Live Life - Lessons to be Learned

Life and time are immensely precious commodities and ones that we need to manage wisely and with purpose.  Hugely cliché start to this post but the (reinforced) realization comes with the passing of a former colleague's 13-year old son just this week.  This young man was certainly taken far too early from this earth and comes less than year after his diagnosis with DIPG which is an aggressive, cancerous brain tumor that afflicts children.  Through the immense dedication of his parents and a tremendous community of family and friends, this boy was provided with a host of wish list opportunities (e.g., skydiving, epic nerf war, NFL game at Wembley Stadium) that could make any of us green with envy - save for the foundational and challenging reason for doing so.

And perhaps if this were the only reminder of the need to stay focused on the truly important things in life one might be tempted to lament fate, bless God for one's own reasonably good health and that of my family, and move on.  Alas that has not been the case.  Add the sad story above to the loss of a 38-year old mother of two young children to lung cancer back in February of this year.  Add the sad story of the loss of an otherwise fit 42-year old to cardiac complications arising from contracting the flu just over a year ago.  Add the sad story of 40+ year old single mother of one just recently diagnosed with breast cancer in the past month. The list, unfortunately does go on and does not include the challenges being faced by aging parents.  Nor does it include individual health "alerts" that have been experienced in my own household of late.

Many of you may also know more of my own personal story of loss dating back to 2007 when I also lost my first wife suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 42 leaving me a single parent of a beautiful 6-year old daughter.

Why bring these stories out within what is supposed to be a leadership blog?  Because leadership has to be framed within the context of the big picture of LIFE.  Because leadership has to be focused on more than just the next 5-year strategic plan.  Because from my view there cannot be and is not any artificial separation between work and home, business and life.  Hopefully most of us do work to live versus living to work.  That we take time out NOW, even in the midst of all of our responsibilities (e.g., car payments, mortgage, tuition, business meetings, hectic business travel, etc.) to enjoy those around us, to have them enjoy our company and experience what the world has to offer.  And hopefully it doesn't take the pressure of a terminal diagnosis or the sudden loss of a loved one to focus on our attention on the truly important things in life.

At various points since 2007 I have tried to keep this admonition in mind.  I was extraordinarily blessed to find a new best friend, remarry and experience the wedding of the century (yes I said that), go on a first class honeymoon cruise in the Mediterranean, complete two Ironman Canada triathlons, bring two more daughters into this world, take my now 18-year old daughter to Paris/Europe for her high school graduation gift, run the Berlin Marathon with my wife in 2018 and now plan to run the Venice Marathon in October 2019.

Do I sometimes worry about my business, the expenses, how my retirement fund is shaping up (or not)?  Absolutely.  But more often than not I now find myself more worried about the experiences I might be denying myself and my loved ones by not living life to its fullest - and that too is a legacy of those who have passed from our earthly sight far too quickly.

It is all about leadership - and how we choose to lead our whole life.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions

Things that make you go hmmm...Part I?

I'm certainly beginning to date myself with the title of this post with a song reference dating back 28 years - and the last century - but it seemed to resonate with the topic of conflict that I am about to explore.  Now there are whole classes and texts focused on the subject of conflict - sources and how to address or resolve.  What I hope to add to the topic are some of my own personal observations and experiences relating to my coaching and consulting practice - and my personal challenges as well.

As a starting point I'm going to come back to two related and foundational elements that potentially start to explain sources of conflict - self-awareness and personal values.  In my coaching and consulting work there are many occasions where I find myself trying to help my clients work through issues of anger, frustration, anxiety and even depression.  First let me be clear - none of what I describe borders on areas of clinical diagnosis or treatment - those are well beyond my bounds!  No, what I speak of is the garden variety set of negative emotions that all of us have experienced on a regular basis.  As these emotions are brought to the fore with my clients we can often use these experiences to help them better understand who they are and what they stand for.  These negative experiences (and even the positive polar opposites) can act as an opportunity for reflection, self-understanding, and personal clarity.  

Working from my own personal examples, I will admit that I might be a bit on the geeky side of this equation in having had some version of my own personal mission, vision and values statements since my mid-20's.  Focusing in on personal values, I have been pleased to see a lot of stability in them over the years.  Some of the most important to me are:  Integrity, Commitment and Learning.

