19 January 2020
On this special day we celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an uncommon man who ranks among history’s most influential and impactful leaders. Also, on this special day, I’d like to share with you an adaptation of a story I was asked to convey during the 2011 Martin Luther King Day Celebration in Westerville, Ohio.
This story is about the influence of another uncommon man, a man who lived in Carthage, Mississippi, a small town of 3,000 people…. a town located approximately 25 miles from Philadelphia, Mississippi, the community where three Civil Rights activists were murdered in 1964.
When this man graduated from high school, his father gave him $64 and told him “Son, this is all I have to give you. Go get yourself an education.” This man went to Tulane University where he joined the U.S. Navy’s V12 Program. The Navy afforded him the opportunity to complete some of his collegiate studies at Harvard University. He then returned to Tulane where he finished his undergraduate degree. He ultimately received a law degree from the University of Mississippi.
He moved to Carthage and fell in love with a beautiful young woman whom he married. They looked forward to starting their family, and he began the practice of law.
This man considered himself to be a simple, country lawyer. He frequently smoked cigars; he drove a Ford Pick up truck. He had a deep, slow Southern drawl.
Who was this man, and what did he represent during the turbulent times of the Civil Rights Movement?
This man was both loved and hated by the residents of Carthage. Why? Because this man didn’t accept the racial bias that permeated his community and his state.
This man believed that all people should be treated equally, fairly and respectfully. He and his wife were often the only white people who attended NAACP gatherings. This country lawyer and his wife were invited to dine one evening at the Mississippi Governor’s mansion where they met a certain young Senator from Massachusetts. Along with his wife, Jackie, this Senator (JFK) was on the campaign trail for the Presidency of the United States.
This Mississippi attorney represented his local school board when the federal mandate was issued that the public schools were to be integrated. He was the person who told the School Board that integration was the right thing to do, and he is one of the individuals who personally escorted the first black student, first grader Debra Lewis, to her desk at Carthage Elementary School.
This man was stalked by the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan burned a cross in front of his law office; they burned down the barn on his farm. This man had to meet with the FBI, and he had to carry a gun because the KKK threatened his life, his wife’s life and yes, even the lives of his children.
This man was blamed for having caused integration in Carthage. This man didn’t cause anything. What he did do, however, was to advocate for equity and justice for all people, even when it was not popular, and the stakes were high. The influence of this uncommon man made a long-lasting impact on his community. In fact, at his death, the local newspaper wrote an editorial about the impact of his leadership in trying times. Not surprisingly, this op-ed was entitled “An Uncommon Man.”
This man …was my father… yes, he was my dad.
As a child growing up in the South in the 60s, I well remember Cliff Bailey’s drug store and soda fountain. One of my favorite things to do on Saturday was to walk “to town” to get an orangeade.
One of my most vivid memories was from one particular Saturday afternoon. I remember being afraid when I saw from within Mr. Bailey’s drug store windows the hooded Klansmen, filled with hate, circling the court square, inviting people to attend the KKK rally they were hosting that night. That same night I remember riding in the car along the Pearl River with my father and my brother as my father assessed how many people were attending the rally.
In my mind I can still see the huge flaming cross that burned in the dark of that night. On another night I remember hearing angry people slamming car doors and storming across my family’s back yard as they purposefully tried to frighten us… and they certainly scared me as I remember rolling off my bed and crawling underneath it to hide.
My brother recalled that from time to time we would look out of my father’s bathroom window and see an unknown car. We later learned that the car’s inhabitants were seeking to protect our family from harm.
When our schools were fully integrated, a greater divide occurred in our community. Half of the students went to a newly created private academy and the other half remained within the public-school system.
The “white kids” who stayed with the public schools either drove or were bussed daily to what had previously been the black high school… Jordan High School. I was a freshman at the time. The environment was initially tense, awkward and uncomfortable. Yet the students, black and white alike, began the process of understanding and embracing our new way of life at school.
