seen snowflakes take out a Ford F150.  Regardless, let’s move this draft to a posting.

How many times have you had to report to someone who had been promoted to a position of management or directorship because of qualities that had nothing to do with the job of leadership?  For many of us, unfortunately, this has occurred way too many times.  If this incompetent manager keeps to himself and implodes on his own, we can breathe a sigh of relief having missed a bullet.  Unfortunately, this person will usually feel compelled to wield this newly assigned position of power and may even thrive convincing those whom he reports of his “management skills” while he leaves broken people and their careers in his wake.

One of the hallmarks of the current political scene is a lack of diplomacy and decency.  Sadly, we have seen a tacit acceptance of this “non-politically correctness” spread to the work place, in social media, and even in the discussion about leadership.  We know this toxic language and these people.  If they lived in our neighborhood, making every excursion outside of our home a nightmare or terrorized our playground at recess, we quickly learned.  If they weren’t physically bigger, they had a gang, or a streak of meanness that was intimidating.  Most of the nice kids were totally unprepared for this.  It was always easier to take the long way home, drop a class, or go out for another sport.

My condolences if you encounter this person as an adult.  Worse if he becomes your supervisor at work.  Intimidation, harassment, discrimination, or lack of respect in the proverbial tool box of this manager is nothing less than an excuse to being a bully.  Why is it that these people placed at the top of the leadership pyramid feel that those under them are inferior, do not deserve their respect, and are nothing less than cogs in the company’s machine that can be discarded and replaced?  

Thankfully, this bullying approach doesn’t always go unnoticed or succeed.  A Gallup poll of more one million employed U.S. workers concluded that the number 1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor.  Furthermore, the findings indicate people leave managers not companies.  Therefore, turnover is mostly a manager issue.  Fingers crossed here:  it appears that companies are finding out that bad bosses are bad for business.

But here we are again, like legislating supply side economics, we are giving this failed approach another go.  For now.

For those of us who are drawn to leadership, one thing to keep in mind is that leadership, like so many skills, is just that.  It can be acquired over years of specific training followed by more years of trial and error.  And all through this process, someone who wants to be a leader has to keep an open mind and learn with every failure and every wrong turn. Success, I’ve found, should only be savored for a short while because the next challenge is just around the bend.  Keeping an open mind is about not getting too cocky.  Or feeling you can bend your staff to your will by bullying.

It is my considered opinion of decades of being led as well as leading, is that people usually know early in their careers if they should lead.  There are times it might feel like striving for a job as a manager or director is the only next upward step in career.  That choice might turn out disastrous not only for you, but also for the inevitable collateral damage of others.  On a personal level, working towards a management job may simply be a case of a lack of imagination.  Corporate-think?

Instead of pursuing the path of leadership when every cell in your body is tugging you in a different direction, take a few breaths and consider what you enjoy, or don’t enjoy, about your job.  Do you really want to face the daily demands of leadership while, at the same time, discover ways to inspire and give direction to your team while putting your own ego aside?  Seeing to staff details, such as reconciling time cards is important, but I’d argue it is not as important reviewing and confirming the context of the Why of the work and setting goals that make sense.

These are what I think are the imperatives for successful leadership:

  1. Hire the right people
  2. Guide and give direction to your people on a regular schedule
  3. Set the context of all activity and continually review and confirm the context
  4. Provide your people the resources they need to succeed and be intuitive to know when they need the resources before they do
  5. Remember that your people’s successes is your success.

Pharrel Williams in a 2016 interview stated:  To me, the old definition of leadership is “Look at me, I’m a leader.”  But the new definition should be “No, actually, look at you—I’m listening.”

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It’s the Same Old Story – Everywhere You Go

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Although it is outside of my context, I can’t help but hear Paul Simon sing: “Keep the Customer Satisfied” when I’ve told my teams—regardless of the make-up of that team and their pay grade, status, and job responsibilities—that we all must practice good customer service each and every day.

I remind them in team meetings and individually that by giving all of our patients good customer service that we build relationships, encourage communication, cut down the number of missed appointments, and improve results for everyone involved.

I’m sure that I don’t need to lecture anyone in healthcare that this is one of the three components of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) Triple Aim of optimizing health system performance. Many of us feel that this point drives the other two. Specifically stated, we need to:

Improve the patient experience of care (including quality and satisfaction).

