Leadership Lessons from the ER

This week did not go as planned.

After a fun-filled day on Monday, I was struck out of nowhere with severe stomach pain shortly after dinner.

By 10pm, there was no position, sitting, standing or lying down, that was comfortable.

Desperate to avoid a long night in the ER, I frantically googled my symptoms in search of answers.

By 2am, doubled over in pain, I had to reluctantly face facts. This might actually be an emergency.

We all know the smart move is to call an ambulance.

Paramedics can evaluate and often start treating you right on scene. They can also facilitate your entry into the hospital.

But one of the city’s top hospitals is less than 10 minutes from my house at that time of night, so my husband grabbed his car keys and we raced over.

Leadership Lesson #1: Constantly Evaluate your Priorities

We’ve all spent miserable nights in a packed emergency room.

Hospitals operate on a strict triage system and, like a local news channel, if it bleeds, it leads. Those of us with less dramatic or non-life-threatening conditions must sit and wait.

But North York General, one of the busiest hospitals in the city, has adopted a smart new approach to triage.

As soon as you arrive in Emergency, patients are immediately assessed and dispatched to one of several zones in the hospital.

Red Zone for Urgent/Critical cases, Yellow Zone for serious issues that may not require hospitalization and another zone (Blue?) for less critical/time sensitive conditions.

Within five minutes of walking in the door, I had been assessed, admitted and sent directly to the Yellow Zone.

Once you’re in the Yellow Zone, you’re no longer competing with Red Zone cases. You’re now triaged against other Yellow Zone patients.

Given the severity of my symptoms, I rose quickly on the priority list.

The issue seemed to be gastro, but a wide range of conditions… gallstones, kidney stones, pancreatitis, diverticulitis, appendicitis and even ovarian cysts share very similar symptoms. They definitely needed more data.

My bloodwork and a physical exam led the first doctor to suspect appendicitis.

But they’d need some imaging to confirm that diagnosis. I was told that a CT scan would not be available until 8am and we’d just have to sit and wait until then.

With a double dose of pain killers barely making a dent in my pain, I knew it would be a long five hours.

Leadership Lesson #2: Don’t Assume the Worst

Knowing the intense burden that the pandemic has placed on our already over-worked and underpaid healthcare teams, I anticipated short-staffing, minimal service and an atmosphere of palpable burnout.

That is NOT what I experienced.

To a person, every single staffer I encountered that night was personable, patient and attentive.

I realize that privileged white women often receive better service than others, but let me clarify that I was NOT there in executive mode that evening, with a designer handbag and a mild case of strep throat.

Nope. I was UGLY sick. Projectile vomiting. Racing to the washroom, puking in my own mask, sick. A total nightmare.

I share those personal, humiliating details reluctantly.

Because even though they had to discreetly page Housekeeping every time I emerged from projectile vomiting in the washroom, I was treated with nothing but courtesy, care and respect.

Leadership Lesson #3: Over-Communicate in a Crisis

After I had my CT scan, I was told it might be an hour before a doctor would be back to share the findings.

In spite of being given two IV bags of morphine, I was in tremendous pain and projectile vomiting a single ice chip.

I sat there in agony, dreading what I might hear.

While we waited, I noticed that routine medical updates were being delivered by the doctors in the waiting lounge itself.

Those who were being called into a small side room down the hall were clearly receiving more sensitive or “bad news” updates. I saw several patients emerge from that room looking visibly upset.

I told myself that if a doctor came out to the lounge to share my findings, it couldn’t be all that bad. But if they called me over to that side room and pulled the curtain, I should probably brace myself for worse news.

When my time finally came, we were asked to follow a nurse down a hallway, past the “bad news” room and through a whole new set of doors. I was led into a new waiting area and told the doctor would be by “shortly” to speak to us there.

As we waited, I looked around at my new surroundings.

My heart sank when I noticed… I was now sitting in the Red Zone. 

That can’t be good.

We sat there for 45 minutes, waiting for a doctor to appear with a Red Zone update.

That may’ve been the longest 45 minutes of my life. 

I’m not sure the hospital fully considered what message is sent to a patient when you escalate them into the Red Zone. To then make them wait 45 minutes for any information whatsoever seems like cruel and unusual punishment.

Note to NYGH… You’re doing so many things right. But may I respectfully suggest that you don’t escalate a patient into the Red Zone emergency room until a doctor is actually available to speak with them.

When the doctor finally arrived, I was prepared for the worst.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the doctor introducing himself as a Surgeon.

This new surgeon informed me that the CT scan did not reveal a tumour, mass, cyst, or even a ruptured appendix.

What it showed was a complete twist in my small bowel.

Somehow my small bowel had managed to wind around itself that evening and was now totally blocked.

Which explained the stomach pain. And all the vomiting.

As I struggled to take this in, he explained that I needed emergency surgery immediately to untwist my bowel.

Leadership Lesson #4: Always Have a Plan

He then walked me through the surgery plan.

He would first attempt to resolve the situation laparoscopically… which would involve three small incisions in my abdomen.

If that didn’t work, he’d have to make a call right there in the operating room to cut me open, pull out my small bowel and untwist it directly.

After carefully explaining all of the potential risks, he asked if he had my permission to book the ER and proceed with the surgery.

I looked him in the eye and asked him pointedly if he felt confident that he could successfully perform this surgery.

With not even a hint of bravado, he assured me that he did.

So, I gave him the go-ahead to book the ER and prep me for major surgery in the next half hour.

This was happening.


