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CIO Unplugged 3/21/18

March 21, 2018 Ed Marx 11 Comments

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

This is my final HIStalk “CIO Unplugged” post.

I began “blogging” 15 years ago as CIO with University Hospitals in Cleveland. It was an internal, interactive SharePoint hosted site. It became an effective tool to engage my team. I shared what was going on with the health system and IT and asked questions to solicit feedback. It worked well, so I adopted the same format at Texas Health.

A member of my team suggested that I share my blog broadly via a national forum. She entered me in a “contest,”submitting samples, Bam! “CIO Unplugged” was born. When the publication folded, Mr. HIStalk picked me up.

It’s a labor of love involving 10 years’ worth of bi-monthly posts on a wide range of topics. I purposely avoided hardcore technology topics since you get plenty of that content already. Harder to find is transparent insight into what at least one CIO thinks about, primarily around life, teamwork, and leadership.

Through the years, I acknowledged many individuals who enabled my professional endeavors. Everyone from parents, siblings, family, friends, managers, teams, and pastors. I will use my final post and give thanks one more time to those who did the real work — my teams, the IT caregivers.

I have the privilege of representing my teams in good and bad, and it is overwhelmingly good. While I received accolades in my journey, it is all about the teams that make things happen. The teams are the individuals who make all the good possible. Saving lives, impacting quality of care, lowering costs, and enabling the fulfillment of organizational goals and missions and visions. Despite attempts to deflect light received onto them, they often remain in the shadows, hidden.

Leaders often forget that without teams, we are nothing. It is all about the teams who work in the trenches. Trenches (cubes, offices, home, etc.) are where real work gets done. Trenches are where sacrifices are made. Trenches are full of unsung heroes. Trenches are where lives are saved.

While we are at conferences, our team is in the trench. While we do interviews, our team is in the trench. While we attend meetings, our team is in the trench. While we write blogs, our team is in the trench. When we vacation, our team is in the trench.

I will end calling out three individuals who serve in the trench. My assistants, who I prefer to refer to as partners.

Carol (2003-2007). My very first partner. Brash and sassy, she had my back. She was strong and never took no for an answer as she opened doors previously closed to enable my success. A pastor’s wife, she prayed for me, and boy, did I need it! Attending her mother’s funeral, Carol surprised all of us with skill and passion playing drums for a 30-minute solo rivaling Neal Peart and John Bonham. Carol helped me become a CIO. Now retired, we connected when I returned to Cleveland and had a good time catching up.

Dedie (2007-2015). I knew the moment we interviewed that Dedie was the one to help me be successful in Texas. A Katrina refugee, Dedie and I hit it off immediately. While she appears much younger, we are both 1980s kids and would easily have been high school buddies. Dedie jumped on a few grenades for me and shielded me. Also a pastor’s wife, she prayed for me daily. I loved visiting her church. I bettered my speaking abilities watching her husband preach. When I divorced, Dedie and Thad walked through the valley with me until I remarried. Our friendship continues today.

Virtual (2015-2017). Having no partner while in NYC reminded me how much I missed having one.

Dara (2017-20XX). It has only been a few months, but I can already tell that we are hand and glove. Dara came from within my organization, so we have a huge head start. She is proactive and stays one step ahead of me. I was overwhelmed recently with presentations and she put together presentation starter sets that cut my creation time in half. Dara creates space in my schedule for reflection and ensures that I take care of myself. We have dined with spouses and have built a firm foundation for many years to come. I hope Dara is my last partner.

To those who served with me in the trenches, thank you. What inspiration, strength, and hope you gave me knowing you were there. You did amazing things. When it all comes down, it is really about you who are serving in the trenches. You are the ones who save lives. You are the ones who make a difference in the lives of caregivers and patients. Silently. Quietly. Hidden. In the trenches.

Thank you, Mr. HIStalk, for having me all these years.

“CIO Unplugged” may continue. Connect with me on LinkedIn to learn more.


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

CIO Unplugged 2/21/18

February 21, 2018 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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

First Days

This is the last in a four-part series on key considerations and action items during your first 120 days in a new job.