In healthcare (as it is in retail and other businesses), the customer who presents himself with a physician’s order or walks into the shop is easily identifiable. What I’ve done in my training is to make my staff aware that everyone—including not just the patients and referral sources, but also their peers at work—are customers. They all deserve to be approached and catered to as valued customers.

This refrain echoes the Golden Rule, but I feel that it rings just as true as ever. And, like practicing the Golden Rule of “One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself,” I understand that compliance is not always easy. The challenge here, however, doesn’t lessen the importance of this goal.

Can you teach good customer service? Is it innate? Can you change people’s behavior?

In the military, boot camp goes over and over certain actions that usually do not come naturally to most men and women: think bayonet drills.   It is said that when you are placed in a challenging situation, you will not survive by resorting to your instinct; the constant drilling makes sure that you, instead, fall back on your training.

With this mantra in mind, I teach and regularly review chosen relaxation exercises with my patients. This repetition, I’ve found, assures that my exercises become embedded, nearly second nature, and effective for my patients who are striving to find peace following trauma.

Good customer service training is critical and it is imperative that all of your staff knows what you mean and what is your expectation for their performance.

Social workers beware! Being empathic, caring and approachable is not always the same as good customer service. These traits, however, are key in establishing a relationship, but don’t necessarily line up with how your organization wants you to perform.

For many new trainees, learning an organization’s protocols and approaches may feel foreign and so patience and nurturing needs to be built into the education. Written manuals that are distributed to staff to review and be quizzed on periodically in the first three months is pretty standard and can serve as a benchmark for the trainer to know what lessons need more explanation and who needs more education.

The leader/trainer, at the same time, becomes a model of customer service.

Like children, we all watch and imitate senior staff especially in jobs that are new to us. At the same time, if we identify inconsistencies or a loophole, like teenagers, we will exploit it and shrug off the earlier lessons. After all, as a wise man once said, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.”

So here is another challenge in leadership: Walking the talk.

Not unlike conscientious parents, leaders nurture, provide guidance, show patience, and present opportunities for growth to our staff. Furthermore, leaders do not show preference to one staff over another or abuse the power one pay grade or hierarchical position has over another.

How do you measure customer service success?

Can it be done with customer endorsement, new referrals, new revenue sources, improved patient satisfaction scores, or low staff turnover?

The answer is yes.

But time, two to three years, is important to pass with the implementation of customer service education to truly determine if it is the leadership approach is making the difference, rather than a slow feedback loop for collecting data or a delayed accounts payable system.

Strive to be that Bridge Over Troubled Waters. (Sorry, Rhymin’ Simon)

Digging For Answers

Archeologists have been called a number of names. Of those that don’t make me cringe, “Reverse Engineers” is one of my favorites.

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Personalities aside, one of our skills should include the ability to dismantle a current situation to its origins. As reverse engineers, we rely on the artifacts and data we discover along the way to compare with what has been uncovered before. As scientists, we are delighted and excited with how our findings do or do not line up with what others think. Debate and an evolution in thinking is all part of the scientific process. It is dynamic, cerebral, often passionate, and, for the most part, fun.

This should be the case for all applied social sciences.

 

 In my role as a healthcare leader, I have coordinated many planning meetings. Like others, I have used the SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) approach to generate ideas and direct the discussion of planning groups to action plans and goals that everyone present can agree on. These discussions are for brainstorming and are usually optimistic about the future.

Another planning approach that appeals to the reverse engineer in me is called the Pre-mortem or the Failure Dream exercise.

This is how I present the Failure Dream:

  1. I have everyone participate in a simple relaxation exercise to shake off some of the daily stress and open their minds and imagination. I will usually lead Pranayama breathing of full and deep diaphragmatic breathing in and out of the nose.
  2. With eyes still closed, I have everyone focus on a specific project that is being considered for implementation.
  3. I then announce that this project has been implemented BUT has failed. Everyone opens their eyes and have only two minutes to write down all the reasons why it has failed.
  4. Next, they hand in their reasons.
  5. I share these reasons on a white board with the group. Unlike in the SWOT exercise, I encourage people to debate the reasons of failure.
  6. With this information in hand, I can then:
  • re-evaluate the project and consider scuttling it before it reaches implementation.
  • But,if the project moves forward, I use this list as a punch card to assure that all possibilities of failure are being addressed.

I have found that participants will be more candid and less cognizant of the opinions of their peers and leader in this exercise because it is unexpected and the reasons are written quickly.

