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CIO Unplugged 8/17/16

August 17, 2016 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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

Re-Igniting Passion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you keep passion lit in your career?

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

CIO Unplugged 6/22/16

June 22, 2016 Ed Marx 7 Comments

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

Pay Equality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIO Unplugged 3/30/16

March 30, 2016 Ed Marx 8 Comments

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

The Invisible People

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

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

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

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

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

Today, that changes. What about you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is the invisible that make you visible.

Who are the invisible people in your life?

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

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

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

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

CIO Unplugged 1/20/16

January 20, 2016 Ed Marx 4 Comments

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

Teams Redux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIO Unplugged 1/6/16

January 6, 2016 Ed Marx 14 Comments

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

Course Corrections

The faculty at our Combat Engineer Officer School encouraged us to have leadership fortitude—the courage to make those tough decisions where you admit a mistake, take corrective action, and move forward. Some leaders today are unable to swallow their pride and publically admit an error. Damn if they will acknowledge a failure and make the needed corrections.

Our instructors told us the story of an engineer lieutenant who found himself unable to extract two of his platoons combat vehicles from the mud. He kept adding more dirt to the water. More dirt on water makes more mud. In exasperation, he gave up and just ordered his men to hide his error by burying the vehicles with dirt.

In due time, he was held accountable for the whereabouts of the vehicles and the story went viral. He never made captain.

Halfway in my tenure at a former employer, I was confronted by one of my directors. We had a very successful implementation of an EHR across our continuum that positively impacted business and clinical outcomes. We were getting our feet wet with mobile technologies and innovation was a part of our fabric. From the outside, everything appeared perfect. It wasn’t.

Operationally, we were coming apart. Unplanned downtime skyrocketed. One day, we were picking up an award, and the next, we were on 2:00 a.m. Level One severity calls. Something was wrong. Very wrong.

I was driving down the Interstate headed to an IT quarterly leadership retreat when I answered a call from Michael. “Ed, I don’t see how we can all be meeting for a full day talking strategy when we have had several months of early morning disaster calls. I think it is time to focus on operations.”

Reality! Michael was totally right. Upon arrival, I grabbed my direct reports and we huddled. I shared Michael’s call and that we needed to redirect our attention toward operations. We would need to be creative how to best use our time together that day.

As our leaders settled in and I stood to welcome everyone, I was overcome with emotion and began to tear up and finally started to cry. “I am so embarrassed. I have never been embarrassed like this. We have so much potential. We are gifted and blessed with resources. Yet we are letting our customers down. I have failed you and our organization as a leader.”

There was stunned silence. Then, one by one, the directors chimed in. Though they had remained silent for many months, everyone confided that they had the same thoughts. We had lost our focus, our sharpness. We took our eye off operations, pursued distractions, and relied on past success. As a result, our performance sunk.

We were all ashamed. With the confessions and emotions out of the way, we brainstormed how to get ourselves out of this mess. It was beautiful. The team self-directed, formed into groups, and each tackled the tough issues in a thoughtful manner.

After a couple of hours, each group reported on the results of their efforts. Participants responded and honed the recommendations. In the end, a director from each group took accountability for the initiative.

For the next few months, we focused on these action points. Sure enough, a year later, we were performing at levels commensurate with our potential. We were no longer embarrassed and were once again providing value and helping our health system achieve superior clinical and financial outcomes. Strategy was a natural byproduct.

Course corrections are a sign of strength, not weakness. If we are intellectually honest with ourselves, we know that corrections are required if we hope to continuously improve. This applies equally to work, play, and relationships.

As the New Year begins, take time to reflect on the past and see where you need to make directional changes. In 2015 I made two major corrections, one with work and one with relationships. They were both gut-wrenching, but necessary. As I head into 2016, I find myself in a much better place. At peace. Content. Giddy as a schoolboy.

Never settle for the status quo and flat performance. Humble yourself. Seek input. Change is good. Life is too short for mediocrity.

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

CIO Unplugged 12/2/15

December 2, 2015 Ed Marx No Comments

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predictors to a DNF character:

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

Motivations of a DNF character:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIO Unplugged 10/7/15

October 7, 2015 Ed Marx 3 Comments

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

If It Ain’t Raining, It Ain’t Training

One week prior to the Duathlon Long Course World Championship this September, I meandered out for my last long training bike ride. I met with a group of cyclists with whom I share the same coach.

As we tuned our bikes to ride, it began to rain. No worries. I lowered my tire pressure, threw on rain gear, and was ready to roll.

As a member of TeamUSA, I finished in the top 100 at last year’s World’s. My goal was to stay there and help our team’s score. I needed this last ride before the long haul to Switzerland in what is the most difficult course on the circuit, a 150 km ride through the Alps with 16 percent grades and 5,000 feet of elevation change bookended by trail runs of 10K and 30K.

We began our training ride cautiously, given the rain and slick streets. My tires were new and that made the situation that much more risky. As we passed the two-mile mark, I began to feel increasingly comfortable, but wary. I thought about turning around and training indoors, but the words of my ROTC instructor, Sergeant Major Samuelsson, echoed in my mind as it had so many times prior:  “if it ain’t rainin’, it ain’t trainin’.” So there I rode near the front of the pack, confidence building.

Samuelsson’s exhortation served me well my entire life, especially as an Army combat engineer officer. When in training mode, it was so tempting to cancel or postpone construction, bivouacs, or drills whenever the weather turned dour. But we knew that could kill us. If we were called into combat, we needed to have trained under the worst possible conditions so we would be ready for anything.

The same principle applies in the civilian work place. If you avoid adversity, you won’t be ready to perform well when you find yourself in less than ideal circumstances. How often have we lost golden opportunities because something did not go as planned and we were unrehearsed in our response?

I am comfortable working through challenges in real-time and don’t panic because I know it makes my team and organization stronger. I have led through countless application and technical go-lives where we had success because we had persevered through adversity in the buildup. It is part of growing up.