They say the typical executive will switch positions 5-7 times during his or her career. How can you ensure a smooth and effective transition? This series is intended to compliment what others have written over the years with some fresh perspective. This post will begin where the last left. A shout out to several peers whose ideas are reflected below.

A summary of the posts in this series.

30 Days Prior. After you have celebrated your new role with friends and family, you have to get to work. This is a challenging transition time as you must first honor your commitments and obligations to your current employer while also carving out time to focus on your pending role. Your primary commitment and loyalty remains with your current employer. If you can find some time to invest in your pending gig, it will pay dividends.

Day 1-30. Your first 30 days on the job are the most critical. The first day can be nerve-racking. You typically head straight for orientation or to your new office and meet your manager. Whatever the circumstance, dress the part and take a deep breath! Remember your first day of school?

Day 31-60. By this time, you no longer need a GPS to find your way around campus. You are becoming familiar with the organizational culture and building foundations of trust with key leaders and team. You are working hard but eating right and getting in rest.

Now we are at Day 60-90. The actions you take from this point forward establish the DNA of your organization. It is challenging to change trajectory as you lead from the base you established in your first 90 days. Final adjustments should be made during this time.

You are mastering many of the basics. You are learning culture, establishing relationships, converting quick wins, and building your team. There will be many nuances depending on your organization and the state of your division, but the following are generally solid areas to focus on.

90-Day Plan

Create and publish a second 90-day plan. This will buy you more time to develop your strategy and complete your onboarding. You have to visibly be moving things forward even while learning your new job. If you have no published plan, colleagues may assume the worse or others may attempt to fill a suspected void. It is best to showcase continuous action. The additional plan contents will also continue to keep your organization focused on getting things done, not waiting for some magical master plan. See next!


Simply put, there are three broad categories of IT strategy: non-existent, aligned, and converged. Your objective should be to reach strategic convergence, as explained below. If there is no strategy, you must create one. If there is an aligned strategy, you should set the stage for convergence.

  • Non-existent. Many organizations have no defined IT strategy. This may be one of the reasons you were recruited. Before you seek to collaborate and create a strategy, make sure that other foundations are firm or else you’ll be building on shifting sand. Ensure governance is in place, as well as a functional project management office. Double down on key peer relationships to ensure the developed strategy sticks. There are many resources and examples available online. Someone once said, “If there is no plan, people will wander.” They will.
  • Aligned. Some organizations have a strategy that is aligned with the business. The fundamentals are popping and much care is given to ensure the IT strategy is in place to support the overall organizational strategy. Super. Make sure you have the right people on the IT governance team and aim to have your CEO co-chair with you. Include a patient for their unique perspective. Publish your plan and report on related metrics. Now focus on getting out of the IT strategy business and setting your eyes on convergence.
  • Converged. When the IT strategy is embedded as part of the overall organizational strategy, it’s organizational nirvana. IT is woven throughout, much as a thread within a tapestry. There are no defined boundaries; IT is just part of the business. There is little reason to call out IT because it is at the same level of all other key organizational functions. It is hard state to achieve and remain, but worth working towards.


It is good to be brutally honest about IT and identify any gaps. Transparency is key. Share openly when things go wrong. Your customers know there are gaps and they know before you do when things are not working well. Go ahead and be proactive, own up, and take action. In addition to highlighting IT-related metrics, show all failures, along with the root cause analysis. It is old school, but there’s nothing wrong with adding one of those “X Days since…our last accident” reminders to keep the importance of high reliability front and center. You are what you measure.


You won’t succeed on your own, so be extremely diligent in pursuing relationships. Not everyone will be warm and welcoming, so it is up to you. It is not that your peers are uncaring; more likely, they are plain busy. It is your responsibility to develop high quality partnerships with your peers.