Reverse engineering can uncover concerns not always recognized when you and your organization is charging forward.

In my last blog I listed the fundamental skills identified by David Autor of MIT needed to succeed in all jobs. They were:

  1. Communicate
  2. Tell a story
  3. Analyze
  4. Articulate

Although I am admittedly the least imaginative storyteller in my family, I still savor an imaginative story delivered with passion. Our hero (many times not a hero at all in the beginning) will probably face huge odds. He/She will probably fail, learn, regroup, and return again face the “Beast” or “Abomination” and finally succeed.

The power of a compelling story can inspire and change people’s perceptions and prejudices. It can also reinforce our beliefs and values. During his life, the great mythologist Joseph Campbell developed the theory of the “Hero’s Journey” and its power to strengthen our cultural story.

Joseph Campbell saw universal patterns embedded in myths, spiritual literature, fairy tales, popular books, and films, as well as in psychological development.

The man credited with “Follow your bliss,” identified twelve stages in the heroic or mythic journey for the archetype hero. They are in order:

  1. The Ordinary World
  2. The Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meeting with the Mentor
  5. Crossing the Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies and Enemies
  7. Approach
  8. The Ordeal
  9. The Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. The Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

As a frame of reference think of Jason and the Argonauts, Jesus of Nazareth in the New Testament, Beowulf, Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit, Buffy Summers in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Star Lord in Guardians of the Galaxy. Campbell wrote that when we find the abomination, we find God. For it is those moments that we gain awakening and growth.

 All of these heroes embarked on a journey that was difficult and yet they persevered even with opportunities to back out. We are all on a journey, and so are our projects.

As I briefly noted above, these universal patterns can be seen not only in the journeys of our cultural, spiritual, and mythical national heroes, but also in our own personal journey.

Psychologist David Gordon in his 2007 work Mindful Dreaming saw that our sleeping dreams followed a similar pattern to that outlined by Joseph Campbell. He listed these stages as:

  1. The Calling
  2. The Quest
  3. Illumination
  4. The Return

In his practice, David Gordon counseled individuals to use their dreams to heal and to move forward.   Furthermore, he encouraged his clients to indentify seemingly threatening individuals in their dreams as mentors. Yes, mentors.

These mentors are there to lend a helping hand and facilitate the dreamer’s intentions regardless how threatening or off-putting they may seem at first (harking back to Dr. Campbell and his stage 4). Gordon asks his clients to immediately write down their dreams and then to share these dreams in groups.

His intention is that his clients will learn not to fear their dreams, but as a returning hero, become their own mentor.

Gordon concludes, “It is shamethe most powerful negative human thoughtthat alienates us from awareness of our true nature.”

Instead of fearing ones dreams and “nightmares,” it is our dreams that help us identify our problems and then provides us a way to a more fulfilling life along our own Heroic Journey.

That Eohippus Blog Post

EohippusI have heard it asked in interviews: “If you were an animal. What animal would you be?”

In spite of the dubious nature of this question in a job interview and, at the same time, scanning the personal photos decorating the office of the interviewer searching for evidence of a cat or dog fancier, you still need to provide an answer that doesn’t sound ironic of dismissive. I don’t know what the right answer might be, but in today’s job market, you may feel like you are an Eohippus.

For a brief moment consider the Eohippus. I will be the first to admit that it is an odd choice that you may not be readily familiar and one your interviewer is not prepared: unless he loves horses.

In spite of being ancient (enjoying the plant-rich climate of the Eocene Epoch which takes us back about 50 million years), with no modern relatives surviving in North America, and small enough to look a cocker spaniel in the eye, the Eohippus would still be identified to be a horse by our modern eye. There it stood: possessing the adaptability and keen sense of survival to advance its genes tens of millions of years before the appearance of the first hominid. Yet the Eohippus refused to become one of those strange antediluvian finds: its remains looked like a horse and all paleontological evidence indicated that it acted like a horse.

Go Team Eohippus!

What do you think are the persistent fundamental skills that are still valuable in every work domain?

According to David Autor, an MIT economist who has written on technological change and employment growth, in an interview on FreakonomicsRadio, listed these fundamental skills as the ability to:

  1. Communicate
  2. Tell a story
  3. Analyze
  4. Articulate

Notably, these skills are not necessarily inherent to or taught in any single discipline.

