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February | 2011


Courageous Leadership

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Courageous Leadership

Are You In or Out?

While I was working with a management team recently, the question came up about commitment and how to they could use the idea of commitment to improve their effort. I shared with them two recent events that had been in the news and we had an enlightening discussion about how we make commitments and about our ability to stick with them or not. The first event was the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration and his famous "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." The second was the extensive news coverage of Amy Chua's current bestseller, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, her memoir of how she raised her children "the Chinese way."

Commitments can be thought of as actions taken today that create a pledge on the part of the individual or organization to a specific direction in the future. What is critical about commitments is that they establish goals that helps everyone dedicate themselves to achieving them.

Just a little more than 5 months after JFK's inaugural challenge to the populous, he moved forward on one of our nation's greatest commitments. Addressing Congress he stated, "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth". The nation mobilized and through a decade of successes and failures, and with a budget of $25 billion ($175 billion in today's dollars), Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made our first extra-terrestrial landing on the Sea of Tranquility, Moon.

A story associated with the moon mission describes a congressman who was undecided about voting to approve the billions needed for the mission. He made a trip to Houston TX to visit NASA for himself. He toured the complex and spoke with all the key administrators until well into the early evening. Upon leaving he walked across a large hanger and saw a man sweeping the floor with a broom. He approached the man, "Excuse me what are you doing here, this late? Seems everyone else has gone home." The janitor at NASA answered, "I'm helping to put a man on the moon, sir." As the story goes, the congressman decided then and there to support the mission. "If we have this kind of commitment to accomplish this mission, across all levels of employees at NASA, then I'm going to support it."

Amy Chua's commitment for raising her children came less from a firm decision made at their birth than from her own experiences as a child, being raised by her immigrant Chinese parents. She was required to speak Chinese at home and was "whacked" with chopsticks for every English word she uttered. Her parents demanded all "A"s in school and she and her siblings were expected to receive first place awards in school competitions. The results—Amy is a Yale Law Professor, with a happy marriage, and a best selling book that has started a national debate on parenting—(not too shabby!)

But as we discussed her sense of commitment to her parenting style and even as she has had to adapt the style to reflect the growing up of her children, one of the members of the management team shared a comment by her 18 year old daughter, Sophia Chua which she felt summarized the power of her mother's commitment.

"So what does it really mean to live life to the fullest? Maybe striving to win a Nobel Prize and going skydiving are just two sides of the same coin. It's about knowing that you've pushed yourself, body and mind, to the limits of your own potential. You feel it when you're sprinting, and when the piano piece you've practiced for hours finally comes to life beneath your fingertips. You feel it when you encounter a life-changing idea, and when you do something on your own that you never thought you could. If I died tomorrow, I would die feeling I've lived my whole life at 110 percent. And for that, Tiger Mom, thank you." (Courtesy, NY Post)

To marshal the power of commitment may not require a national effort but it may require that we expect the best from the people we work with on a daily basis. Here are some of the ideas the management team came up with and are beginning to implement within their business division:

  • Get input — Everyone has a voice and seeking out those voices is essential to obtaining commitment. Everyone on the team wants to know that their ideas, opinions and values are respected and can help improve the workplace. For a new project, one manager reported using an on-line survey to provide his staff the opportunity to give weekly feedback, on an anonymous basis, on how their implementation was proceeding.
  • Create clarity — The hardest step in commitment building is knowing what you want to achieve. Get this done and you are 50% there. After deciding on what you want to do, follow up with the action steps that are directly tied to the commitment. What got the Congressman to vote for the Apollo mission and for Amy Chua to raise her children fiercely was their conviction that they were doing the right thing.
  • Push through the dip — Author Seth Godin describes how everyone faces that moment of truth in a project when progress seems slowed, ideas are absent, and motivation is missing. Quit or Stick, that is the question? If you find yourself thinking that even your commitment to this project may not be enough to get through the difficult challenges, consider that it is a dip, persevere and push through to the next step. Look at the outcomes you are achieving and if you are creating outputs, you are probably on target.
  • Keep your commitment in front of your team and yourself — Professional and college sports teams are surrounded by constant reminders of how to become champions, in their locker room, training quarters and on their iPods. One call center manager has her electronic reader board include positive statements for her call center team, even calling out staff members who provided terrific customer service.
  • Celebrate success — Acknowledging victories can be around the big successes but it is equally important to recognize small wins. One manager told me he writes personal thank you notes to his staff who put in extra work on a project while another buys gift cards as a way of congratulating team members after a successful sale. Focusing on the wins builds a great team and reinforces the commitment.

Commitments help us focus our energies towards the goals that are truly important to us in our work and lives. Commitments come from something we both desire and believe in. Find the right one for yourself and your team and follow through to the finish line.


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TED Talks

William Ury is an author, speaker but most importantly a negotiator For the past 30 years he has travelled the world working to ease tensions through mediation. In this elegant TED talk, he provides simple tools for conflict management such as going to the balcony and being on the 3rd side. He also shares an ancient tale that he believes holds hope for peace in the most troubled part of the world. Conflict occurs around the globe and in our lives. This talk has a message for all of us. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/william_ury.html


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The Health Care Corner

Having You in the Center of the Health Care Equation

For most physicians, a key part of their training is to "shadow" other doctors so that they can see how they treat their patients. For most young physicians this may mean visiting 30 or more patients per day while listening and learning from their mentor. A new approach to this training model is being done at New York University's School of Medicine where the Curriculum for the 21st century takes a slightly different approach. In this training program, young physicians shadow patients rather than doctors. The idea behind this program is to help doctors develop better listening and empathy skills so that they can better understand what the medical experience is for the patient. This in turn will build the patient-physician relationship ultimately yielding (it is hoped) better medical outcomes.

As healthcare moves to a more "patient-centered" model, concepts like empathy will become more important. In a recent study on how cancer doctors interact with their patients, it was reported that the oncologists only responded empathetically to their patients 22% of the time when it was noted that an empathetic rather than clinical response was most appropriate.

While we all want to be listened to and understood, it all too often fails to happen in the medical office. Perhaps it is a lack of time or a failure to use our best relationship skills. According to medical researcher Diane Morse, MD, patient-doctor interactions that use listening and empathy skills are not only quicker but more effective.

When you visit your doctor, along with your list of medical concerns, make sure your doctor is looking, listening and understanding what you have to say. Your care will be better and both you and your doctor will have a better experience.


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