As our students began to adapt, we found ourselves seeking a commonality of purpose. It was the sport of basketball that seemed to provide the entrée to the unity we desired.
I remember clearly our first “away” basketball trip. The games were over well after dark, and our athletes had boarded the bus for the drive back to Carthage. The tension on the bus was thick, and the silence could have been cut with a knife.
I don’t remember if we won the games that night. However, I vividly remember a much greater victory. As the bus departed the Edinburgh High School parking lot, one of the Black athletes started softly singing the song “Under the Boardwalk.” A few other students joined in unison and within a matter of a minute, all the athletes united in song. This singing represented a special kind of harmony that transcended music as it was symbolic of the unity we would collectively strive to share for a lifetime. The times were far from perfect, and the weeks and months to come would be difficult; but for us, it was a profound beginning.
I can only imagine it was this type of beginning that existed within MLK’s dreams and for which my father longed.
I share this story with you as a reminder of our responsibility as role models, just like my father, to live the dream of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In looking back over my life, the recollections of my father, my childhood and my high school experiences remain among the most impactful memories…. Not because my family was subjected to threats… but because I had a role model father who stood up for what was right, fair and just, even and especially when it was not popular.
Look around you. Today our communities should be overflowing with role models. As leaders within our schools, our places of work and our communities, we have opportunities every day to serve as role models. Role models should not teach others to be afraid or to take the easy way out. Like Dr. King and like my father, role models are to teach others to be courageous and do to what is right, even and especially when it is not easy.
Let us role model for others that integrity is something never to be compromised. My father told me it takes a person a lifetime to earn a reputation of integrity and only a fleeting moment to lose it.
Let us never judge others by their ethnicity or their lot in life. Let us be relentlessly focused on treating every person with the respect and compassion that God expects us to extend.
With so many different cultures now represented in our nation, let us call upon the wisdom and the promise from John 4:35 which says, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for the harvest.”
All of us know we have a great place to live in America… one of the very best in the world. Just imagine how much better our country can be as we consistently share with all people the respect and compassion we are called to extend without regard to color, creed, economic status or other aspects of diversity.
I am grateful for today’s celebration of life of one of the greatest role models of all time. I humbly thank you for allowing me to share the story about my father and my family and the life lessons learned along the way. I look forward to “our” journey as we collectively seek to perpetuate the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
9 January 2020
Even as we have concluded the Holiday Season and entered a new year, many families ponder the memories of little ones whose eyes danced as they anticipated the arrival of Santa Claus. To these children, believing in this Jolly Old Elf led them also to believe their stockings would be full of toys on Christmas morning. Yes, as children, we were taught to believe.
Believe. This word can be powerful in the new year as we strive to cast away doubts and replace our fears with the promise that seemingly impossible aspirations can indeed become possible.
The willingness to believe can provide each of us with inspiration when things are going well.
As a child, I was encouraged to believe I could achieve anything. The confidence instilled within me by my parents and other adult mentors led me to dream big and to reach farther and wider than realistically seemed possible.
My high school basketball coach taught our team we could win if we would commit to hard work and if we believed we could win. That belief coupled with passion and perseverance led us as seniors to a 24-game winning streak.
In 2006 I found myself at the helm of a hospital with tall mountains to climb. With a host of daunting challenges, our leadership team decided to dream big. We embraced the word “believe” and started a journey to make our dreams come true. In fact, the word “believe” became our mantra. My office overflowed with memorabilia touting this wonderful word which we talked about with great zeal during our team meetings. Through the staff’s willingness to believe again, that struggling community hospital was transformed into a regional medical center with outstanding clinical care, compassionate caring, happy employees and collaborative physicians.
The act of believing can also carry us through challenging times in our lives.
The week before I left for college in 1973, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I longed to be with her every day during her fifteen-month battle with this horrific disease. Yet, my precious mother taught me to carry on her convictions and to believe she had prepared me well for the inevitable days ahead without her.
