“One of the important things that I always remember from my First Consulting Group days was a comment from (FCG Founder) Jim Reep: ‘Speak the truth as if it’s going to be in the newspaper tomorrow — say what needs to be said,’ and that’s what I try to live by, because I think you have to approach things in a very honest way … always be honorable and things typically will work out for the best” — Wanda Sims, CIO, Baptist Health, from a soon-to-be-published interview with healthsystemCIO.com
I was intrigued enough by this comment to ask a follow-up question for clarification. The idea, of course, is that whatever one does in the shadows of private discussion or correspondence should not whither in light of day. But going one level further than “acting as if,” is actually putting thoughts or actions into writing, the performance of which brings a deeper permanence, and accountability, to one’s activities.
I’ve never kept one, but I can imagine logging a diary can have such a salutatory effect on one’s actions — much like the effect daily weigh-in’s have on diet, knowing your actions will be recorded for posterity every night would likely prevent some from undertaking the unsavory.
Of course, there are different levels and ways of going on the record. Abraham Lincoln would often pose difficult questions to his cabinet, requiring they submit their counsel in writing. Lincoln knew this both improved the quality of the responses he received, merely by the act of writing, but also made sure those giving their opinions would have to stand behind them.
I’ve also seen a connection between the concepts of putting things in writing, and taking ample time and effort to weigh all of a problem’s possible solutions. Recently, I’ve begun working my way though George W. Bush‘s administration, having listened to his, Dick Cheney‘s and, now, Don Rumsfeld‘s autobiographies. My first observation is the amazing duration and breath of the latter two’s government experience — with Rumsfeld having actually met John F. Kennedy (along with Elvis and Sammy Davis Jr.) while he was a congressman and, later, director of different agencies in the Nixon White House. Interestingly, at the beginning of his career, Cheney interviewed for an internship position in Rumsfeld’s congressional office, but was turned down because his experience, at the time, wasn’t quite what Rumsfeld needed. Each now looks back on a solid 40 years of working in the public sector.
What I can see as a common trait to all these individuals is the problem solving technique — endorsed by the Toyota Production System — of really, really looking at a question from all sides. Rumsfeld’s method, adopted by Cheney, was to write down the critical questions that had to be addressed for the correct solution to emerge. Deliberative by nature, he turned issues upside down and sideways before selecting a path; he would solicit opinions and gather all available information.
One common attribute of all the outstanding people I read about is this deliberative process to problem solving, followed by strong, determined perseverance toward the chosen path (think George Washington). If there is any common failing of leadership today, it is likely the inability to slow the pace of events to allow for sufficient deliberation. As I’ve written before, “right” answers exist to every problem. Of course, these may be the best of bad options, but that best answer is still the right one. Those with a deliberative nature naturally slow things down and relish the investigation, knowing only a reasonably exhaustive one will confer the confidence required to push things along when smooth sailing turns rough, as it almost inevitably will.
Rumsfeld noted that he became a state-champion wrestler not by natural talent, but by hard work and practice. “It was not lost on me that the more I worked at something, the better I got.” Those making big calls can consistently be observed employing the method described above. In our far too fast-paced world of government-fueled healthcare IT change, the best will still, as always, find time to solicit opinions (perhaps in writing), confer, deliberate and, only then, decide.