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CIO Unplugged 11/20/17

November 20, 2017 Ed Marx 8 Comments

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

New York, New York

I woke up and the sun was glistening off the glass and steel skyscrapers that had become my GPS. Between them, just across the water, there she was, tall and beautiful — Lady Liberty greeting me each morning. A faithful companion reminding me of my roots and our great country. My belongings had shipped the day before, so there would be no run on the Highline today.

I showered, dressed, and began my familiar walk up Church, giving respects to Hamilton, left down Broadway, turning up Wall Street, dancing with tourists marveling at sacred Federal Hall and the Exchange. A final right on Broad where the cobblestone street forced a jump in my step, leading up to 55 Water, where I took my seat alongside my team in our shared space.

A beautiful high-rise vista, we shared views of the East River with its gorgeous bridges connecting us to Brooklyn through the harbor at its edges. We arguably had the best vantage point to observe security logistics whenever dignitaries made their way into Manhattan via heliport. We waved to presidents and popes.

Today was different. This would be my last walk through hallowed grounds of our founding fathers and fellowshipping with my team.

Shy of three years, I was the leader of our team that carried our broken division. If you observed us and knew our outcomes, you think we had been together for decades. Our bonds grew quick and deep. The urgency of our mission, our passion, and the significant time spent huddling after hours hastened our bonds.


Our team included spouses and children who knew one another well. None of us native to this country, we were the perfect mix serving the NYC melting pot. Easily the most painful part in my decision to leave NYC was departing our team. Against all odds, our team did what others failed to do, what many said was an impossible task.

I rarely reference the organizations I serve, but NYC Health & Hospitals was special. I knew I was called here for a season of life and how it all came to pass implied providence. Public health is vital to the greater good and I was honored to make a contribution, however small in the bigger picture.

Reporting to the CEO, the experience opened my eyes to the critical role of public health in our society. The specific NYC mission fills many gaps in caring for everyone regardless of status or ability to pay. We had routine meetings with City Hall to ensure alignment and accountability with municipal leaders. Each time at City Hall I would sneak off and spend time in the rooms set aside to pay homage to our founding fathers. It was sacred ground that reaffirmed my calling to healthcare service.

I grew as a leader during my tenure. Many blogs and ideas were inspired by the experience. The exposure to political nuances was both awe-inspiring and an insightful awakening. I gained appreciation for the inner workings of government and the challenges of balancing the needs and welfare of arguably the greatest city on earth. Frustrating at times, I loved her.

Serving in public health also fulfilled one of the remaining aspects of my career strategic plan that I developed with my 2004 mentor, Mr. Zenty, the CEO of University Hospitals. I intentionally served in academic medical centers, community-based hospitals, integrated delivery systems, faith-based systems, and in for-profit and not-for-profit organizations. I served in a mix of ambulatory and acute care environments. Armed with this experience, I knew without a doubt that my greatest affinity centered on academic medicine. When the opportunity came about to serve as a senior leader of perhaps the greatest health delivery system on Earth, I did not hesitate. Except for my team.


In fact, it has taken me 70 days to express myself via this blog. I am thankful to have visited with my NYC squad several times since leaving as our friendships remain strong. We learned so much on our journey, but perhaps purposefully, enjoying the moment was the most profound. We all tend to rush here and there and mindfulness gets lost in the stress and adrenalin of crisis and deadlines.

We took deliberate time in each meeting to reflect. We took time weekly to be social. We planned time monthly to bring together families and play. Almost quarterly we gathered somewhere around the country to celebrate life. We cried. We laughed. We jumped into frigid oceans. We ate foods that made us cringe. We lifted each other. We saw sports. We saw Broadway. We made mistakes. We shopped. We served. We saw comedy. We saw stars. We danced. We cooked. We walked. We ran. We held hands. We prayed. We screamed. We talked deeply. We consoled. We counseled. We encouraged. We learned. We challenged. We conquered. We played tricks. We accomplished. We smiled. We won.

If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.


Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

CIO Unplugged 8/9/17

August 9, 2017 Ed Marx 12 Comments

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

Brokenness in Leadership

I finished my keynote presentation for the New York HIMSS chapter and surrendered the stage back to my host. With Yankee Stadium as the backdrop, the entire day’s event had been spectacular.

Lit, I spoke about customer service. I had no intention of sharing a Top 10 list of things you could replicate in your organization to create a culture of customer service. Rather I aimed to pierce the hearts and souls of each and every person listening. If I pierced hearts, leaders might be transformed and the Top 10 action items would be created and owned by them.

I shared real stories how hearts were pierced – mine and others. Pierced hearts drove us to create, design, and deliver superior customer service, and in turn, improve clinical and business outcomes. It is one big ecosystem, I suspect, a softened heart that beats to serve and changes culture which improves outcomes. The cycle begins with brokenness.

Leaders approached me at the reception with tears in their eyes. Tears glistening on his cheeks, a battle-tested CEO shared how he never cried. But there he stood. Pierced. Changed.

One by one they stood in line, sharing how their worlds got rocked. The big question was, how could I be vulnerable to my teams, let alone strangers? How could I display raw emotion while recounting core-shaking stories? How could they get in touch with themselves at that level and with transparency?

Those are deep questions and I am not sure I have the answer. Perhaps part of the answer involves brokenness. I realize I am a broken person. I have failed as much as I have succeeded. I have been challenged in life and career. I have struggled with work, I have struggled with sport, I have struggled with kids, I have struggled with marriage. I have hit rock bottom. Hard.

I know I am weak. I also know on my own there is no way up. I am a grateful survivor. I realize the gap between my brokenness and my recovery is filled by grace. If karma is real, I am in big trouble. Really big trouble. Grace is my new BFF.

Some are too prideful to admit weakness and resist brokenness. We compete to be better than the pack and hide behind façades. We are pretenders. In pain. We don’t let others see or touch it. In fact, we bully others who show weakness. We resort to over-medication, legally or otherwise.

Ideally, we realize the need to get real and accept our brokenness. Perhaps acceptance is the start. We embrace brokenness as something bigger than ourselves. Acceptance creates capacity for gratefulness. I sometimes tear up because I am so thankful to others. I recognize that my accomplishments are not about me, but because of others.

I also learned compassion and empathy growing up. The youngest of seven, I spent significant time with my mother alone and bonded tightly. Mom suffered her entire life with chronic illness as I watched her deal with pain with a brave face. She was a servant who loved her kids and husband. Days before she traded her earthly rags for robes of righteousness, we talked about it. Why did God allow her to suffer so long? Why was such a great woman taken so early and cruelly?

We never realized the answer, but at the end I whispered in her ear that her quiver full of successful kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids was a testimony of her significant legacy. In her suffering we observed grace and learned empathy. My heart pierced multiple times in her journey.

As I gained experience serving in hospitals, I began to see patients in the normal course of work. Here I was, healthy, while around me was sickness and death. As an anesthesia tech, I assisted in many procedures, including the harvesting of organs. I watched parents surrender their child’s body to medicine in hopes a tragic suicide would bring life to others they could never know.

I passed gurneys that seemed empty except for the body hidden underneath drapes. I experienced poignant reminders that life is fragile. I understood my service was to make people well while also ensuring the dignity of death. Even as I write this, my mind is full of memories. How can I not cry?

Leadership. Through life and circumstances, we become hardened. Work can be tough and family tougher. Life happens. Even the most supple arteries get clogged. Yet to be effective, our hearts must remain pliable and soft.

For me, volunteering weekly in hospitals keeps my heart pure and the blood flowing. Seeing sick children in particular touches me. I regularly shadow clinicians and hide tears. Patients. I have to see patients. They pierce my heart. They re-orient my focus.