At one point in my career as a medical social worker I know that I expressed a bias that these traits are the bread and butter of every social worker and counselor. I was proud that we medical social workers brought a skill set to the hospital just as important as the surgical skills of a surgeon and the manual therapy healing of the physical therapist. In fact, my graduate thesis that I completed while I was working full-time as a medical social worker, leaned heavily in the direction that the abilities associated with social work makes for the most effective hospital leadership: self-serving, no? I have, thankfully, learned a lot since that time.

Regardless, I like this brief list of skills and think that they are just as relevant now as they were in the analog days.

It is helpful to remember that there are some fundamental skills that are portable to your next job, but these skills identified by David Autor, however, can’t be laid aside and sit idle. They need to be challenged and honed.

How do you do this when you aren’t working in a field of our choosing? Here is my short list of activities. These are certainly not inclusive and I invite you to add others:

  • Volunteer at an organization that shares your values.
  • Write and/or journal not just about your feelings, but about your passions and what gives your life meaning.
  • Meet to talk with trusted friends in your line of work. Don’t make these meetings all about work, make them personal too.
  • Create spreadsheets about your efforts and expenses in your work search. Keep those tools of management sharp and ready for redeployment.
  • Read about changes and trends in not just your field, but in other industries as well. It never ceases to amaze me just how brilliance has so many applications.
  • Attend continuing education classes and/or webinars.
  • This is a good time to work on improving performance in your sport and maybe discover a new activity.

French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote: The most glorious moments in your life are not the so-called days of success, but rather those days when out of dejection and despair you feel rise in you a challenge to life, and the promise of future accomplishments.

In conclusion: Ride that Eohippus long and hard!

Healthcare Leadership in a Time of Change

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I do not think that I am alone when I have been directed to be a leader when, in fact, what the demand was for me to be a manager.

What some people don’t seem to understand is that there is a difference. Those of us being managed or led, however, know the difference. Essentially, leaders are those who have set a vision for the organization and then influence others into action. They take time to get to know their people, their career goals, and what drives them. Leaders need others to lead and leaders focus on who and why.

General George Washington inspired and led other Americans against formidable odds. He knew the difference in leadership versus managing and what happens when people are empowered. He wrote: “Perseverance and spirit have done wonders in all ages.”

Managers, on the other hand, supervise and control systems and processes to meet organization goals and objectives. Managers also know when the task needs to be completed, but do not necessarily need subordinates to carry out the task. Managers set the what, where, when, and how. They make sure that the trains run on time.

When it comes to getting tasks completed, leaders have already laid the groundwork by continuously educating their teams on the vision and the role they all play. As a result, even assignments that are initially a hassle are faced knowing that what they are doing is moving the organization forward. Managers don’t spend as much time in educating and mentoring subordinates because their focus is not on the “who”, so when orders are issued, they are usually received grudgingly.

It has been my experience that most of us would rather report to a leader who has made an equal investment in his organization and his people.

You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. This phrase famously appears in Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and still speaks to me in spite of this global weather craziness.

Changes in healthcare are steadily blowing all of us from a competitive world to one of collaboration and integration. I personally enjoy this environment of sharing and cooperation, but this paradigm change can also pose new challenges for managers and leaders alike.

For your organization’s and your success as a leader in this endeavor make sure that you:

  1. Identify the market and population and the service/product with which you want to collaborate.
  2. Specify what other organizations you are willing to collaborate.
  3. Make sure that you, your boss, and your boss’s boss are all clear on the borders of the collaboration. Discuss, write down, and sign off on the rules of this collaboration prior to any contact with the other organization.
  4. Once contact is made, communicate regularly in writing to your boss and your boss’s boss on your progress of the collaboration and about any issues.

Lets be clear that your organization wants to hold onto its market share it has planned and fought so hard to obtain. Still, there are opportunities here that can be of mutual benefit and to the community.

Successful collaboration is breaking down the walls between competing organizations, advocating a paradigm change and demonstrating how it is done, and handpicking and inspiring a team that has the skills, but will look to you for the resources, the ideas, and the communication and feedback. This is a call for leadership.

An Appreciation of this Moment

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One of my favorite quotes is from W.H. Auden.

Thou shalt not sit with statisticians nor commit

A social science.

Thou shalt not live within thy means

Nor on plain water and raw greens.

If thou must choose between the chances, choose the odd:

Read The New Yorker, trust in God;

And take short views.

The last stanza, as many scholars will tell you is a nod and wink to Reverend Sydney Smith who handed off this football coach-like advice: Take short views, hope for the best, and trust in God.