Vendor Management

I recommend developing a vendor management office and look to segment vendors in order to better manage your time. One method is to divide vendors into strategic, tactical, neutral, and emerging categories. Don’t get fixated on my descriptors as much as the concepts. Your time is precious and you will run out of resources if you try to meet with everyone. I stick with 3-4 strategic partners and 2-3 emerging vendors while my team handles the balance. You should invest time with key suppliers, as they can accelerate your strategy and success.

Professional Organizations

These are your lifeline. Do not ignore. Organizations like CHIME and HIMSS offer so much support through all of their programs and services. I would not be where I am today without them. By all means, give back to the broader community, especially local chapters.

Community CIOs

Another lifeline is your area peers, inside and outside of healthcare. In NYC and Dallas, I made it a point to try to bring peers together. In Cleveland, all area healthcare CIOs are meeting for dinner. I also encourage reaching out to the non-healthcare CIO community as part of onboarding. They can provide valuable insights and direct you to community resources. Asking for help is a sign of confidence and strength.


I’m not sure I can overemphasize this. You must have the right people on your team. We all know this intellectually, but it is a challenge to pull off. Do you keep everyone? Individually, are there issues with competency? Character flaws? Does he or she embrace your vision? Is she or he better then you? (hopefully yes!) Your team alone may not lead to your success or demise, but will be the accelerator of either.


What an amazing opportunity you have as the new leader on board. You have been chosen for a reason and now you have to exceed your end of the employment agreement. To optimize your success, I encourage you to complete a written 90-day plan. Take posts like this and other resources to give you some ideas. Reach out to mentors and others who have gone before you. Write it out and execute.


What other considerations and action items should leaders consider in their first 90 days that I haven’t covered in the First Days series?


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

CIO Unplugged 1/31/18

January 31, 2018 Ed Marx 3 Comments

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

First Days

This is the third of a four-part series on key considerations and action items during your first 120 days in a new job.

They say the typical executive will switch positions 5-7 times during his or her career. How can you ensure a smooth and effective transition? This series is intended to compliment what others have written over the years with some fresh perspective. This post will begin where the last left.

Below are some ideas to consider from Day 31 – Day 60. A shout out to several peers whose experiences are reflected below.


By this time, you should no longer need a GPS to find your way around campus. You are becoming familiar with the organizational culture and building foundations of trust with key leaders and team. You can now move to the next phase.

Meet and Greet

Continue your campaign to hit the ground listening. If you have already met with the primary leaders and influencers, meet with their direct reports. At the end of each week, look for key themes and opportunities and share with your team. Determine which challenges to pursue. Always close the loop with a handwritten note and share what action you are taking, if applicable. Remember, you have to build trust and confidence in you.

Extra: Publish key discoveries and the status of the action items to solve uncovered issues.


By this time, the vendor community knows you are the new leader and how to reach you. Preserve your time. Unless something is on fire, resist the temptation to spend time with vendors until later. I believe in vendors as partners and I am a strong advocate of collaborative relationships that serve the best interest of the new organization. It is generally not a day 31-60 task. I will discuss leveraging vendors as partners in the next First Days blog.

Extra: Vendors interested in your success will provide invaluable organizational insights.

Assimilation Acceleration

Progressive organizations will have formal assimilation programs. Dive in head first. Take advantage of all programs offered. Assimilation is a process to help you identify any blind spots you might have as you immerse yourself in the new culture. It’s critical to receive feedback from peers and direct reports. Some of the feedback may hurt, but listen and learn.

Extra: If there is no assimilation program, work with your HR and develop one.


Many organizations will offer formal coaching programs. Again, take full advantage of all resources offered aimed at helping you successfully transition in your new role. Leaders covet opportunities to enhance their abilities. If your organization does not offer coaching, ask for it. Asking for help is not a weakness, it is a strength. Arrogance stifles potential.

Extra: Interview potential coaches and go with the one who appears most unafraid to get in your face.

Present Often

Now is a good time to make yourself available to your organization so they can know you deeper and ask questions. Send invitations to all your management and offer to speak at their next team meeting. Make it a goal to make yourself available to all the smaller management teams in your division. Town Hall events are important, but the smaller the audience, the bigger opportunity for engagement.