As leaders, we must remain vulnerable and transparent. We must demonstrate that it is OK to cry. Emotions are strength, not weakness.

Demonstrate brokenness. Become a vehicle of mercy and grace to others. Once you embrace your brokenness, you are able to lead others through theirs.


Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or on his web page.

CIO Unplugged 6/26/17

June 26, 2017 Ed Marx 5 Comments

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

Emotions and Motions


High off my first Duathlon World Championships (2014) as a member of TeamUSA, I posted “Data Driven Performance.” I shared how my athletic performance transformed as I applied healthcare lessons learned around big data and business intelligence.

Over the ensuing two years, I continued to refine and improve based on applied analytics until that fateful Manhattan morning last fall. Running around Battery Park, training for my first sub-90-minute half-marathon, I felt pain radiate in my left knee. Torn meniscus!

I was devastated. Being extremely physically active since my youth, I felt significant loss. Competing since I left the womb, I was no longer in the game. Incapable of walking without a crutch, I stumbled for blocks around the Hospital for Special Surgery where I completed my pre-surgical consult. While I was fortunate to have surgery under the knife of one of the world’s best orthopedic docs, I was going to have to start completely over. I dutifully checked into Professional Physical Therapy and pushed my handlers to the edge with my constant begging to let me run and help me get faster than before.

I decided to focus on 2017 as my recovery year and to come back strong in 2018. I set some motivational goals related to run-speed, so I was leveraging data a little, but not to the level of the past. I was hitting my time targets for 5K, 10K, and half-marathons. I was logging tons of hours on the bike, but not concerned with wattage or RPMs. I was throwing in some extra weights and cross training while focusing a little on core.

I wasn’t entering my data points, but just making sure I was hitting the gym with a good cadence. I stopped measuring precise portions and calories and mixes and potions. I ate when hungry and drank when thirsty. I know my first coach Amari was frowning, but I was putting all the other principles she taught me to work. Yep, I gained a little weight, but everything sure tasted good!

I began to enjoy the journey, have more fun and not take all the data too seriously. I began to listen more to my body than to the data points and daily outcome measurements. I started to look forward to my long runs along the Hudson and my four-hour extended indoor simulated cycling drills inside of EJ’s Euless garage. Waking up at four o’dark thirty was no longer a chore. In fact, the alarm merely became a backup to my natural cycle to wake early and enjoy the journey.

Almost as a dare from my therapist, I decided to prematurely enter the 2017 TeamUSA National Duathlon (Long Course) Championships in Cary, North Carolina. Just seven months post-op, I took the dive without requisite coaching and data-capturing electronic gizmos. I reasoned that I had little chance to make the team, so I should just race for the love of it. Not to make the team, but just to enjoy the fact that I could train enough to compete so soon after surgery.

I loved every minute. The bonus was that I had enough in me to make the team, qualifying to represent our country at the 2018 World Long-Course Duathlon Championships in Switzerland. Nothing like the Alps to test one’s stamina and spirit!

Emboldened by the Long-Course Duathlon results, I figured that I might as well take the same approach for the TeamUSA National Duathlon Championships in Bend, Oregon a few days ago. In addition to competing in the Standard-Course Duathlon Championship, I decided to compete the following day in the Sprint-Course Duathlon Championship. Again, I shrugged off the use of my arsenal of data-collecting devices for my body and bike and instead focused on enjoying the moment. I was free to just listen to my body and take in the scenery.

My performance was raw and painful, but I ended up securing the last available spots on both teams. In addition, one of my long-time teammates and I became the first athletes to make all three of the TeamUSA Duathlon squads in the same year. No data — just fun and gut.

In the final days of training, I thought about my minimalistic data approach and reliance on fun and gut and how that intersects with the workplace. Will we go so far out towards business intelligence, precision medicine, artificial intelligence, and machine learning that we lose emotion? Might we stop listening to our gut and miss an important determinant? Will we listen to feelings or lose empathy? Go through the motions at the cost of emotion? Lose a piece of ourselves and the value of human touch in the healing process?

I don’t know. Oh, but what I do know! What I do know is the joy I experienced crossing that finish line, giving all my heart and muscle. Oh, I will never forget the tears I shed embracing my wife when I learned I secured the last and final spot on those national teams! The floodgates opened! Oh, what I also know is the feeling I will have with “Marx” emblazoned below “USA” on my star-spangled uniform at the Standard and Sprint Duathlon World Championships starting gates in Denmark.

Would I feel the same high if my accomplishments were due to my obsession with data analytics and my nightly uploads and downloads of each day’s data? I don’t think so.

In the end, life requires that we make room for both the motion and the emotion. They aren’t mutually exclusive. What matters is striking the right balance between science and art. When I hit the 2018 World Championships representing our country’s colors, I will certainly be data-driven again, but I will also make plenty of room for the heart and the gut. At the end of the day, it is my soul that crosses the finish line, not a machine, and I will always remain emotional.

In our work, we must do the same. Balance the motion and emotion. Enjoy and embrace the intersection of art and science without being blinded solely by science and motion. Never, ever forget the emotion, for that is what makes us human.


Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or on his web page.

CIO Unplugged 5/24/17

May 24, 2017 Ed Marx 6 Comments

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

Leading with Fear – Not!

Researches say we are born with two fears — fear of falling and fear of loud noises. Every other fear is learned. Fear is developed and reinforced because of the consequences and punishments we experience.

Ironically, 85 percent of our fears are never realized. In fact, many are irrational, often based on emotion, not data. Real or imagined, the consequences of fear, especially in the workplace, are devastating.

Insecure leaders rule with fear. Even when effective, the use of fear to motivate employees is morally corrupt. Fear has no place at work. Confident leaders can achieve better results creating an engaged culture without fear. Who wants to work for a leader whose primary tactic is fear to motivate? Nobody.

Clearly, people still work for fear mongers. Leaders throughout history have leveraged fear. Despite the contemporary focus on management theory and professional development, leadership by fear continues.

Employees feel they may not have a choice but to capitulate to the fear mongers. Others have a victim mentality, feel incapable of escape, and assign the experience to fate. At the edge are those who believe they may deserve the punishment.

Naïve workers who know no difference may believe all leaders rule by fear. A smaller percentage know it is wrong, actively resist, and look for the first opportunity to escape. This reinforces the trend where the best employees tend to leave unhealthy environments while peers begrudgingly accept abuse and stay.

Leadership by fear is a management form of bullying. We spend too much time at work to be miserable and treated disrespectfully. There is a better way, and if you find yourself working for an abusive leader, you must stand up for yourself or leave. Pacifism only reinforces the behavior and nothing changes for you, nor for those who follow. Stay and fight if you have the skills, but move on if you have no support. Nobody deserves to be bullied.

I once observed an iron-fisted peer who ruled by fear. Insecure and simply unpleasant, he would routinely yell, curse, belittle, and threaten his team. I watched otherwise aspiring leaders shake to their core. His team trembled working for him. The more they passively accepted his leadership by fear, the deeper it became ingrained.

His power over them grew. His bullying became the new norm and eventually worked its way down to the depths of his division. Weak subordinates accepted and adopted this style and soon the stain and stench of fear permeated. Engagement plummeted as the culture shifted into the abyss. Next, performance fell. Fear, left unchecked, grows and takes no prisoners.

I felt sad. Heartbroken for the people who came to serve each day wanting to do good work, but were bullied. Torn to see aspiring leaders snuffed too early in their careers. Disappointed for customers who suffered deteriorating service. It became a slow death spiral. Lead with fear, and when performance suffers, add more fear.

By the time our parent organization took action, the damage was profound. The division was rebuilt over time, but the scars and pain from fear never disappear. Healing takes time and love.

