Journaling

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Photo by MESSALA CIULLA on Pexels.com

By my count, today is day 138 of the COVID-19 pandemic, or a little over four and a half months of social distancing. While my wife and I feel blessed to have a roof over our heads, jobs, our health, and a healthy new baby boy, that doesn’t mean the last 138 days have been easy. We miss our family, our friends, seeing people in our community regularly and, boy, what I would do for a night out at our favorite restaurant or to go to a ballgame.

With all of that said, there is one practice that I hope to keep when all of this is over and that’s journaling. Pretty much every evening, I have sat down and kept a journal and I have found that, despite the lack of normal activity, I have had a lot to say! I have already filled up 2 journals that I have previously started and stopped over the last decade and am on my third.

I find it therapeutic to get my thoughts down on paper, even if they are disorganized and incomplete. I do not put pressure on myself for it to be elegant prose or the next great novel, it just reflects what comes off the top of my mind and out of my pen. Journaling helps me reflect on and explore conversations I’ve had, think through problems, process things I am learning, and put events that are bothering me into a larger context.

Journaling also gives me a reference point for certain events. For example, without the journal, I doubt that I would have any memory of my son’s first 4 weeks of life. As those of you who are parents know, that time is a sleep-deprived blur. Not to mention that, because of the pandemic, it was just the three of us for that entire time.

Most of all, I have found that journaling gives me context. It is hard not to feel like every notable moment or decision is significant. However, I look back later and realize that I may have blown whatever was going on way out of proportion. Reading through it in a journal allows me to understand my thoughts and emotions so that when I am feeling those same thoughts or emotions in a similar context, I can put them into perspective, reminding myself how it turned out. I had this exact situation happen to me just this week, and by making the comparison, I was able to make myself feel better and better manage my emotions.

Seeing progress over time has been one of the best discoveries in keeping a journaling practice. I highly recommend it, especially if you are leading teams or you desire to engage in self-discovery. Happy journaling!

Journal of choice: Moleskine large soft cover lined notebook

Writing instrument of choice: Montblanc Meisterstück Platinum-Coated Classique Rollerball or my gift shop pen from the President Gerald Ford Museum

KEY TAKEAWAY: Journaling is a great way to collect your thoughts, especially during times of growth, change, or uncertainty.

Slow down

Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty groggy. Feeling like I just went to sleep, I sit up in my bed in the middle of the night, half awake and I hear a voice in my head saying, “It’s a marathon not a sprint, slow down.”

This voice is neither premonition nor mantra (nor psychosis), but rather the literal voice of my wife, Sheryl, coaching our 5-week old son, Aaron, to slow down while he enjoys one of his middle of the night feedings.

AJS Nats

He’ll grow into it

I’ve listened to people for years talk about how much they learn from their children and I honestly did not pay it any attention and really just heard it as lip service, something parents say. Here I am though, just a few weeks into fatherhood, and Aaron is already teaching me something. Whether it’s moving his body too quickly or eating too quickly, Aaron seems to get into trouble when he rushes. I just wish I could clearly communicate  to him that childhood is a special time and he should hold onto being a child for as long as possible. While the world is a wide-open and exciting place, being able to experience new things with pure joy as a child is a time nobody should rush through.

Meanwhile, I’ve been engaging with friends and colleagues over the questions, “When this COVID mess is all over, what will you change? What will you never take for granted again? What will you do to make the world a better place?” It has left an impression on me that in nearly every conversation, at least one person says that they have learned that the world has not ended because they have been forced to spend more time at home with family, forced to not run to the next event, and forced to be with their own thoughts in reflective moments or boredom.

There is a lesson in here for leaders too. How important is being fast? Could we accomplish more, maybe lead more compassionately, if we just slowed down? If we allocated one afternoon or, dare I say, an entire day every week to reflection, thoughtful planning, and building deep relationships, rather than running around? How would that impact our ability to help the people we lead?

Personally, I have found that slowing down allows me to focus, feel rejuvenated, and actually be more productive overall. When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, one of my goals will be to capture time back for deep work. Adam Grant described this concept analogous to REM sleep, that we have REM work opportunities. When we are interrupted by needlessly long meetings or other distractions at inopportune times, we sacrifice productivity and REM work.

I hope this pandemic ends soon and that some of the therapeutics and vaccines in development are safe and distributed soon. One of the major learnings though that I will keep with me is to slow down, a meaningful first lesson from a great Little Dude.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Learn from Aaron and slow down. It relieves pressure, allows time for deeper work, and helps us derive more meaning from what we do on a daily basis.

Spiritual thoughts on leading during the COVID-19 pandemic

Words from March 31, 2020:

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Photo Courtesy: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden

Is anyone else keeping a journal? I have been keeping one, lately. We know that this is a historic moment because it is an unprecedented moment. There are no best practices for a modern, global pandemic. The virus we are fighting is only a couple of months old and we know much less about it than we don’t know. We have models, forecasts, and predictions, but no experience, no comparison. It’s a scary time.

But, think about this: There is no better time in history for a pandemic like this to happen. We know more now medically than we have ever known before.

At the same time, in the eyes of history, how we combatted COVID-19 will look completely inadequate in a future where technological innovation accelerates exponentially. Perhaps even in a few short years, therapy and vaccine development can accelerate to be virtually instantaneous, so a global pandemic may never happen again.

It is that possibility that has Yuval Harari, anthropologist and author of the book Sapiens audaciously asks – What happens when we cure death?

But, we haven’t done that yet. So, here we are, at the beginning stages of a global pandemic that nobody can really say how it all ends and we go back to our regular lives. The subject of discussion on face time and skype in my home lately has been, “What are going to be the legacies of COVID-19? Will we ever shake hands again?”

Regardless of how our actions may look to Monday morning quarterbacks in the future, it is not Monday, it is Sunday, game day, and we are in leadership today. Even more so, health care leaders are called to serve in leadership for the vital institutions that are the hope and focus of a community, which has been asked to sacrifice, to keep us, hospitals, from being overwhelmed and to save lives.

This is the first time in a generation that Americans have been asked to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves. Some members of our community are forced to take that call in isolation.

History has called leaders to uncertain and open-ended moments like this before. The original transformational leader, Moses, was called by G-d in Exodus to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. However, Moses was not crazy about this idea. He gave g-d three objections:

1) Moses says: “Who am I that I should go to Pharoah and free the Israelites from Egypt?”
2) “When I come to the Israelites and say to them ‘The G-d of your fathers has sent me to you’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What shall I say to them?”
3) “What if they do not believe me and do not listen to me?”

In other words, Moses asks G-d:

1) Who am I to do this?
2) What do I know?
3) What if they don’t follow?

In times where we are called to a task that feels bigger than us, it is important that we come to it with humility. Moses didn’t say, “I alone can fix it”, he questioned his ability to meet the task, recognizing how big it was. We don’t have a lot of the answers, like to the biggest question, “How does this end?” and that is okay. We have to accept that we don’t and do the best we can given the circumstance.

In fact, humility, is one of the areas that I am reflecting on the most lately. As many of you know, my wife Sheryl is 9-months pregnant with our first child. As of today we are less than 2-weeks away from her due date. We’ve had these 9 months to prepare and have even developed a family strategy, a file repository on google drive, and have been reading books together for months to prepare.

Now, there is a lot of uncertainty in even a routine event due to a microscopic virus that we can’t see, that has brought the world to its knees. As my grandmother used to say, “Man plans and G-d laughs.”

One of the parts of this crisis that makes it especially hard to lead is that we may feel the same humility that Moses felt, while being called to be confident, clear, decisive, relaxed, and in-charge. It is a balance that I hope we can strike together. Unlike most of our community, we are not isolated. We come together as a team, as we have done this morning and I know that we will rise to this occasion and our organization will be stronger for it because we will have learned.

To conclude, I want to ask you to reflect for a moment on the following questions, perhaps in a journal entry:

If you look to a future in which you were to write an autobiography, would the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic be included? If it was included, would it be a short notation, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter, or one of the volumes of a 3 volume set? What would you like it to say?

Leadership in a crisis

We are living in a historical moment in time. For years ahead, researchers, historians, and analysts will look back on this time to study the coronavirus pandemic and how our leaders reacted to this crisis.

Working in the health care field during this time has been a tremendous education for me. Our team is rising to the occasion, asking for help when needed, and coordinating with the entire community of providers. If there is a silver lining through the COVID-19 crisis it is that the world is seeing that the people who deliver care to patients every day truly have been heroes all along. And in this crisis, my colleagues who are patient facing are answering the call to serve. There’s a lot more work to do, but I am consistently proud and inspired by the members of our team.

Today though, I want to devote some focus to two elected officials who are leading through this crisis in impactful ways, one democrat Governor Andrew Cuomo (New York) and one republican Governor Larry Hogan (Maryland). Interestingly, Hogan and Cuomo serve together as Chair and Vice Chair of the National Governor’s Association.

Both of these men are taking bold steps to combat the coronavirus crisis and save lives, but they are doing it differently. While they are taking many of the same actions like social distancing through stay at home orders, their styles of communication are different.

Both communication styles seem to be effective so far, so let’s explore their actions to date and learn about the implications to the way we can lead.

Let’s start with Governor Cuomo:

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Photo Courtesy: Office of the Governor of New York

New York is the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States so Governor Cuomo has gotten a lot of national attention. Governor Cuomo has taken bold action on slowing the spread of the coronavirus. Cuomo instituted a program called, “New York State on Pause,” which included 10 points to institute robust social distancing in the state of New York.