Extra: Arrange a tour of different work areas so you can increase the odds of one-to-one interaction.

Live Healthy

More than ever, take care of yourself as a person. Leading is hard, but leading in a new job is harder. If you moved geographically, then the level of difficulty is increased exponentially. Eat clean, eat healthy. Drink in moderation, if at all. Get rest. You will be tempted to get up early and stay up late working, but the ROI is negative over time. Progressive companies often correlate healthcare benefit costs with live-healthy attributes, which provide additional incentive.

Extra: Share with friends and family your live-healthy goals so they can encourage you and hold you accountable.

The Why

You were hired into your role to bring about change. People will more readily follow leaders with a change agenda if they understand the why. As you formulate your go-forward strategy with your team, make sure everyone can articulate the why. Why do we need to change? Why is it important? Why should we change? Make sure the why is easily articulated and inspiring.

Extra: Ensure your manager is agreeable to and understands the why as well.

The Team – Gaps

If you have engaged deeply, you should be in the forming and storming stages. You may already know what gaps are in the team. This is not a bad thing. To think that there will always be this perfect match of new leader coming into an existing team is a fairytale. If there are gaps, identify them and fill them.

Extra: Engage the team in any new hire decisions, including full veto power over candidates.

The Team – Fit

If someone is a bad fit, address it quickly. Both you and the individual know it already, even if unspoken. It is likely the team also knows it. The worst thing you can do is to let it continue. It is bad for the individual involved, the team, you, and the organization. A bad fit does not mean a bad person or poor performer. It just means that there is probably a better fit for that person elsewhere. Sometimes it can be a fundamental philosophical difference that can’t be transcended. Sometimes it is a severe personality clash.

Extra: Be an advocate for that individual and assist him or her in their transition.

The Team – Develop

“Everything rises and falls on leadership” (Maxwell). Invest everything possible in developing your team. The ROI on developing engaged people interested in improving is immeasurable. The dividends pay out continuously. Take advantage of HR programs and supplement generously with IT specific programs.

Extra: Create complimentary opportunities that you can curate internally to increase your people development reach.

The Next 30 Days

While you are beginning to settle in and better understand your role, in Days 61-90, you lay out the strategy and begin execution. I’ll review some key considerations and takeaways in the next post.


What other considerations and action items should leaders consider in their second month of a new role?


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

CIO Unplugged 1/10/18

January 10, 2018 Ed Marx 6 Comments

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

First Days

This is the second of a four-part series on key considerations and action items during your first 120 days in a new job.

They say the typical executive will switch positions 5-7 times during his or her career. How can you ensure a smooth and effective transition? This series is intended to compliment what others have written over the years with some fresh perspective. This post will begin where the last left.

Below are some ideas to consider from Day 1 to Day 30. A shout out to several peers whose experiences are reflected below.


The first day on a new job can be nerve-racking. You typically head straight for orientation or to your new office and meet your manager. One of my colleagues arrived his first day only to have his manager inform him that he was leaving the organization that day. Another met her new manager for the first time since the one who had hired her retired during the recruitment process. Whatever the circumstance, dress the part and take a deep breath.


Your first priority is to connect well, connect quick. Some managers will wait for your first day to interact. Some prefer to wait days to let you settle. Either way, be proactive to make sure time together is scheduled.

Seek to cover several topics, ranging from performance expectations to preferred routine communications – face-to-face meetings, texts, emails, etc. Ask how they will know they made the right hire.

It’s a careful balance, but I recommend sharing on the personal side, also. We are all human, and the more you know about one another, the better the relationship is likely to be. 

Extra — ensure you have a regular meeting cadence in place and ask for feedback.


Your assistant can make or break you. They are a key partner in your assimilation. Your assistant is your front line, the first person your manager, peers, team, and subordinates engage with. Your assistant sets the tone.

This relationship is a partnership. There must be mutual respect and appreciation. If you’re an external hire, an internally-hired assistant who knows the organization well is key. They have in-depth understanding of local politics and know back-channel communication pathways.

