The views and opinions expressed are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.
Iron Sharpens Iron
My dad is 83 and once again will carve the Christmas turkey. Since I was a child, Dad ceremoniously stood at the table, and before slicing the bird, carefully clanged heavy pieces of steel together as if he were in a sword fight. Meticulously he rubbed the carving knife in his right hand against the steel rod in his left. Once the knife was sharp, the blade glistened while descending, separating bone from flesh. It was like Messi splitting two defenders scoring a goal.
The meat of the bird fell to the side and the celebratory feast began. I still hear the sound of steel upon steel, the smell of German spices, and see the smiles on hungry faces.
Soon after landing my first CIO gig, I helped lead our organization through an EHR implementation. My mentor suggested seeking advice from others who had led large, complex transformative projects for their organizations. I tracked down the members of our board of directors and reached out to their CIOs. Each accepted my offer for drinks and dinner. I learned while developing relationships that I leverage today.
I briefed my CEO the next day and he asked what compelled such an approach. I immediately responded with, “Iron Sharpens Iron.” Tom thought it was profound and appreciated the initiative and approach.
Since that time, I have embraced this concept highlighted in ancient Proverbs. Like my dad’s knife, my sharpness increased exponentially as I began to continuously seek others’ wisdom and evaluated experiences rather then to rely exclusively on my own knowledge. I needed to stay sharp, and in doing so, helped others be sharp as well.
If you live and die by the sword, you’d better be sure it is always sharp. As I reflect on my career since that time, I can taste the results, smell the success, and see the smiling faces. All from living out a simple phrase of iron sharpens iron and having the humility to admit my shortcomings and accept that I can’t be effective on my own.
This fall I was walking the streets of NYC fuming. I was hurt and I was headed to my day in court, where I would justify myself and extract punishment. I had the fix and I would administer judgment. I knew operating out of anger was wrong, but I could not think objectively.
I called a peer a few minutes prior to the meeting. He spoke wisdom. He helped me become rational. He reminded me who I was. My anger softened, my thoughts become clearer, and I entered the meeting at peace. The meeting turned out better than I imagined. The positive outcome was a credit to my peer who sharpened me.
When I was courting my wife, we had to work through a bunch of baggage we both carried with us. We had serious conversations with one another, but we also were sharpened by friends and mentors. Had we relied on ourselves, we might not have become engaged, or worse, we would have become engaged and started our marriage with all sorts of junk we did not need. Rather, the people around us sharpened us and helped us understand what was fake versus real and we began our marriage with a fairly clean slate.
In Texas I kept hitting obstacles with Finance and was unable to secure needed funds for critical investments. I finally got on the phone and dialed up some of my heroes. They taught me a few methods I had not yet deployed. It took time, but it worked. Ultimately it cost me a couple of glasses of wine, but it was well worth the price.
I made a bad hire once. I knew what to do, but was frozen. Tom from Sherwin-Williams looked me straight in the eye and said fire him. I was a softie and avoided the obvious, but I needed someone I respected to remind me to do the right thing. I fired my friend and the organization experienced immediate improvement.
You don’t have to wait for a need before you sharpen yourself. I have admired Daniel, a successful CIO for many years. As fate would have it, we both ended up in NYC. We met recently for a drink and soon for a run in Central Park. Chuck and I have met all over the country the past few years — Chicago, Dallas, Orlando, Las Vegas, and LA last week. Dang, I left both these leaders feeling refreshed and ready to face any challenges ahead of me. I did the same for them.
Where do you find your iron? Humble yourself and seek clarity and opportunity. I see someone I admire, I reach out to them, and I also try to give back. Someone reaches out to me, I serve them, and often I learn in return. I am fortunate to serve on the faculty of the CHIME Boot Camp, and wow! – I am surrounded by men and women who sharpen me twice a year. Also, don’t be afraid to look outside of healthcare. Remember, in as much as you receive, give back to others in the same way.
If you don’t need anyone to sharpen you, I am sad for you. Not only are you missing out on increasing your effectiveness, but you are robbing those you serve. You are stealing joy from those who are called to sharpen you and stealing performance from those you are to sharpen. Pride is the ultimate act of selfishness.
I am thankful I have others in my life who sharpen me and whom I can sharpen. I unashamedly admit that I need others to help fulfill the calling that is placed on my life and career. To those who sharpen me, thank you. To those who will in the future, thank you. To those who have in the past, thank you. I would not be who I am today or who I become tomorrow without you.