That day in the rain, we were making a hairpin turn and our peloton slowed appropriately. Before I could react, I took my first cycling crash. Down. Hard. I braced myself for impact from riders behind me. Thankfully, everyone avoided or skidded around me.

I was pretty shaken as I listened to my body for damage and inspected my bike. We were both injured, but well enough that I limped back to my bike shop. My bike repaired and my body bandaged, I gave thanks that neither bike nor body were irreparable in time for World’s.

The weather forecast for Zofigen called for rain. While the days preceding the event were warm and sunny, race day was wet and cold. The first hour was mostly uphill, so the slick streets weren’t too much of a concern. Once we crested the highest point of the course, a steep, technical, narrow, alpine descent beckoned us.

While I questioned my judgment for riding in the rain one week prior to World’s, it all became clear. I was thankful for the experience, fall included. I was better prepared to handle my bike under extremely dangerous conditions. I was confident, albeit cautious, in my approach.

The rain dissipated in time for our second and third laps of this 50K loop and slick roads were no longer a factor. There were many accidents that day on this hill. I am convinced that without training in the rain, I would have ended up a statistic on the pavement and not have fared as well as I did. I fell out of the top 100 duathlete in the world category that day, but remained proud to help TeamUSA.

Whether in sport or profession, it is critical to train under all conditions. Don’t take the easy road and cancel or modify your path because circumstances are less than ideal. Just deal with it as is. You never know when the real world is going to throw you a storm or two, but when you’ve trained for it, you will remain confident. Dealing with adversity will be second nature. Not only will your odds of success increase exponentially, but you will build confidence in the people around you.

Raining? Awesome! I wouldn’t want it any other way!

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 9/2/15

September 2, 2015 Ed Marx 4 Comments

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


I am often asked what the difference is between a manager and leader. In simple terms, it comes down to this. Leaders replicate themselves; managers don’t.

This may seem offensive because many who would consider themselves leaders are actually barren in a professional sense. They have not replicated themselves to cultivate children in leadership. They are managers. There is nothing wrong with being a manager — you just have to be honest about it.

If you think you are a leader but no one follows in your footsteps, you are a manager. But the greatest joy of a leader is to raise someone up and see him or her succeed.

I have been blessed with two children. We were deliberate in how we raised them. From an early age, they were taught to be independent adults who would add value to society. Parenting success was largely based on our ability to mentor and model how to be an adult. I am thankful that both children are of upright character and morals, graduated from college, have noble professions, and moreover, are adding value to society in numerous other ways.

That is what leaders do — replicate. They serve as models. They mentor. They call forth the seeds of leadership within their teams, nurture them, and protect them until they can protect themselves. Then they let them go. Yes! Let them go.

I learned this early on as I observed leadership roles in my classrooms, on the playground, in Cub Scouts and Webelos, on the soccer pitch, and as an altar boy. It was all about identifying potential leaders, nurturing them, and helping them grow and—eventually—letting go.


I learned last week that another one of my former direct reports became a CIO. I cried just like I did when I let my kids go. We invested so much energy and resources into Brandon and Talitha over the years, and as hard as it was, we let them go.

Oh the pain and joy. I feel it fresh as I write. But that is what leaders do — replicate themselves. Joey was my 12th CIO. Most of the 12 serve in healthcare today, but I had one who left for the Cleveland Zoo. He said that there were many similarities with academic medicine. I believed him. Like a proud papa, I let him go.

If you are not barren, then perhaps you’ve got it down and can add fresh ideas in the comments section that might help others.

If you are barren but want to start producing children in leadership, here are some ideas that may help:

  • Self-reflection. Ouch. Yes it starts with you. Are you worthy to be replicated? Do people seek you out and want to serve you ? If not, be honest about it and figure out why. I self-reflect constantly and sometimes, I don’t like what I see.
  • Mentor. Establish a mentoring program. These can be formal or informal. You will have more success if you develop a formal program and enlist others to help.
  • Hand-offs. I still recall an Army mission where we were on patrol for three days straight. The company commander approached me early one morning and said, “Congratulations Marx, you are in charge. Take us back safely.” No time to prepare or rest. Man, I grew on that mission. My boss knew how to force me to grow. Throw surprises at your team. That is how you accelerate growth.
  • Commission. Speak life into your people. Most are beat down by the circumstances of life. Stuff happens and life and career can be hard. Counteract the negativity with an opposing spirit by encouraging those you serve. Tell them what they need to hear, but don’t believe about themselves and their abilities – that they are leaders and have what it takes. That they can be CIO. That they are better than you. That their lives matter.
  • Listen. The biggest compliment you can give is to ask for input, listen to those you serve, and take action on it. Insecure leaders are afraid and don’t listen, but doing so builds the confidence of those around you. Confident subordinates are future CIOs.
  • Model. Always lead the way. Don’t just talk about rounding floors—actually do it and take people with you. Grab them spontaneously and say, “Let’s go visit with some of our team” or “Let’s go to our hospitals and talk to clinicians directly.”
  • Opportunity. Look for opportunities for your team and pass them along. Kick them out of the nest. If you hear of a great opportunity, tell them about it and help them prepare. Leaders help locate opportunities for those they lead.
  • Legacy. Look, we should all ask ourselves what on earth are we here for. We ask ourselves those deathbed questions about legacy and if our life mattered now. What better way to leave a legacy than to have dozens of leaders out there you helped develop who are saving lives? Wow. That is something to live and work for.
  • Time. Your time is not yours. You owe everything to your team. Spend social and work time with them. Laugh, cry, reflect, vent. The reason my kids are successful adults is directly proportional to the time we gave them. If you don’t give yourself to your team, they will never escape adolescence and grow into the leaders they have the ability to be.

What are you going to do with this challenge? Are you a leader with offspring … or are you a manager? What will you do to move from manager to leader? What will you do to increase your impact in this world?

One is too small a number for greatness (Maxwell). You need to multiply yourself if you desire to be a leader. Let’s do this.