Governor Cuomo’s philosophy is, “socially distant, spiritually connected.” His daily press conferences almost always include two parts:

  1. Data presented through a powerpoint presentation and
  2. The modern equivalent of an FDR fireside chat

The data he presents seems to be intended to share how he makes decisions during the crisis in a transparent way. He shares with the viewers, targeted at the residents of New York State, what he is seeing and the implications of that data on hospital safety and lives saved. This is a powerful leadership tool. People are more likely to follow if the leader’s thinking is presented in a logical way, helping followers see how the leader is “connecting the dots.”

Lost in some leadership communication today is the vital emotional aspect of connecting, which Cuomo uses to give comfort and hope during this difficult time. I have particularly enjoyed learning about Cuomo’s family, particularly about his mother, brother, and his children. He comes off as a son who loves and cares for his mother, an older brother who playfully teases, and father who embarrasses his children. Andrew Cuomo the “character” who is experiencing this crisis together with us is relatable and warm.

Combining both the logos (logic) and pathos (emotion) has make Governor Cuomo’s press conferences a “must watch” during this crisis, which has the added advantage of Cuomo being able to control and manage his message directly, without the filter of the media.

See it for yourself – Here is a link to Cuomo’s press conference from Friday, April 10:

Next, Governor Hogan:

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Photo Courtesy: Patrick Siebert, Executive Office of the Governor of Maryland

Governor Hogan has also taken bold actions on coronavirus and was one of the first Governors in the United States to do so. Hogan took early actions to implement social distancing and ramp-up hospital capacity in the state, including being among the first to extend licensure to retired and out of state providers.

Hogan also communicates regularly, although not daily. His press conferences take place when he has something to say that is new and he usually delivers new messages clearly, bullet by bullet, in what amounts to the smallest number of words possible. Hogan has jumped in staunchly on enforcement, giving leeway to police to enforce social distancing and has made a public example of Marylanders who host private gatherings at their homes by tweeting their mugshots.

Hogan has taken his message, which is focused on delivering the truth and challenging Marylanders to do their part, to several news shows as well. He has answered questions at town halls televised locally and is starting to be known nationally for his willingness to speak up when states are feeling under-resourced by the federal government. Hogan’s overall message is factual and hopeful, but only in a way that makes it dependent on the actions that Marylander’s take individually.

See it for yourself – Her is a link to Governor Hogan’s press conference from Friday, April 10th:

The lesson here is that leadership is not a one-size-fits all model. Styles, particularly in crisis communications, can be different and personal but still deeply impactful if it is genuine. Cuomo’s discussions are longer, he sits down, giving it the feeling almost of being in his living room. Hogan’s press conferences are shorter, more formal, and to the point.

Evident in both styles is the genuine empathy they each have for the people of their states as well as their own personal connections. Hogan was diagnosed at the beginning of his first term with cancer and has recovered, but his compromised immune system puts him in the “high-risk” category for mortality if he contracts the virus. Cuomo talks about taking care of his elderly mother and watching out for his health. Additionally, Governor Cuomo’s brother, Chris Cuomo, was recently diagnosed with COVID-19.

At the end of this crisis, Governors Cuomo and Hogan’s successes will be measured in how the residents of their state followed social distancing and ultimately in the number of lives lost. History will look back on this time assessing how leaders performed by compelling the residents of their states to follow social distancing and give the health care system time to catch up.

There is a ways still to go in this crisis. Thus far, though, Governors Cuomo and Hogan are earning high marks for their communication styles.

 

Transformational leaders communicate and connect

As we discussed in the last post about Starbucks founder Howard Schultz, transformational leaders are effective communicators. Not only do they share important information with the leadership team to create clarity and focus, but they also communicate important ideas with the entire team.

I recently watched the TED Talk linked below about what happens to our brains when we communicate effectively. The implications for understanding the science is both intuitive while simultaneously being amazing to see. Please watch it here:

As Dr. Hasson illustrates, good storytellers have an ability to connect with an audience. Effective storytelling causes the audience to connect with the speaker, hear similar information as others around them, and then share it with other people, creating a multiplier effect. Honing the ability to communicate for this type of impact is an advantageous competency for transformational leaders. 

While some leaders are better communicators than others, almost all transformational leaders have the ability to connect through public speaking. The bad news is that many people fear public speaking or are honestly not very good at it. One of my least favorite activities is going to a conference and going to a session with a boring speaker.

The good news is that it is very attainable to become a better public speaker. Carmine Gallo, the author of Five Stars and Talk Like TED gives some solid advice about how to improve public speaking going all the way back to Aristotle. He explains what it takes to tell a good story, learning from Hollywood. He also describes how much preparation and homework go into developing a good talk.

Connecting in the way Dr. Hasson describes is an essential skill for transformational leaders. Learning how to do so is the first step because not everyone is born as a natural storyteller. But it is a skill that can be learned.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Transformational leaders use stories and effective public speaking techniques to connect with their audiences. The science shows what happens when a speaker and audience’s brains connect and it is what builds understanding and movements towards change.