To be continued…


How to Be a Great Boss

Most of us want to be great bosses.

We’ve all had bad bosses. Supervisors that were rude, arrogant, overly demanding, insecure or dismissive.

Leaders who were phoning it in, directors who were nice but ineffectual, and managers who were just too darn busy doing their own work to make time for us.

In our zeal to be better bosses, we read leadership books, attend seminars and conferences, watch TED talks and follow the latest gurus/influencers on social media.

But, deep down, it feels like we’re not quite there yet.

Some people respond to our management style.

These people typically become our favourites and we spend the majority of our time working with them. Coaching them. Encouraging them. Rewarding them.

Others do not.

Some don’t even seem to like us. Eventually, we find ourselves spending less and less time with these individuals… avoiding interaction and just hoping they’ll get their job done without us.

We hear them out if they come with an issue or concern, but otherwise, they don’t get much of our attention.

Sound familiar?

Over time, we find ourselves hiring more of the former group – and less of the latter. We convince ourselves that the most effective team is a team made up of people who respond well to our leadership style.

Armed with that insight, we invest time and money (our own and the company’s) in perfecting that style.

This is where most of us get to in our leadership journey.

We become very effective at leading certain types of people.

But a great boss is not someone who can motivate certain types of people.

A great boss is someone who can motivate and work effectively with almost anyone.

To be a truly great boss… we need to shift our thinking.

First… we need to stop focusing on our leadership style – and what we’re bringing to the mix. 

Instead, we need to re-focus on the specific, individual requirements of our employees. And how we, as the boss, can meet those specific, individual needs.

We don’t lead a group. We lead a group of individuals. And most groups are made up of different personality types.

As business leaders, we know that the key to satisfying our customers is to figure out what their specific needs are… and then apply ingenuity and diligence to meeting and exceeding those needs.

So why aren’t we taking that same approach with our employees?

Because we tend to think of our employees as being there to serve us. When, in fact, we are there to be of service to them.

Yes, we may chart the course and lead the charge. But we also support, coach, develop and inspire. We guide, direct, focus, problem-solve and clear roadblocks that are preventing our team from being as effective as they could be. 

So, what does it take to win the hearts and minds of a group of individuals? 

The first step to being a truly great boss starts with one simple question.

What do YOU need from me?

The Price of Perfectionism

Do you pride yourself on your high standards for everything? If so, you’re not alone.

Most high-achievers strive for perfection.

But what if inflexible standards are slowing you down and holding you back?

Obsessive perfectionism can get in the way of a happy and productive life.

I know that my own obsessively high standards took their toll for many years.

Relentless striving, low satisfaction, sleepless nights obsessing over perceived gaffes – and a long list of unfinished projects and initiatives that I was still “massaging”.

Perfectionism is a major factor in procrastination, low productivity, poor self-esteem… and depression.

It keeps you stuck in your comfort zone – afraid of trying new things, for fear of looking bad or making mistakes.

(Not sure if you’re a perfectionist? Try this test.)

The first step to overcoming perfectionism is to recognize when high standards are necessary – and when they’re actually getting in the way of innovation, efficiency and fulfillment.

Getting to a place of “good enough” on most tasks and projects allows you to get more done without compromising quality.

In fact, taking a more open-minded approach can pave the way for greater creativity, innovation and fun.

Freedom from perfection requires flexibility and a large dose of self-compassion.

This is a struggle for many of us.

It starts with embracing the belief that you are good enough, even with the occasional misstep. And that everything, including yourself, is a work in progress.

The next time you notice that you’re driving yourself too hard, procrastinating on projects or tasks, or feeling self-critical about your accomplishments, ask yourself:

“Am I holding myself to standards that aren’t necessary in these circumstances?”

“What would good enough look and feel like?”

Take a deep breath. Open your heart to self-compassion.

Think flexibly about your project or task and let your inner critic relax.

Try a “good enough” approach for your day-to-day tasks and reserve the sky-high standards for rare and special circumstances.

Not only will you get more done, you’ll also feel better while doing it.

Social Media Getting You Down?

I just read online that today is World Social Media Day. (Isn’t that every day?) 

Here in Canada, it’s also the start of the Canada Day long weekend.

It’s easy to look at social media (especially on long weekends) and think other people are having more fun, cooler vacations, more romantic relationships, have better jobs, better bodies, better kids, better lives.

On #socialmediaday, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves that FB, Instagram, Linked-In, etc. are the highlights reel. Not the full story.

Happy Pride, Happy Canada Day and happy long weekend to all my friends, colleagues and clients. Here’s to a perfectly imperfect summer! xo

Am I Ready for Coaching?

Am I ready for coaching?

As a leader, you need to bring three important attributes to any coaching engagement:

  1. Courage (to take the necessary steps towards development)
  2. Humility (to accept what you learn about your specific development areas and demonstrate a willingness to improve)
  3. Discipline (the structure and commitment to put new practices into place)

What steps should I take to ensure the right fit with a coach?

It’s essential that both the client and the coach feel good about the coaching partnership.

  • As a client, you should ask for a consultation call or “chemistry interview.” This call is typically free of charge and will give you some feel for a potential coach in advance of any formal engagement.
  • You should also review the coach’s background and client testimonials to confirm that they have solid credentials and a demonstrated track record of success.

The coach must also feel confident that they’re a good match for the client.

If the coach feels like they’re the wrong fit for a client, it’s their responsibility to be upfront and honest with you and encourage you to pursue other alternatives.

Excerpted from Business Management Daily, June 2019