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CIO Unplugged 11/30/10

November 29, 2010 Ed Marx 4 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

Go to Grow

In 2007, I dropped off my oldest child at Biola University in LA. We arrived a few days early so Brandon and I could attend the student-parent orientations. In the name of father/son tradition, we also squeezed in some workouts and ate bad but tasty food.

After we got his belongings organized in his dorm, we huddled for a final prayer and blessing. We embraced, shed a man-tear or two, and then I left. Sitting in my car in the parking lot, I watched him walk to the final student orientation.

Leading up to this point, I had planted seeds: encouragement to grow, encouragement to test his personal boundaries, and warnings against complacency. Brandon was officially beginning his journey into the future and to independence. The results of my optimistic seed planting were soon to blossom.

What happened next surprised me. As I drove down the Pacific Coast Highway, I began to wail. From the depths of my soul, I cried so hard my stomach convulsed. Wheezing in breaths, I mourned my treasured son’s rite of passage. Then mourning turned to dancing, and I rejoiced for Brandon and his future. I can only imagine what the drivers in the cars next to me must have been thinking of my spectacle. I pretended to be singing.

Three years later, Brandon graduated. We’ve seen amazing growth in our son — growth that could not have occurred had he stayed home. Despite an enriching and loving environment, his potential would not have been fully realized without a dramatic change and challenge. Part of us would have loved to have him stay, but we knew and accepted the truth that he needed to go to grow.

My career has been much the same. I can’t think of a single employer that I have ever wanted to leave. Yet with each one, I knew at some point I’d need to go to grow. Indisputably, my former employers offered ample career growth and challenges. But to gain exponential growth, I had to enroll myself on a journey of sorts. I had to break out of my comfort zones and push the envelope of security.

Each successive move has pushed me out of man’s natural bent toward complacency. They’ve shaped and sharpened my abilities. The breadth and depth of divergent experiences have broadened my skill set in an extraordinary fashion. My talents have gained a sharper focus and my leadership quotient has multiplied. I have become a better servant. I attribute my personal and professional growth to pushing my boundaries and circumventing the traditional career path.

Naturally, we need to create internal opportunities and have career ladders — something for every kind of employee. Yet at some point, the best thing for some will be a new environment, a place that challenges them to accelerate to the next level. I believe it is a leader’s imperative to fight complacency in the workplace and encourage others to go to grow. If it benefits our children and ourselves, then we must be willing to encourage subordinates and peers to do the same.

Sound inconceivable? Untraditional? Scary? An exceptional leader is not afraid or insecure to give away their best.

I have helped some of my best go. I have brought them opportunities for external advancements and served as their reference. At each departure, I felt the loss of their daily presence, skills, and talents. I cried in secret, yet I never regretted a single endorsement. I’ve stayed in touch, and what a thrill it is to see how they’ve grown in ways far more enriching than the opportunities I or my employer could have given them. They had to go to grow, to reach their fullest potential.

I recall a sunny afternoon run along the San Diego harbor with one of my colleagues, the president of a well-known hospital. We spoke about “go to grow” and the fruit we have seen in careers as a result. He resigned a short time later, citing this conversation as the catalyst for him to leave a secure position and take on a new growth opportunity leading a health system on an opposite coast. Catching up recently, he shared that it was the best career decision he had made. His growth has proved exponential.

Are there people in your life and work who need to go to grow? Does complacency have a hold on your organization? Are you selfishly clinging, or do you have a heart to see the best opportunities made available? (Picture the able-bodied forty year old still living at home).

If one of your staff has significant potential but circumstances are such that you can’t fully exploit that, do you give that person the freedom to advance elsewhere? Are there other staff members who need you to encourage them to leave for these same reasons but who won’t on their own out of fear?

We only have one year left with our teenage daughter. We will cherish every minute. But we’ll also do our best to prepare her mind to take on challenges and enriching opportunities. In love, we will push her to learn from the past and fail forward, to maximize the present in preparation for the future. Ultimately, the time will come when she will go to grow, just like her brother.

Now it’s your turn. Go to grow!

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this 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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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. How very true, Ed, on so many levels. So many of us fail to fulfill our greatness because we settle for the opiate comfort of familiarity. Mired in mediocrity, we take for granted the same tasks, responsibilities and duties because they’re easy, familiar and safe. We are afraid to risk (especially in this economy) so we choose, and it is a conscious choice, to stay put. Is this a time for rash decisions that endanger our families’ wellbeing? No. But that doesn’t mean we should consistently fail to challenge ourselves, to shy away from new growth opportunities, to fear change until this fear becomes paralyzing. Then we put the same limits on our kids, our spouses and our colleagues.

    We don’t have to change jobs to honor our gifts and talents (although that can be necessary and liberating), but can also seek out greater responsibilities within our current roles, pursue mentoring from an experienced colleague that will push us forward and explore other positions with our employers. The point here is the sameness, predictability, and, as you put it “the comfort zone,” should be traded for newness, surprises and moving into a “discomfort zone” that forces us to grow and meet our potential for excellence head on.

    I am writing about something I have not yet achieved – in fact I am the most risk-averse, stuck-in-sameness reader you’ll have today. But your column is challenging me to do better!

  2. Ed, I started my IT management career at a hospital the same day another guy started as a staff accountant. Over the years, I got my MBA, moved on to a few hospitals, eventually became CIO, than ultimately started my own consulting business.

    Fast forward 25 years later, the staff accountant is still working for the same hospital, abiet a more senior position, but making a comfortable six figure salary. My business has fizzled and I no longer have the credibility I once had as a CIO. I am now working a meaningless contract assignment.

    My point is I took risk, stepped outside my comfort zone, until I was in a position I could not sustain as a independant consultant. As Clint Eastwood once said: ” a man’s gotta know his limitations”. Stepping out a comfort zone and envelope pushing does not guarentee success and once you leave the envelope, it’s nearly impossible to go back in it.







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