Extra — ask human resources to look for proven assistants who are seeking growth opportunities.


To hit the ground listening and running, clear all logistic hurdles Week One. Badges, supplies, parking, productivity tools, stationery, cards, etc. Make sure you carve out time to handle personal logistics as well that require weekday attention. With the right assistant, the majority of these mundane tasks will already be handled.

Extra — coordinate with your assistant days before your arrival to develop an onboarding checklist.


Have your first team meeting by end of Week One. Ideally, have your initial one-on-one meetings with your directs. As with your manager, it is crucial to bond quickly and well.

Unless circumstances dictate otherwise, move slowly and spend a good deal of time getting to know team members. There is plenty of time for work. Schedule ample get-to-know-you opportunities.

Extra — arrange for a voluntary cookout with families included. This provides an informal way to learn more about one another and to meet partners and children.

First Week Check-In

If you establish a robust manager relationship, select an awesome assistant, complete logistics, and begin developing team relationships, you have an excellent start.

Now, the next three weeks.


Contrary to common belief, your first obligation is to your peers. You share common management and goals with your peers. Your directs are important, but they come second.

It is key to develop effective relationships with each peer. Try to connect on a personal and professional level. Find common interests. Learn from them. Ask their keys to success. Ask for candid feedback.

Extra — a meal out of office allows ample time for conversation and protects from distraction.

Listening Tour

Identify key formal and informal leaders. Have your assistant make appointments. Visit with all of your division leadership, 2-3 layers down. Dependent on your organization complexity, this is a massive but important initiative.

You must know the voice of the customer. What you learn will help inform quick wins and Day 30-90 objectives. While this is a turbocharged effort to make numerous visits in a short period, the listening tour never ends.

Extra — I always send a same-day, handwritten thank-you card to the person I met.

Quick Wins

Assuming nothing is on fire, develop quick wins with your team. Use information gathered from the listening tour. Low-hanging fruit can be easily accomplished and shows leadership, listening, and action. For you, it also reveals your division’s leadership and bias for action.

Extra – publish your teams’ quick wins initiative and report progress, especially if imperfect.


Watch carefully. Look for influencers. Look for leaders. Find allies who you can turn to for advice and insights. You will need them in the coming days.


In a new job, it is natural to want to do more and do more quickly. You have to balance the desire for achievement with precision. If you accomplish a bunch of objectives but do so sloppily, you’ve dug yourself a big hole.

Even when done well, ensure that your level of execution is sustainable for you and your team. Does the organization have the capacity to embrace and digest all the change? At what pace? Execute at the intersection of speed, capacity, and quality. Save something for days 30-90 and beyond.

Extra — communicate with your manager and agree on the appropriate work effort and priorities.


Pace yourself. This is a marathon. Don’t sprint from the starting blocks so that you have nothing left for the race.

Execute quick wins and also think long term. Do the team and I have the energy and time to sustain a sprint? What about our families? They are supportive and understand the increased work hours of First Days, but for how long?

The last thing you can afford to lose at this point is your balance. Do not neglect your fitness, your health, or your family.

Extra — take advantage of holidays and weekends to stay connected to family.

The Next 30 Days

While you are learning the organization and are in relationship development mode, during Days 30-59 your thoughts crystalize and your foundation begins to be laid. I’ll review some key considerations and takeaways in the next post.


What other considerations and action items should leaders consider in their first 30 days of a new role?


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

CIO Unplugged 12/20/17

December 20, 2017 Ed Marx 4 Comments

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

First Days

This is the first of a four-part series on key considerations and action items during your first 120 days in a new job.

They say the typical executive will switch positions 5-7 times during his or her career. How can you ensure a smooth and effective transition? This series is intended to compliment what others have written over the years with some fresh perspective. In this post, I will start with recommended actions during an oft-ignored time period: the 30 days prior to your start date.

30 Days Prior

After you have celebrated your new role with friends and family, you have to get to work. This is a challenging transition time, as you must first honor your commitments and obligations to your current employer while also carving out time to focus on your pending role. Your primary commitment and loyalty remains with your current employer. However, if you can find some time to invest in your pending gig, it will pay dividends.

