John Maxwell has a great book called Many Communicate – Few Connect. I will speak more on that specific book at another time; however, the title brought something to mind that I wanted to share with you today.
As the health-care leaders that you are, many of you are constantly needing to build the bridges of connection necessary to carry forward your work. Whether a bedside nurse working on a challenging unit to a regional CEO, you lead through relationships. Leadership might start with positional power, but it will never thrive unless there is relational connection. Position never inspires for the long term. Connection does.
To Einstein is attributed the quote: “if you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it”. So this will be very simple today: Thank and apologize.
Instead of racking your brain to figure out how to lead your way through a tough situation, could you take five minutes and think of a few people, under your charge, that might need appreciation or apology from you. Before you think that this is simplistic, hear me out. As I wrote this, I went to my current work settings. At this writing, I am involved with four hospital units, three clinics, and am coaching eleven individual physicians. All of them could move the problem issue forward by implementing the appreciation or apology equation. Would it solve everything? No. Would it help, is it helping or has it helped, and in a couple of cases radically changed the entire environment? A resounding yes!
Some specifics. The ideas, while generic, are well described in two books, Just Listen, by Mark Goulston (a huge thank you to a superb nurse leader who gave me a copy) and What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, by Marshall Goldsmith.
The thank you. Three simple steps:
1. The specific situation – take time to set it up. Let the person know the context.
2. The specific actions – for you they were memorable. For the person involved, being busy and just going through their day – they have probably forgotten.
3. The specific impact – how did it affect you? Why did it mean so much that you are taking the time to thank? This is the step where trust and relationship starts. Don’t be vague.
I know I have shared that Jack Welsh, former CEO of GE, wrote two thank-you notes every day during his 20 year tenure at the helm. “Notes from Jack” became a treasured item. So whether in person or in writing, they make an impact.
The tough part – the apology
Why tough? Because feelings are involved. You seem to cringe when difficult situations occur. Even more so when you are the cause of them. So what is your general first reaction? To minimize, and/or avoid. Some thoughts might go through your mind:
– It wasn’t that bad….
– They are over sensitive….
– I’ve seen others do that…..
– The person has a history of overreaction…..
– They didn’t seem that upset….
– It wouldn’t have bothered me…
What you overlook is that those are your filters. And, while you could be 100% correct on the entire list, you have, on your staff, highly educated, well compensated professionals who DON’T have those filters and to them:
– It was that bad…
– They are legitimately hurt…
– They haven’t ever seen that happen..
– It was the first time they ever reacted that way….
– They are completely sideways…
– It is bothering them deeply…
See where this is going? Not in a good direction. And, since there is an emotional void going on between the event and the current moment, that void is being filled with information…mostly wrong information, since the quote “in the absence of information the worst possible rumors abound” is a universal law.
The power of apology and the words of Goldsmith are so powerful I don’t want to paraphrase, here is the direct quote from his book:
Apologizing is one of the most powerful and resonant gestures in the human arsenal – almost as powerful as a declaration of love… If love means, “I care about you and I’m happy about it”, then an apology means “I hurt you and I’m sorry about it”. Either way, it is irresistible; it irrevocably changes the relationship between two people. It compels them to move forward into something new and, perhaps, wonderful together.
The best thing about apologizing, is that it forces everyone to let go of the past. In effect, you are saying, “I can’t change the past. All I can say is I’m sorry for what I did wrong. I’m sorry it hurt you. There’s no excuse for it and I will try to do better in the future. I would like you to give me any ideas for how I can improve.
The only modification to that quote would be to remove the word “try”. In the world of ‘no excuse’ leadership, ‘try’ doesn’t have a place.
Again, whether your leadership world is three expectant mothers and their spouses in Labor and Delivery or leading thousands as a regional CEO, these steps can be applied before lunch today.
Remember simplicity does not necessarily mean simplistic, nor is the complicated genius. Really, just the opposite