W.H. Auden was a brilliant and bold writer who was known to make few compromises in his art or in his personal life. He was also no football coach.

As a social scientist and a manager I couldn’t agree with him more about with whom to sit or socialize although I have found many anthropologists to be witty drinking buddies.

I part ways, however, with Auden and the Reverend Smith about taking the short view although I’m all for living in the moment without being hamstrung by the past I can’t change and the future I don’t know.

It has been taking the long view, however, where I have developed a profound understanding, and yes, sympathy, of people, events, and even organizations. By taking the long view, I back up from the situation, take a few mindful breaths, and discover what I perceived as black and white is really more variations of grey. With grey comes empathy, recognition of the ambiguity of life, and, hopefully, acceptance and peace.

Some people may appear not to be capable of taking the long view like the elderly and the dying, but having spent time with the elderly and dying, they, too, even in their suffering are thinking about the future and most often, the future that doesn’t include them. They are thinking about their legacy. That is if they are conscious and are still able to navigate their fate. Here is an opportunity for the rest of us who are not as aware of the slippery slope that is life, to watch or help and learn.

Breathe.

Living in the moment, on the other hand, is liberating and can be a goal of a Yoga practice. Listening closely to instructions, not anticipating, and focusing on every movement and breath allows us to transcend the monkey brain that all of us grapple to control.

Like a Yoga practice, Mindfulness is challenging and liberating. Mindfulness is a therapeutic approach composed of the three key interdependent elements of:

1. Awareness,

2. Of present experience,

3. With acceptance.

By becoming aware of the minute details of every activity like eating, walking, and even breathing, many of my clients, especially those plagued with anxiety, will find a peace that had been eluding them since their injury. I tell them: By slowing the breath, the heart and the mind will follow.

Short view or long view, the act of living deserves observation and appreciation.

David Henry Thoreau famously said: The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.  Believing that to be true, how can we spend so much of our time hating one another? Yet hate and fear appear to be the motor driving many people’s ambitions and relationships with others. My experience has taught me that life is fragile and needs to be handled accordingly. The Yogi Emily Dickinson observed: To live is so startling, it leaves but little room for other occupations.

I do love those New Yorker cartoons.

Breathe.

A Brief Farewell To My Lifelong Friend

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Even though we went our separate ways after junior high, I always figured that David Wallin Shaw and I would always be available to each other to talk over a coffee or a dinner.  We were friends in grade school and our families were together on most Friday and Sunday nights. In kindergarten, Dave was in love with Diane and had planned on marrying her when the right moment would present itself.  His time never came and I married Diane.

We started bumping into each other at a hospital workout gym and we were both surprised to see what kind of men we became.  When Dave was diagnosed with the disease that would kill him this weekend, he had one of his sisters contact me and we rekindled our friendship.  We found that we could still lean on each other and talk about almost anything.  These last few years have been trying for both of us, but it has been a privilege for me to spend them with Dave again.

Relevance and Resumes

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“Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For indeed that’s all who ever have. ”

Margaret Mead, The World Ahead: An Anthropologist Anticipates the Future

Margaret Mead, perhaps one of the most popular modern anthropologists, is best known for her work in explaining that gender roles varied from culture to culture and that all cultures should be weighed equally. She did this in profound and yet sweeping statements that made a lot of sense to those of us entering adulthood in the early 70’s. We were rejecting the truths of our parents knowing that there were better answers out there. I found great joy that her research and conclusions made many members of the Greatest Generation red with rage. And here Margaret Mead was of that same generation.

Not related to Margaret Mead or to those living in Samoa, I have found first as an only child to two career minded older parents and later making some independent (and sometimes foolish) choices that I missed out on having siblings to mock and roughly guide me along my life journey.

My parents, God love them, gave me unrelenting praise and plenty of freedom and rope to hang myself. My impression is if I had a sister or brother that they would jar me into reality every time I would be feeling good about myself with an insult or a smack in the back of my head: immediate feedback.

On my career journey I have discovered a wisdom I was not expecting. I have found that I do not have an audience (or even pigs towards which to toss!) these pearls. I think that people in my generation are discovering we have failed in our experiment to improve society and are becoming less relevant to the generations that are in our wake. America needed a Generation X president. Have you ever wondered why so many men over fifty years old are consultants or Something or Other Emeritus? These situations are the career opposite of being turned out to stud.