Working on the premise that "feeling out of sorts" in work and in life can be a signal that our values are being challenged or under assault what types of circumstances help(ed) me understand my own values.  The first critical step is being prepared to step back from a set of circumstances and understand what is happening for me?  Why am I reacting in any given situation?  Presuming I hadn't already identified values of Integrity, Commitment and Learning, I have to have the capacity, courage and discipline to use my higher order reasoning to figure out what's going on and what makes this particular "issue" or circumstance important to me in one way or another.  I have to be ready to pause, think, learn and apply this learning.  

As it relates to Integrity, I have come to define this with a variety of other words including authenticity, transparency and honesty.  There is the further reality of after having declared a set of values and principles that I ACTUALLY live by them.  There is an explicit expectation that I will act in accordance with those values even in difficult times and treat people by the same standards regardless of "station" in life.  As I reflect upon times where I have been made to feel uncomfortable in my skin it can be related directly back to times I did not live up to my own expectations.  In other circumstances it has been where other (avowed) leaders have not lived up to their stated personal or organizational values - the emperor has had no clothes - or treated others as less or more depending on title or role.  In many organizations - private sector, public sector, religious, political - a significant challenge for me (and disenchantment on the part of the pubic) are leaders who don't walk their talk or hold themselves above others. 

As it relates to Commitment, I pride myself on quality of effort, quality of product or service delivered, and trying to bring my best to bear at all times.  That level of perfection can certainly cause one to pay a price!  Hard to attain perfection in every aspect of one's life.  But as I have learned and matured, I have tried to be very conscious of what taking on a commitment will mean.  A recent and ongoing example of this is in the area of mentorship.  I've been a mentor in one or more of my professions for at least a decade, maybe two.  A commitment to mentor really means something to me - be prepared to give of yourself, take a mentee as seriously as your highest paying client, being available for them as they require.  It's not just an excuse to round out your resume.  So when I start to feel that I can't deliver on that equation it literally starts to make me twitchy.  In like manner, I am highly offended by mentees and other mentors who can't seem to take this relationship seriously.  Taking this even further and deeper I will have to be completely honest that I have a hard time taking feedback on my performance from others if I don't see them as highly committed to a cause or effort as I believe myself to be.

Finally as it relates to Learning, or rather continuous learning, I am motivated by a desire to explore, learn, and experience.  Where that value is challenged has often come from being prevented from being the kind of explorer or creator I strive to be or being blocked by the resistance of others to learn, adapt and change.  In these latter circumstances, it is well beyond rational to expect excitment at the prospect of learning new ways of doing things. Learning and change can often be two sides of the same coin.  Too often too many of us can experience change as a threat rather than as an opportunity.  Too often we see our identity tied to a certain skill set or sense of competence in how we have done things for a long period of time.  So for me, the inability to learn, to read, to explore - and see that willingess in others - can often be source of conflict.

So what's my conclusion and request to you?  First, when you start to feel yourself feeling unsettled pay attention to the circumstances of your situation and the type of conflict reaction you are having.  Evaluate those feelings as an indicator of what actually might be at stake for you.  Second, as you evaluate those feelings start to evaluate and define those feelings.  Boil them down to the hot buttons and important principles that could be under challenge for you.  Define them in your terms, e.g., what does Integrity, Authenticity, Balance, Humility, Quality, etc., mean to you.  We each have our own unique definition.  Finally, once you have solidified those values in your own mind keep working with them, refining them and using them to positive effect.

Knowing your own values will allow you to more consciously make the right choices for you and allow you to anticipate and manage conflict situations when they arise.  Stop - Think - Act - Review.

There is no true leadership other than conscious leadership.  Know thyself or continue on a path of frustration and unproductive conflict.


Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder - BreakPoint Solutions

Healthcare - Back to the Future??

Over two years ago I posted on the challenges that are healthcare reform.  The specific impetus at that time was a January 10, 2017 article by Andre Picard (Globe and Mail) who provided his assessment of the real challenge facing our healthcare system across Canada - leadership.  His article came on the heels of the decision of Saskatchewan to abolish its (latest) current regional structure in favor of a single administrative structure.  Quoting directly from his article he concluded:

"Complex health systems do not run themselves, and our current loosey-goosey collection of leaderless, milquetoast administrative bodies is not doing the job.

If you want a well-managed, efficient health system that provides value for money, you need to hire good managers, pay them decently, empower them and hold them accountable.

Until we do so, the number of health regions won't matter, and the quality of health care will not improve appreciably."

