Tears of Joy

Originally published on LinkedIN on 7/12/18 see it here

By John R. Nocero and Jennifer Rawley

John; At a meeting yesterday, Jen and I were talking about dealing with drama. As managers, we both are besieged with it, be it in the form of scope creep or missed deadlines. Maybe the most significant though is hurt feelings.

Not ours, although they could be. No, we are talking about managing the hurt feelings of our direct reports. These come in a variety of forms, often, in the form of tears. We discussed strategies of dealing with tears. Jen had witnessed it most recently so our discussion turned to some of her experiences which she describes below.

Jen: As my leadership responsibilities have grown, so too have the frequency and extent of tense conversations. While this is not unexpected, I am still surprised by the number of incidences. Most events take on a similar pattern, but periodically a display of borderline histrionics ensues. When these occasions arise, my goal first and foremost is always to do everything in my power to not exacerbate the situation. Even if the event is brought on by disciplinary action, I will typically halt that conversation. Personally, I have never had success messaging feedback or discipline once the team member has lost control of their emotions.

In my experience, most of these tearful events fall into one of the below categories and I take a slightly different approach with each;

1.      True/Legitimate Crises: Thankfully, these are the rarest, but also the most difficult on both my end and the employee’s. This is a situation when something unforeseen or beyond anyone’s control has occurred and tears shed are from true sorrow. It can be due to loss of a loved one, serious diagnoses including the employee’s own physical or mental health,  genuine mistakes or medical errors,and other situations of similar gravity. Most people have personally been affected by this, including me.

When these occur, I remain supportive and adjust what this support ultimately looks like to each individual person. Some want to sit quietly and collect themselves, others want to cry on my shoulder or verbalize all their anguish. I let these situations take a natural course and offer any and every resource available to help. Prioritizing the employee’s personal needs above work is key as is messaging it to them in a way that they trust and believe me. I often have to be the voice of reason and insist its ok for them to take bereavement, a personal leave, or adjust their work schedule.

2.      Consequence of Poor Choices: These are usually my younger and less mature staff. Occasionally it’s a tenured employee who has managed to squeak by for too long. Situations that come to mind include those who push the limits of rules or policies and wind up terminated or have patterns of behavior that do not reflect our organization’s core values.

In the past, I terminated a young employee who was in many ways a stellar team member who worked as a registrar. However, she lacked the maturity and/or willingness to comply with the attendance policy. This resulted in an initial disciplinary warning to be issued during her new hire probation. Shortly thereafter, she had a rude exchange in the presence of a patient. The attendance issue early in her employment placed her in a final warning situation and she was terminated for the behavioral incident. During the term meeting, as the finality of the situation hit her, she broke down in my office and cried for almost an hour.

In these cases, I offer support to a point. For instance, in the above situation I offered some contacts of local staffing agencies that she could reach out to for expedited employment while she looked for another full time position. I retrieved a bottle of water and some Kleenex. I offered her to stay in my office until she felt comfortable to leave. No matter the reason, I always believe terminated employees deserve to be treated with compassion. I allow them time to calm down and any visible signs of crying to subside. I frequently offer to gather their personal belongings if they prefer to leave directly from my office rather than return to their work area in front of coworkers.

3.      Drama Royals: Queens, kings, princesses, jesters- call them whatever you like, they love drama. And I can always tell who is going to fall into this crowd because the first time we meet, they will tell me in their elevator pitch how much they abhor drama.  These are the individuals who either blatantly wreak havoc, or who I call “spoons” since they stir the pot amongst the team. They are often good at theatrics and can get away with nonsense for a while. Upon confrontation, they either lie, or when presented with undeniable evidence, may have a crying meltdown to gain sympathy. My tolerance level for this is slightly above 0.01% and the human in me wants to debate with them and play my own role – something like “Judge Judy” would fit for most scenarios. Nonetheless, I hold to my plan and try not to make the situation any worse. This is sometimes the hardest part of my job

The only way I know to deal with these is to maintain calmness and avoid provoking them. Once they misstep (which they all eventually do) enough to warrant serious repercussions then I take further action.  When these incidents are at a level that is more trivial, I employ a firmer stance. I will provide constructive feedback and “tough love” in the hopes that the employee will step up and do the right thing moving forward. If not, many of them come to realize they need to pursue a different career trajectory. Occasionally, if the scene continues beyond a reasonable time frame I will stand up and begin physically gathering my things for “my next meeting that I am late for.” This is a time management strategy I learned from a book years ago that has served me well in a variety of situations where I need to end conversations happening in my own office.