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 7/29/15

July 29, 2015 Ed Marx 6 Comments

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

Paradox of Power

Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Do you want more influence at work and life? The key to increased power is the opposite of what most of us do. Most of us hoard power. But here is the truth: the more power you give away, the more influential you are.

There are two primary reasons most people hoard power: pride and insecurity. With power we can easily become arrogant. It feels good and makes us feel important. (Maybe more important than others around us?) It begins to shape our identity and invades our ego. We become addicts reliant on a power fix to make us feel good and ignore pain.

Yesterday’s fix does not satiate today’s appetite, so we need more and when we don’t get it, we lose our security. We are no longer thankful for the opportunity to have influence. It becomes an addiction. We all know people who once were rational and lovely but became unrepentant tyrants. It’s all pride and insecurity.

I recall the difficulty of moving the “IT Agenda” forward in a specific organization. Originally technology stragglers, leadership was quick to allocate resources to any other area but IT. Clearly there are multiple approaches to overcoming this common situation and we employed many. Embracing the paradox of power was the single biggest strategy we adopted that enabled our organization to move from laggard to national leader in a very short time.

I served with a gifted CMIO who reported directly to me. Our relationship was amazing and extended far beyond the workplace. We didn’t want our friendship to change, but knew we needed broader influence, so we expanded his reporting relationships. At first it was a dual reporting relationship to the CMO and then ultimately grew to a triad reporting structure to the COO as well. This approach was so successful, we severed his reporting relationship to me entirely. We eventually took a similar path with the CNIO. The results? Laggards to leaders.

Think about it. When it was time to prioritize budget items, I had the power of a singular vote. Now, I wasn’t the only believer in the power of technology to transform how we delivered care, there were two others of the same opinion. The IT vote was essentially tripled. This is one example but you can see the principle in action. The more you give away, the more you receive. This method is effective in play, at home, and at work.

In contrast, the insecure leader tries to tighten their grip on influence. No sharing. Hoarding takes hold. Command and control. No longer viewed as a team player, the leader’s power slowly and painfully erodes and is no longer respected. Key people resign, leaving behind equally insecure “yes” men and women. In an effort to replenish and build power, energy is diverted and the insecure leader begins to self-destruct.

Not only does the leader lose, but the organization loses as well. It is an avoidable tragedy. Imagine an organization where leaders seek to share power with one another. That is where I want to serve!

The biggest blocker of giving away power is insecurity. You must be secure to give it away! Insecure leaders are easy to spot—they do the opposite. They grab for power and hold on for dear life. They protect power. They actually believe they are becoming more powerful by controlling people. Controlling reporting relationships. Controlling information. Controlling culture. Another paradox? The more they try to control, the more they become controlled, imprisoned behind bars of fear. The cellblock does not have a lock. None is required.

What is the message? Give it away. Yep. Give up your power. Give up the control. Give up the grip.

An interesting dynamic happens when you walk in the opposite mindset or what I tag “freedom.” The chains are loosened and eventually broken. As this transformation occurs, you see results that serve as motivation to give away even more. Not only did this approach help us transform healthcare delivery, but it also felt good and was fun. Insecure leaders hoarding power—not fun.

This paradox is active in every aspect of life. I had this experience with money way back when. We did not have much and everything we did have, we hoarded. We did not share. And things stayed about the same financially. One day, we started to give it away. We noticed that the door to our cell had no lock and eventually we walked out free. More money started coming in. The more we gave, the more we received.

A few years ago I posted about softball. I was the best on the team, but we were mediocre. I swallowed my pride, gave away my position and batting spot, and boom, we won every game. We went from mediocre to champions.

I could give you similar examples in love as well. Don’t argue with me until you try it. If it does not work, then let’s talk! You want more power, more love, more success, more of anything? Give away more and let the cell door slam shut behind you!

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 7/8/15

July 8, 2015 Ed Marx 6 Comments

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

The Opportunity and Danger of Influence

Following my farewell speech, several of my team approached me to say personal goodbyes. Waiting in the back, and the last person to step forward, was a manager. He confided that while not active in terms of volunteering at or attending social events I’d hosted, he was deeply impacted by my leadership. Since this was the first time he expressed such feelings, I looked him straight in the eye and asked him, “How?”

He stated that because of my personal emphasis on upholding responsibility for my well being and my active modeling, he’d decided to lose weight. In fact, over the last two years he had lost 185 pounds! Standing before me was a svelte man. I shared how proud I was of him. He went on to say that he observed how I shared and lived my faith and decided he wanted the same as well. A year prior, he’d found faith as a Christian.

My point is this: I never once spoke to him personally about well being or Christianity. But he watched, adopted, and changed. Transformed.

Last week, I attended a funeral and visitation for a former employee. He was not a vice-president, director, manager, or lead, but I knew him just the same. After seven years at the same company, I’d made it my priority to know everyone. I was no longer his leader, but refused to miss this visitation.

That day, I met his wife for the first time and introduced myself. She responded, “Oh, I know who you are. Eric spoke about you all the time.” “What, he spoke about me?” I thought to myself. “What for? What about?”

Eric loved to laugh, so I took a chance and made a subtle joke. His widow and I broke out laughing, then hugging, and then crying—as if we’d known each other as long as I had known Eric. People go home and tell stories—good or bad—about their leaders.

Yesterday, via LinkedIn, I had a message from an operations manager at one of my former hospitals. She shared how impressed she was by the training that one of my staff received through our internal IT program. She ended up taking the course herself and it changed her personal and professional life. She was so impacted that she switched careers and became an instructor for the course.

Your influence has repercussions beyond the immediate.

I could tell you more stories, but you get it. As leaders we wield significant influence. This influence can be for harm as well as good. We must be very careful and aware. It does not matter what you say, it is what you do. Our actions speak louder than words and they have the power for good or evil. Scary.

Choose life.