In 1982 my first baby died of a fatal birth defect. To say the least, I was devastated and was petrified that this same problem might happen again. This obsession could easily have taken over my heart and my mind. But then my faith led me to believe that good things can come from bad situations, and they did! I am so thankful for the opportunity to believe again as I was subsequently blessed to welcome to this world my two precious daughters.
I have learned over the course of my life that believing is not necessarily easy. Yet, I am convinced my willingness to believe in a loving and mighty God who welcomes all people in spite of our flaws has carried me through the valleys of my life while also blessing me with the peaks of my most treasured mountaintops.
I am reminded of the late 1960s when racial unrest was prevalent in the midst of public-school desegregation. Some adults in my southern hometown (including my father) believed that black and white families could co-exist amicably while showing mutual respect. While those times were certainly tumultuous, the conviction of parents to role model their belief that all people were created equally set the stage for the pursuit of harmony that ultimately would be achieved by those who were willing to believe.
Here we are 60 years later, and we are entering the year 2020 with a state of angst, unrest and incivility across our country. Bitterness, hatred and disrespect have once again become much too common and sadly have been accepted by some as a new normal.
What if we could find within our hearts, minds and souls the willingness to believe again with childlike faith? What if we could strive to see the good in others as opposed to assuming the worst about them? What if we all would believe again that we are one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all?
My prayer for the new year is that we might pledge to believe again. May we the people be individually and collectively convicted to live with uncompromising integrity while offering goodness, grace and respect to all. In so doing, may we all believe and receive a brighter tomorrow!
20 November 2019
Don’t you just love Autumn? The glorious leaves are at a peak, and we eagerly anticipate precious time with loved ones while enjoying “family favorite” Thanksgiving traditions.
Another eagerly anticipated aspect of Fall is Rivalry Weekend. During this special time, college football teams across the nation participate in the once a year opportunity to face their fiercest rivals.
As a child my family loved to watch our beloved Ole Miss Rebels take on the archrival Bulldogs from Mississippi State. For both teams, this was the one game of the year that really mattered. My parents taught me early on how to cheer “Hotty Toddy!” with great enthusiasm.
When I moved to Ohio, I learned to shout “O-H-I-O!” and to understand that the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines would be the hottest rivalry game of the year.
Having been a college athlete, I have always been mesmerized by the impact of enthusiastic cheers. The accolades from raving fans can be the lifeblood of any team.
I invite you to take a moment and imagine that it’s Rivalry Weekend. Your favorite college football team is undefeated, is ranked in the AP Poll Top Ten, and is clearly expected to win. It’s a beautiful Autumn day, and the stadium is overflowing with fans. The coin is tossed, and your team receives the opening kickoff. Your receiving player runs the ball all the way down the field for a touchdown and …. NO ONE CHEERS.
In the next series, your team intercepts the ball and runs it back to score again and … NO ONE CHEERS.
The same outcomes are repeated time and time again until the game is over and… NO ONE CHEERS… not even the coach.
Because your team was supposed to win. Winning was an expected goal, and for that reason alone, affirmation was not necessary.
Now how ridiculous is that!!!?!!
Yet, this same pattern sadly takes place every day in Corporate America when leaders fail to praise their teams for a job well done. These leaders believe that because the team was expected to achieve stated goals, accolades were simply not necessary.
Leaders who fail to praise their team members for great performances are robbing their teams of the opportunity to build upon positive momentum. They run the risk of having disengaged employees who ultimately feel unappreciated for the contributions they made to organizational success.
A study by the John Templeton Foundation found that 60% of employees say they either “never” receive gratitude at work, or if they do, it occurs perhaps once a year. This is grossly inadequate for the modern workforce!
Millennials are projected to comprise 50% of the employee base by 2020, and evidence indicates they require “in the moment” affirmation for a job well done as opposed to hearing compliments only during performance conversations. Plus, Gallup has reported that “employees who do not feel adequately recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year.”
Are you taking for granted the efforts required for your team to achieve its goals? Or, are you being purposeful in systematically and sincerely expressing appreciation to your team members for achieving their goals?
