This past February, I unexpectedly ended up in the hospital due to a medical emergency. While being out of commission in the hospital for six days and then another week at home in recovery, surprisingly, I was reminded of these six leadership lessons.
1. Seek expert advice early and . . . listen.
Two years before my gallbladder failed, an ER doctor told me she thought my gallstones were causing my back problems and to see a surgeon. I didn't. And that was a BIG mistake! As leaders, we would do well to seek professional advice before a small problem gets painfully and dangerously bigger. In most cases, early intervention is better, easier and cheaper!
2. What you see is not necessarily all there is.
For over two years, I was periodically experiencing painful back spasms. Or so I thought. The presenting problem was back pain, but the likely source was a renegade gallbladder filled with enough stones to landscape your yard! In leadership, don’t confuse the symptoms your organization or team may be experiencing as the source of the problem. Systems theory reminds us that the symptoms we see can be far removed from the actual source and they require careful attention to accurately assess.
3. Sometimes it takes pain to bring change.
Ever notice how a good dose of pain can motivate you to change your behaviors? After getting stuck in the hospital for six days, having pancreatitis and then gallbladder surgery, and losing 12 pounds, I did exactly what my doctor told me to do - no fatty, greasy or fried foods for a while. And since french fries are one of my favorite foods, this was asking a lot! Leaders and organizations too are sometimes more motivated to make changes when the pain reaches a high level. While it’s unfortunate, in some cases, pain can be a great teacher.
4. Metrics and assessments matter.
The emergency room doctor and the surgeon didn't guess, assume, or count on intuition to determine that I had a rebel gallbladder and a pancreas that was out of control. They had metrics, including specialized blood counts, and tests, including CT scans, that led to an accurate diagnosis and treatment. As leaders, we too would be wise to better utilize metrics and assessment tools to help us know the health and effectiveness of our organizations. While metrics cannot drive everything we do, they do provide at least one baseline for assessing our organizational health.
5. Small problems can result in deadly outcomes.
One little stone – that's all it took to cause havoc in my body. One little stone slipping into a place that it did not belong resulted in symptoms far too gross to share here! As the ones others are looking to, we would do well to pay attention to “small” problems and “minor” symptoms before those problems and symptoms explode into unpleasant and unintended outcomes. Just like our human body, our organizations and team relationships can move from health to death in a short amount of time.
6. A leader is only as good as his or her team.
You learn more about your team under pressure than when all is going well. I have seen this on many occasions in my own organization including during my unexpected hospital stay. I did not have to be concerned about a thing, they had it all covered. Hiring, developing, and retaining a great team was critical - especially since I was highly drugged and my wife tells me I was “loopy”! (Don't believe it!) A great reminder about relationships is found in the Bible, “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.” - Ecclesiastes 4:9-10
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of ministry assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include a B.S. in Bible, a M.Ed in Instructional Systems Design and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership.