The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
The faculty at our Combat Engineer Officer School encouraged us to have leadership fortitude—the courage to make those tough decisions where you admit a mistake, take corrective action, and move forward. Some leaders today are unable to swallow their pride and publically admit an error. Damn if they will acknowledge a failure and make the needed corrections.
Our instructors told us the story of an engineer lieutenant who found himself unable to extract two of his platoons combat vehicles from the mud. He kept adding more dirt to the water. More dirt on water makes more mud. In exasperation, he gave up and just ordered his men to hide his error by burying the vehicles with dirt.
In due time, he was held accountable for the whereabouts of the vehicles and the story went viral. He never made captain.
Halfway in my tenure at a former employer, I was confronted by one of my directors. We had a very successful implementation of an EHR across our continuum that positively impacted business and clinical outcomes. We were getting our feet wet with mobile technologies and innovation was a part of our fabric. From the outside, everything appeared perfect. It wasn’t.
Operationally, we were coming apart. Unplanned downtime skyrocketed. One day, we were picking up an award, and the next, we were on 2:00 a.m. Level One severity calls. Something was wrong. Very wrong.
I was driving down the Interstate headed to an IT quarterly leadership retreat when I answered a call from Michael. “Ed, I don’t see how we can all be meeting for a full day talking strategy when we have had several months of early morning disaster calls. I think it is time to focus on operations.”
Reality! Michael was totally right. Upon arrival, I grabbed my direct reports and we huddled. I shared Michael’s call and that we needed to redirect our attention toward operations. We would need to be creative how to best use our time together that day.
As our leaders settled in and I stood to welcome everyone, I was overcome with emotion and began to tear up and finally started to cry. “I am so embarrassed. I have never been embarrassed like this. We have so much potential. We are gifted and blessed with resources. Yet we are letting our customers down. I have failed you and our organization as a leader.”
There was stunned silence. Then, one by one, the directors chimed in. Though they had remained silent for many months, everyone confided that they had the same thoughts. We had lost our focus, our sharpness. We took our eye off operations, pursued distractions, and relied on past success. As a result, our performance sunk.
We were all ashamed. With the confessions and emotions out of the way, we brainstormed how to get ourselves out of this mess. It was beautiful. The team self-directed, formed into groups, and each tackled the tough issues in a thoughtful manner.
After a couple of hours, each group reported on the results of their efforts. Participants responded and honed the recommendations. In the end, a director from each group took accountability for the initiative.
For the next few months, we focused on these action points. Sure enough, a year later, we were performing at levels commensurate with our potential. We were no longer embarrassed and were once again providing value and helping our health system achieve superior clinical and financial outcomes. Strategy was a natural byproduct.
Course corrections are a sign of strength, not weakness. If we are intellectually honest with ourselves, we know that corrections are required if we hope to continuously improve. This applies equally to work, play, and relationships.
As the New Year begins, take time to reflect on the past and see where you need to make directional changes. In 2015 I made two major corrections, one with work and one with relationships. They were both gut-wrenching, but necessary. As I head into 2016, I find myself in a much better place. At peace. Content. Giddy as a schoolboy.
Never settle for the status quo and flat performance. Humble yourself. Seek input. Change is good. Life is too short for mediocrity.