12 May Indelible Impressions – Teachable Moments
Indelible Impressions – Teachable Moments
Several years ago I served on a civic board along with a retired CEO from a Fortune 100 company in the southeastern U.S. Previously, I was aware only of his outstanding reputation, but I came to full admiration as I got to know him personally and to observe him and work together with him.
Growing up, I was always taught that there is something valuable, sometimes profound, to learn from every single person placed in your path. “Every man (or woman) I meet is in some way my superior.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson) When we have the opportunity to interact with really great leaders, the opportunity for learning and character development is particularly rich. That’s usually because they have the ability to teach us in a unique way. “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” (William Arthur Ward)
The CEO I refer to took his management gifts and talents to the public sector after his retirement. He voluntarily assumed the chairmanship of a massive public health trust that for years, through gross mismanagement and dysfunction, had created enormous taxpayer funded deficits. Even still, the system was, and is, an existential lifeline to the poor in our city and an indispensible part of the community. He’s fixing it.
Several years ago, someone close to me was admitted to one of their Level One trauma facilities after a near catastrophic accident. During his recovery, I found the need to call my colleague the ex-CEO (now Chairman) with an urgent concern regarding his care. Since the call couldn’t wait and I didn’t know anywhere else to turn, I placed it on a Sunday evening directly to his home.
He listened to my concerns carefully and patiently. The details of the conversation aren’t germane, but his response is. He simply said, “Steve, I will report back to you in one hour.”
Of course, he did so and by then he had provided for full resolution. But here’s the teachable moment and the indelible impression for me:
First, if you were the boss, isn’t this the way you would want your direct reports to respond when you raised an important concern to them? (It’s like the character Kalinda in “The Good Wife”… “I’m on it!”)
Second, he immediately took responsibility. It would have been easy to delay; (“Can’t this wait until tomorrow morning?”) – to delegate; (”Why don’t you call so and so?”) – or to abdicate; (“I’m sure there must be a good reason.”) None of these occurred to him.
Third, he had a bias for action. At his behest, the President of the System was personally in the patient’s room within 30 minutes resolving the issues with staff. (Remember, this was a Sunday night.)
It is instructive to remember that history’s greatest teacher took the form of a servant. Certainly today, in business and in life, to be inspired to be a servant requires a gifted teacher and genuine “Level 5 Leaders” seem to be able to consistently accomplish this in a natural and instinctive way. (See Good to Great written by Jim Collins) That’s a high calling indeed.
I’m regularly reminded that some people are my superior in lots and lots of ways. The more I’m able to spend time with them the more I learn and the more I’m inspired. They embody good gifts — but only if we’ll open them and then be open to them.