Perhaps it is not a coincidence that Rivalry Weekend and Thanksgiving occur during the same week. In this special season when gratitude should be front and center, I hope you will seize the moment to remember that sincere expressions of appreciation are not only needed within our homes and on the football field, they are needed now more than ever before within the workplace.
I hope that starting today, you will become a Gracious Leader who is grateful for the great performances brought forth by your team!
Have a Happy Thanksgiving! And good luck to your favorite team during Rivalry Weekend!
5 November 2019
Have you ever felt that you’ve given all you have to give? A few weeks ago, I was there… I was totally spent.
My husband and I were on a cycling trip in Canada. Promoted as “easy to moderate terrain”, we expected a leisurely ride to take in the beautiful fall foliage.
Little did we know that the subtle definition of “rolling hills” would translate for us into long and steep mini mountains.
On day three of our tour, the guide cautioned us to be prepared for Sugar Hill in Knowlton, Quebec. She said we should give the hill a try, but to expect we might hit a wall at some point in the climb.
We decided to go for it, and we gave it all we had to give to get to the top of that hill. After struggling and peddling like crazy, we finally made it! Goal achieved! Check!
Before we could catch our breath, the bike’s GPS instructed us to turn right, and when we looked both right and up, we couldn’t believe it! What we thought was the top of Sugar Hill was just the beginning with the remainder of the incline being profoundly more challenging.
We were flabbergasted and disillusioned! After pausing for a moment, we decided we had three choices. We could quit (which was not an acceptable option). We could continue to pedal as hard as we could in the lowest gear and go nowhere fast. Or, we could change “how” we were pursuing the climb.
And so, we decided to persevere by changing our approach. We grabbed our handlebars, got off of our bikes, and we pushed our bikes all the way up the rest of that hill!
Were we comfortable in this new experience? No, and our huffing and puffing proved it!! Was our approach pretty? No! Did we quit? No! Did we get there? Yes! Could we have gotten there faster and easier if only we had embraced the advantage offered by the new technology of e-bikes? Of course! But we missed that golden opportunity by insisting that we continue our ride “the old-fashioned way” (You know the proverbial claim… “But we’ve always done it that way!”).
We live and work in challenging times, and as leaders, the pathways before us will certainly be long and steep as we continuously seek to guide our teams to new heights.
On the journey to excellence, we are called to have the courage to persevere. We should remember to celebrate the greatness our teams achieve every day while also understanding that there will be abundant opportunities to improve our performance today, tomorrow and beyond.
For this fact, in the quest for excellence, we will never really arrive; yet we always must strive continuously to give only our best which is what our customers, employees and other key stakeholders need, want and deserve.
Even when you’re spent, and you think you’ve given all that you have to give, how will you persevere in leading your team to peak performance?
- What will you do differently in “how” you are leading? Perhaps the Key Ingredients of Gracious Leadership might come in handy.
- As your job will invariably change, what skills do you need that you don’t currently have? Consider advocating for yourself by asking for stretch assignments. Seek to learn new skills and become all you’ve been created to be.
- Are there steps you must take to ensure the achievement of your ever-increasing stretch goals? What must you do differently to persevere as a peak performance leader?
- How can you make better utility of your resources? Please don’t be stubborn (like we were) by refusing to adopt new technology and missing out on the benefits that can be derived from such contemporary resources.
- And how can you better leverage your most precious asset… your people? Unleash the passion that resides within them. Empower them, match the passion of the person with the purpose of the work. And, be sure to encourage a culture of openness and transparency as those closest to the front line should have the best view of workplace reality.
Yes, perseverance will definitely be required as you continue your journey to peak performance. When the going gets tough, I encourage you to catch your breath, change your approach and garner the courage to persevere as you lead your team to the top of your own Sugar Hill!
14 October 2019
Have you ever worked in an organization where the executives believed “silence is golden”? Leaders bearing this attitude want to hear that all is well. Their message to employees is that they don’t want to know about problems.