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

CIO Unplugged 5/28/15

May 28, 2015 Ed Marx 11 Comments

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

Time for Me to Fly

Speculation swirls as to the reasons for my departure from my Texas employer on April 20, 2015. It is really simple and drama free. The organization I served was awesome. The most amazing place I have ever worked. Loved it. What I can share with you is my resignation speech below.

I called you all here this morning to share something important with you in person. Most of you know what happened to me in January on my ascent of Aconcagua. I had every intent of summiting that beautiful and rugged peak, but it was not to be. I had to abandon my climb, although my team would successfully summit 10 days later.

In the same way, I won’t make our summit climb with you. But I know you will be fine without me. You are trained, you are equipped, and you know the path. The climb was never about me. It was about all of us fulfilling our calling here. You will climb to the top without me and continue to save lives.

It was exactly seven years, six months, and one day ago. I drove with my family down from Cleveland through Kentucky and Louisiana. And there it was — the vast flatlands known as east Texas. As we crossed the state line, a Ford 350 pulling a flatbed trailer carrying 20 head of cattle pulled in front of us in our yuppie Lexus.

My daughter was spinning the radio dial looking for travel music, but every station was playing Nascar or college football. Suddenly we were hit by a dust storm. No wait, that wasn’t a dust storm! We were being pelted by cow dung that exploded on the asphalt highway into shit shrapnel penetrating the wax of our freshly washed veneer. Welcome to Texas!

I showed up here not sure what I was getting myself into. Tumbleweeds? F150s? Country music? Cowshit? WTH!

I knew it would not be forever and I am thankful for the precious time I had to serve with you. My last day will be April 20. Seven years, six months and 20 days. Five years and 20 days longer than some of you thought I would last, or at least hoped for.

I am not leaving for another opportunity too good to be true. I am not unhappy here — quite the contrary. I am not looking for more time with my family. I am not trying to fulfill a promise made.

A leader knows when it is time to move on. Give others a chance to fulfill their leadership calling.

I am giving myself some time for reflection.

We have an amazing leadership team and you are part of it. I am so proud of all of you. I brag about you all the time. You are the envy of many.

My only frustration in leaving now is you don’t know how good you are. How good you have become. Those of you who have been to the CHIME CIO Boot Camp know what I am talking about.

What have we done together? What storms have we weathered? What challenges did we overcome? What have we innovated? How much did we grow? How much impact did we have? It is overwhelming to think about.

Trust me, I have focused on this the past 30 days. Sigh. When I think about us, I think about all our “one anothers.” You know, as in, “We served one another,” or, “We upheld the promise with one another.”

  • We labored with one another.
  • We danced with one another.
  • We did obstacle courses with one another.
  • We hopped on 3 a.m. severity one calls with one another.
  • We drank with one another.
  • We stayed up 24+ hours with one another.
  • We cheered and experienced joy with one another.
  • We engaged with one another.
  • We elevated with one another.
  • We excelled with one another.
  • We passed out with one another.
  • We cared for one another.
  • We rounded at every hospital with one another.
  • We got tattoos with one another.
  • We played soccer with one another.
  • We played volleyball with one another.
  • We played softball with one another.
  • We took grief from clinicians with one another.
  • We sang carols with one another.
  • We debated with one another.
  • We challenged one another.
  • We loved one another.
  • We broke bread with one another.
  • We listened to Ralph’s SEAL Team stories with one another.
  • We made meals for one another.
  • We took care of each other’s families with one another.
  • We read books with one another.
  • We supported go-lives with one another.
  • We did karaoke with one another.
  • We did way more than IT for our customers with one another.
  • We survived audits with one another.
  • We bared emotions with one another.
  • We rebounded with one another.
  • We were mesmerized by Ferdie’s chants with one another
  • We broke silly rules with one another.
  • We cried with one another.
  • We survived (name removed) with one another.
  • We endured Dale Carnegie with one another.
  • We discovered and learned with one another.
  • We worked from home with one another.
  • We climbed mountains with one another.
  • We preserved through RIFs with one another.
  • We celebrated weddings with one another.
  • We had all our expense reports rejected with one another.
  • We climbed ropes with one another.
  • We played jokes on one another.
  • We achieved the highest levels of physician satisfaction with one another.
  • We prayed with one another.
  • We laughed with one another.
  • We enabled the dignity of death with one another.
  • We won Davies with one another.
  • We visited many bedsides with one another.
  • We worked out with one another.
  • We held hands with one another.
  • We consistently achieved world-class customer satisfaction with one another.
  • We attended Leadercast with one another.
  • We lovingly tolerated security with one another.
  • We bar crawled with one another.
  • We improved business outcomes with one another.
  • We were with the family of Stacy with one another.
  • We were with the family of Dale with one another.
  • We were with the family of Fred with one another.
  • We were with the family of Renee with one another.
  • We were with the family of Carole with one another.
  • We spent time in my home with one another.
  • We received way too many texts from Jim with one another.
  • We yammered with one another.
  • We created TEDx with one another.
  • We suffered through ITSM classes with one another.
  • We improved clinical quality with one another.
  • We improve patient safety with one another.
  • But most of all, but most of all, we saved lives with one another!

@#%$@ I watched so many of you blossom into amazing leaders that enabled these one anothers!

The future is awesome. The summit is in your sights. You have what it takes. You are leaders, you got this! You will become stronger without me But be assured. I will be watching you. You better not @$#%!@ up!

Jeremiah 29:11 says, “I know what I am doing. I have it all planned out. Plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.”

I have tried to live my life embracing the following verses. I fall short, but share it with you nevertheless. It is aspirational. I pray this for you.

I Corinthians 9:24-27: “You have all been to the stadium and seen the athletes race. Everyone runs; one wins. Run to win. All good athletes train hard. They do it for a gold medal that tarnishes and fades. You are after one that is gold eternally.

I don’t know about you, but I am running hard for the finish line. I am giving it every thing that I got. No sloppy living for me. I am staying alert and in top condition. I am not going to get caught napping, telling everyone else all about it, and then missing out myself.

