Earlier Thoughts

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


“A man who views the world the same at fifty as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.” Muhammad Ali
People talk about culture shock as the trauma experienced by moving to a new place or into a new culture.  It is certainly easy to understand the feelings of discomfort, or outright revulsion at the different standards of cleanliness when traveling outside of the western world.  Yet, emotions are really heightened when communications become difficult or impossible.  Making requests or providing direction may result in others responding in an unanticipated fashion, or not at all.  The lack of understanding between people not because of language differences alone, but because of customs and values creates the challenge for the traveler. 
I recall reading an Indian story about blind men who, when confronting an elephant, were asked to describe its essence.  Using only their sense of touch, each man reached out and touched a part of the pachyderm to determine the nature of the animal.  It was not much of a surprise to find that each man had independently drawn different conclusions about elephant architecture.  All of the men were correct in their assessment and must have felt conflicted as their experience was shared with the others. Each had had a unique experience.  The lack of a shared vision as told in this story might lead to open conflict, maybe anger, and even a fight.  It is only but for the participation of someone with vision that each of the men can integrate the information to work together.  The essence here is that differences should be welcomed and integrated to make for a richer experience. 

Over the last few months, I have been leaning how to perform an elephant examination. (And, no it isn’t necessary to wear rubber gloves for this effort.) This education has occurred in committee meetings, private discussions, and even in the local cafeteria.  Time and time again, I have listed to the conversations and wondered privately, “how can they all be correct and wrong at the same time?” 

In one committee that I attend on a weekly basis, we have spent more than five hours talking about the definition of a Full Time Equivalent or FTE.  The definition of this personnel metric in the West is based on a equation of the number of hours paid or worked by an employee without overtime compensation.  Typically, we allow 40 hours per week multiplied by 52 weeks in a year to reach a total of 2080 hours in a year, or one FTE.  This idea sounds simple enough.  This measure then can be useful to determine how many full-time employees would have been needed to perform a job even when part-time workers are used to produce the same output.  (Are you following this?)  So, you’d think any hospital might adopt this definition and you’d be mistaken.  Imagine for a moment that the stability of the 12 month, 365-day Gregorian calendar were replaced with the Hijrah calendar.  The Hijrah or Muslim calendar is based on lunar cycles, which makes it difficult to correspond with traditional Gregorian calendars. The date for the beginning of the first month of the year changes annually.  The Hijrah calendar is 12 months long with 354 or 355 days.  Add to these differences that salary is paid for all days of the year, including weekends – which are Thursday and Friday in Saudi Arabia – and that the month of Ramadan may start early or late, depending on the sighting of the moon, and the FTE is just another word for elephant.

OK, gloves on, let’s talk about paid versus “worked” FTEs!

Monday, October 4, 2010


“Man is the only one to whom the torture and death of his fellow creatures is amusing in itself.” 
                                                                                                                           James A. Froude
                                                                                                       English historian (1818 - 1894) 

At about eight-years-of-age, rheumatic fever following a bout of measles kept me out of school and in bed for a year.  My weekly visit to the local family doctor for an exam and shot of penicillin, along with toxic daily doses of aspirin was the treatment regime prescribed and administered by mom.  Although I missed a full year of school, the teacher who visited me at home dutifully “placed” me in the next grade when I turned nine.  The earlier absence from school and poor test results put me into a “special” group of children who were then called “retarded.”  I rode the “small yellow bus” for a while.  I didn’t learn to read or do basic math until the summer prior to entry into junior high school.  The summer before beginning the 7th   grade, I learned to read by attending an intensive remedial program and developing an interest in science fiction. (I have read every book written by Robert Heinlein and published before his death in 1988.)  Yes, I was really a nerd in every aspect of dress and behavior. The earlier primary school experience didn’t leave me feeling very good about me.  I had no confidence, was shy and withdrawn.  

I met Mrs. Phyllis Stroud in the 8th grade. (I tried unsuccessfully a few years ago to locate her to offer my sincere thanks.  I know she is now dead as she is listed as deceased on the website for the Redlands Footlighters Theatre. She had to have been already 60 when she taught me.)  Somehow my class schedule included an assignment in her speech class. She was the best teacher in my life. I failed to thank her for her competent teaching skills, honest and inspiring interest in me, and forward-looking expression to me about what was possible in my life.  With her support, my speaking skills and stage skills developed enough to allow me to win awards in speech and debate throughout my high school years; more importantly to build a sense of confidence and self-esteem.

This wonderful woman, a teacher of 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old children, demonstrated traits of leadership.  I know now that she led children to become better people.  (If you are so inclined, read Kouzes and Posner’s research into leadership in the book The Leadership Challenge, which discusses these foundational leader skills.)  She was a leader. 

I have worked for a lot of people with different titles during the last three decades.  Almost all of these folks have been managers, not leaders.  Some of these people have gone to school to learn about management and business.  Their academic programs awarded degrees in leadership.  Leadership may be a substantial field of academia, but its theories are still conjectural and, so far, irreproducible.  Schools claiming to educate leaders miss the point: Anyone can learn skills to manage, but leaders are not made.  

It brings me to my premise: Few of us are leaders, capable of inspiring others. We can employ behaviors to maximize results; to get the job done through others.  We get our teams to work well together by integrating our actions with our values, being open to ideas, dealing justly with others, thinking creatively, recognizing that all members of the team are equal, and having a sense of humor.  I think these are all important and necessary managerial traits.  Good managers can motivate others to do their jobs.  A good a manager may become a better manager. 

But there is something more that defines a leader.  Integrity -- that subtle blend of humility, wisdom, enthusiasm and devotion -- is what attracts a follower.  When my teacher “walked the talk,” spent her time, attention and patience on me, she became someone I wanted to follow, irrespective of her age or official position.  I wanted to please Mrs. Stroud and be like her.

Leaders are devoted and tireless in their efforts to bring out the best among their followers.  I am still working on my repertoire of skills, after so many years, and am hopeful that my management skills are improving.