A sign that said “Only Good News” was reportedly posted on a conference room doorway in the office of a Facebook senior executive. Do you really think that employees felt safe and welcomed in reporting problems to this executive? Probably not.
Such written, oral or implied communiques send the message that leaders don’t want their days to be burdened with employees who talk about what is wrong in the workplace. They may even have a predisposition to tag individuals who report problems as nay-sayers or troublemakers.
While on the surface one might think that complaint-free days are to be coveted, from the perspective of proactive risk mitigation, such convictions border on being reckless because they discourage transparency in the workplace.
Corporate America is overflowing with companies that have unhealthy cultures in which limited, if any, feedback is provided to leadership regarding opportunities for improvement.
A trend is now emerging where executives and boards are realizing that culture can no longer be perceived as “soft stuff”. Research has proven that healthy cultures with free-flowing feedback to and from leaders actually correlate with stronger bottom lines and highly engaged employees. This winning combination can be instrumental in strengthening the muscle required for organizational risk mitigation.
Let’s face it. As leaders, we can only fix what’s broken if we know about it. As opposed to thinking that silence is golden, the savviest leaders embrace the philosophy that transparent feedback is not only to be liberally encouraged, but it is also to be celebrated.
Action from the top
For years, I have purposefully asked employees and physicians to share one thing we should change to improve the workplace experience as well as the customers’ experiences. We told them we could only fix what was broken if we knew about it. Because they had the best view of reality in the workplace, we shared openly that we needed and valued their expert, transparent opinions about what was broken.
Talk without action can be counterproductive. As such, we made it our practice to follow through by communicating what we had done to address the prevailing issues. We were careful to thank them for their feedback and to reinforce we would warmly welcome their sharing additional concerns.
While all employees should theoretically own organizational risk mitigation, the tone clearly must be set at the top. It is the leader’s responsibility to create a culture in which employees feel safe to speak up. As good as your organization may be, there will always be opportunities for improvement.
You can make a significant difference in teaching your employees to join in efforts to mitigate organizational risk. Start today by empowering your staff and praising them when they share feedback regarding vulnerabilities and other concerns within the workplace.
18 September 2019
Today my heart ached deeply when a colleague shared a horrific story about an area high school student whose life may have been permanently impacted by harsh and inappropriate comments from the student’s football coach. The team had lost an important game, and during the first team practice following that game, the coach screamed at one particular young athlete, berating him in front of the other players and essentially telling him he was worthless. That’s right… worthless!
We entrust our children and grandchildren to coaches. They are supposed to be role models, teaching our highly impressionable young people values that will help them succeed, not only on the sports field, but also and more importantly, in the game of life.
Words matter, and it’s simply not acceptable to allow such toxicity to poison the hearts and souls of our students. Yes, harsh words cut deeply. Such messages regrettably have the potential to lead to the unimaginable when students who are teetering on the ledge of despair decide that life is not worth living because they have been convinced they are worthless.
As a student athlete, I was blessed to have had a basketball coach who set the bar extraordinarily high. He expected excellence, and he received excellence by teaching us to give our very best. When we delivered, he was our most enthusiastic cheerleader. When we didn’t deliver, we knew that practices would be long, hard and intense. Yet those most difficult practices filled with abundant tough love never included harsh comments that might have impaired the self-worth of any athlete.
As I am entering the fall season for Gracious Leadership keynote presentations, I have found myself again particularly burdened about the incivility that permeates our country in organizations of all types.
Just last week I was researching the incidence of bullying in our schools and found the statistics to be astonishing. According to The American Society for the Positive Care of Children, one of three students reported having been bullied by other students, and one of three students confessed to having been a bullier. I shudder in wondering how much higher the bullying statistic would rise if we included the impact of bully coaches and/or other toxic leaders in positions of authority over our children.
When you and I sit on the sidelines, we promote bully behaviors by permitting them through our silence. As parents, what will we do now to provide boundaries to the bullies of our children who try to explain away their untenable words and actions by masking them as character-building moments? As leaders in the workplace, what will we do now to confront the bullies who reign with terror in our midst?