I will miss you. #@!&&^% I will always love you. You have no idea the depth of the pride and love I have for each of you.

We will always be about…one another…and saving lives. That’s our legacy.

I then went one by one to every VP, director, and manager and laid hands on them and spoke to their soul. I knew my people. I asked God to give me the words to encourage each one. I gave each one a specific word.

And when the last person left the room. I wept.

Today I have the privilege to serve the people of the world’s greatest city working in public health. Through an arrangement with The Advisory Board Group/Clinovations, I am part of the NYC Health and Hospitals Corporation IT leadership team. I could not be happier. Perhaps a future post I will get into more details.

And yes, I still have my eye on my Texas colleagues.

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

CIO Unplugged 3/11/15

March 11, 2015 Ed Marx 8 Comments

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

Why IT Governance is Impotent

Every CIO I speak with struggles with IT governance. Despite everything written, numerous conference sessions, and creative processes, IT governance is a quagmire. 

I  wrestle with the “why.” I write extensively about it, give sessions, and publish creative models, but have not yet hit the mark. The literature is full of theory and process flows, but none seem to pass the test of time and stress. IT Governance remains a struggle for the majority of organizations across industries.

This riddle won’t be answered with new models. Innovation and creative models will inevitably fail unless we address three key factors. If accounted for, these influences will help ensure It Governance success: culture, leadership, and identified outcomes.


It does not matter who sits on the IT Governance committee or what model you use. When I switched organizations a few years ago, I transferred in what was a reasonable model. But what works in the North may not work in the South. It is a mistake to believe that models are portable, yet that is our focus. We keep thinking the answer is in the model.

You can leverage any model to achieve effective governance. Let’s stop copying other organizations models and start homing in on and adopting the principles that run through the few working models out there. Build these values in your IT Governance fabric and you will find success.


CIOs forsake our IT Governance leadership responsibility. Consensus is the enemy of collaboration. In an effort to appease key stakeholders, we no longer walk in our authority and thus the entire process has become deluded, rendering us impotent.

If you are not making people mad, you are not leading well. Stirring up contention is not the point. But when you lead with authority, not everyone will like your decisions. If our goal is to not upset the apple cart, our produce will eventually spoil and nobody will be happy.

So make the tough calls. That’s what you are paid to do. Don’t give it away and shortchange your organization. You, not a committee, are responsible for IT.

When will you know IT governance is successful?

The answer to this question will drive your model and principles. Collaborate with organizational leaders to establish desired outcomes.

If a focus is leveraging IT resources to do more strategic initiatives, then adjust your model accordingly. Set targets and then measure and report on them. Use these to prioritize requests. What percentage of your resources should be spent on strategic versus tactical? Know this answer and lead accordingly. Make adjustments to hit the outcome.

An outcome might be financial, related to establishing and defending budgets. I always have clinicians and executives as co-chairs in my models. Practically, I gain three times the influence, as they are surrogate CIOs when it comes time to acquire or defend resources. Adoption and usability are no longer on my shoulders, but rather the responsibility of all stakeholders. I retain authority by sharing it. Yet I remain accountable.

Strategic alignment is a valuable outcome. Ensure that everything you do is aligned with organizational objectives. You can build this into your process. Establishing alignment as a measurable outcome is one of the most effective ways to ensure the continued allocation of scarce resources. Moreover, you are demonstrating that your focus is not IT, but the greater good of helping your organization fulfill its mission and vision.

Focus less on the model and more on culture, leadership, and desired outcomes and the odds for effective IT governance increase exponentially.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

CIO Unplugged 1/28/15

January 28, 2015 Ed Marx 14 Comments

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

Beyond the Summit

The follow-up exam confirmed the base camp physician’s initial diagnosis. My eyes welled as the valley echoed with a familiar roar of the medevac chopper engines making the treacherous flight to reach the high ridge.

We had barely arrived at Base Camp Plaza Argentina, a mere 4,200-meter elevation, when the fickle finger of HAPE touched my lungs. I had to abandon my bid for Aconcagua well short of the summit. The fact that I’d summited peaks higher than this base camp did not matter.

Six years ago, I’d started climbing, and since then, I’d summited 20-plus peaks. I realized mountains ago that the true prize was never in conquering the actual summit. If I really listened and reflected, each climb embodied a much deeper lesson. An epiphany. I wrote about this a few times. Kilimanjaro, Rainier and, most recently, Elbrus.

Where I’d always connected these lessons to my success in summiting, I was now perplexed by Aconcagua.

Our team had formed and stormed for a couple of days in Mendoza, Argentina. The age range spanned 30 years. Germans, Scottish, Brazilians, and North Americans. Singles, one couple, friends, and in my case, climbing partners composed this diverse team. All were surprisingly equal in abilities, well prepared, fast, and strong. And of course we had talented guides who took us places our passports could not.

Once on the trail, we traveled 8-10 miles each day. We climbed 2-3,000 feet elevations before making camp each night. One day, we even outpaced the mule team carrying half our gear. We reached Plaza Argentina swiftly and efficiently.


We set our tents on the Plaza and all of us dealt with typical altitude issues. The few hours before dinner, we rested. As I laid my head on my makeshift pillow, I heard gurgling noises when I exhaled. My experiences and training said this was a telltale sign of things not good. Our lead guide Zeb did a pulse ox. Dropping under 90 was reason for concern—I was 65! My heart rate was 80 (my normal resting heart rate is 42). Obviously, it would go up in altitude, but this was twice the norm and my breathing was already labored. I suffered a major headache and my BP was out of range.

Given my climbing résumé, we tried to fix things with drugs to accelerate acclimation. Nothing worked. My oxygen saturation stayed dangerously low. HAPE had won.

If you’ve never experienced High Altitude Pulmonary Edema, taste this. The night before my medevac chopper ride, the physical misery was indescribably frightening. Water invaded my lungs as if to drown me alive. The lack of O2 getting into my veins rendered me lethargic; every step stole my breath. I had zero energy.

After I got the final diagnosis that morning, I had to tell the team that the incoming chopper had come for me. I approached our mess tent where my companions were eating and I started bawling. I stopped and took deep, labored breaths to compose myself. I said 10 words and my emotions overwhelmed me again. I touched my heart, eyed each of them, and then left to be alone.

Frank (Tucson Medical Center CIO) helped me gather my belongings. He and I were tight, having shared many tents in the past. He’s like a brother. He provided comfort. I took what I needed to get by for the day. My bags would come down by mule later that evening.


Frank and Zeb stood with me as I waited to load the bird. I don’t bawl often, but overwhelmed with sadness and inadequacy, I convulsed. Another climbing buddy Adriane came over. A sister, we also climbed together previously and enjoyed singing. A mother and teacher, she consoled me. One by one, my team came to the helipad. We shared hugs and tears. They stood there waving as I lifted off. On the bright side, they no longer had to groan at my puns or hear me sing.

Five months prior to this climb, I ranked top 10 at the world’s highest triathlon. Four months prior, I completed my second Ironman in record time. Three months prior, I was the top 100 duathlete at the World Championships. Two months prior, I was flirting with a 90-minute half marathon. One month prior, I was traipsing around local trails, carrying a 50-pound pack or stair-climbing in my Everest boots sporting a backpack full of 50 pounds of water.

Now I could hardly move.

Not to mention all the high-end equipment I purchased. I’d given talks about the 100 percent success rates for my previous climbing teams. My pride had been at stake.

What was beyond this summit?

The flight out was amazing. To gain altitude and overcome hellacious winds, the pilot did three loops in front of Aconcagua. The beauty left me awestruck. The rest of the ride through the Andes was a sight to behold. I made the most of the experience. Chin up. God was teaching me something. Listening to Him taught me what was beyond this summit.

The chopper dropped me off at the staging area, where I waited for my belongings to arrive by mule. Most of my symptoms cleared quickly. Finally, bags in hand, I headed back to Mendoza and made the most of the next couple of days as a tourist.

What did I learn? Humility for sure. But I also took the time to actually hear God. He’d been speaking to me for a couple of years now, telling me to decelerate. Slow down in all areas of life. Pole-Pole (slow-slow) in Kilimanjaro climbing terminology.

I never listened, despite well-intentioned people telling me. Failure got my attention. I had to learn the difficult and expensive way because I’d clearly refused the easier route. So again, it was never about the mountain. It was about an epiphany beyond the summit. This time, very close and personal.

How about you? Do you have ears to hear and eyes to see the real story around your circumstances? What are the peaks and valleys in your life? It’s rarely obvious to the physical eye. You have to seek it with your heart, because your heart sees and hears what your other organs cannot.


The best news: my team went on to summit that glorious peak on January 12, 2015. At their celebration dinner back in Mendoza, they left an empty chair to honor me.

Now for some Malbec.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

CIO Unplugged 1/14/15

January 14, 2015 Ed Marx 3 Comments

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

Leadership and the Paradox of Shame

Ninety percent of successful business executives are driven by shame. Psychology Today defines shame: the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another. It’s an attitude toward self. Nobody needs to look long to see the roots and vines of shame snaking through my life.

Shame is a powerful motivator. I was afraid to being a failure, so I graduated in the top 20 percent in the corps of engineer officer academy. I dreaded being last in any race, so I drove my body until I reached Team USA status. I feared disappointing my parents, so I strove to be a senior vice-president. One boss told me I wore the wrong clothes, so I revamped my wardrobe to keep from being harassed. Shame became my identity.

It begins in youth. We are shamed by parents, educators, coaches, friends, and clergy. If we chose to believe the lies, our identity falls prey to …

The paradox of shame. On one hand, it’s an emotional prison. On the other, it’s a fuel for success.

I was led to believe I was never good enough. Never as smart as my eldest brother and sister. I never could score as many soccer goals as my middle siblings. For every mistake and failure to meet his expectations, Dad shamed me. If a scoop of ice cream slid off my cone, Mom called me an idiot. They labeled my adolescent tomfoolery criminal. They didn’t know any better.

The year I earned my master’s degree and got promoted to Army captain was a big deal for me. Yet my mother exclaimed, “You still have to prove yourself.” Shame was my parents’ subconscious method of motivation.

Following their ingrained model, I leveraged shame to my advantage. I had to prove to men that I was a man. I had to prove to women that I was desirable. I had to prove to the world that I was worthy of accolades. Shame drove me to accomplish some amazing things. In order to feel good about myself, I had to be number one in everything. All false beliefs.

I even used shame in my leadership practice. I’d shame others to get the results I desired. I subtly made people feel bad under the label of motivation. While the intent was OK, the technique was pitiful. I would belittle and criticize others openly. Often, it was not so much what I said but my body language. I would make others feel bad until they relented and did things as I wanted them done.

The day someone exposed my shame, I embraced it. Twisted thinking! I loved the benefit. The power. If I let go of shame, what would happen to my drive? How would I motivate my staff? Would I still be number one? Would I still accomplish great things? Would men still admire me and women find me attractive?

Crazy, right? It’s called deception.

Shame infiltrated my DNA. Can I reverse the curse? Yes! But at what cost? At what benefit? Is it worth the risk? What if I fail? What if I lose the admiration of friends, family and industry? What if it costs me all that I have gained?

I’ve really been searching and examining myself. How do I escape shame? How do I stop shaming others?

It comes down to releasing myself and others to be who they were created to be. If that means I’m not president of the United States, so what? If I don’t make the team, so what? If people no longer seek me out, so what? Easier said than done.

Truth: better to live in freedom than in bondage to a lie. Shame creates a void that will never be filled despite the drive it creates. And for a leader, the higher status you attain, self-deceit can spiral out of control. The only way to escape this vortex of deception is to jump. Forget what others think. It is about you and me being who we really are, despite title.

