A few weeks ago, I had an experience I have not had in a while- and when I say “a while,” I mean in 5+ years. It’s an experience I believe is important to share with young leaders because what it really highlighted for me is that leadership isn’t always seamless and easy, particularly when you are bringing new and relatively foreign ideas to a group of people.
I’ve spent the better part of the last almost-two years pushing the envelope on how we define professionalism and what the system to support the ideal professional environment looks like. I’ve talked about it in multiple venues, and I would like to believe that my talks were (mostly) not scary to people and didn’t totally push them outside of their comfort zones. To be completely honest about my bigger administrative efforts, this was the one that scared me the most, primarily because it was the one that I felt had the most potential to upend people’s basic world views. I have persistently highlighted that we didn’t start on this because there is a ubiquitous lack of professionalism or because we have a glut of disruptive surgeon behavior. Instead, we want to find ways to recognize the spectrum of behaviors, reward those who are doing well on that spectrum, and find ways to help those who are not. And apparently, even though there are some who will need support, this didn’t scare anyone into silence or confusion (at least not yet).
Then there was this recent clunky presentation about the state of the education enterprise in the department, including ideas for ways to guide us into the future.
Did I mention the word, “Clunky”? That’s my way to telling you that it wasn’t a wholesale disaster, nor was it anything near a raving success.
So, what went wrong?
Was it that I didn’t show funny cat videos? With the audience I had, I’m reasonably sure that’s not it.
While I did bring something to the table, it was definitely something that required more than five words. In fact, I think that’s probably where the wheels fell off of the wagon. I went in showing people quite a bit of information they have never seen before (because it’s never been collected before into a single product). That alone presents them with a challenge to process that information.
Then there was my own supplementation of the information with a series of completely new ideas. If we don’t fully understand or recognize the “old,” how can we possibly be asked to effective consider the “new?”
While I did my best to listen actively, at the end of the day there was simply an overwhelming amount of information to be defined, interpreted, and processed by the other folks at the table. This graphic from the HBR really helps to highlight what happened with the dynamic in the room. Bottom line: I went in speaking a somewhat foreign language, then ended up speaking a foreign language incomprehensibly to the audience.
Do I feel like I made an outright mistake with my preparation? I honestly don’t think so. Do I feel like I made a mistake in terms of volume of challenging material delivered? In hindsight, yes. That was what resulted in a bumpy landing, and it also has given me an opportunity to try to acquire more information to help my audience understand what I am talking about, and in turn to allow us to have the discussion we deserve to have around this stuff.