On a personal level, my only real meltdown at work was following a significant medication error. As a clinical pharmacist, I profiled a methylprednisolone infusion for a COPD patient who required a preservative-free brand. This forced me to use a different NDC and manual entry from a 500mg vial for a 60mg dose. Ultimately, the computer system auto-populated the dose to 500mg and I failed to notice and change it back to 60mg. The patient received three infusions, eight hours apart each, before a nurse noticed the mistake. Aside from minor hyperglycemia, the patient was unharmed and – surprise surprise- breathing quite well. I was a newly graduated pharmacist and the gravity of the situation hit me hard. I went into a bathroom and tearfully shook for several minutes. After calming down, I realized how blessed I (and especially the patient) was that if I had to pick one drug to dose a patient over 10x the ordered dose, I would have picked this drug.

It didn’t happen in the presence of my supervisor, but I imagine if he had been there it easily could have. I would have needed him to listen to me and remind me everything was alright. To live and learn and move forward. I am sure that’s exactly how he would have handled it. Unfortunately, I have had other supervisors over the years that would have taken the opportunity to belittle and lecture me on my lack of attention to detail and patient safety. Such an event could have been a game-changer in my professional path. Instead of learning from my mistake and becoming a better pharmacist and healthcare leader, I might have lost my sense of self-confidence, and who knows what I would be doing today.

No matter what type of scenario and tears shed, as leaders and colleagues we have an opportunity to raise others up and support them. A wise CEO once told me to live by the rule “do the right thing.” Even when others aren’t – such as drama royals – we still have an opportunity to do the right thing and react with thoughtfulness.

John: The joy comes when you are able to implement advice this this immediately. All of us have feelings, and whether we admit it or not, we can be ruled by them if not dealt with appropriately. Treat employees like people. Our organizations and patients, depend on it.

Make Ship Happen

By John R. Nocero & Jennifer S. Rawley

John: Something bad just happened in your life. You wrecked your car. You lost your job. The dog ran away. Your spouse left you for her old high-school flame she hit up on Facebook that she was catching-up with. What do you do?

You are the captain of your own ship. Unless you have got 50-plus feet of fiberglass underneath you, you’re not immune. Sooner or later, you’re going to get caught in high winds, big seas or both. Accept it, and do something about it. Make ship happen.

“You are the captain of your own ship.”

You can’t control the circumstances that the ocean we call life tosses at you, but you can control your bearings and your own compass. This concept it not new. But it not one that everyone accepts. With the advent of social media – and people only posting the good moments in their lives – we tend to assume that those people who have the money, job, career accolades and many of the things that we (that means you) want, that they must have gotten it through nefarious means, or networked better than you, had better breaks, fell into a job with the right perks, or grew up rich and could afford to make mistakes because the family had enough money to bail them out.

You call them lucky? Lady luck is a fickle mistress. She really doesn’t do anything for you. She simply opens a door. You need to walk through it. Sometimes you don’t see it as an opportunity, until you miss it.

Jen: Moving from passive thinking to active doing is often the most difficult step, especially when we feel broken. Regardless of circumstance, most of us naturally lean towards being either ‘thinkers’ or ‘doers.’ In reality, we should try to find a balance of both qualities. John and I only recently began working together, but compared to one another, it’s obvious he is more of a ‘doer’ and I am more a ‘thinker’. Fortunately, we understand this about ourselves and can use this knowledge to complement and synergize projects. Knowing your natural tendencies and then strategizing around them is key.

When situations beyond our control turn negative, we risk slipping into endless contemplation or feeling sorry for ourselves. At times, I am guilty of perseverating on negative situations, especially I feel victimized by circumstances. In actuality, it’s merely a less obvious method of procrastination delaying resolution of problems.

To move away from this tendency, I had to adjust my mindset. I suddenly realized having a justifiable reason or a right to excessively think or complain about something does not mean I should complain or worry. Wow – major revelation! Absurdly simple, but it has been a game-changer for me. Since my day of epiphany I have been able to take action to improve my circumstances faster and with more clarity than in the past when I allowed myself to overthink far too much.

“We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”

Many of us have heard popular motivational quotes about sails and wind. One of my favorites is from Thomas S. Monson who said, “We can’t direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” The cynical side of me sometimes creeps up to argue “what if there isn’t any wind?” I remind myself there are always choices and this is no different. I can worry about the lack of wind but ultimately do nothing or I can choose to stay positive, float with the current and hope wind will come. However, if I want to make real progress, I might instead tear down the sail and make a paddle.