Then how do we fill the void once we denounce shame? It zeros back to identity. Figure it out and live who you were created to be. To be self-reliant is to dig a deeper hole and still never be good enough. Instead, reach out for help. Continuously explore faith. You’ll be a work in progress, as am I. Messy, yet loveable. Redeemable. Worthy.

Thoughts on work relationships and the keys to escape:

  • Acknowledge shame-driven ways (you might need to ask a friend).
  • Apologize for manipulating through shame.
  • Replace shame with sincere encouragement.
  • Do not tolerate shame from others.
  • Exhort your teams to be all they can be, no strings attached.
  • Tell them it’s OK to be something different than what you may have wanted
  • Surround yourself with truth-tellers who will call you out on shame tactics.
  • Hold fast to your true identity.
  • As you become free, they will become free
  • When you remain imprisoned, so do they.

One more thing. I believe it is probable that by operating in the opposite spirit of shame, your teams will shine brighter than you ever envisioned! They may not look or act like you, but they’ll be free to be their best. Better to be mortal and free rather than super successful and emotionally imprisoned.

Shame is the new “Hotel California.” You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave.

Thankfully, there is an escape route out of the vortex. Break free with me.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

CIO Unplugged 12/31/14

December 31, 2014 Ed Marx 2 Comments

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

Forever Young

The song ‘Forever Young,” originally recorded by Alphaville, has been covered by numerous artists, most notably Jay-Z. As with many popular lyrics, the meaning differs for each listener. For sure, it’s a reference to the Cold War, during which it was written. But for me, it’s my 2015 anthem.

To live every day with my heart in the moment and only one eye on the horizon.

I’ve missed many heart moments. At age 14, I wanted to be 16 and then I wanted to be 18 and then 21. My first time swimming across San Francisco Bay, all I wanted to do was get out of the frigid waters. I hated it. When I was in college, I wanted to graduate and didn’t give a hoot about absorbing what I was learning. My freshman year, I fell in love, but romanticized the future and focused on getting married instead of developing a solid relationship foundation. When my babies were born, I groaned for the day they’d be potty trained. I missed critical bonding moments between “boring” infancy and tee ball age.

Essentially, I stunted my emotional evolution. Distracted with the stuff of earth, I was so absorbed in what I might gain in the future that I missed the present.

As are some of you, I’m a visionary by design. Without a vision, we go nowhere fast or drive backwards through life’s maze. But if we’re uber focused on vision, we shortchange relationships and forgo eternally valuable opportunities. Both ends of this spectrum are danger zones. When we lean too far toward vision, we lose two critical elements to a fulfilling life. Pain and Joy. And you can’t have one without the other.

“Forever Young” opened my eyes to being in the moment—emotionally.

I want to avoid pain, and relationships are painful. Work is painful. Can’t I just skip all the hard stuff and jump straight to the Promise Land? Why suffer? Let’s introduce new technologies and not deal with required culture and workflow changes. Keep pushing and everyone will eventually accept it as designed. So what if we rub one another the wrong way or talk behind a person’s back? Let’s just pretend that no one ever gets hurt and move on in our grand masquerade. Life is good!

Not really. Really living means we have to touch pain.

Years ago, I suffered rope burns on a challenge course. The skin on my hands was ripped off, exposing flesh. My ER friends could have simply put on salve, a bandage, fed me some drugs, and patted my back as I walked out. But then I’d return in worse condition. Instead, I screamed as they flushed my hand with saline, rubbing Betadine through my wounds and under the remaining skin. Today, you can’t see the trauma because they were willing to touch my wound.

A new year is prime time to change your game. Touch your wounds; touch the pain of those you love. Stop running and put on your big boy pants. I’d prefer putting on an Elizabethan collar (that lampshade thing dogs wear) to keep me from seeing or touching any wounds. Forgive and forget. Pretend nothing happened. Ignore pain. Get over it! I’ll be OK.

No! Pain unresolved only leaves open scars. You’ll feel counterfeit relief for a spell, but emotional scar tissue builds up. Continue to ignore and you’ll never reach your full potential. Every time you run from pain, you deaden part of your soul and become a false you. I am learning to embrace pain. In the moment. “Forever Young.”

Unspeakable joy. Only after you endure pain can you experience true joy. If you skip through the hard stuff, you cheat yourself. Total counterfeit. Superficial. And that’s boring!

The second time swimming the Bay, I stopped in the middle and beheld the San Fran skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge. Not only did I enjoy the moment, I then swam faster than my first time. Climbing some of the world’s tallest peaks, I marvel at the beauty of God’s creation and enjoy the moment. It makes the summit pure joy. I don’t reach the peak without the pain. The same goes for enduring emotional pain. Your soul reaches a new high.

Work conflicts. Not on my fun list. But I won’t run any more, meaning I won’t run away. I’ll run toward it, hoping to put some humanity back into the corporate world—culture shock! Some of my best working relationships will only be born out of pain if I don’t repeat past mistakes.

For example, a while back, an executive director was stuck in his ways and our personalities clashed. We never saw i2i. Did I go through the pain of deeper conversations or opening my heart to him, despite how he might stab me? No. I took the lazy way out. Smiled and nodded then walked out of meetings, rolling my eyes inside. But had we resolved, we could have become a dynamic duo rather than each other’s arch nemesis. We could have changed the future of our hospital. Working through the pain could have led to professional and personal joy.

I’m embracing the pain of my personal relationships. It’s messy! And it hurts deeply with every touch. I have plenty of open scars, and I’ve caused even more. But I have a new vision for healthy relationships, and the only way to achieve joy is to touch the pain. If I don’t change the game, I’ll become so callous I’ll no longer feel.

I am tired of missing moments. Of being shallow. No more counterfeit. Instead, “Forever Young.” I wanna be “Forever Young.”


Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

CIO Unplugged 11/12/14

November 12, 2014 Ed Marx 4 Comments

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


Thanks to a recommendation by friend and peer Pamela Arora, I was invited by the Chinese government to speak about health information technology. Having visited 29 years ago for my honeymoon, I was eager to return. This time, I would not be smuggling in bibles, but freely sharing lessons learned from my healthcare technology experiences.


