Observing is Learning in Leadership
The dynamic of people in the workplace is an interesting behavior to observe; I had the not so enjoyable experience of observing such choices from a gurney. And, yes, I do believe how we behave is a choice. Yep, at a way too young age, I had my right hip replaced… two and a half times!! So, some of it was self-inflicted (way too much running) but going through three significant surgeries, two of which were “crisis” mode, provided the opportunity to observe some interesting human and leader/manager behavior.
“How we behave is a choice.”
My second and most extensive surgery resulted from fracturing my femur, just below the ball of the bone, which of course triggered my second surgery, and first hip replacement (surgery #1 was hip resurfacing, only 18 months or so earlier). Of course, I ended up in the local emergency room, in extreme pain, and along with numerous other individuals to have various issues addressed. ER staff are busy and often work tireless hours in rush situations dealing with the negative side of life. Yet, at this hospital the behavioral choices in terms of customer (or patient) care were purposeful.
“I observed excellent leadership and experienced remarkable customer care.”
The first major observation I noted during this ordeal was the remarkable care and compassion I received from the PA in the ER. Even in my semi-shocked state, I was amazed by his choice to kneel down beside me and share the results of my X-ray, as he knew it meant telling me I’d need my hip replaced. It was clear by his behavior he knew this kind of surgery is potentially life changing and impactful; and, not necessarily in a good way. See……I was a runner; an avid enthusiast who had enjoyed, up to that moment, a lifetime of participating in various athletic experiences. My youth and college years were defined by my passion for wrestling. As an adult I actively played on softball teams and regularly ran, ultimately participating in several marathons. The PA was about to deliver news that would represent a crossroad in my life that would demand an unexpected and undesirable change in my behavioral choices. He was in a leadership role in the ER and judging by the number of people clamoring for service that evening, I am sure his time was in critically limited. Yet, he made the conscious decision to take extra time with me and care for me with the sort of compassion that communicated that I was in good hands. More than that, it was clear ER staff followed in his path as I observed them engaging with patients with the same empathetic compassion.
“The absence of leadership can result in unintended consequences ”
Two weeks later, I developed complications; the incision opened and I was quickly transported an hour away, late at night to a different hospital. The “crisis” was not quite the same as a broken femur, but similar in that I found myself back in the ER with a sizable injury that obviously needed immediate attention and…..care, or so I thought. My experience, however, was dramatically different. Once “checked in” at the back door of this large city hospital I sat……yes, still bleeding, on a gurney for close to an hour. I had been parked, for lack of a better word, in the hall in front of the elevator outside of the official ER area. While sitting on the gurney, bleeding and in pain, I observed and listened as the shift change took place. After being ignored for extended periods of time I frankly assumed I was forgotten. That may have been true except I figured if I could see the ER staff, they could most certainly see me, couldn’t they? I observed employee’s who were only interested in themselves, and a leader more concerned with making sure everyone “clocked out” on time than a patient sitting in the hallway alone…..with a sizable open wound that continued to bleed. The first person to approach me simply told me that someone would be there to see me soon. Even after I was finally moved into the Emergency Department to be “cared for”, I was not personally or compassionately engaged. Those moving me and checking on my “vitals” talked among themselves as if I were nothing more than another piece of equipment in need of maintenance and moving out of the way. After more time passed, and the “manager” very quickly chatted with the other ER staff, he determined that I must wait for a specialist to be called before they could do anything. Yes, I waited over another hour for the “specialist” to arrive.
“Poor organization and disengaged employees, coupled with the CYA mentality ultimately funnels down to and effects the customer.”
Compassion toward me as a fellow human being was clearly not on anyone’s radar. As a patient with nothing else to do except observe and take mental notes, I couldn’t help but wonder how such disengagement, poor organization, and clear lack of leadership impacted patient care, diagnosis, and treatment as a whole. I was just a number, and that left me feeling very vulnerable and uncertain – the complete opposite to how the PA at the previous ER had made me feel.
- Which can you observe in your workplace?
- How are your customers experiencing your team?
- Do you take the time to observe your team?
I challenge us all to pause, be careful to not get caught up in task pursuit so much that we miss the chance to observe our team and our customer’s experience. Then, lead those we are fortunate to influence in the right direction, to learn and experience the beautiful benefits a strategic blend of leadership styles can offer to others. If we are not purposefully and positively engaging with others, on a daily basis, so as to positively impact lives then we are not truly embracing the opportunity to lead and serve.
D. Shawn Wolf, DSL | Outside-Force BDF