Indeed, the time is NOW to find our voices and garner the courage to stop the bullying epidemic in our nation. This call to action happens one person at a time. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. shared profound wisdom when he proclaimed,
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
The stakes are too high to be silent in the face of the damage that is being done every day by bullies and other types of toxic leaders. Whether it’s on a sports field, the playground, in Corporate America or within other types of organizations, just remember that we are teaching by example. Today’s followers will become the leaders of tomorrow, and they are highly likely to live what they learn and then to lead accordingly.
For a variety of articles regarding the impact of bully coaches and tips on how to deal with them, I invite you to Google “bully coaches.”
26 August 2019
I vividly remember my first cruise. I was a rising junior at Ole Miss, and approximately twenty students were traveling as a group. I shared an inside stateroom with three other coeds at the back of a very old ship. With four bunkbeds and luggage that seemed to multiply every day, we coexisted happily for seven days.
My colleagues and I absorbed way too much Caribbean sunshine. Our group seemed to be the last to leave the dance floor every night. This week at sea was one big party with a nice group of grounded young people enjoying immense fun, delicious food and awesome service.
Over the years, I have found wide variation in the quality of my cruising experiences. Some ships have had more amenities than others. Some vessels catered to a smaller number of passengers while others competed to see which ship could accommodate the most guests. Regardless of these nuances, the main difference I have found in cruising has been grounded in the culture of the ship’s staff.
My husband and I recently experienced the Celebrity Silhouette, a ship that appears to have an “It’s a Ten” culture.
From the minute we arrived at the cruise port, every interaction was perfect. When we approached the ship, we were slightly frantic, having arrived just minutes before the official deadline for check-in. As we boarded the ship, we were happily welcomed like old friends. Our panic immediately melted into a sense of calm. Clearly it was time for our bon voyage martini!
During our first dinner at sea, we met Christine Joy, a specialty restaurant assistant waiter from the Philippines. Her smile was like a warm ray of sunshine. When we asked how long Christine had been with the ship, she responded “Nine months, and I’ve already been promoted”. Smiling widely, she proudly shared, “Celebrity is a great company. They encourage their employees to experience different roles so they can pursue a career path they enjoy. Each time we saw Christine Joy throughout the week, that beautiful smile was always shining brightly. Perhaps it’s no accident this young lady had joy both in her name and in her heart!
Our waiter, Adrian, had been with Celebrity for eighteen years. Clearly, he was the very best server my husband and I have ever encountered at sea. He was always jovial and quickly established a bond with us, fondly referring to my husband as “Papa”. He anticipated every need and bent over backwards to ensure we were happy with all aspects of our dining experience.
Assistant waiter Jola had only been aboard for one month. As a brand-new employee, she raved about the crossing training opportunities that she was already being encouraged to pursue.
Suffice it to say that everywhere…. and I do mean absolutely everywhere we went on the ship, we were greeted by highly engaged employees who seemed to love their work. We encountered no grumpy expressions nor faces buried in smart phones. We experienced a great performance by all. And this mesmerizing culture was accomplished with many of the employees being new!
In Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, I included a chapter entitled “Caramel Cake and Culture”. Within this chapter I shared my convictions that like making a cake, the recipe for a great corporate culture requires that the key ingredients of Gracious Leadership be consistently applied.
While I don’t know the specific leadership principles being taught by the Celebrity Silhouette Leadership, I did see some similarities with my convictions about Gracious Leadership. These leaders were clear about expectations and required accountability for performance. They were purposeful about developing their people. They understood the importance of positive relationships with customers and employees They reinforced the significance of seemingly small acts of kindness. They sought and provided feedback.
We saw in action aboard the Silhouette some of the key ingredients of Gracious Leadership. Just like making a Caramel Cake, when it’s right, you know it! Even though several thousand passengers were onboard during the two-week journey, the staff made us feel like the only guests in their world. Hats off to this fine team of leaders and frontline staff of the Silhouette for getting their hospitality culture “just right”.