Since then nothing much has changed and yet the same - tired - winds of change are blowing across the country.  We see that Ontario is considering joining the fray of healthcare structural reform with abolishment of Local Health Integration Networks that have been part of its system since 2007.  Rumors continue to swirl around potential for consolidation of British Columbia's current regional health authorities into one central authority akin to what exists in Alberta and Saskatchewan.  Saskatchewan's restructuring has continued apace with what I would view as the normal challenges that come with such major system change.  And next week in Alberta, with the conclusion of its provincial election, we are have the potential to see a number of 180 degree changes in that system including highly touted cuts to administration, reversal of plans for delivering laboratory services (again) and the potential to abolish Alberta Health Services in favor of a return to regional health authority structure. 

Mr. Picard puts forward some strong words and a conclusion I have no difficulty agreeing with.  My perspective is established out of a 25-year career in healthcare administration spanning roles in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta and a stint within a provincial Ministry of Health.  Since departing the formal healthcare system over 7 years ago I have remained a keen observer of the system, hearing the concerns and complaints of those who try to navigate the system and receive less than optimal results, observe the macro results we achieve (or don't achieve) for the resources invested, see how Canada compares to other jurisdictions across the world, and continue to connect with those who still labor valiantly to try to make a difference in service of patients, clients and residents.  Despite the best efforts of very many committed individuals - those who are good leaders and those who see healthcare not just as a job but as a vocation - we continue to perform at far less than desired or optimal levels.

So what accounts for this challenge in performance and lack of change over the last 20+ years?  Andre Picard touches the surface of the issue and proposes a small sampling of potential solutions.  I'd like to build upon his recommendations.

The issues we face in healthcare are large, complex and not amenable to half-hearted, politically-motivated solutions.  If we - the collective we - are serious about reform in the pursuit of a system that is effective, efficient and sustainable than we must face, discuss and deal with the hard realities before us.  With healthcare typically being the largest expenditure of any provincial government - on average 40% of total expenditures - there must be concerted, sustained and integrated efforts to manage this accountability responsibly.  In my humble opinion, grand and repeated efforts at achieving positive change through restructuring - changing deck chairs on the Titanic - have been the cause of far more disruption and regression than positive change and progression.

Likewise, the challenges facing our healthcare system will not be resolved by the continued bureaucratization and centralization of decision-making and cost-control.  When I left healthcare leadership it was as an increasingly frustrated senior vice-president.  In my final years as a so-called decision-maker, with budgetary accountability of some $300 million, I found myself prevented from making the simplest decisions on my assigned accountability.  Inevitably it felt as though any decision that required an expenditure or reallocation of even $5,000 required input and consensus of an entire senior executive team.  

If anything it appears that the current reality has only gotten worse.  Cost management has taken on extreme proportions with many provincial health systems mandating, restricting and banning many expenditures.  I wish I could say I was making some of these stories up - but I'm not.  In efforts to deal with projected deficits in the area of hundreds of millions of dollars front-line managers and staff are often told to not order paper, pens or other non-patient care supplies.  Salary and position freezes are the norm as well.  Many systems are also banning any form of travel outside their province.   So at a time when we might need to be less insular we are becoming more limited in our ability to exchange information and ideas.  Efforts at staff recognition and engagement (e.g., bring in a pizza for lunch) are frowned upon.  The system now requires multiple approvals, moving up the chain of command, for even the simplest decisions.  In effect, our systems and our "leaders" are spending dollars in an effort to save pennies.  

This lament comes with a set of recommendations that is not so simplistic as restructuring or penny-pinching.  They do however require a significant change in how we collectively think and act.  But as Einstein once said, the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  Time to try something different, perhaps unique, and requiring more than a bit of courage and commitment.  And a style of leadership, at all levels, that we have not had for some time.

First, given that healthcare is so important to our collective experience of our lives and now takes such a huge proportion of our total expenditures it is beyond time that our political leaders and parties approached long-term planning of programs and expenditures in a non-partisan manner.  In this I take a page out of how I understand Australia sets defense policy and manages associated expenditures.  In this case an all party committee debates and sets joint direction on a multi-year plan that transcends normal political cycles (e.g., 4 to 5 years).  Recognizing that defense decisions and requisite systems (e.g,. aircraft, ships, tanks) require long development cycles, consistent and reliable levels of expenditure, and overall sustained vision to be effective, Australia's political parties have committed to maintaining direction regardless of which party is in power. 

A simplistic and naive recommendation?  In my view not any more than the multiple and misguided restructuring efforts that have plagued healthcare since the mid 90's.  A challenge to be sure in the increasingly polarized reality of our political systems.  Within the Alberta context for example I grant that it is indeed more than a stretch to imagine Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney coming together, overcoming their sizable political differences, and developing and holding to a long-term vision and plan for healthcare.  But that IS the political maturity and leadership I believe Alberta (and every province) requires - and has been sorely missing - if we are to move beyond the empty rhetoric and expensive misfires of healthcare reform that has characterized the last 20 years.