After a 14-hour plane ride, I landed in Beijing and was greeted by my gracious host, Michael Wang. Michael is an English-speaking administrator at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, the primary hospital for the city and party officials. We shared much in common and bonded over many meals, discussing our values and ideologies. Heck, we even did Starbucks together! We would later catch up with Pamela, who was also invited as a speaker.

You may be wondering how I survived eight days without Facebook, Twitter, Google, and YouTube. The answer: barely.

I had shared in advance my Top 10 list of sites to visit and they gave me a personal tour guide. It was freaking unbelievable. Although not a fan of Asian cuisine, I promised I would eat and drink everything set before me. Gulp. I managed. Incidentally, sea cucumbers are not ocean vegetables!

We also bonded through the ritual of shared shots. In China, each toast is a three-shot minimum. I, well … lost count of the toasts. What happens in Beijing stays in Beijing.

As you would expect, we toured the magnificent Friendship Hospital. Our guide and senior host was hospital president XU Shuqang MD, PhD. Dr. Shuqang now serves as the Party’s undersecretary of health for emergency management. A very friendly man with a great sense of humor. We connected on several levels, as both China and USA share many of the same challenges in healthcare.

As a big believer in the power of technology to help transform healthcare, Shuqang was personally responsible for the content of this conference. Every hospital in China took part. The equivalent of the ONC sat in the first row. The 2014 Chinese EMR and Hospital Information Management Association Congress was underway. I still pinch myself. Was I really a featured speaker? Humbled.


They employed simultaneous translation, which helped my speech go very smoothly. Until slide 12. Michael had entered the Chinese translation for all of my English bullet points, but for some reason, for every slide after the 11th, the English bullets disappeared.

It gave me pause, but I collected myself and then went on from memory. Thankfully, I recognized the pictures along the way that told a story related to the content. All was good. Who would know?


What did they want to learn about? Meaningful Use, HIE, privacy and security, and HIMSS stages of EHR maturity. Because I couldn’t imagine not talking about it, I threw in a few nuggets on leadership as well. What good is all that other stuff if nobody can lead and execute?

They were ahead of us in some areas such as telehealth, but behind in other areas such as EHR adoption and HIE. We learned from one another and developed a lifelong friendship that transcends political ideology. We are in this to transform healthcare. Indeed, the world is flat.

As I headed home, I reflected. My new friends. The amazing sights and sounds. The beautiful people. I came away with renewed hope. Hope for the world.

What resonated with me most was one of the triple-shot toasts given by Dr. Shuqang. “Despite ideological differences,” he said, shot glassed raised, “our two super powers can collaborate and truly transform healthcare and make this world a better place for the citizens of every country.”

They will be in Texas visiting Pamela and Children’s Health. I aim to catch up on progress made since we first met. I also hope they’re ready for some Texas cuisine!

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

CIO Unplugged 10/29/14

October 29, 2014 Ed Marx 9 Comments

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

The Art of Saying Goodbye

How you say goodbye is more important than the first hello.

We only get a chance to make a first impression once. It is hard to recover a blown opportunity at saying hello. When I start at a new organization, one of my top priorities is meeting with as many individuals as I can as quickly as I can. I call this “hit the ground listening.” It is amazing how you can accelerate your adoption in a new company by asking questions and showing genuine interest in others and how things work.

I don’t recall all of my interactions. But I do recall every interaction where the first impression was blown by either party. In fact, those relationships rarely recovered despite reconciliation attempts.

Based on that, how can I assert that saying goodbye is more critical than that first impression?

While the first impression is typically a moment between two people, the last goodbye is often public. People watch, observe, and take note. They make impressions that, like first hellos, leave an indelible mark whose impact is irreversible.

How we treat an associate as they leave says more about the culture of an organization than anything else. We need to perfect the goodbye. There is an art.

There are a variety of valid ways to say goodbye. First, I do not believe that title dictates the extravagance of a goodbye. Why do we reserve champagne just for executives? Often the departing analyst may have had equal or greater impact! A rock star is a rock star.

I recall one farewell reception where a fellow executive who was walking by our festivities was wondering which of our peers was retiring. He seemed aghast that is was just a farewell for an analyst who had been with us for five years. I told him that the impact that analyst had in five years was greater than the impact of some execs who had been there twice as long. It is not about title or length of service, it is about material impact. The greater the impact, the greater the celebration.

Second, make sure you understand how the departing person wants to say goodbye. While I am all about big celebrations, others prefer a sedate getaway. Always do what that person prefers — it is their party! I recall lavishing praise on someone for the amazing work they had done. Afterwards, they texted me that they dislike that kind of recognition. My attempt to bless backfired. When someone prefers an understated affair, I think it is important that this is shared with those observing.

The next time this situation presented itself, I simply let the team know that we really appreciated the person who was leaving, but they specifically asked for a quiet exit and we would honor that. A card or small luncheon may be perfectly appropriate.

There are many ways to say goodbye and this is by no means an exhaustive list. My favorite thing to do is to verbally affirm others. We bless them with a reception full of friends and family, but the thing people have told me time again as having the most significant impact is the verbal praise received from those they worked with for so many years.

As the leader, you start this. You surround the person, look in their eyes, and speak truth. Dependent on their comfort and your relationship, I recommend including touch. You don’t need to prepare a speech — this should be spontaneous. Just speak what is in your heart and perhaps include an anecdote. Try to include something light to counterbalance the sorrow that everyone will naturally feel. As you lead, others will follow.

To be able to say goodbye like this clearly requires something of you. That you have relationship with your entire team. That you know them by name. That the stories are natural to come by because you have shared experiences.

What if the person leaving was a poor performer? All the more reason to celebrate!

And if anyone tells me they have no time to celebrate and say goodbye in an artful, thoughtful way … you need a new career.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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