In 1982, Tom Peters, who would go on to become one of the most renowned business voices of his era, co-authored a book, In Search of Excellence. It studied companies that had enjoyed decades of fame and success. 35 years later, several of those companies, including Kodak, who had such a lock on the photography market that no one ever imagined that they could fall, are no longer in business, or have a significantly reduced footprint in the business world.
Jim Collins addressed this theme in his excellent book, Why the Mighty Fall, which is a highly recommended read. Why are we going down this path over the next few blog posts?
Because people tend to stay in their comfort zones. And the comfort zone leads to complacency. And complacency leads to a cessation of learning. And a cessation of learning is purely and simply a killer for your leadership and the progress of your hospital, unit, operating room, or specialty program.
I rarely have difficulty working with a team that are active learners. They ‘get it’ and they ‘get it’ fast. The difference between the team who asks if they have to read the whole book versus the team that is emailing me between sessions to ask if I have other recommendations is monumental. When someone tells me they have not read a book since receiving their degree I am instantly concerned.
A superb book that will be the focus of our discussion is Peak, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. These authors have put for information that is highly useful for leaders to use in leading themselves and others.
The strong premise here is that there is no peak. You determine the peak. Those that are highly successful in what they do are hyperfocused on they need to do and how they are doing it.
What you normally run into is the deadening impact of routine. Routine is based on neural pathways. Nothing wrong with these. They help you be much more efficient with how you use your time and abilities. HOWEVER, when we are learning something new, there are normally obstacles you encounter. Think about the last time you ran into one. Did you take the new learning path, or did you rapidly, almost unconsciously, go into your old behavior? Think about it for a moment. Honestly. Unless you are a rare individual, just out of conservation of time and effort, you went back into the old behavior.
That is why, in most change situations, you need an accountability partner or coach to assist with change…to force the focus. To challenge the comfort zone. To keep the new behavior in front of you.
This is exciting material. Take a few moments and determine what area you want to experiment with for yourself or for your team. The encouraging principle is that you don’t need to, and actually, according to the research, don’t want to, take huge steps. The best is to work right outside the comfort zone.
An example. A unit I worked with in the past struggled with conflict situations, as so many people do. First it was discussion and identification. Then there were scenarios constructed. Then there were roleplays. Then there were actual conversations, but not of deal-breaking levels. Then there were debriefs of those situations. These practice sessions lasted for months and each time I could see the skill level and confidence increase.
This may seem very belabored to be part of your personal or team’s change. However, I would encourage you to reflect on how you have historically learned skills that stayed with you and became part of your permanent repetoire?
Did the one day CME, while interesting, change how you acted or performed the next day in the OR, or at the bedside? Or was it shadowing someone for a few weeks? Then doing the procedure yourself with them at your side? Then practicing more at home? I was speaking with a top class surgeon the other day after witnessing my first open heart surgery. I was astounded at the choreography of his team, especially the performance of his scrub tech. He noted that that level of performance only comes through focused repetition. Of literally taking it home and working with it off hours until it comes naturally.
Now, many that read these lines are of an age where it is easy to say “I am in the last few years of my career. Why should I make the effort?” Those are dangerous words. If you are saying them, I am concerned.
This requires a different mindset. It brings to mind the story of the woman playing the piano with effortless ease. A person watching her mentioned “I would give anything to be able to play like that”. She stopped playing, turned on the bench and said “Would you really? Would you dedicate time as a child, while others were out playing, to play the scales. Would you take time daily, an hour or two a day, to practice so that the basics become second nature…so the notes come alive? What thousands of hours of enjoyment would you trade to ‘be able to play like that'”.
Now that might seem sort of a harsh conversation-stopping type of response. However, as Malcolm Gladwell states in his book, Outliers, those that dedicate the time are those that master the skills and progress to levels that others only envy.
I have seen this play out in the lives of my clients, and sadly, I have also seen the opposite. We are going to keep on this theme. Your task, until we talk again, is to determine that the growth area is that your leadership skills need the most.