Regardless, one such pearl I’d like to toss out is that you need to make sure that you have more tools in your skill toolbox than Cute. Cute has a limited life span of which I located my end just recently. Actually, I no longer had Cute in my toolbox when I turned 39 years old, I just didn’t know that until I was about 59 years old. Yes, my house has mirrors, but I don’t have siblings to set me straight. Also, I am nearsighted.

Be aware, however, that Experience may not be the word you want to replace what Cute might have done for you in the past. Experience equates to Old and that is not a highly sought out asset in the eyes of many. It is better to take on the qualifications of the job you seek head on and pray that someone looking at your resume knows you.

I have another pearl that I want to share that may be helpful for those seeking new employment. Attitude is crucial for success especially with interacting with people who don’t know your history. Related to this is that I have found in my readings published in this new millennium is that I can happily draw a line connecting many of our major religions. This line is that you have to let go of hate and to love your enemy to be truly free. Nice.

The cynic in me might declare that this conclusion is simply a ploy to calm those who thrive on hate and/or to better prepare others for their inevitable loosening of their mortal coil; but I choose not to be that cynic today. Good for me!

Margaret Mead appreciated the world as a salad bar of so many elements and combinations only limited by one’s imagination. Gender, like color, like culture, like age were to be wondered at and embraced simply for their intrinsic humanness. I love her, and miss her, when I quote her: “I measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her fellow human beings.”

Dad

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If he was still living, my dad would have turned 94 years old this month.  Even though I spent my first decade admiring him and my second and third decade challenging him, I now see clearly the lessons he taught me in spite of myself.

 

Charles D. Southard was a product of the time period, between the world wars and a middle class upbringing that persevered even during the Great Depression.  The important lesson he learned from his Chief of Police father was that there was employment security in civil service. 

 

Later, as I began seeking my career, he expanded his short list of employments with strong security to health care.  My own experience, however, as well as the experience of thousands of others, contradicts those words of wisdom spoken over three decades ago.

 

My dad did what he felt society expected of him.  He finished high school, attended college, enlisted in the Army Air Corps shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked, got married, found a white collar job that had him working Monday through Friday, and raised a kid that seemed to reflect his values back at him.

 

The Greatest Generation, I’m beginning to realize and much to my chagrin, was aptly named.  His generation was, in many ways, also the generation of chivalry and politeness.

 

Throughout his lifetime, my dad held a number of leadership positions.  Most notably to me was that he served as an officer in the United States Air Force until he retired.  (Believe me, the uniform makes an impression on a boy.)

 

What my dad taught me about being a leader was not explicit, but it was more in how he led his life and in the parsing of little bits of wisdom such as:

 

Attend college and never stop educating yourself.

 

Dress professionally and error towards dressing up too much.

 

Speak politely and never use profanity.  Profanity just shows the limit of your vocabulary.

 

Value your friendships.

 

When you are in the presence of women, open doors, sit up from your desk or table, help them off with their coats, and pull back their chairs.

 

Always be nice to kids (unless its obvious that they’re brats).

 

Go the extra distance for your family mostly because it’s the right thing to do and its fun to surprise them.

 

Always have a good story to tell.

 

Try to make people laugh even at your own expense.

 

And last, but not least:  When in doubt, take the high road.

 

I still find myself falling back on his advice when I feel like I don’t have an easy choice and I feel an emotional hug when I hear his words when the world seems unforgiving.

 

In my dad’s aging with his ever-expanding needs for my help in his slow and painful journey towards death, I discovered new capabilities that I think more clearly defined my own approach to leadership. 

 

Accountability

I was no longer willing to take a passive role to the advice of professionals.

 

I questioned all medical, financial, and legal advice, especially by those who apparently couldn’t accept my dad’s declining health.  I became that barrier that those professionals had to convince first. 

 

It took a while, but those that we continued to see learned to come prepared.

 

Goal Driven

I let certain things pass if those differences didn’t get in the way of the appropriate care my dad needed to be comfortable and safe.

 

Collegiality

I found that I could be direct and honest with my dad without hurting his feelings or turning him from me, because he knew he could always trust me and that I would never let him down.

 

Dependability

I was always there when he needed me whether it was to screw in a light bulb on my way home from work or help him off the floor (again) at 2 AM.  I never wanted him to feel guilty for calling me.

 

Essentially, my dad never stopped teaching me lessons. 

 

Happy Birthday, Dad.