Family Time

I recommend incorporating a one-week break between the two roles to reconnect and refresh. This is an important to time to take a break and immerse yourself in family. Starting a new role is an intensive process requiring extensive start-up time. You will only regret the time you didn’t take off.

Corporate Communication

Work closely with your new organization’s corporate communications team to ensure that your internal announcement is pristine. The announcement establishes others’ first impressions of you, so it’s critical to make sure it is on point. Your picture should be in your Sunday school best. Your quote needs to be specific and visionary. Timing can be sensitive. Continue to show respect to your current employer by consulting with them on the timing of the announcement.

Information Gathering

I prefer to enter a new role fully informed and armed with a plan. Leverage your network to learn everything you can about your new employer and role. While gathering information, you have the opportunity to strengthen relationships with your new team.

In my last transition, I was fortunate to have several weekly meetings in advance to have my new team bring me up to speed on everything from politics to history to challenges, strengths, and opportunities. Your vendor network can also provide a complimentary third-party external perspective. The more you know about your pending employer, the more effective you will be and the easier it will be to earn the respect of your team.

Team Communication

Leadership transitions can cause unnecessary anxiety for your direct reports and division. Conducting weekly leadership meetings will go a long way to addressing both. Spend more time sharing on a personal level versus business. Being transparent can accelerate the team development process.

Depending on the culture of the new organization, consider proactive communication to the broader team. You may want to send an email detailing your background and some personal information that they would not otherwise be privy to from the official corporate announcement. If timing works out, an introductory town hall type of speech with Q&A can be helpful. The more you communicate, the more accurate the rumors.


Between all the data points collected from interviews, related research, and information-gathering, you should have enough intelligence to make an accurate initial assessment of the organization’s strengths and gaps. Knowing what you are walking into helps to prepare.

For instance, if your new organization is based on agile philosophy, you better get up to speed before you show up. One of my employers embraced servant leadership, so I read everything I could on the topic prior to my first day. Once you have a draft assessment, run through it with your new team and manager to refine. You will need an honest assessment before you can develop an effective plan and recruit for any gaps.


As part of your assessment, you may learn of openings in key positions. You may discover skill gaps that will require you to bring in external talent. Much like football coaches who know that success depends on the teams around them, the successful manager ensures that she has the right leaders around her. Football coaches spend significant time recruiting prospects into open positions or where they require more depth.

This is not a human resources function. It is a leadership function. Begin the recruitment process immediately. This process can take anywhere from 90-180 days, depending on the organization and role, which is why I always encourage immediate action.


To set yourself up for success, you need to walk into your new role with your validated plan in hand. You have to hit the ground running and listening. Engage your team and have them help you create and execute your plan. This process will provide an additional catalyst for team building. Your staff will feel they’re included in the new direction and will be more engaged in the process.

Share your plan with your manager to make sure it is congruent with their expectations. Once codified, share it with your entire division. This promotes a culture of transparency and accountability. It demonstrates humility and openness.

The Next 30 Days

While the initial plan typically covers the first 90 days, your first 30 days on the job are the most critical. I’ll review some key considerations and takeaways in the next post.


What other considerations and action items should leaders consider 30 days prior to the start of a new role?


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

CIO Unplugged 12/6/17

December 6, 2017 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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

New Math

All of us serving in IT are being asked to do more with less. Given the emergence of digital tools and connectivity, there is no reason to expect less. Tools and processes are critical if we hope to enable health and wellness transformation, but leadership trumps all. When I study major blockers in my own experience, it comes down to leadership. Leaders who continue to use old formulas are what I call old math. We need new math. 

New Math

We must become selfless leaders. A selfless leader is a humble servant who puts the organizations and other individuals before themselves. They eat last. They sleep last. They give away their best. They open doors. They sacrifice. They lead by example.


Above is a picture of the then-CEOs of Texas Health Resources and University of North Texas Health Sciences cleaning human waste in the Tanzanian medical clinic we co-founded in 2011. He who wants to be first among us needs to take the last place. 

