The pace of change impacting
practice managers has never been greater. From consolidations, mergers, and
acquisitions to re-engineering profit centers; managers are faced with what
often appears to be "crisis" situations. And with crisis comes the fact that
staff (and physicians) often experience anxiety, the offshoot of fear.
The following vignette offers
practical lessons for handling the fear and resultant anxiety, which come with
unexpected and unwanted change. While this true-life situation occurred in the
clouds, the concepts are very much grounded in reality. Its lessons can be carried
into the office, hospital, or lab.
Sunny skies, light winds,
and gentle surf started yet another lovely spring day in Southern California.
Full of optimism, I boarded a flight bound for New Orleans by way of Denver
and a major speaking engagement.
I never made it.
Snow intervened in Denver,
delaying our 747 while nozzles spewed chemicals onto the wings. The co-pilot
explained the procedure and how she'd walk back into the cabin to visually inspect
the coating. Once airborne, she told us we'd hear the landing gear go down a
second time as they checked the mechanics. Finally off to New Orleans on Flight
A freak series of severe
thunderstorms blew in from Texas, causing considerable jolting and bucking.
The captain, a voice calm and deliberate, explained each deviation as he attempted
to discover a better routing. We couldn't even get close. "I'm an old captain,
not a bold captain", he explained when he announced we'd be diverting to Birmingham,
Alabama. The passengers applauded his honesty with our safety while we all silently
and not so silently moaned our fate. Cockpit voices told us we'd be informed
as soon as the captain landed, walked through the jet, and called base operations.
Birmingham was not this carrier's hub.
One hundred-fifty people,
many with small children, listened patiently when he returned and explained
the exiting procedure from the aircraft, where we'd lodge, and when we'd meet
and "have another go at it" in the morning. Not one whimper or angry outburst
arose. And true to his word, we all assembled after little sleep, no food, and
for many, no change of clothes. We had now bonded in the experience and called
out to one another, laughing and sometimes gasping as the still rocky air finally
parted enough to bring us into New Orleans.
I lost income on that flight
but I gained a strong metaphor for leadership principles in times of crisis
and change. What the captain and crew engendered that is missing in so many
of our downsized, fear-racked businesses was TRUST.
Let's use this word as an
acronym for understanding exactly what happened on this trip and what all leaders
must do in today's whitewater world.
T: Tell the truth and
reveal feelings. Information abounded on Flight #1180. People deserve and
need plenty of information about what's happening, why it's happening, and what
are the next steps-- even if those next steps are to stop, take stock, and develop
the next plan of attack. And the information has to be immediate. Waiting while
the rumor mill churns out various versions of "the truth" creates anxiety, second-guessing,
and sometimes panic. None of these are conducive for productivity. Notice that
the captain also admitted that he was "old not bold". Leaders are not invincible.
Employees can identify with this statement and also become reassured that the
leader is not going to do anything foolhardy to jeopardize the organization
and its people.
R: Respond consistently.
Once the captain and crew established a reporting method, they continued with
the updates. Voices never changed. A pattern of zigzagging to avoid storms was
followed. Is it not true that business often needs to consistently be inconsistent
in seeking improvements, finding new markets, responding to the marketplace?
U: Understand your role.
Be competent. Be visible. With voice as well as physical presence, the captain
and crew were "out and about". In times of change and crisis, seeing and hearing
the leader is important. By walking through the cabin and putting a hand on
different people's shoulders, he reassured passengers. The captain also invited
people to stay with him and talk about the flight if anyone was concerned. In
times of change and crisis, it is vital that leaders be seen and available for
questions and feedback. Too often, the leader meets only with senior people
or disappears behind closed doors.
S: See people as trustworthy.
The captain stated what he would do and that he expected us to follow his instructions.
He basically said, "I trust you to do what is right for yourselves and each
other." If a leader wants to be trusted, that presumption must also be present.
T: Take action. Tickle
funny bones. On Flight #1180, passengers were kept appraised of each action
step and the results of that step, both positive and negative. Whether in the
boardroom, the marketing department, or the cockpit, an action followed by course
correction is a wise mode for handling any change or crisis. Lastly, the captain
and the crew managed to find humor in the situation. Laughter, as Victor Borge
used to say, is the shortest distance between people. Laughing over what cannot
be controlled creates that element of bonding which is fundamental in maintaining
A self-litmus trust test
would benefit us all. What would people say about our behaviors during change
or crisis? Would there be mutiny and fleeing the ship? Or would people stick
with us to the next destination in the organization's journey? Let's trust