John: This is who we are, where we are and we are doing something about it. If you are not there yet, seek to understand the reason(s) why and resolve it. You might not have the experience you want, connections you wish for, a dream job, or resources you think you need. Don’t allow these nuances to hold you back. Adjust your sail and find a place where the wind is blowing. If that’s impossible, make a paddle. Just make the ship happen.

Originally published on LinkedIN on 7/16/18 see it here

The Wolf Is Scratching At The Door

Originally published on LinkedIN 8/4/18 see it here

By John R. Nocero and Jennifer S. Rawley

John: I first heard the metaphor “The wolf is always scratching at the door,” from my favorite actor and role model Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Amid all his success, he let the world know that his struggle has been real and he didn’t get to the top alone. He and his family were evicted from his home by age 14, and flat broke shortly thereafter. But that didn’t deter him from transforming his dreams into becoming his reality. “Every day I wake up as if that eviction notice is right around the corner waiting for me.. which is why I always say, ‘the wolf is always scratchin’ at the door,’” he said. “He’s scratchin’ cause he’s hungry and never satisfied. We embrace and respect our past, but we never let it define our future. Let’s stay hungry and chase that greatness.”

My wolf returned this week. To me, that metaphor means I am sad, my demon of depression has returned. I have battled depression probably since my mid-teens, and no one knows self-loathing like I do. However, within the past year or so, I’ve flipped the script on it, and embraced the wolf coming with with open arms. I had a bout of sadness this week. Jen e-mailed me at one point and said, “I noticed something was up, but didn’t know what.” I really didn’t want to tell her or anyone about it, just wanted to chill with my wolf. I realize now that you can’t look away from it, or bury it in destructive habits, you have to own it and welcome those feelings or sadness, anguish or pain. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away. You really have to feel it to heal it, address what is wrong, or at least acknowledge it, and then it makes it easier when he returns. Because he will.

The metaphor works for your career too. The path to the top is wrought with struggle, tears, hardships. If it were that easy all of us will be millionaires. How do you focus on living the life you are proud of when it seems the walls are crashing down?

Jen: Even those among us who don’t suffer from clinical depression have likely experienced intermittent depressed moods or situational stress. It causes the sadness, anguish and/or pain that John is mentioning.

For me, situational stress or anxiety has the greatest impact. Too many times I let my mind race trying to rationalize or understand what I am dealing with. This can lead to an onslaught of negativity, fatigue and hopelessness. It can consume me and bleed over into my work and relationships – if I let it.

Fortunately, I’ve learned what triggers this cascade of anguish and self-doubt. I allow myself a reasonable time to think or wallow in self pity. This could range from five minutes to a day or more, depending on the situation. Then once the time passes I force myself to snap out of it. Sometimes the snap is best done with a physical change. For instance, I might jump up out of my seat, take a shower, or go for a walk. I push back any tendency to allow the thoughts to come back and remind myself I’ve already lost x amount of time on it and refuse to spend any more.

Another thing I’ve learned is that the busier I am, the less prone I am to fall into letting much bother me for more than a brief moment. I’m not advocating for a life of non-stop busyness. Rather, I realized that things might not be so bad if they would have gone unnoticed on a busier day or week for instance.

Perseverance is the ultimate quality to strive for. Without it, not much will get accomplished in the long run. Likewise, lasting joy, fulfillment, and happiness cannot come without persistence. Victor Hugo said of it, “perseverance, secret of all triumphs.”

John & Jen: We have accepted dealing with heartbreak and now we are never lonely. Even if no one will sit with us in the light, the wolf is there to sit with us in the dark. We are grateful for his accountability. Next time, he shows up, I will be sure to kiss him on the mouth, hug his neck, and say “hello, my old friend. I’m glad you’ve come to see me again.” Maybe he won’t bite me then. Maybe he will look at me with empathy, and protect me, as alpha wolvess protect their pack. Greatness is never achieved alone. Surround yourself with hungry, brilliant wolves who not only buy into your philosophy, but who are all willing to work just as hard as you. Power of teamwork. And don’t ever forget where you came from.



