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.

Am I serving the group?

At work, I have been sharing with many teams lately about the concept of reflection as a reflex. The concept is about using what Viktor Frankl described in his book Man’s Search for Meaning as the space between stimulus and response. Stephen Covey also included this concept in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Embed from Getty Images

At times in my career, I have found myself hesitating in meetings. Reflecting on it, I think I hesitate because of things like Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTS), fear that what I say will sound obvious to the rest of the group, or that others in the room are smarter or more experienced than I am and I probably do not have anything of value to contribute. Is this something you struggle with too?

Over time, I have learned a quick “test” that has helped me and I hope will help you too.

Any time I hesitate to speak, I ask myself, “Will what I am about to say serve the group?”

This yes or no question gives me enough time to reflect without missing the germane part of the conversation and to make a decision on whether my comment will add value to the discussion. This question is also consistent with my personal definition of leadership and my desire to practice servant leadership. It gives me the confidence that even if my comment is controversial, it will be received in the right way because my motivation is service to the group.

I use this test in almost every meeting that I attend. It helps me to reflect in the moment and make sure that I am contributing at a high level. The test also keeps me centered. For example, the “test” prevents me from being too quiet or too dominant because my comments are always in pursuit of service to the group.

I hope you find value in this test as well and it helps you create better and more productive meetings.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Leaders can practice reflexion in most contexts, including meetings. Before you speak, simply asking yourself, “Will what I am about to say serve the group?” will give you the confidence to speak up and reflect the authenticity of your point of view.


If you work with people, work on culture

In my current role as a patient experience leader for a health care system, a large part of my focus is on culture. If you are already familiar with this blog, you have already seen me discuss culture a lot in the context of leadership and in book reviews. I talk so much about culture because it is what makes systems and processes work reliably and without constant auditing.

For years, I have been working to put the pieces together in terms of how to build culture. Using ideas from authors like Simon Sinek, Malcolm Gladwell, Joseph Michelli, and Adam Grant (to name a few), I have created my own definition of leadership and have advocated for articulating a vision and creating systems and processes to bring that vision to life. However putting the pieces together both from research and experience, has at times has felt like a struggle.

Culture CodeThen along comes Daniel Coyle, author of the best-selling book The Culture Code. In this book, Coyle has compiled a clear and well explained definition around the common characteristics of organizations with exceptional cultures that lead to consistently excellent outcomes. Using examples from organizations like Pixar, the San Antonio Spurs, the famous Upright Citizens Brigade improv group, and Navy SEALs, Coyle shows us what these organizations do differently that allows them to deliver results for the enterprise and its people.

The three over-arching characteristics that every group has in common are:

  1. Build Safety
  2. Share Vulnerability
  3. Establish Purpose

Under each of these simple two-word ideas are many different anecdotes, research studies, and case studies that show not only what these concepts mean, but what building them entails for leaders.

He also delves into the nuances of these concepts that may vary depending on the business. For example, in the book he compares organizations that build a culture for high service reliability (Union Square Hospitality Group – think Shake Shack) vs. creativity and innovation (Pixar).

Health care service delivery is an example of a setting where the culture must be built for high service reliability. Much of this work involves creating genuine connections with patients and their families, which helps determine how to meet their needs both including bridging the gaps in their understanding of their condition, the treatment, the workings of a hospital, and the health care system at-large.

Coyle covers the impact of empathizing with the patients in order to the increase their health outcomes and covers how to create an environment for the staff that promotes empathic behavior.

In the book, Coyle discusses a Harvard neurologist named Marci who researched the impact of listening in the medical setting. She studied non-western healers who used methods that were scientifically questionable, yet found that some practitioners had remarkable results.

To explain these outcomes, she says, “What these healers all had in common was that they were brilliant listeners. They would sit down, take a long patient history, and really get to know their patients…They were all incredibly empathic people who were really good at connecting with people and forming trusting bonds. So that’s when I realized that the interesting part wasn’t the healing but the listening and the relationship being formed. That’s what we needed to study” (Coyle p.154).