It’s no wonder that in the gangway of Celebrity Silhouette, the staff proudly displayed banners touting that their ship had been recognized as among the best within their company for excellence in the customers’ experiences at sea.
Corporate culture clearly matters in the hospitality industry, and corporate culture matters in every industry. For this reason, leaders and board members are placing increasing emphasis upon the strategic imperative to create and to sustain positive corporate culture because of the correlation with organizational returns.
Could you say without reservation that your company’s corporate culture is a “Ten”? If you don’t have time for a cruise, but you are interested in learning more about fully respectful, peak performance leadership, be sure to visit .
Watch for Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before becoming available very soon as an audiobook on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.
26 July 2019
Emergency medical professionals are trained not only to respond to unforeseen circumstances, but also to prepare for the unimaginable. As such, they become experts in anticipating, preparing for and mitigating risks.
As a health care executive, I had the pleasure of observing leaders, employees, physicians and emergency responders from within hospitals and throughout the community as they simulated unannounced disasters.
Imagine that a tractor trailer carrying hazardous waste overturns on the interstate, or an airplane crashes with mass casualties. Regardless of the simulated situation, the word “competitor” vanished and was immediately replaced by a collaborative call to function as a team.
Participants from diverse organizations concurrently activated their respective emergency response plans. They followed the protocols they had practiced in responding to the mock disasters. Team members were given specific assignments with clear instructions on the roles to be fulfilled.
Following each event, the leaders of the teams held comprehensive debriefings to determine what had gone well and what process improvements could be implemented.
Such experiences prepared health care providers and community responders to have definitive plans for how they would organize, activate, collaborate and manage their emergency responses. This preparation yielded a keen sense of confidence that they were ready for the unimaginable. The goal, of course, was to minimize the adverse impact of unknown risks.
How does your company stack up?
Enterprise risk management across all industries has now taken center stage in the C-suite and in the boardroom. Does your company have a clearly articulated ERM strategy? If so, is this plan mere words on paper, or does it require your organization to prepare actively and systematically for unforeseen risks?
What would your organization do if your customers’ data were breached? How would your team manage the message in responding to a reputational crisis if an executive were accused of wrongdoing? How would your organization respond if, God forbid, an active shooter entered your facility and killed innocent people?
How are your C-suite executives and board of directors involved in discerning the most significant risks that could impair your company’s ability to perform at peak? What grade would you give your team’s current performance for proactively mitigating risks? How can you improve your leadership in guiding your team to anticipate and to prepare proper responses for organizational risks?
There is no better time than now to be purposeful in activating an ERM strategy for your company. Consider simulating your most significant vulnerabilities. Be sure to involve your leaders, employees, board members, vendors and community partners, as applicable, in crafting your optimal response plan.
Just as emergency responders practice how they would react to unforeseen circumstances, so also should your organization prepare and practice for unforeseen events that may occur only in your worst nightmares. While practice may not make perfect, it certainly can provide a solid game plan and team confidence as you seek to mitigate organizational risk.
18 July 2019
My husband and I recently spent a few weeks abroad. While we were touring Berlin, Germany, we saw the popular tourist attractions including the remainder of the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Berlin Cathedral and more. While each of these sites helped us learn about the city’s history, it was the Holocaust Memorial that most stirred our emotions and led to a time of reflection.
The Holocaust Memorial was designed by American Architect Peter Eisenman. The Memorial is comprised of 2711 gray concrete slabs. Each block is different: a different width, a different height, a different length or a different angle. By design, no two blocks are alike. The architect was purposeful in building this memorial with one-of-a kind structures. To the architect, the blocks were symbolic of the 3 million Jewish victims who were killed during the Holocaust. While these human beings were barbarically killed en masse, we should never forget that each of these individuals had a different story.