 

Culture & Leading: Creeps, Generation Gaps and the Importance of Reading

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I think about culture a lot. 

 

Not just now, but for as long as I can remember. 

 

It may be because I was adopted and never knowing my biological roots that I’ve felt like an ethnologist in the field:  seeing interactions and relationships from an objective standpoint:  an observer.  And this is here, in my community, and for nearly sixty years.

 

This role of ethnologist, however, is one I apparently cannot turn off.

 

The Cultural Creep

 

At a recent breakfast, my friend Randy shared an article that concluded that one needs to avoid using long and complex words while being interviewed for a job because doing so may perplex and prejudice the interviewer against you.  Without missing a beat, I saw this as yet another example that our American culture is continuing to widen the strata between classes.  (And not an article in how to interview better to land that job.)

 

In the 60’s and 70’s, it was my observation that you could be poor economically, but that we all strove to be at least intellectually equal.  My generation could go months without a haircut and years without new jeans, but we eagerly grabbed for scholarships and grants to go to college.  And everyone read. 

 

We all read and, many times, the same books and periodicals.  Here, the gap was breeched.  Doctors and lawyers and professors talked with social workers and construction workers and students.

 

The Internet promised us access to more intellectual property, but instead we were flooded with pop culture.  What adjustment hasn’t occurred is that any posting is now weighed as equals to properly vetted scholarly texts.  Sadly, on the Internet and in a growing number of media, discrimination isn’t exercised and now we are witnessing more parochial divisions among Americans since the time where credibility was weighed by simple literacy.

 

For your consideration I’d like to suggest a not too long and complex word to describe this cultural spread creep:  Insidious.

 

The Importance of an Open Mind

 

In wanting to be open minded, a trait we all aspired to at one time, I see where many people have become, well, a little simple minded.  Searching for the absolute, the black and white, I find many people over looking the varying shades of gray that color most issues.

Reading books rip off the filter of this kind of monochromatic thinking.  Again, I’m talking about literature and properly researched papers.  (Unlike this blog and many others; please accept this part of my post as a rant.)

 

I do think, however, that the newest generation to enter adulthood, Generation Y, is more socially conscientious than previous generations before, especially my own.  (Rant, rant, rant.)  I do appreciate this generational attribute of openness and I want to believe that all the prejudices that held America from true enlightenment will become a footnote (versus a foot trail) in our history.  Meanwhile, please don’t rule me out as a job candidate simply because my favorite word is culpable.

 

Culture, defined by one of my favorite anthropologists, Marvin Harris, are patterns of behavior, thought, and feelings that are acquired or influenced through learning and that are characteristic of groups of people rather than of individuals…In other words, a culture is the total socially-acquired life-way or life-style of a particular group of people.  Culture, Man, and Nature (p. 136).

 

Leading Today

 

In order to be an effective leader, I analyze the culture of the team or clinic or organization I am being assigned.  I do this by watching people perform their duties, how they interact with one another, and then by asking lots of questions.  I ask not only questions to those who are part of the culture, but also to those who depend on a group to produce a service or product.  I find learning this new culture is continuous and often fun.  I see that generational differences are a significant variable that can’t be ignored.

 

Before long, I can “go native” regardless of the educational and licensed differences.  I find that once we share a common language and common goals, getting things done is much easier.

 

However, cultures are dynamic and there are times when cultures need to change to meet the goals of the organization.  A few management experts predict that it takes no less than four years and with focused repetition to change a work culture.  If steady and continuous education and support fail to change the culture, there is the “cleaning house” strategy.  That “nuclear” approach, however, comes with a price.

 

Peter Drucker, world renown management consultant and self proclaimed “Christian-conservative anarchist” and social-ecologist, in 1973 and then in 2008, warned us that there are deep ethical implications with making changes simply to meet short-term and the egocentric needs of a manager.

 

Business enterprises are organs of society.  They do not exist for their own sake, but to fulfill a specific social purpose and to satisfy a specific need of a society, a community, or individuals.  (Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, p. 37)

 

But if (a man) lacks in character and integrity—no matter how knowledgeable, how brilliant, how successful—he destroys.  He destroys people, the most valuable resource of the enterprise.  (Management, p. 287)

 

Your self-anointed ethnologist wants to remind you managers to do your research, ask lots of questions (without assuming to know the correct answers), and be careful when analyzing cultures different from your own.  If you keep an open mind, you will enjoy learning about another culture and invariably something about yourself, too.