Love is the antidote to fear. How can you change a fear-emboldened leader or a fear-based culture? Love does not imply that you overlook poor performers and sing Kumbaya all day holding hands sitting in a circle. No, love is a verb and is action-oriented. Love is discipline. Love is tough. While love is kind and respectful, it is never a crutch or excuse. Love does not accept mediocrity. Love propels performance. Love inspires.

I try to incorporate love into who I am as a person and as a leader. I remain a work in process, but it is easier to love then to hate. Love helps me develop compassion for those dealing with adversity. It increases my empathy towards others, which is why I’ve learned to listen to the heart as much as to words.

I am less judgmental and more tolerant. I am increasingly open to new ideas, diversity of styles and beliefs. I have embraced others very different from me and am better for it. Embracing love as a leader quickened my healing of wounds from past hurts. My heart aches for those who have not yet found love. Life is short; there is not time for fear to rule us.

It was awkward the first time I introduced love in the workplace. I was a young officer commanding my first platoon. My platoon sergeant was everything you would think of in a professional warrior. Battle-hardened, he chewed up Second Lieutenants like me for breakfast. But our platoon had challenges and we were not getting better by simply amping the fear in our squad leaders and soldiers.

First I and then SSG Hammer stopped yelling and otherwise intimidating our soldiers. While expectations and discipline never waivered, we demonstrated care and compassion to each of them. Word spread that upon an unexpected deployment, I mowed his young family’s lawn each week in his absence. It was small, but embodied the change in culture we sought. We changed, the platoon was transformed, and arguably it became one of the best engineering units in our battalion. Awkward at first, but love worked.

Love transformed me, my teams, my divisions, and my organizations. Love reached our customers and improved service. It created better opportunities for individuals to become whom they were created to be. It helped foster a culture of civility, setting a firm foundation for individual, team, and organizational success that exceeded expectations.

I learned of love from many sources and I continue to dig deep to find more. My mom loved me and believed in me before I believed in myself. My dad, who bared his soul in a TED Talk about his concentration camp escape while his family was left behind…and how he chose love over fear and till this day he has not once showed anger towards those responsible. Those family and friends who love me despite my failures. My life mentor led with love in a fear-based society and changed the world. Love wins.

Love chases away fear. The two can’t coexist. Where there is love, there is freedom. Where there is freedom, we are inspired to do our best. Lead with love and you’ll witness a transformation that may seem small on some level, but will be giant for those you serve.


Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or on his web page.

CIO Unplugged 4/26/17

April 26, 2017 Ed Marx 6 Comments

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

The Disintermediation of the CIO

The role of the CIO has reached its zenith. Over the next several years, we will see the title deconstruct. Just as the baby boomers held on to “Data Processing Director” concepts as long as they could, a few of us diehard GenXers will grasp on to the CIO title until our retirement. Millenials and Gen Z will jump on the chance to blaze new trails and transform our profession to reflect the rapidly changing world we live in. There will be less concern with title and more focus on the depth of impact on business and on remaining relevant.

The transition began the day the CIO title was adopted. Moore’s Law became the norm and change a constant. As a profession, we metamorphosized through a variety of stages ranging from pure technical manager to today’s C-level executive. The changes ahead are not for lack of skill or talent, but are at best reflective — at worst reactive — to cultural and technological changes.

What makes this transition more profound is that the majority of CIOs never made it to the C-suite. They allowed themselves to get stuck someplace in between. The opportunity for them to close the gap is gone..

Empowered internal and external consumers and the ubiquitous nature of technology are key drivers for the change. We are seeing the democratization of data, information, and knowledge. CIOs can no longer control technology proliferation nor cap or meter its utilization. Service desks are becoming a relic of the past. Millennials grew up in a self-service age and have expectation of the same. The average consumer has 30+ applications on their smartphone and few if any come with call center support. Think cloud, blockchain, mobile, big data, consumerization, and social supported by disruptors. There is diminishing need for traditional IT.

Granted, there will always be a need for technical expertise. IT will revert back to pure technical play. IT divisions will become cost centers again and will fade into the background. IT will be focused on providing safe networks and connections and can be summed up as “interoperability and security.” Staff size and budgets will shrink and investment cut by 50 percent or more. Data centers will go lights-out and most companies will either convert the space for document storage or sell them outright. The data center is a financial albatross ripe for partnering. “Shadow IT” will become partners, not adversaries. It is not the old centralization versus decentralization, but pure and simple disintermediation.

So where are today’s CIOs headed? We are already seeing some directional signs. I was contacted twice this year by recruiters who were trolling for chief digital officers (CDO). In both cases, the existing CIOs were bypassed and would report to the CDO. While I think CDO has legs and will stick, it is not the final destination, but perhaps an intermediate layover. Just as Uber disrupted transformation, IT is being disrupted. Uber is an intermediate step for the next wave in transportation. We are beginning to see self-driving vehicles and the proliferation of drones for transport.

I don’t have a savvy prediction on how you spell the CIO title five years from now. What I am confident in is that we need to change and adapt or report to those that do. We must evolve and continuously retool ourselves and focus heavily on innovation, entrepreneurship, and value creation. We must be able to see the future and collaborate with partners, developing strategic solutions grounded in the practical realities of taking the best care of our patients. We must be the one trusted advisor who can see across the business enterprise and facilitate change at 10 times the speed of Moore’s Law.

Finally, we can’t forget that our primary talent must remain focused on being experts in the people business. When consultants say people, process, and technology, it is really people (85 percent), process (10 percent), and technology (5 percent). This is how we add value and remain relevant. Retool, yet never forget that we are in the people business and always keep the patient in the center of all we do. This is not the age of the stodgy hotel; this is the age of AirBnB.

If we don’t shape the future, others will change it for us and leave us behind.


Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or on his web page.

CIO Unplugged 3/1/17

March 1, 2017 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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

Attitude, Not Aptitude, Determines Altitude

I have never been the smartest person in the workplace. I never will be. We all have talents, skills, and special gifts, but you won’t see my name on any Top 10 lists for brainiacs. Not even the Top 1,000.

I can’t blame genetics since my siblings are pretty dang smart. Each of my kids excelled academically as well. Our gifts are unique to each individual. I suspect what makes the difference is how we steward our gifts.

I was going through my school report cards with my youngest daughter recently. Not pretty. From first grade through high school, it was clear I was not the sharpest tool in the shed. College undergrad was the worst, starting with a wicked 1.6 GPA.

My lackluster grades made my Army Officer assignment of combat engineer all the more perplexing. I was the only non-engineer, non-math major accepted into our cohort. I barely graduated with a degree in psychology and there I was in engineering school! On our second day, we took math and engineering competency exams and I was immediately directed to the remedial section.

Out of desperation, I clung closely to the Zig Ziglar quote that, “Attitude, not aptitude, determines altitude.” I had no choice. Ziggy gave me hope that, despite my intelligence, I could still thrive by adopting a positive outlook.

As I entered the workforce and looked towards the ranks of management, I could not compete on sheer aptitude, but I could with attitude. I was astonished to surpass peers who were much smarter than I. While I worked on building my core business and technical smarts, I doubled down on ensuring an infectious attitude. I started to see that altitude was something I could control.

We all know people who are super smart, but who never realize their full potential. Clearly there are many reasons why this happens, but certainly a lackluster attitude robs many of the personal and professional heights they were destined for.

That said, it’s not only people of average intelligence that benefit from good attitudes. Everyone, regardless of aptitude, benefits from good attitudes.

I’ve shared previously my experiences of being part of strong teams that accomplished some pretty cool things. One common characteristic of each team member was attitude. I understand my success as a leader is predicated on having a good attitude, which ultimately separated me from many peers. I wasn’t better-looking or taller. I did not always dress the part. I was not the product of private schools, nor boosted by a familiar family name. I had few if any advantages.

