Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Apologies can be unsatisfying

My boss came to me yesterday afternoon and asked how the morning had gone. Then he held out customer service card where one of my colleagues in another department had written a negative response about me.

Frustrated with what I perceived to be this person's inability to solve the problem, I grabbed the patient's ID out of his hand so I could pull up the online records. I immediately knew this was a mistake, but I didn't apologize. I wish I had. Instead, I softened everything from that point on, explaining everything I was doing and trying to be as helpful as I could be, hoping this person would see the grabbing as an anomaly.

He didn't.

So I told the boss I planned to apologize to this person.

Today, after the mad rush, I stopped by the lab. The technician immediately recognized me and ushered me into an office. It wasn't what I expected. I had actually planned to apologize in front of others so they would know I respected this person and that I was acknowledging my role in behaving badly. But, this must have been what he wanted and needed.

I told him I was sorry. I shouldn't have done what I did and I wouldn't do it again.

I asked him why he had submitted the comment card instead of talking to me. He said, "I wanted to bring it to your attention. I wanted to make sure you weren't treating your junior sailors this way."

I then asked him why he didn't call me on my behavior at the time. "I recognize there is a difference in rank," I told him, "but if you were justified, as both of us know, then what was the point of not calling me on it there in front of those junior sailors? Wouldn't that have been a more powerful example of how to role model behaviors for those sailors?" Truth should be able to speak to power.

He didn't seem to understand what I was trying to say. "Would you like me to do anything else? Do you need anything else from me?" I asked. It didn't seem nearly enough. Perhaps the apology and my presence were all he wanted and that would suffice, but for me, it was very unsatisfying.

I talked to my boss this afternoon and told him I apologized to the lab technician. I also explained that it didn't help me; I knew I was wrong, but the apology didn't meet MY needs. I didn't know if it was the inequality in status or the cultural differences, but I needed something more.

I have a problem with trying to speed things up and can adopt a tone of voice that irritates people or suggests condescension. I suggested to my boss that perhaps I could ask my colleagues to help me identify when I'm getting to close to the edge by using some code word to help me step back from the situation and regain control of my feelings and actions.

"It could be helpful," he acknowledged. "That's the principle behind 360 degree evaluations." But he left it up to me to broach the topic with my subordinates. So that's my plan for tomorrow as I begin my trek toward a more mindful workplace.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Leadership Tied to Maturity and Receptiveness

So I spent my lunch hour composing an email response loaded with what I thought were leadership newsletters, books, and articles, along with the observation I was not a great leader. I also stated I did not have to be the expert; I only needed to know who was and to let him or her shine. I read it through several times to make sure there were no errors, that nothing could be miscontrued or misunderstood, and sent it off, full of hope that everything would be made as new as I wrote in one sentence: a clean slate to start again.

I sent the email at 1244. I received a response at 1250. Six minutes. And the response? Ma'am,
Noted. Thank you for your time.

In my mid-to-late 20's, I might have had my own image tied into what and how I wanted to be perceived by others. Maybe I would have responded with the same speediness, the same acerbity, the lack of depth and gratitude. And maybe that's my error---in thinking she would be grateful.

Well, maybe someday she will be. I can hope.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Little Like Dying

I've known for a few months now I will be deploying. Pretty much in denial for the first few months, I was able to tolerate this and, because of the chaos and uproar at work, almost welcomed the respite from the Beltway drama and politics.

That changed as I got my anthrax shot (which laid me low) and I avoided a smallpox vaccination because of some mysterious dermatitis on my collarbone. All of a sudden I have less than 28 days left on this side of the world, no childcare plan in place yet, and overwhelming grief that I have not been able to accomplish all I set out to do in my assignment as the department head of surgical nursing.

In leaving for the unknown with hopes of returning, I understand my grief is due to changes beyond my control. I won't be returning to this same position. I can't; someone else will have stepped in to take the helm. So what will I do when I come back? Will it be as challenging? Will I like it? Will it be---dare I say--fun?

I've been keeping in touch with one of my JG's in Kandahar who has excelled and is over half-way through her deployment. "What do you want to do when you get back?" I asked, hoping she would want to stay and provide leadership and expertise on the unit.

"I'd like to go to the APU or PACU," she wrote. "I've been working on the wards and assisting with trauma, which can be rewarding but draining. I'd like a break."

So, I asked her if she'd considered becoming an OR nurse; would she have time to shadow a nurse there? She'd have the opportunity to provide attention to detail, work as a team, and monitor patient safety. "It provides some distance from the patient," I suggest.

As an Individual Augmentee (IA), I am plucked from my workplace and sent alone (mostly) to meet up with other individuals to form a tribe of providers to do a job far away from our families and support networks.

I've had lots of people ask me over the past two weeks: Are you okay?

"Yes," I say. "I think so."