Ordinary People Living in Extraordinary Times
Google’s CEO Sundar Pichi sums it up well, “This is an unprecedented moment. It’s important that we approach it with a sense of calm and responsibility—because we have many people counting on us.” As leaders in our institutions we have often evaluated ourselves on the complexity of our surgical cases, number of students we have mentored, patients seen, invited lectures given, and peer reviewed articles published. However, the abrupt appearance of the Coronavirus, requires us to urgently reevaluate how we are leading in this unprecedented moment. Indeed, we are ordinary people living in extraordinary times.
Malcolm Gladwell opines, that the essence of genius is practice. He popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice was the “magic number of greatness,” regardless of a person’s natural aptitude. As physicians we have excelled surgically by practice, practice, practice. We deftly have accumulated our 10,000 hours of surgical experience in the operating room to emerge as thought leaders in our specialty. Myriad consultations with complex patients have improved our clinical acumen. But the pandemic with Covid-19, finds us in a new ecosystem and playing field, without a playbook to guide our next moves. Indeed, anyone who does not master the needed nuances of leadership in this mercurial moment will become an obsolete leader.
Many of us will need to pivot and embrace new leadership styles, create new strategic plans for our teams and harness the best aspects of emotional intelligence. What is the image and reflection that your staff sees in you? Is there clarity in your vision? Is there a positive ripple effect? Your actions send a powerful message. Is your style infectious? Does it spread like ripples to others? Do they embrace your vision? Our teams are counting on us to lead differently during this pandemic.
Here’s what I have learned about leadership during the coronavirus pandemic.
- “You Can’t Pour From an Empty Cup”. Take care of yourself first. Put on your own oxygen mask and then help others. Know your limits. Manage your guilt. Recognize your vulnerabilities. Be steadfast in practicing emotional self-care. Optimize your sleep hygiene. Exercise. Meditate. Read a book. Write in your journal. Eat healthy. Or splurge on eating your favorite ice-cream now and then. Make a virtual visit with a therapist if needed. Talk to friends, family and colleagues about how you are feeling. Turning to my confidential circle of close colleagues, I shamelessly shared my feelings of anxiety, rage, fear, lack of concentration and confessed that I did not feel brave. Although, we could not embrace, I felt that I was heard and understood. Unloading those feelings helped me feel connected and reignited my energy. We have to pay attention to how we feel right now—and for the good that will occur if we can self-reflect during this critical time.
- We need to practice social distancing—but that does not mean social deprivation or social isolation. “Shelter in place” doesn’t imply that we should be a hermit. We are a global village. Stay connected with family, friends and colleagues via social media and the old fashion telephone. Write a letter. Check on the elderly and disabled in your community. Donate to local causes. My Zoom and Skype skills have drastically improved!! Be creative in rekindling and developing new friendships even at a distance.
- Lead with facts and not myths. Now is the time to learn as much as you can about this disease. Vary the sources of where you get your information. Have an opinion. Stay updated with CDC guidelines. (CDC.gov) Minute by minute the data and recommendations vary. One day we are told that a mask is not needed when shopping and the next day the headlines inform us to cover our faces with a bandana or make our own masks. Embrace new knowledge. Share the facts with your staff. Maintain humor during your team meetings. Be flexible. Widely share the vision, values and strategy of your practice and institution. Ask questions—but be respectful. Demonstrate empathy.
- Communicate regularly. This pandemic has tested the resilience of our institutions and practices. You can never communicate too much. Maintain a regular and predictable schedule via conference calls, newsletters, Skype or Zoom several times a week to provide updates. Assign experts from various department to communicate new policies, therapeutics, and institutional strategies. Zoom calls facilitate shared expertise with your team. If team members are uniformed, myths may run rampant. It’s important to promptly address ungrounded rumors with facts. Find out the answer to questions that you can’t answer. Our teams appreciate that we don’t know everything—but we can find out the answer. Sometimes the right answer will be, “no one knows—stay tuned.”
- Be Flexible. It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago most surgeons were at full capacity and overextended. Many physicians and hospitals have noted a tremendous drop in volume of patient visits, second opinion and consultation appointments, and decrease in surgical volume. Recent statistics have tabulated as much as a 25-75% decline in overall patient volume. As a result many hospitals are employing immediate steps to reduce costs. Avoid getting mired in bureaucracy. Emergency steps to decrease costs include: redeployment and reassignment of new duties, furloughs, or even salary cuts. Emergency credentialing provisions during this pandemic may require that we collaborate with other specialties. At my hospital, this might mean that a gynecologist might be paired with an intensivist or hospitalist. They won’t have to adjust ventilator settings, but may function as a scribe, talk to patient families, and enter orders into the computer. Find gratitude in this new paradigm. Several of my colleagues have embraced these new roles with renewed vigor—knowing that they are helping streamline patient care.
- The Gift of the Great Pause. Most of us have lived hectic lives and have been on a fast paced career treadmill for much of our lives. We’ve been thrown off of our Peloton bikes without a helmet on. Can you now hear the silence in your lives? Take a step back from the noise and look around and see what you have missed. For me, I’ve had the greatest opportunity to actually see and smell the rebirth of spring. So often, I drove to work participating in conference calls or work related activities and didn’t notice the flowers or trees blossoming. I never watched it rain. Last year, I remember driving home and experiencing a “eureka” moment– “when did the flowers and trees blossom?” This year I am savoring the birth of spring. Have gratitude for the gift of the great pause in our lives as a result of the pandemic. Embrace it.
Indeed, we are ordinary people living in extraordinary times. The entire global community has been impacted by the Coronavirus pandemic. All of us will reemerge and reenter the work place when the lockdown ends. Maybe now is the time to embrace the evangelical decluttering method espoused by Marie Kondo. What do we want to carry into our new lives? Think about tidying up your life. Do your activities spark joy? Imagine your ideal lifestyle and create it. Now is the time to rethink what you want to put back into your lives and what you want to discard. What essentials do you need? Who do you need? What luggage do you need to carry? Do you really need carry anyone else’s baggage? What makes your life richer?
I would like to share a poem that has gone viral and was written by a retired teacher, Kitty O’Meara, from Madison Wisconsin USA. Her poem reminds of us during this pandemic to undertake purposeful activities like journaling, embracing spirituality, and movement.
If we all do this, then as a global village we all can heal.