Second, presuming the political solution and will identified above, we must craft a true long-term vision for what our healthcare system should be and what it should deliver.  Again, in my opinion, our systems have been operating without a true, empowering, action-oriented and well-understood vision for some time.  We've had platitudes to be sure - patient-centred, commitment to quality, accountability, [fill in the blank] - but all too often I believe a healthcare vision has been subsumed, subverted and overridden by short-term financial and political agendas.  The first step in this process?  Broad-based and transparent engagement of the public and our service providers.  The effective creation - and implementation - of a meaningful and sustained vision and plan for health will not come if we can't achieve broad-based understanding and commitment of a majority of our stakeholders in making it happen.  This is fundamental to the success of any venture.  However, for a variety of reasons (e.g., fear? arrogance?) the formal system and our political masters have shied away from anything but cursory, perfunctory, and even deceitful "consultation" processes.  The intent more often than not has been to manage noise rather than create true engagement and constructive action.

Third we need to ramp up the collective courage to make the hard decisions and choices that are before us.  The changes we need to achieve the outcomes we say we want (e.g,. quality health care, cost-effective, patient-centred, sustainable) will not come without courage.  We do not lack for knowledge, data and research.  Much of what we know about what contributes to healthier populations has been reinforced in multiple studies dating back to the 1970's.  I suggest to you that another study - on mental health reform, rural health services, manpower planning, [fill in the blank] - will not fundamentally alter our understanding of what our issues are, where are systems are failing, and what we must do.  Do we have 100% perfect information?  No.  But if we believe we need that before taking action I suggest you prepare yourself to accept less than optimal performance in perpetuity.  We need courage and leadership to address the hard changes before us. 

So how do we incent the type of leadership we require within our systems?  When I've posed this type of question to others one of the common responses I've received is that we need to move away from our publicly funded health care system and allow the private sector to drive needed change.  Again I may be naive, idealistic or blinded to the possibilities, but I do not believe the profit motive is one that is required - or desirable - within our healthcare systems.  I still believe that a publicly funded and managed system can deliver on its commitments if it is allowed to.  I do believe that we have the leadership talent in the system to work for better change if we empower staff, managers and leaders to do the right things, to make courageous decisions, and be supported for doing so.  The reality for the past many years however is that caution, risk aversion, and even indecision have been rewarded over any form of action.  Too often those who have been prepared to take action have been chastised, demoted, isolated, or even dismissed.  Other potential leaders have left of their own accord, having become discouraged by their inability to make the difference they believe necessary.  Others have simply quit in place, now being content to defer to others higher up in the chain of command, or to participate in innumerable and never-ending committee work - our proverbial bridge to nowhere.

Finally, and just as critically, we need to overcome the challenge of the type of leadership culture we have created over the past 20+ years.  While we often hear assertions, particularly from politicians, that our system is overburdened with overpaid administrators I believe the issue is more profound than that.  In my view, due in large part to the actions and behaviours of our politicians, the healthcare system is over managed and under led.  We have raised several cadres of healthcare administrators within a culture that has valued "noise management", risk management, and decisions and accountability (or lack thereof) by committee.  Accountability has become diffuse by design.  For those wishing to push forward with strength and vision they often encounter policies, procedures, and processes to confound Solomon.  

Aside from the challenge of the maturity of our political process noted at the outset of this post, I believe this latter point may be one of the most challenging to overcome.  Changing the culture of leadership - which sets the stage for all other required change in the system - is daunting.  How does one change a leadership mindset when more often than there is a predilection in succession planning in choosing those who act, behave, and look most like us?  Wholesale change is certainly not desirable.  We need the benefit of corporate memory to inform us, guide our actions, and prevent us from repeating past missteps.  But we also need more innovation, creativity and courage than ever before.  I fear that our current leaders may not overcome their own unconscious bias to make that happen.  I fear too that there may not be many of those potential leaders remaining in the system to choose from and develop to make the necessary difference.

The challenges healthcare faces are immense and they will require political maturity, vision, courage, the right incentives, appropriate accountability mechanisms and a new style of leadership to overcome.  A tall order.  Can it happen?  Only if we have the strength to do the hard work and not simply engage in what seems expedient in the moment.  Only if we have the courage to risk and hold true to the values that I believe informed most of us to enter into the healthcare field in the first place.