As I said, I was not smarter. I was pretty much average, except for my attitude. Attitude is one key to a prosperous life. And you control it.

How can you change your level of attitude?

  • Admit you need to change your attitude.
  • Hold yourself accountable to people who will get in your face and tell you the truth when your attitude is poor.
  • Surround yourself with people who have infectious attitudes and soak it in.
  • Seek professional help if there are unhealed wounds that keep your attitude low.
  • Practice the art of smiling and don’t stop even on bad days.
  • Accept your shortcomings and move on.
  • Avoid negative self-talk or putting yourself down in front of others.
  • Be thankful daily for something. Anything.
  • Step outside of yourself and see a different perspective.
  • Remember the big picture.
  • Live a balanced life, routinely taking time for yourself to recharge.
  • Drop friends and colleagues who have bad attitudes.
  • Surprise someone every day with something that makes them laugh.
  • Pray for your haters.
  • Stop feeling guilty for things you have not done.
  • Address the gaps or barriers in your life that may be driving you down.
  • Don’t worry about things you can’t change.
  • Believe in something bigger than yourself.
  • Practice random acts of kindness.
  • Be the bigger person and mend broken fences.

I believe that because of a shift in my attitude, I was able to transform from college flunky to holder of multiple master’s degrees.

I believe that because of a shift in my attitude, I went from remedial Army Engineer student to graduating in the top 10 percent of my cohort.

I believe that because of a shift in my attitude, I went from average career to something beyond my dreams.

I believe that because of a shift in my attitude, I love life despite my wounds.

Simply put, not only do people with bad attitudes typically underperform, nobody wants to be with them. They are sad, mad, full of unconstructive criticism, and no fun. No wonder they are not getting promoted.

Attitude does determine altitude.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or on his web page.

CIO Unplugged 1/18/17

January 18, 2017 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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

Baking with Oma

Oma — my mom and the grandmother of my kids — was dying a slow death at the hands of ovarian cancer. While cruel, it allowed us four years to say goodbye. Often life ends suddenly and you never get a chance to say goodbye. We had a long farewell. I wrote extensively about Oma’s influence on my career in 2010.


Growing up, Oma used November to bake. She baked thousands of German Christmas cookies for family and select friends. Under the cover of darkness (or so it seemed), Oma carefully placed the treasure of spitzbuben, haselnussmakronen, and weihnachtsplätzchen in large tins in the cool, dry utility room. They were sealed until the first advent of Christmas.

Through the Advent season, we sang carols, read scripture, and lit the candles on the Advent wreath. With the spice of mulled cider in the air, Oma distributed plates full of cookies to each of us kids, and to Opa — if he behaved. Christmastime was near, which also meant it was time for cookie trading. Cookies displaced dollars as currency during the holidays.

When Oma took ill, something nudged me to carry on the German Christmas cookie-baking tradition to honor her and keep our heritage alive.

The Christmas before her death, we flew Oma and Opa for a visit – and to bake. Oma baked from scratch and out of love, following secret family recipes that had been handed down through generations. With my kids, we dutifully watched and practiced the art of German Christmas cookie-baking with Oma.

Today, despite careful translation, calculations, and experimentation, our creations are not as tasty as Oma’s, but we remain determined. One of my sisters also continues the tradition and we now have annual cookie-tasting contests to see whose baking finesse is closest to Oma’s.

I cherished the times we baked with Oma and I know she loved to teach her kids and grandkids. I still can see our flour-covered aprons, smell the sugar and cinnamon melting in the oven, and hear the retelling of stories about previous generations and their baking escapades. Rat Pack Christmas records would play in the background and texts and phone calls would not interrupt us. We relished in the pure joy of togetherness and enjoyed laughter, silliness, and I confess, raw cookie dough.


This year, our baking tradition grew to include my two daughters plus the girlfriends of our youngest boys. There I was, like Oma years before, converting grams to ounces and reminiscing. Oldest daughter Talitha is now the baking matriarch and organized our novice bakers. Seven hours later, we had baked a dozen dozen German Christmas cookies. We even managed to bake some gluten-free cookies since we wanted to be politically correct.

Lessons learned baking with Oma:

  • If you want to know people, you have to spend time with people. That’s pretty obvious, but ask yourself how many hours you spend with family or direct reports really getting to know them. My relationship with Oma grew exponentially after I left home because of the uninterrupted hours we were able to spend together being silly, doing things like baking cookies.
  • Magic happens when you create together. Watching movies is fun and taking walks enables conversation and touch. But when you create together, it takes relationships to another dimension. While certain deliverables may take longer to create, I am increasingly amicable to working with others to develop presentations and other work products.
  • Learning stimulates creativity. I am not averse to the kitchen, but I have never really enjoyed cooking. However, baking with Oma stimulated my creativity by forcing me to learn new things, such as how the mixture of various ingredients and the addition of heat can bring about change. I now recognize that there are many parallels between baking and many work activities that can lead to transformation and innovation.
  • There is joy in cooking. It’s not so much the cooking that brings the joy, but the uninterrupted time spent with the ones you love. There is no joy in multitasking. I continue to struggle, but I am getting better at putting my phone away.
  • Serving is good for the soul. Many of us don’t take the opportunity to serve enough. Baking cookies and sharing them is a simple act of service (though arguably it matters whether or not they taste good.) Delivering cookies you baked to friends and families is powerful. It reflects the money, time, and energy you poured into creating something for the benefit of others.
  • Understand the workflow. There is no substitute for being there and walking the walk. Had Oma sent emails that we followed ingredient by ingredient, line by line, our cookies would have been OK. It was not until she was with us and we watched and emulated her, however, that we really understood. Understanding the workflow turned out to be the ultimate secret ingredient.
  • Create memories that lead to legacies. Oma was absolutely the queen of cookie baking! The memories that my siblings and kids have of Oma are forever etched in our minds and we fondly retell our stories of German Christmas cookie-baking hundreds of times. Memories and legacies matter, as evidenced by my own family’s commitment to annual bake-offs to see whose cookies most closely emulate Oma’s. Consider what you are best known for in the workplace and decide if it’s the legacy you want to create.


I could continue with lessons learned, but these are the ones that quickly come to mind as I reflect on this past holiday season. The pictures and videos don’t do justice to the bonding that takes place when you take time to be in the moment and create with family, friends, and co-workers. Look for such opportunities in your daily life. I promise you won’t regret the time spent creating new memories.

Cookie, please.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or on his web page.

CIO Unplugged 1/4/17

January 4, 2017 Ed Marx 5 Comments

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

Presentations Gone Bad

As I look at my leaders’ (and my own) developmental needs, the ability to speak and persuade is an area ripe for improvement. I am leading our organizational internal version of Toastmasters (we call it Bagelmasters) and was thinking of some of my worst moments. Why do we fear presentations more than death? These real-world examples from the last couple of years explain why.

Glitter (2016)

Our new CEO had just started. My team members were experts at ensuring that our monthly governance meeting was effective and conducted without a hitch. The pressure was higher this time, given the change of command and the CEO’s first exposure to our operations.

Before heading to the meeting, I placed a small wrapped Christmas gift from my staff into my man bag. I did not notice the gift’s decorative ribbon, which was generously adorned with glitter. I sat to the right of the CEO and pulled out my laptop.

A minute before the meeting began, staff discreetly asked what was on my face. My deputy came to me and tried to wipe the glitter off of my cheeks and forehead. My oily skin did not want to give up its treasure. With no time left, everyone took their seats and it was show time. The meeting went well, but I had never been so self-conscious.

When the meeting ended, the CMO pulled me aside and said, “Marx, I appreciate your style, but the glitter is over the top.”

Frozen (2015)

One of my pet peeves is being late, so I am careful to set the example when it comes to timeliness. If there is a quorum, I will start meetings no matter who is missing.