Right for the Organization

We are all proud of our domains and departments. We all love to show off our results. Super! You should be proud. But do not let pride harden your heart and cause you to stumble to the point you forget it’s about the organization’s mission and vision and not your trophy case.

Always keep the organization’s best interest first. The rest will follow. I learned over the years that the more control I give up, the more influence I gain. I once gave up my CMIO, CNIO, and BI and the IT influence did not suffer, but was multiplied many-fold. The organization prospered. It is backwards math, but it is what I refer to as new math.

Right for the Person

Sometimes we can hold on so tightly to our own people that we squeeze life from them. Let them go. If they want to stay, they will, but let them choose. We are doing our people a disservice when we don’t let them reach their full potential. Often, it drives them to leave the organization.

Instead, let’s give them room to grow with us. Nothing better to see one of your own grow and surpass you. That is a compliment. I can point to several people who served with me that are way better. Many went on to surpass me. I love it!

When someone makes a hero out of one of my peers or team, I am not threatened. I got over that long ago. Let them shine. Help them shine. Let them move on and flourish. Give away your best. The less we hold on, the less we stress. The more we give away, the more we receive.

Every time I have given away my best, someone else comes along, and we hit a new level. Another head-scratching new math principle.

Replicate Yourself

You are a gifted leader only when you replicate yourself. As good as you are, you are only one person. You are limited to one. One is too small a number.

When you replicate yourself, you open the gift of multiplicity. It is what we called in the Army a force multiplier. Instead of one of you, there are now two, and you accomplish 4x. Yep, more funky new math.

Some people like to brag about the greatness of their leadership, but the first thing I ask about is the pipeline. Yep, the pipeline of fresh talent that then infuses the company and the industry and the world. How many CIOs have you helped build?

A great test is voluntary followership. If you go to another company, how many people follow you? How many people pack their bags and follow you? Or are you one of those leaders who attend every meeting of your subordinate leaders? Are you afraid to let your directors or manager lead without you there? Tough questions, but we have to be real. How is your new math?

Protect One Another

Would you sacrifice for one another? I had to ask myself that many times as a combat-trained medic and combat engineer officer. Thankfully, I never faced battle, but I prepared as if I was getting called to the front lines. We soldiers asked ourselves all the time if we could trust our foxhole buddies. Would they jump on that grenade? Would they take a bullet from your flank?

When in public, we must be unified. We can and should respectfully fight behind the scenes to challenge one another before finalizing decisions and closing ranks. My expectation is that publicly we are one and fight for one another. If someone is bullied, you stand up. If someone is struggling, you walk beside them and carry them if needed. If someone is lost, you help them with directions. If someone is new, you introduce them and never leave them.

You give up your seat at the table. Secure leaders go out of their way to give up their seat. The more you serve and protect and seek the best in another before yourself, the brighter you shine. New math. You have to love it.   


I have great hope that those of us who are privileged to lead will become selfless. That we might tell a colleague, “Please take Mary. She is the best leader I have and she will make that new area rock.” Or, “I love my ABC division to death and it represents my heart and soul, but I can see how infusing pieces and parts into other areas is the very best outcome.” Or, “I love leading this division, but use me as change in your pocket because I’m willing to lead any area you ask.”

Imagine if we had 10 gifted leaders, all concentrated in one area. How does that benefit our patients? Alternatively, what if we took those 10 gifted leaders and strategically placed them throughout the organization? We could change the world. New math.


None of us are perfect. I am likely the most imperfect and average leader there is. But I embrace change and strive to put others before myself. I see many of my gaps and get help. I am unafraid to ask for help. I am unafraid to say I don’t have any idea.

When is the last time you proactively sought training or reached out to a coach or formal mentor? Self-reflect. Assess your gaps, Make a plan. Fill the gap. Wash feet. Repeat. Constantly. New math.


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

CIO Unplugged 11/20/17

November 20, 2017 Ed Marx 10 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.

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