This article first appeared on the PBS affiliated Website This Emotional Life.
“There is no instinct like that of the heart.” Lord George Gordon Byron, British poet
The old adage is true: Timing is everything. No matter how straight and narrow the road ahead may seem, one must always take into consideration the unexpected, that one, untamable variable that may at any time upset the apple cart and leave us scrambling to regain both composure and apples. For just over 108 months, I was the CEO of a hospital. For three overlapping months, I was also a father. The end to one significant stage of my life coincided with the joyous beginning of another. Timing always rules the day, and, as I have found, it also enjoys irony.
Recently, I made the commitment to pursue certain credentialing and board certifications in health care management, even as my position in this field was in transition. With a new child at home, a new career to forge, and a new professional distinction in my sights, I dived head first into an unrecognizable abyss, hoping that some yet-to-be-defined synergy (in the form of a very large net) would break my fall. As luck would have it, one of my first assignments was a book by Tom Atchison, Ed.D., which introduced me to “The Synergy Factor.” As I understand it, this concept is a coalescing of sorts between certain intangible inter-relational ideas and tangible processes within health care administration. There, in the middle of my matutinal study of the Synergy Factor and health care leadership, my mind started to wander toward my son, and I began to delve into the ways in which I could enhance our relationship in these early stages.
Young children (and many adults as well) exist in the crossroads of the tangible and intangible. Matters of genetic makeup, demographics, and fiscal stability are common, tangible discussions for many new parents who aspire to provide for their latest family member. More often than not, however, that which is tangible is also hardest to control. The intangible part of parenting, namely the notion of instilling a mutual trust, respect, pride, and joy into the parent-child relationship, also happen to be what Atchison describes as “the source of a sense of purpose and meaningful work as a result of living the mission, values, and vision.” (Atchison, Leadership’s Deeper Dimensions: Building Blocks to Superior Performance, 2005).
Although not necessarily represented in equal proportion, certain factors such as the color of his eyes, the sound of his voice, the bed in which he sleeps and the neighborhood where we reside all share attributes that extend to varying degrees beyond my parental jurisdiction. But the intangible ways in which I deliver certain messages that speak of and lead to trust, respect, pride, and joy are almost entirely within my control, regardless of those aforementioned tangible realities, as well as any challenges I may face now or in the future as a parent.
Now, as my studies force me to probe deeper into the core of health care management, I constantly find myself reflecting upon my real life lessons learned over the past nine years. No matter what educational background or prior experience a hospital CEO brings to the table, certain on-the-job assignments will necessitate fast, critical thinking. With such knowledge comes the hope that I myself faced each hospital challenge with a combination of what I learned in school, what I learned from past work-related experiences, and what just felt like the right response. And as I continue to read about tangible and intangible notions in health care management as well as other industry terms and phrases, I begin to realize that I had in fact embraced most of these concepts during my tenure, in deed if not in word as well.
As I reflect upon the past decade with these thinly disguised affirmations from my present studies, I wonder also how I will come to assess my first nine years as a father. At the outset, I am very mindful that this new role differs from the last with respect to the events over which I was ultimately responsible. Now I share the top position with my wife, although to be sure my involvement is shaped by the needs of a newborn and the physical limitations of a father.
Without anything resembling an owner’s manual to follow as I try to build connections with my son while navigating the uncharted waters of new fatherhood, I realize that my instincts will be my second greatest ally, preceded only by those of my wife. Thanks to the recent validation of these very instincts in hospital management, I am mindful that timing is still everything, and not all variables can be controlled. Some must be dealt with as they emerge. Certain concepts that previously had no words in health care management may also be unknown terms to me in parenting. For now, however, I can reassure myself by embracing both the tangible and intangible, and perhaps borrow some of these newly acquired definitions from health care to light my way. After all, my goal is to build a solid foundation with which to give me footing among these intangibles in preparation for a lifelong journey with my son. In many ways, this is not so different from the way in which I approached the running of a hospital. This time, however, the stakes are more profound, not to mention precious.