When I was late to the IT Steering Committee meeting that I co-chair, I walked in as discreetly as possible. Even though it was obvious I was late, I tried to maintain a low profile and pretended to be invisible. As I sat next to the chairperson, I softly pulled out my laptop and slouched in my seat.

I quickly realized that the room was completely silent, not even a sneeze. I slowly looked up and the entire room was frozen (think mannequin). I started to break into a sweat until they all broke form and started laughing. They turned my propensity for doing practical jokes on unsuspecting victims and punked me big time. My face turned red and we all had long-needed belly laughs. I love our culture, which allows leaders to feel comfortable playing jokes on one another. And I was never late again.

Touched (2013)

When you serve with the same people who take care of you physically, awkward situations are unavoidable. Our top 20 or so executives gathered in preparation of a special board meeting. As I surveyed the room, I counted the number of clinicians around the table, hoping we had a healthy balance of clinicians and administration.

On a level deeper, I began to realize that not only did I have business relationships with all the doctors, but physical ones as well.There was my triathlon teammate doc who spontaneously had me drop my drawers in his office when I expressed concern that my Ironman might be in jeopardy because of a hernia. Turned out to be a groin muscle pull. My primary doc was there – and trust me, he has seen and felt me in places nobody else has. Also in the room was my mountain climbing partner / expedition physician who once prescribed me Viagra when I suffered from high altitude pulmonary edema.

When it was my turn to speak, I could not hit my groove because I kept envisioning scenes from the past. I completely lost my focus. I finally confessed this to my colleagues, who laughed with me, then allowed me to regain my composure so I could finish my talk.

Elevator (2012)

The Joint Commission was in town and I was up after the morning break to describe our organization’s IT journey. It was the opening session for their week-long survey and behind our six evaluators sat our entire officer cohort. Per tradition, I went to grab my pre-speech Frappuccino from the lobby Starbucks 15 stories down. Plenty of time.

With my venti cup of deliciousness in hand, I went back to the elevators. Only one elevator was working. I nervously looked at my watch to evaluate the risk of waiting versus taking the stairs. Down to five minutes, I relented and chose the stairs. I walked in winded as our CEO reconvened the large group. I became self-conscious, as I had broken into a sweat. Then my breathing increased and I became nervous.

I sensed I was losing my audience and lost my normal cadence, so I finally stopped and confessed. TJC was merciful. I took a few deep breaths as people laughed and felt my pain.

Napkins (2008)

I was rehearsing my presentation for my very first board meeting. I got out of the shower and grabbed the box of gauze I had been using to cover and protect my newly minted Ironman tattoo on my right calf. The wound was still fresh and required lotion and covering to keep the red ink and blood from staining my clothes. The box was empty.

I was desperate and certainly did not want to have my tattoo ruin my suit nor risk infection. I frantically searched the bathroom for large Band-Aids or anything that would work. Desperate, I grabbed the only material visible: my wife’s sanitary napkins. I cut one down the middle and splayed it open. In the garage, I found duct tape and strapped my makeshift bandage around my calf. I put on my suit and I was good.

Every time I even considered getting nervous speaking that day, I reminded myself that I had a feminine napkin wrapped around my calf with duct tape. I had to smile the entire speech. When I removed the napkin later that evening, I had a perfectly imprinted Ironman logo on the napkin itself. My wife and I had a good laugh. I have never been short of gauze since that day.

Panel (2010)

I don’t do panels any more. Here is why. I was asked to speak on a panel of a university where I sat on the advisory board. The dean asked for each of the panelists to introduce themselves and share 2-3 key areas of focus for the year. We were allotted five minutes each with the expectation we would then go into traditional panel / audience Q&A mode.

Two of us finished on time and the third panelist pulled out a PowerPoint. After 10 minutes, I began to alternate looks between my watch, the presenter, and the dean. Fifteen minutes later I started a sidebar with the other panelist. After 20 minutes I literally stood up and discreetly walked off the stage and sat in the audience. Finally, at 30 minutes, I left the venue.

I had a couple of less-dramatic but equally frustrating panel experiences, but this event convinced me I should no longer participate in panels. The key to successful panels is a skilled moderator.

Translation (2014)

I was invited to speak to the leadership of all the government-operated hospitals in China. It was an amazing cultural experience I will never forget. I started my presentation, which was simultaneously translated into several Chinese dialects via headsets. My host was forward-thinking, and under each of my PowerPoint bullet points, he had the direct Mandarin translation.

About halfway through, I realized he had inadvertently removed all the English bullets and I was only left with the Mandarin. Since I had pictures or graphs on each slide, I was able to remember the concepts and winged my way through. However, they never invited me back. Now my presentations are almost exclusively pictures. They paint a thousand words in every language.

I am certain I will have more presentations gone bad in the future. While they happen, they are no fun, but in hindsight, I am reminded never to take myself too seriously and to just laugh. If there is one area for any leader to focus on, it is presentations. I have a long way to go.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or on his web page.

CIO Unplugged 12/14/16

December 14, 2016 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. He can be followed on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or on his web page.

CIO Unplugged 9/21/16

September 21, 2016 Ed Marx 9 Comments

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

Gotta Serve Somebody!

Contrary to some readers’ comments last blog, I remain committed to the concept that “you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed.” Bob Dylan made this slang popular with his song of the same name. (Gotta Serve Somebody).

The negative reaction to the concepts of servant or act of service in the workplace is not surprising. Disheartening, but not surprising. If you break it down simply, there are two kinds of people. Those who choose to serve and those who desire to be served. I choose the former. I choose to serve with the former as well.

I view life as service and the workplace no different. I serve my family. I serve my church. I serve my community. I serve my God. I serve my patients. I serve my boss. I serve my employer. I serve those who report to me. I serve my employees. Everything is service. Life is service. I often miss the mark and selfishness creeps in, but service is my default orientation and what I aim for.

I am not sure how a life of service mindset begins. Are we born with it? Is it developed? Is it discovered? I often reflect on it because I believe it is foundational for who we are as people and who we are as leaders. I practice a few things to keep my service orientation keen and my heart soft, and to encourage those who serve with me to do the same.

Simple things:

  • Service vocabulary. We spend most of our lives “working,” so I purposefully substitute service for work in my daily speech. It reframes the way I view things. I don’t loathe to go to work. No! I look forward to serving!
  • Voice of the customer. I programmatically create opportunities for my teams to serve. Clinician shadowing and listening sessions are just a couple of techniques.
  • Healthcare volunteering. I encourage everyone to give back through volunteering. It does not have to be a hospital setting, though healthcare volunteering does directly reinforce the concept of workplace serving. For five years, my oldest son and I volunteered weekly at a children’s hospital. For many years you would find my family spending Christmas dressed as elves accompanying Santa on his rounds.
  • Direct reports. Ask each of them how you can serve them. How you can help them reach their goals? How you may wash their feet? The greatest leaders wash feet, clean toilets and are present in all life transitions.
  • Testimonials. I try to have customers or patients give talks at every team meeting. A 10-minute talk from a patient or clinician is more effective than 500 minutes of speeches from you or me. Recently our CMO spoke to our team. Quiet in demeanor and voice, you could have heard a pin drop as she eloquently wove her personal and professional story together, culminating in reinforcing the critical nature of our team’s service. Wow!
  • Patient encounters. Engage patients whenever possible. Learn their stories. Ask them for feedback. Round with your peers!

Life is difficult and all have been hurt, bruised, offended, or abused. I will never claim to relate to it all, but I can relate to some. I believe we are born with soft hearts, but life happens. Over time, our hearts can become callous and hardened. It is tragic. It is invisible.

External appearances often mask the real world inside. Left unchecked, our attitudes and world view become jaded. I do not pretend to understand the depth of another person’s pain. I am also not going to hide my head in the sand and pretend personal pain does not impact the workplace or how we view things such as service.

While I have been fortunate to witness the softening of hearts in the workplace, I offer no magic formulas or cure-all. Transformations come from counseling, medications, prayer, and other tools I am less familiar with. I am not pushing one transformation method over another, but if you are a leader, I implore you reconsider your viewpoint if you do not believe your role should include servant leader. As a leader, one key to success is to model service, both to those you report to as well as to those who report to you. By embracing this mindset, I guarantee you and your team will transform.

I share this idea in order to break hearts. To reach a broken heart, you must first break the heart. When I see dying kids become excited from winning Bingo, my heart breaks. When I see an elderly couple hold hands one last time in the ICU, my heart breaks. When I see clinicians wrestle with the loss of life, my heart breaks. When I witness a marriage of a couple in our hospital because one of partner is too sick to go home, my heart breaks. When I hear loved ones grieve in our waiting rooms, my heart breaks.

My heart has a propensity to harden, so I constantly try to experience first-hand the impact of my team’s service. Having served this way for many years, I can attest to the fact that when entire teams are mobilized, culture changes and transformation occurs. The best thing? Not only does the organization change and become exceptional at serving patients and clinicians, the individual team members transform as well. Performance and outcomes improve.

You have to serve someone. You might as well choose what and whom.

Footnote. The best resource I have found on servant leadership is Greenleaf.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. You can also connect with Ed directly on LinkedIn and Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

CIO Unplugged 8/31/16

August 31, 2016 Ed Marx 27 Comments

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

My Secret Interview Questions Revealed

I have been blessed to serve with some amazing teams over the years. I have written extensively on teams because I believe that great ones are the key to individual and organizational success.

How do you recruit the right servant for your team? Here are the only three questions I ask in every interview. Yes, only three. I used to ask five to 10, but over the years learned that the answers to these three provide everything I need to determine if the person will be a good fit for our team or not.

Before I reveal the questions, some caveats:

  • These are not foolproof. Despite solid answers to these questions, I have made hiring mistakes. I will make more mistakes.
  • You will have better questions than I do. Share them in the comments section.
  • There are no right answers. That said, the answers you receive do allow for key insights that might determine a good fit for your team.
  • Yes, I have missed hiring some superb teammates given my narrow questioning focus.
  • My existing team makes the final decision.
  • Like all other interview questions, these are imperfect.
  • I know some will have a violent reaction and leave a nasty comment or two. I am OK with this when comments are constructive. However, some people are generally unhappy and will look for any opportunity to vomit. We still post everything. (As an aside, I find it interesting that people who vomit never identify themselves, nor are they willing to contact me for constructive dialogue. They tend to be cowards.)

Here are my questions that have been effective in hiring the right team.

When was the last time you cleaned a toilet? Tell me about it.

  • What am I looking for? I want to know that this person is willing to get their hands dirty, figuratively and in real life. If someone has not cleaned a toilet lately, I become skeptical.
  • Answers I like: People who volunteer to clean toilets. People who admit it is not glorious, but it must be done. People who talk about how it makes them feel to make a toilet sparkly.
  • Insights: A willingness to clean toilets tells me a lot about someone’s service orientation. A willingness to clean toilets tells me a lot about humility.
  • Bottom line: Listen, if someone can’t quickly respond with anecdotes about the mundane things in life, they will be slow to clean up messes the team makes and feel that certain tasks are beneath them. I need teammates who are willing to do anything.

What does your ideal vacation look like?

  • What am I looking for? My teams are action-oriented and if someone’s desire on their time off is strictly to lie around, that becomes a red flag. My teams tend to move at a high pace and slackers will be exposed.
  • Answers I like: Of course you want to sleep in and lay at the beach, but tell me you mix it up and balance with adventure and exploration.
  • Insights: People who visit new places and try new things have key traits I covet. Those who keep going back to the same destination and doing the same things may have the same propensity at work.
  • Bottom line: There is no right answer and everyone is entitled to do what they enjoy on vacation, but those stuck in repetitive actions, avoid action, or who don’t like to try new things will be uncomfortable on my team.

Tell me three historical or contemporary heroes, each of whom I must have heard of.

  • What am I looking for? What the key values of their heroes are. First, this will reflect their personal values and possible impact on the team. Second, answers to this question reveal thought and logical processes.
  • Answers I like: Less important than whom, I focus on the values and traits the candidate brings up. Any succinct summation is key. Bonus if the hero traits coincide with team needs. If the team is up against insurmountable challenges and the candidate discusses someone who won against all odds, that demonstrates likely alignment.
  • Insights: I am keen on the third hero discussed as this is where the person tends to go off script and personality is revealed. I look for a structured thought process. If they jump all over the place or become flustered I know a high-pressure environment is not for them. It also reveals someone who is likely to bullshit under the gun.
  • Bottom line: If the candidate struggles to identify three heroes or has difficulty sharing why they are heroes, they may not have the introspective capabilities required for continuous self-improvement.

I used to be one of those candidates who would research the “50 top interview questions” and memorize my answers. Boy was I good at what I call beauty pageant questions. Strengths and weaknesses? Check. Tell you about the company? Check. Why should you hire me? Check. It didn’t take long to realize that other wise candidates were doing the same thing. The intent of the three questions above is to take people off script and listen to the story inside the story.

There are other great interview questions out there and I encourage you to share your favorite. Now, I need to develop new ones since I shared my secrets!

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. You can also connect with Ed directly on
LinkedIn and Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

CIO Unplugged 8/17/16

August 17, 2016 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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

Re-Igniting Passion

For the past year, I have had the privilege of serving the City of New York. During the week, I live in lower Manhattan in the heart of the financial district. Each morning, my 15-minute walk to the office takes me down Wall and Broad Streets.

As I pass Federal Hall and head toward the New York Stock Exchange, crowds of tourists scramble across the brick-floored plaza to take selfies and purchase concessions. Sometimes I get aggravated as I navigate through the crowd, but soon my grimace turns to a smile.

It’s easy to determine tourist from businessperson, and it’s not always the clothes. The tourists are excited and have a sense of wonderment on their faces. Their eyes are wide as they view the Exchange and the nearby Statue of Liberty for the first time.

For me and other locals, the sights are routine. We’ve long since lost the feeling of awe and passion we initially possessed when we were new to the sights. It made me ask myself, how do we maintain that initial passion in all we do, especially in relationships and work?

We are all uniquely wired and there is no single answer. Some people are chronically unhappy and passion has long withered. Some require a consistent encouraging word or gentle reminder. Others benefit from education and understanding themselves so they can discover and actualize their fire. Some benefit from embracing vision. I fall into the gentle reminder camp.

As leaders, I believe our energy is best served encouraging passion in those who show capacity and interest. We should seek to inspire, not motivate. At the end of the day, most of us want to be able to look forward to getting up and going to work. We covet those expressions of awe and wonderment as if it were our first day discovering a new city or kindling a new relationship. A couple of ideas:

  • Office in a patient care setting. Over the last few years, I ended up with a corporate office far away from patient care settings. Now, I have to be intentional about getting back out there so I can connect with patients and clinicians.
  • Answer the question– why healthcare? You can practice IT in any industry. Why did you choose healthcare? If it is altruistic, write it on your heart. You will need to re-center there often.
  • Figure out your mission and write it down. I have written about this more than once because it’s a message that deserves repeating. It’s not so much the written words you end up with, but the deep introspection required to better understand yourself.
  • Accountability. Find a friend or partner who will remind you now and again to find that smile and confidence that comes from having a sense of purpose. They can remind you to act like those wide-eyed tourists and be joyful for your opportunity.
  • Thankfulness. I really think there is a correlation between active thankfulness and personal and professional fulfillment. If you can’t find anything to be thankful for, then you will never be fulfilled. If thankfulness is hard, then simply practice it and the attitude will follow. I am even thankful for the hard stuff I have been through.
  • Calling. This is similar to mission, but with a spiritual bent for those so inclined. I feel strongly that I know my identity and that my sense of purpose has been revealed to me through reading scripture, meditation, discourse, and prayer. I believe there is a calling for everyone, but it is up to each of us to seek and find.
  • Humility. If you can’t admit you need help with keeping passion alive, then you probably have a pride issue—and pride will kill passion time and again. Pride is a temporary salve for pain you carry and it’s a vicious cycle from which it is hard to escape.

