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CIO Unplugged – 11/1/09

November 1, 2009 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.

Best and Worst of Leading
By Ed Marx

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.”

So begins Dickens’s classic “A Tale of Two Cities.” With leadership comes the good and bad, day and night, the best and the worst.

We recently underwent layoffs, something I wish didn’t exist. The impact affects all levels from analyst to deputy. As I agonized over these decisions, I reflected on the complex aspects of leadership. I’ve come to understand that the absolute worst is also the absolute best. One in the same. Let me explain.

Worst

Betrayal. Although I advocate “go to grow”, I also preserve a spot for any employee with an interest to groom for a future role. I pour myself into that person. I invest time and resource. Then, despite the path I create for them, they leave prematurely. I once had a rising, star manager dump their promising position, and healthcare, for a few extra bucks.

Moral Failure. A breakdown of social conscience happens too often. A shining star burns himself, shearing the people around him and the company brand. Infidelity. Embezzlement. Integrity meltdowns. When this happens within my circle of influence, my heart breaks for all involved.

Discipline. Poor performance demands correction. Nevertheless, most leaders can’t discipline much less give a decent annual review. I struggle with it, and I’m guilty on all counts. But long term, I know that effective discipline is a sign of true compassion and care. I call it tough love, and it’s hard to administer consistently.

Best

Fruit. Seeing someone grow. You sow, then watch for the seedling; you fertilize, and watch them blossom. Double best when they germinate others and replicate themselves. We recently promoted this analyst to Director, and—Shazam!—a star was born. We looked like geniuses.

Team. Start with a mashup of individual players who can achieve good outcomes and shape them into a team that accomplishes great things. I’ve been on more than one turn around, and it all happened because of the pooling of incredible individuals who were better together. 1+1 = 3.

Promotion. It brings me joy to promote someone, or to recognize them publically, perhaps nationally, through a professional society. Double best if there is a significant salary bump/bonus associated.

Absolute Worst and Best

Sacrifice.

The worst: I give up personal things to fulfill my leadership calling. I’ve given up the freedom of full expression as my actions are witnessed by many and monitored by others. I gave up my childhood dream career…

The best: …Yet I’ve found myself in incredible places and roles. And, oh, what rewards! To lead is to serve, and sacrifice is the sacred prerequisite to serving.

Dying to Self.

The worst: Pride and confidence. My reality- I’m right and I’m not comfortable accepting other’s opinions. The truth- I don’t know as much as I think I do, and I need others. Despite my experience, education, and knowledge, I force myself to move from micro manager to macro manager. I resist the urge to jump in (most of the time).

The best: failing forward. I set the vision then allow my people to strive, thrive, and make mistakes. For all involved, humility is the key to growth.

Layoff.

The worst: Telling someone they no longer have a job when it’s not related to their performance. I agonize for days and don’t sleep the night before. I understand the impact to career, self-esteem, and family—I’ve been there.

The best: But if it must be done, I want to be the one to deliver the news personally. I want to support my people in the most challenging career circumstances they face. I need them to know they matter, they’ll make it, and I care. Love can be practical, yet it’s too often forsaken.

Death.

The worst: The death of an employee or a family member of an employee. I see your faces.

The best: I’ve tried to attend every funeral. I weep with those who weep and rejoice when they rejoice. If a person/family suffers, I want to offer support, lead them through it.

Leadership is never easy, never to be abused, and never for self-promotion. It’s both pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow. Leadership is a calling.


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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