Once Upon a Time

Originally published on LinkedIN 8/9/18  see it here

By John R. Nocero and Jennifer S. Rawley

John: I love Cy Wakeman! I’ve never met her, but I feel like I have. She has been a professional mentor to me through words and videos since 2014. One thing she says is, “we’ve come to accept drama as a cost of doing business. We’ve simply accepted the conventional wisdom that if you have people, you will deal with some drama and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

I hate drama. My life is a drama-free zone. I hate drama more when I unknowingly cause it through self-destructive behaviors and thoughts. Writing things down can help you tune into these behaviors, especially those that you convince yourself are true, which really aren’t true at all.

Case in point – you are in the break room heating up your lunch. A co-worker walks in. You say hello but your co-worker ignores you. You get angry inside, say something like “so-and-so always is nasty, he/she never liked me. No one likes me here. I should just quit. Maybe I can find a new job today. I will go to the job board this afternoon and start applying for new jobs. ” Then you go to the job board, start applying for new jobs, completely ignoring the project that was due at 5pm. All because you invented a story in your own head, and then decided you should believe it and act on those false beliefs. Smooth move, Cliff.

Tuning out your storytelling thoughts is difficult. Sometimes, you get so enmeshed in a situation that it is hard to stop your mind from reeling. What do you do?

Jen: I used to pride myself on being a good reader of people and situations. Sometimes I still do. However, I’ve also found that such quick judgment should be reserved for urgent situations. More times than I can remember, I have jumped to quick conclusions (sometimes when it wasn’t even necessary) out of impatience or sheer haste. Sometime later I will find out new information that would have altered my initial decision. Most of us have fallen victim to something like this but it still stings a little each time.

Worse perhaps than being upset with myself when I make hasty decisions, I can feel betrayed or angry with someone else. I typically trust people, and I hate it when they break that trust. So many times, people that I trusted have come to me making outlandish claims that I (at first) believed. Fortunately, I have lived by the motto “trust but verify,” so in most cases it only cost me time, effort, and trust. Even so, during the verification process, I often end up chasing down a lot of rabbit holes. Most of these people don’t even consider themselves liars or storytellers, rather they think they are speaking the truth. They are so caught up in their own drama they have failed to acknowledge the difference in what they believe and what is factual.

Case in point – my story time: Once upon a time, in a land far, far away in approximately 1985 (for the sake of anonymity), there was a middle manager who reported to one of my direct reports. Following a frustrating shift at work, she contacted the compliance officer of the organization about several issues. On a side note, she did not previously come to me with the issues and many of them were new to my direct report as well. She gave us very little time to do anything before jumping to compliance. As with all such claims, I took them very seriously and completed a thorough investigation. For the record, I take all claims seriously. Calling compliance only makes it more stressful for everyone involved. The investigation took close to a week to conclude, which ended up being about six and a half days too long for her liking, despite the fact that the allegations numbered in the dozens. Aside from the sheer volume of allegations, there was a microscopic shred of truth within (or as a foundation to) a lot of it. This complicated it in a new sort of way – and I learned a lot of hard lessons that week.

At the end of it all, I was unable to substantiate much of anything. There were a few items that were entirely subjective, so I acquiesced as much to her, but overwhelmingly she was off point. I got nothing else done that entire week, I had to suspend some other staff members pending the investigation who ended up having done nothing wrong, and it prevented me from doing a lot of other things that quite frankly were more important. To make it worse, at the end of it all, she said she wanted to recant her accusations. The week had given her time to reconsider and she realized that she was self-described hyper-emotional about some things . I truly don’t think some people realize the impact that their storytelling has or can have on other people.

I fully echo what John says, I also hate drama. I used to refuse to “play the game,” and after a hard fought battle with the real world, I surrendered. I realized that refusal to play equated to holding my breath to make a point, eventually I would be forced to take a breath and there was no way I could hold it forever without my autonomic nervous system forcing me to do so. Its the same with drama or stories (or whatever you like to call it), there is no fully avoiding it. Some people play nice in the sandbox, some throw it in your eyes. Some people seem to need the drama to give their life meaning. It’s rare a day goes by that I don’t shake my head and think to myself “how do some people make it through life?” I try to learn from the experiences I’ve had weather they were mistakes that I have made such as jumping to conclusions and trusting too easily or mistakes of others when they have done the same.

John & Jen: It is important to get out of your own head and into the facts. Don’t judge your own feelings. They are yours. Own them but at the same time, only trust the things you know to be true. After all, if those things can survive your rigorous questioning, they must be rooted in fact. Everything else, is just a story. Delete the story. Burn it. discard it. Blow it up. Drop it. Focus the facts solely on your reality and ask yourself, what is the very next thing that I can do to add value? Once you define it, do it and follow through with action.