In health care, we tend to think of communication as “provider to patient”, with the patient simply answering the provider’s questions. As I take a few steps back think about it, wouldn’t someone want to feel known as a person, and not just by a diagnosis? Just listening to the patient gives the provider an opportunity to create that relationship.

Culture in the health care setting, because of the nature of the work at times being life-or-death, is especially important. Guides like The Culture Code help us build those cultures in a safe and sustainable way.

KEY TAKEAWAY: The best companies are deliberate about building their cultures. In health care, specifically, culture can deliver superior patient outcomes if there’s a focus on the caregivers and seeing the patient as a person, rather than a diagnosis.

The Culture Code is available for purchase on Amazon for $28.00 (does not include Prime discount)


Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 8.04.02 PM

A quick google search will tell you that the definition of the word, “reflection” is, “serious thought or consideration”. Often times we are told to reflect on a decision or reflect on a major life event. But how many of us, on a daily basis, actually engage in, “serious thought or consideration”?

We live in a world of short-termism. We multi-task (a skill, which has largely been disproven to be a skill at all) by looking at our phones while we are in a meeting or watching TV while we work. We pay attention to the next deadline, the next quarter close, or the next fire that we have to put out. But how often do we break this cycle? How often do we engage in the truly human behavior of using our freedom to shape a response to stimulus?

In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey references a book by holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl called Man’s Search for Meaning. In the book, Frankl describes how true freedom, as well as the very essence for being human, lies in the freedom to chose the response to a stimulus. Animals experience a stimulus and respond out of reflex. We humans, on the other hand, have the option and the freedom to choose our response to a stimulus.

But, how often do we actually use that very freedom that makes us human? How many of us go through life on auto-pilot, doing the urgent task at hand without even thinking about it?

A quick test to answer these questions: Have you ever driven or commuted to work and then arrive at your destination without remembering the journey? Do you have whole days like that at work doing the same tasks over-and-over again and not remembering most of your day?

In his book, Covey offers many suggestions about how to break this cycle and I recommend that you read it as well as another of his books, called First Things First. But, in the meantime, I would like to recommend another tactic to help, one that I engage in and encourage my team to engage in daily.

Make the act of reflection your reflex to a stimulus. In fact, I actually prefer the British spelling, “reflexion”, to solidify this idea. The next time you feel your phone vibrate in your pocket during a meeting, try not to reach for it and instead engage in a thought exercise.  Ask yourself and answer the following three questions:

  1. How important is it for me to engage with the people around me right now?
  2. What are the consequences if I don’t check my phone right now?
  3. How would I feel if everyone was checking their phone while we were discussing this topic if I was facilitating?

If we all engaged in “reflexion” in seemingly trivial moments like this example, I believe that we would communicate better, accomplish more, and genuinely feel better as a team.

Further, reflexion should be used in leadership. Once you define the vision for your team, encourage the team to use reflexion to understand how their day-to-day work impacts the direction of the team. Team members can ask themselves:

  1. How does what I am about to do advance or detract from our mission?
  2. What is the best way to address this situation in a manner that achieves our mission?
  3. Are my actions consistent with our mission, vision and values? Why or why not? Who can I talk to if I am unsure?

As team members at the front lines zoom out from their day-to-day tasks and see the bigger picture, they will be in the best position to give you ideas about how to make daily work get closer to your mission, vision and values. They will also be able to point out processes and practices in their routines that may be getting the organization closer or further away from what the organization is trying to achieve. For most of the staff at the front lines, we have to make sure to give them time and opportunity for reflexion. They are often our most important asset for improvement.

I look forward to hearing your stories of reflexion. Please share them with me in the contact section. Thank you in advance!

TAKE-AWAY: Slow down to go faster. Take time to make reflection a reflex and create the environment where others can do so as well. Find ways to recognize when you are losing the space between stimulus and response and create “checks” to switch your brain into reflection-mode.