In this case it truly is all about leadership.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC

President & Founder
BreakPoint Solutions

Stand for Something or Fall for Anything

In my coaching and consulting practice, I often find that I am working with individual leaders, teams or organizations to develop, re-frame, redefine or otherwise establish their core values.  This exercise can be motivated from a number of sources:

  • Personally - to gain clarity on work challenges, desired advancement or changes in career, making choices about current/future fit ian organization, and exploring challenges related to work/life balance and similar choices. 

  • Teams - trying to strengthen teamwork, manage conflict, get clarity of where the team is going, how they are going to get there, and what is permissible/non-permissible behaviors/actions.

  • Organizationally - usually as part of an organizational reset and often tied to redevelopment/ reestablishment of a strategic plan or trying to figure out why desired results are not being achieved.

I love this kind of work - regardless of level at which it happens - as I do believe it is critical and crucial work.  Other leaders that I have worked with over the past 30 years plus would tell you different.  In fact, they would consider "values" work to be a lot of fluff and really only good for those ubiquitous annual reports and strategic plans that are mandated to them by an external agency, a board of directors, or by a variety of other stakeholders.  They engage in this work and produce such only because it is mandated, not because they see benefit in the exercise or expect to adhere to these values after the glossy publication is put on the shelf.  And, for me, the results of this lack of commitment are clear.

Having worked for these kinds of leaders and organizations I can attest to the personal impact on me and can certainly relate to the toxic effects it has on the broader workforce and for employee engagement.  Values matter on a number of fronts.  Many of us make employment and career choices - sometimes implicitly rather than explicitly - on the basis of whether a leader's or organization's values resonate with our own.  As I'm sure many of you have heard or read, the #1 reason that people leave organizations relates to their relationship, or lack thereof, with their direct supervisor. I would venture that a strong parallel conclusion would be that people also leave organizational cultures that don't resonate with their core values.

And let's remember that "leaving" an organization may not just come in the form of physical departure.  Many organizations, striving for higher levels of productivity, are fighting significant forms of both presenteeism and absenteeism based on a lack of true and authentic engagement of their workforce - on the basis of shared values.

Just as problematic, however, and more distressing to me are leaders that do have a strong sense of core values but consistently fail to strongly articulate those values and/or strongly and consistently put them into action.  The reality then becomes that a team or an organization fails to see a consistent presence or application of core values - whether that of the individual leader or of the organization.  Too often the result of this is other leaders, staff and stakeholders are either left to guess or interpret what values should guide actions OR, more worrisome, live and lead to a set of values that actually contrary to what the leader or organization is intending or hoping for.  The clear result of this "organic" and evolutionary model of leadership is an organizational free-for-all that lacks cohesion, alignment and as often as not results in unproductive and destructive conflict.

Clear personal values, clear team values and clear organizational values that are fully defined and effectively and courageously utilized to animate other structures and processes (e.g., recruitment, retention, performance management, strategic planning, communication) can be powerful in moving individuals, teams and organizations forward.  Certainly a great reference for me in this regard is Simon Sinek's "Start With Why".  Understand and lead self before you can effectively understand, lead and attract others that believe what you believe.

This also means having the courage to articulate - in some level of detail - what you believe in and stand for and then having the courage to act on those stated convictions.  This is why I push my individual coaching clients or consulting clients so hard on moving beyond one-word statements of their values.  Stating that we hold values of integrity, respect, transparency and so on needs to move beyond those basic and potentially powerful words to longer definitions and clear examples of what those values will mean in action, what is permissible and what actions and behaviors are out of bounds. Once those definitions are affirmed the proof really is in the pudding - is a leader or organization prepared to make a stand in service of those values?  To make the courageous and hard choices that demonstrate that these values mean something?

In the absence of committed leadership, founded on one's or an organization's well-developed values, the next wind will blow you in the next easiest direction.  You are no better off than those leaders who never believed in an exploration or declaration of powerful values.  Your glossy publication will gather just as much dust.

Leadership is a lonely venture, but in the end it IS all about leadership.

I end this particular post with a poem by Dylan Thomas which I have referenced before.  It speaks to me about being true to self, holding true to one's ideals, all in an effort to make a real difference in this world of ours.  For me, it is also a call to courageous leadership.  Choose to lead by your values and your terms.  There is a place and an organization calling for your talent and your leadership. 

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Leadership Consultant
President & Co-Founder
BreakPoint Solutions