Having passion does not guarantee success or that you are immune from the trauma of life. My passion has served me well over the years, but it has not sheltered me from harm, lapses of judgment, or damage. However, I think it goes a long long way toward a satisfying career and a meaningful life.

How do you keep passion lit in your career?

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. You can also connect with Ed directly on
LinkedIn and Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

CIO Unplugged 6/22/16

June 22, 2016 Ed Marx 7 Comments

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

Pay Equality

As the election slugfest begins, we are going to hear more about gender issues, some related to compensation. Gender-based pay inequity is a fact in our culture. It is no different in the health IT world.

Findings from the HIMSS 2015 Compensation Survey and the 27th Annual Leadership Survey suggest that pay inequity exists. In analyzing the data several ways, we can see that women earn less than their male counterparts. Findings also conclude that women are harmed by many retention and recruitment practices and in fact are under-represented in healthcare IT executive and senior management roles.

I am not advocating that everyone be paid the same. Nor am I advocating that we take this on as a social justice issue. I am a believer in pay-for-performance and fair retention and recruitment practices. I don’t care about sexual orientation, race, or religion. What I do care about are values-based, data-driven results. That is what we must reward.

While I do not believe in reparations to cover for the sins of our fathers, it is the responsibility of leaders to ensure pay equality. Here are three things we must do to close the gap and eliminate the problem.

  1. Human resource collaboration. Start with your HR leadership and conduct research on your own staff. Ascertain the data to determine if inequity exists. If so, measure the gap and execute strategies to close it and ensure it stays shut. HR will also ensure compliance with all legal aspects.
  2. Evidence-based hiring and promotion. Ensure all hires and promotions are compensated commensurate with the position, not the gender. HR can help you monitor and look for any trends that can identify problem areas. Leveraging data provides an unbiased monitoring tool and makes it hard to hide the facts.
  3. Evidence-based adjustments. HR can run reports that can indicate if gender inequity exists with your current team. Again, I am not advocating paying everyone the same. There will be legitimate deviations based on tenure and performance and you can allow for this. An evidence-based data rich approach will remove a significant amount of bias and pushback. If you find a gap, you need to adjust salary to close the gap. Simple.

None of these steps will completely eliminate inequality in a hostile environment. If such an environment exists, you need to use the data to make leadership changes in your own ranks. I understand the gap is not always perfectly clear even with data, but you have to start somewhere. Data is a very good place to begin.

I will never understand why anyone would purposefully pay one gender more than the other when all things are equal. Real leaders will want to surround themselves with the strongest people possible and reward them according to performance, not genetics.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. You can also connect with Ed directly on
LinkedIn and Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

CIO Unplugged 3/30/16

March 30, 2016 Ed Marx 8 Comments

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

The Invisible People

All of us have a handful of individuals that did something truly spectacular for us. A mentor who provided invaluable guidance in your career. An Aunt who sent you cash at the precise moment you found yourself short. A coach who helped you find your pace. Parents who sacrificed their education so they could fund yours. A music teacher who helped you find your groove.

I suspect most of us recognized their generosity of time and resources and acknowledged their contributions and then moved on.

But what about the others who unknowingly enabled your success? The others whose names you don’t even know. The others whose faces you would never recognize. The others whom, as a collective, did more than any single contributor you do know. The others who are actually responsible for your success today!

Have you seen them? The individuals who silently served you. Those who invested in you without thought of payback? I didn’t. Until today.

I was showing my kids a video of a recent talk where I was giving thanks to a handful of individuals who sowed into my life where today I reap the benefits. It hit me that in addition to these key people there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands of others who collectively made me who I am. I never acknowledged them. I never said thanks. I forgot them. I was blind.

Today, that changes. What about you?

The praying ladies. As college freshman, a handful of us musicians decided to visit nursing homes to play songs. These beautifully gray ladies shared with us that they had been praying for us. Yes, for 20+ years they prayed for hours daily for the students at our university. It was in college when my spiritual eyes awakened and I believe they had something to do with it.

The den moms. I was active in Cub Scouts and I know there were mothers who tolerated us hyperactive youngsters and helped us find our way. I don’t remember any names or faces, but they loved us to maturity as we learned how to build fires and tie knots. This experience paved my way to become an army engineer officer.

The coaches. I played youth soccer for many years and can only recall one coach. But I know each one of them helped develop me into a pretty decent striker over the years. Soccer became important to me as I entered high school, where I needed all the sport-induced self-esteem I could get. Success on the pitch was the foundation for my vision and participation on TeamUSA.

The sidelines. I have run hundreds of races and have never failed to finish. There were times when I was ready to shred my racing bib, but there were always those darned people on the sidelines exhorting me to finish. Be it a downtown 5K run, cycling up the Swiss Alps, or an Ironman, I owe my finishes to those cheering me on who did not even know my name.

The cleaners. I have occupied many offices throughout my career and have spent early mornings and late nights in them. I spoke with many of the people who cleaned those offices, and with others, I just exchanged pleasantries. In each case, they were part of the team that helped our organizations achieve success. Their kind words and cleaning skills helped me keep my office uncluttered so I had the right environment for success. All those awards they dusted hanging on the walls belong to them as much as to my visible team.

The administrative assistants. Of course I loved all assistants I engaged with regularly, but what about all the others in the background? These are the people that make organizations and people hum, the glue that keeps momentum flowing and collaboration happening. I know my success is enabled by all of them.

The swimmer. I have always struggled with efficient swimming. I was doing requisite laps at a hotel pool one day when the person next lane over spoke to me as we were taking a break between sets. He gave me a tip on my breathing technique that helped improve my stroke and I became faster. While I remain slow, I am no longer last out of the water.

The counselor. In sixth grade, I went to this week long “High Trails” camp in the Colorado Mountains. I don’t recall this particular counselor’s name or face, only that I did have a crush on her. I was experimenting with poetry and she encouraged me to keep writing and to share my heart. This blog and my books are a result of her words.

Teams. I always try to remember everyone’s name, but as my teams grew to 100 and then 1,000, I was no longer able to recognize everyone. But I know—oh, but I know — that all of our achievements were not because of me or even my direct reports. It was all about the team, especially those who toiled behind the scenes and made things happen. Achievements where we have leveraged technology to enable superior business and clinical outcomes are because of them.

It is the invisible that make you visible.

Who are the invisible people in your life?

I bet there are thousands. Find some and give them thanks. Practice the kind of humility that acknowledges your success has never been about you, but is the result of the invisibles whom enabled you to be who you are and rise to your level of training, stewardship, and vision.

Do you want to multiply your significance, your impact to the world? Do you want your life to matter? Be invisible to someone.

Genuine satisfaction comes from serving those who will never know you helped them, nor have the ability to give back. The invisibles.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. You can also connect with Ed directly on LinkedIn and Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

CIO Unplugged 1/20/16

January 20, 2016 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.

Teams Redux

One of the biggest secrets to success is no secret at all. Often discussed, rarely employed: a killer team is the key to work and life.