How easy it is for us to categorize others into large, impersonal groups. Let’s think about the example of immigrants seeking to enter our nation. What if literal or figurative walls had precluded our own predecessors from coming into America at a time when they longed for a better life for their families? Every family has a different story.
From a business perspective, what about your customers? Depending upon your particular line of business, have you categorized your customers into a handful of prototypes? What opportunities do you have to better meet the needs of your customers if you could understand how their circumstances vary? Yes, customers have different stories to share.
I remember on multiple occasions challenging our employees to understand that patients were never to be viewed as numbers (such as the 225th patient on a given day in a particular department). Every patient was one-of-a-kind. Every patient had come from different environments. Every patient’s health status was unique. Every patient had differing degrees of support from families or friends. Some patients had positive attitudes while others did not. Because of the different experiences and circumstances of our patients, our staff found that some individuals were “easier to love” than others. Yet, even the most challenging patients were treated with ultimate caring and kindness as though they were the only individuals in our world. Yes, every patient had a different story.
With the drive for efficiency and the increasingly important role of technology in delivering value to key stakeholders, how easy it is to view our employees as one collective body. Yet each of our employees also has a different story. When we as leaders can appreciate their differences, we can know how best to relate to them and in so doing, to derive maximum utility from them because they are highly engaged .
As I think about our time in Berlin, I remain dismayed regarding the tragic loss of lives during the Holocaust. And I am grateful for the challenge put forth by the example of this touching Memorial.
May we never forget the significance of every person’s circumstances. May we also be inspired to appreciate that whether we are contemplating a persecuted race, an aspirational immigrant, an everyday customer, a struggling patient, a neighbor, a friend, a family member or even a complete stranger, every person has a different story that needs to be heard.
28 May 2019
Risk mitigation is a hot topic within C-suites and boardrooms. Corporate risk presents in diverse ways, from compliance issues, regulatory violations and sexual harassment to poor customer service, data breaches and more. Organizations are increasingly susceptible to financial and reputational risk when stories go viral regarding ethics and performance failures.
Risk mitigation has become a significant responsibility for leaders within many industries. As such, it has found a seat at the table within routine meeting agendas for the C-suite and board. Why? Because unmanaged risk can harm organizational results when it derails strategic and financial performance.
Most leaders should have a process to identify and rectify known organizational risks. By using proven process improvement techniques, the root causes of the problems may be identified. Action plans can then be created and monitored to rectify the issues in a systematic and accountable manner that facilitates sustained results.
A case in point
I am aware of an organization that did a good job of identifying its material, known risks related to suboptimal customer service. The organization’s leaders discovered a recurring pattern as they analyzed customer complaints.
They found inconsistencies in how their managers responded to these concerns. Even when complaints were voiced directly by consumers, these complaints were not consistently “heard” by leaders. In fact, some unaddressed complaints ultimately resulted in lost sales and legal action.
As the company analyzed the problems their customers encountered, its leaders realized they needed to teach their team the importance of rapid response to complaints. As part of this process, they coached their leaders and managers to receive complaints by respectfully expressing regret and empathy in a safe and constructive manner. They accomplished this task through teaching leaders to master “the power of apology.”
Making things right
In situations where suboptimal products or customer experiences were involved, the leaders were taught to apologize and to “make things right” for the customers. In situations where a misunderstanding existed, but without performance failures, leaders were taught to say, “I’m sorry you experienced disappointment. Please share more about your concerns and help us learn from your experience. We really want to do better for you and for our next customer.”
The results were phenomenal as once-disgruntled customers believed they had been heard and, as such, felt valued. Over a reasonably short span of time, few complaints escalated to the C-suite because leaders had mastered the power of apology in the moment. Their actions closest to the customers had a material, positive impact in mitigating risk for this company. And, most important, they retained customers and avoided costly expenses.
As you contemplate the different ways to mitigate known risks for your company, I encourage you to review the processes you currently utilize to address these vulnerabilities. Perhaps the power of apology might have application for you and your team as you build your risk mitigation strategies relative to customer service.