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CIO Unplugged – 11/1/08

November 1, 2008 Ed Marx No Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally, and are not necessarily representative of Texas Health Resources or its subsidiaries.

Caught, Not Taught
By Ed Marx

We read a tremendous amount of books in my division. Each quarter we start four new book classes, and they fill up within twenty-four hours of release. We teach everything from leadership and teamwork, to service and creativity. As shared in the post “Chief Intake Officer,” it’s imperative for an IT leader to continuously learn and refresh knowledge. Attending conferences and such are other ways of doing this. But I’ll be the first to admit that these traditional learning methods will never offer a comprehensive package for professional development. Why?

Because some things can only be caught, not taught.

Ready to go deeper? Do you have a desire to take your leadership development to the next level? I’m about to get intimate here, and if that makes you uncomfortable, then I suggest you flip to the next blog or run Joost. Otherwise, grab a cup of coffee, kick off your shoes, prop your feet on the desk, and let’s get personal.

First, I confess that I’m not the pro in this area, but it’s something I wholeheartedly believe in and aspire to improve on. Like you, I’m on a continual learning curve. So let me ask you the questions I’ve asked myself. Deep down, why do you do what you do? Are you in it to make a buck or make a name for yourself? Are those around you simply steppingstones and worker bees that your eyes glance over when you come to work each day and then never think about once you’re home? Do you truly care about your people, your team—other than for what you can get out of them?

I’m talking about compassionate leadership. The American Heritage Dictionary defines compassion as a “Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it.” If what I do isn’t benefiting humanity, beginning with my own circle of influence, then I’d have to question my purpose in life. My heart motivation. I won’t be taking my plaques and recognition awards with me when I die, which means all earthly laurels have fading value in the light of eternity. Life is too short not to care about others. Life is too short not to care. Period.

Action, not talk. I want those of my staff who desire to one day become managers to know that management is about service. They can listen to me expound on the virtues of servant leadership but my teaching will have little impact unless they see me demonstrate it. When we study compassionate leadership, it is not enough just to analyze Mother Teresa. If I want my team to adopt her attitude or sympathy, then I have to do what she did. So I start by serving my team in tangible ways. Involvement with my staff shows them I care, I’m interested. This involvement materializes in ways both simple and complex.

An excuse to party. It is not unusual for me to surprise staff with an ice cream fest. I not only serve them, but I also handle the shopping and delivery of goods. On occasion, my employer gives me tickets to professional ballgames to which it would be politically correct to invite peer execs and direct reports. Instead, I turn those opportunities in to hang time with staff, and offer the tickets to people who may not normally have the resources to attend a game. I find it easier to talk when we’re not disguised in stuffy work attire. I love doing this! And I love showing them that my wardrobe does include shorts and jeans. Other times I attend symphonies or late nights at the club when my staff is playing in the orchestra or band.

On a more serious note, I try to be the first at the bedside of staff who have fallen ill. I mourn with those who mourn by attending funeral services for people related to my team. When possible, I take along direct reports to these affairs. I call it “modeling the desired behavior.” It’s critical that I walk the talk with sincerity because this is how such actions are caught, not taught. Besides, any hypocrisy will stand out like an inferno.

Another area begging for a model is the social scene. Directors seeking to become Vice Presidents should know how to handle themselves in a “cocktail party” situation. I coach them on how to interact in such environments, but then I’ll also take them with me to an event. This is one reason my wife and I frequently host parties in our home. We offer them a safe place in which to practice so they can learn to be comfortable mingling among executives. It’s also another occasion to get acquainted with their significant others.

I hope you’re taking this in as you sip your coffee. Are you visualizing any changes you might be able to make to become a compassionate leader as well as develop them? What are you proactively modeling for your staff? I realize it can be difficult if you haven’t been mentored to model. But you can still learn. Find someone who does model compassionate leadership and ask them to mentor you. Be intentional. You may outsource the teaching but you can’t source the active modeling required to move people to the next level.

It’s caught, not taught.


Ed Marx is senior vice president and CIO at Texas Health Resources in Dallas-Fort Worth, TX. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. (Use the “add a comment” function at the bottom of each post.) You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook, and you can follow him via Twitter – User Name “marxists.”

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