At 20 years old, I was nose-to-nose with hardened combat veterans, many of whom had served multiple tours in Vietnam. My platoon sergeant and squad leaders had been in the Army longer than I was alive. The medals on their chests weighed more than I did. But there I was — their platoon leader.

I could hardly spell engineer, yet I was the leader, inspecting my troops. I was so insecure it took all I had to maintain eye contact while I evaluated them to ensure their combat readiness.

I was ill prepared, but desperate to learn. I quickly realized that if it were left to me, our platoon would fail. I had to rely on my non-commissioned officers to be successful.

I respected them, gave them plenty of room, and listened before making decisions. They made me look decent and saved me on more than one occasion.

It paid off. Third Platoon (vertical construction), Bravo Company, 244th Combat Engineer Battalion became one of the best in our Army command. At an early age, I stumbled on the secret to success. It was all about the people around me. Organization success was predicated partially upon my success. My success was predicated on my soldier’s success. That was the ultimate foundation. It all began with the team.

I have had the privilege of leading numerous teams in my civilian career. We did all sorts of crazy good things. At first the teams were small, but the size was irrelevant. We accomplished tasks with speed and precision. While our contributions may have been minor in the big scheme, we were contributing to our organizations’ success. Little did we know we were also contributing to our personal and career success.

I recall the Whiz Kids in Cleveland. Named after a book I read on the young leaders that transformed our automobile industry, my focus became team building. None of us fit the mold. We were so young and adventurous but passionate with vision balanced by a “get your hands dirty” mentality.

I managed to land fighter pilot and rotary wing pilots. I recruited young gun consultants looking to leave the road to spend time with family. There was a nurse ready to leave the hospital floor. Finally, the techie who wanted to change the world. We read books together and spent significant time with one another’s families.

We inherited a very poor IT organization. Within four years, we quadrupled customer satisfaction to best of class levels. We helped the organization achieve significant clinical and business outcomes. Gartner even made our IT turnaround a case study.

In Dallas, our organization required a new team. We had strong individual performers, but not the team needed for sustainable success. So we retooled. We became more social; more appreciative. We spent time team building off site and simultaneously insisted on personal and professional improvement. We began to gel as a team.

We won numerous industry accolades acknowledging the role of IT in clinical and business outcomes and became a “Best Places to Work” organization. It was a rush.

We are building this same kind of leadership team today. We have a hefty goal. The only way to transform a city is to first have the foundation of an amazing team. Our roles as healthcare technology leaders are too critical and impossible for one person to handle.

We all need help. Leaders that fail are typically the lone wolves who refuse help. They view the strength of their team as something to fear. Their insecurities and pride suffocate them despite the amount of oxygen immediately available.

These attributes on successful teams transcend the workplace. I am grateful to be on sport teams and community teams that accomplished things that no individual could have done on their own.

I am accused of arrogance. I am accused of self-centeredness, seeking glory for myself. The ironic thing is that I’ve never claimed that my organizations’ or sport successes were about me. Trust me — I always give credit to the team.

I have tried to lead on my own and I failed. I have sought glory and found myself alone. I am the first to remind people that left on our own, we will fail. Through the years, I’ve recognized that as with most things, pride hampers adoption. The meek will inherit the earth.

The only way for us to be good stewards of our roles and responsibilities is to get help. Reach out to others. Make those hard decisions and build a team that is better together than anyone by themselves. A team that accomplishes more than ever would be possible on their own. A team that puts organizational goals before personal aspirations.

Want to accomplish amazing things? Build and pour yourself into your team.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. You can also connect with Ed directly on LinkedIn and Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

CIO Unplugged 1/6/16

January 6, 2016 Ed Marx 14 Comments

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

Course Corrections

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.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. You can also connect with Ed directly on LinkedIn and Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

CIO Unplugged 12/2/15

December 2, 2015 Ed Marx No Comments

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


In many sports, DNF is a commonly used acronym. It means, “Did Not Finish.” It means you crossed the start line, but not the finish line.

There are many reasons for a DNF, often out of one’s control, like a crash or an unanticipated physical issue. A dog once ran through the spokes of my coach’s bike during a triathlon. At 25 miles per hour., neither she nor the dog had a chance. DNF.

Many stop short because they realize they may not podium or they lose the fire. Let me speak plain here – some are just quitters. They realize the course ahead is harder than they thought so they stop. I don’t respect that. In the sporting rink or at work, this latter kind of DNF is nothing to be proud of.

Listen, I get the desire to quit. Lots. When I shared last month on my race in Zofigen, I did not tell you all of the story. The accident I had prior to the World Championships wreaked havoc on my core muscles. When I completed the bike portion (150K) of the race, I could barely dismount. I almost toppled over as I raised my leg over the frame. As I left transition to finish the second run (30K), I was hobbling and had to walk.

I was in so much pain and so embarrassed. I was representing our country and all I could do was walk. I never walk! Humbled, I continued to hobble, all the while wanting to quit. In my mind, I was justifying clever excuses and preparing the elevator pitch, my tweets to followers and posts to Facebook as to why I quit. Vanity.

But something in me would not allow me to do that.

I eventually began to run, especially when I was within sight of a competitor. It was painful and humiliating to run so slow, but I did. My body adjusted and I gained speed and eventually finished. The most exhilarating finish of my career. While I knew I did not retain my title of top 100 duathlete in the world, I had so much satisfaction. I dug deep. I refused the DNF label. I crossed the finish line. Success!

I can tell you that on more than one occasion, I called a former boss to see if I could just quit my new job and go back to my old one where things were more familiar and comfortable. I tried to DNF. Thankfully, my former bosses talked me out of quitting so early. I persevered. The rest is history.

Training is a given. The foundation to success is to be well trained. So why do the well trained DNF? It comes down to attitude and it is predictable. There are two key indicators: predisposition and motivation. Check yourself here. I have to check myself as I prepare for each race and new job. It is not automatic.

Predisposition. First, if you do not have a predisposition to quit, let that be your motivator to persevere. I think about that when I want to stop. I know if I stop this race, it will make it easier to stop in another race. Break the pattern before it can even take hold.

Predictors to a DNF character:

  • History—are you a quitter?
  • Do you jump jobs when things get sketchy?
  • Do you quit early on friends who disappoint you?
  • Do you often take shortcuts or blow off responsibilities?

Motivations of a DNF character:

  • Do you have a defined purpose for the job/race?
  • Is the event part of a larger goal?
  • Do you have a story for why you are in the job/race?

Since we can identify DNF predictors and motivations, we can take action to reverse the pattern if that is our character. It is pretty simple, really.

  • Stop quitting.
  • Vow to not quit when the going gets tough by setting goals. I had a goal that I would stick with any new job a minimum of two years.
  • Take on smaller races and tasks and build positive history which will lead to increased confidence and ultimately motivation.
  • Do routine introspection and let motivation develop and drive you. Figure out why you want to do that race or why you want to take that job. Let that sustain you through troubled times.
  • Think about the long-term and overall vision and let a story develop. Think what the final chapter would read like. Let this story unfold before you.
  • Surround yourselves with others that will hold you accountable.

Why is this so critical to think about? From a career point of view, it is easy for hiring managers to spot DNF character. Most will toss your resume in an instant if you show that pattern. You are easy to spot and will never make it past the first screening.

Moreover, from a personal perspective, it is hard for friends and family to count on a DNF personality, which then creates significant barriers that lead to mistrust and unfulfilled relationships.

Before your next race or your next job, think about these things. No matter where we fall in the DNF definition, we can all learn and embrace these concepts to ensure the probability that we will finish whatever race is set before us — at play, at work, or in life.

Ed encourages your interaction by clicking the comments link below. You can also connect with Ed directly on LinkedIn and Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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