5 Leadership Lessons Taken from Grey’s Anatomy

It has been a while since the last blog post.

Suffice to say we are quite happy to see the back of September and to a lesser extent October.  These months saw us fire-fighting in our personal lives, juggling client priorities and coping with ill-health. 

The latter was a result of me not slowing down when the signs were there.  I have since had a performance review and pep sessions with myself.  This has meant I had to slow down to a mere walking pace in October and use the night time and early mornings for sleeping instead of working or exercising. 

Slowing down doesn’t come naturally for me but I did it and am still doing it.

When our bodies and minds are telling us to rest in their weird and wonderful not-so-obvious ways, we do need to listen before it is too late. 

What did you do over Labour weekend to slow down and recoup before the summer time pre-Xmas madness?   

I have clients that love fishing, hunting, reading, or doing something creative to unwind. 

Last month, I enjoyed finding an hour here or there to do some TV bingeing because the energy levels were so low that my usual unwind go to things – rowing or gardening were a no go.   Neon and Netflix make it far too easy.  The weather also provided an incentive to stay indoors.  I don’t watch a lot of TV and when I do it is because my brain can’t process any longer and needs to rest. 

Sound familiar?

The last time I indulged was with Game of Thrones and this time I started watching Grey’s Anatomy from the beginning.  Unlike GOT, I had watched Grey’s when it started in NZ over 10 years ago.  For those that don’t know the show I am referring to.  Grey’s Anatomy is about the journey a group of graduate doctors go through to become surgeons.  Don’t compare it to Shortland Street though.  This is not a soap.  

When watching it for a second time, I have come to appreciate the morale’s intertwined in each of the episodes.  The plot confronts the difficult leadership and life lessons we are likely to encounter in life and business.   

With 2020 on the horizon and to celebrate the new Grey’s season now playing OnDemand, here are 5 leadership lessons I have taken away from my latest TV binge session that you may like to reflect on.  Maybe you have had to work through one or more of these lessons this year?

Lesson 1: The truth will always surface at some point and people deserve to know the truth

During the first and second seasons we are getting to know the characters.  We are learning who they and how they handle difficult situations.   When the secrets are let out in the open things became easier and it gets sorted.  When secrets are held and swept under the carpet the harder it is to deal with it and it creates more pain or anxiety.  I find this too often in my line of work.  

I recall a few times where I have had to share difficult news with a manager or owner.  One instance in particular was when I had to tell a business owner that things were not as rosy as first thought because their manager was so fearful and anxious of the response that they couldn’t do it. 

After I shared the news, the manager said to me after “Wow that went so well.  Can you do that at every meeting for me?”.  My response was reminding the manager that this was a one-off and that a problem shared is a problem halved because it is out in the open.

This client also said to me later that they prefer staff to come to them with mistakes sooner rather than later because they are so much easier to fix early on, rather than be forced to react to a surprise when in fact it should have not been a surprise.   

Lesson 2: Assess, take action, make decisions and then learn and refine for next time

It doesn’t matter what crisis that comes into the Emergency room, each person has a responsibility to assess the environment, take action and to then learn so they are better next time.  You have to act on the choices that lay before you and make decisions, rightly or wrongly. 

This process is relevant to us all.  If you are running a team or business, there many choices and decisions you must make.  Some come off and others don’t.  You take that experience, review it, question and learn. 

The reference that the hospital is a ‘teaching hospital’ is made frequently through the early series’.  The more experienced residents and attendings have a responsibility to share their knowledge.  The interns are constantly reviewing cases, answering quick fire questions, learning and refining their skills. 

Many clients comment that they don’t have enough time in the day to be training their team or they must have people who can come up to speed in the job quickly.   While I appreciate that some days, you just don’t get the free time without distraction to explain things to your team, that doesn’t mean you can’t build in bite-size development opportunities into your processes and communications. Some quick ways are:

  • Ask more questions before providing the answers to your team’s questions.
  • Use team meetings or tool-box meetings to have a focused conversation on a process or area of learning.
  • Delegate more, review what has been completed by others and provide feedback to create awareness.

I met with a life coach recently who said they work on 3 principles to bring about change in others: awareness, solutions and choice. 

We have to be aware of the problems or shortcomings before we can come up with solutions.  Then we have a choice whether we use the solutions we have found to form new habits and transform ourselves.

Lessons 3 & 4: Trust your gut and have courage to stand up for what you believe

Several Grey’s episodes have stories about a patient presenting with symptoms that don’t add up or the patient is not responding to the conventional treatments as expected.  

The patients are complaining and the doctors don’t know the answers or have an explanation for what is going on.  When faced with this scenario some decide – ‘we can’t fix this person, I give up’ or assume they know all the answers and reach the incorrect diagnosis.  While others – the ‘good doctors’ – thoroughly review data and charts, collect information and search for answers until they resolve the symptoms.  

When faced with an unfamiliar territory or unanswered questions, those who are thorough will not give up and are driven by a mix courage and gut instincts. 

I recall an important learning earlier in my career.  I was working through a disciplinary process with an employee and their manager.  It wasn’t a straight-forward process and as I worked through the investigation it was clear this employee made a bad judgement call.  But there was something else that didn’t add up but I couldn’t pinpoint what this was.  The manager was tired and rundown, and didn’t want the investigation and disciplinary process to go on longer than it needed to.  We had enough to issue the employee with a final warning for their actions.  But the nagging gut feeling didn’t leave me and I didn’t act on it any further either.

Several months later more information came to light.  When we investigated further and searched through the employee’s email to confirm the information we received … it all confirmed I wasn’t crazy and there was a very real reason for the nagging feeling. 

Suffice to say the employee was swiftly dismissed and their lawyer refused to represent them to challenge the dismissal. This taught me to keep trying to find the bone buried in the back yard until I have found it.

There are instances where you know something is not right and don’t know why or what it is.  Even though everyone else could be saying to ‘don’t worry, it will be fine’ or ‘sometimes it is just the way it is’ or ‘we can’t fix it’.  Or in my example – ‘we have got enough for now’. 

It is in these instances that our gut instincts and courage are vital to pushing on and reaching a successful outcome instead of resigning yourself to mediocrity or doing half a job.

So tomorrow if an employee acts out of sorts or you don’t believe a story they are sharing and you sense there is more going on.  Have the courage to ask them questions, get to know them better and find out more.  You never know what you may come out into the light.

Lesson 5: Treasure the people around you and the moments you have

There is a poignant moment when Meredith’s (a main character in Grey’s) father loses his wife unexpectedly.  They only came in because she had the hiccups.  The first time they thought it was sorted with medication.  The second time they came in it resulted in a surgery the wife didn’t survive.  Meredith’s father is devastated and repeats to himself over and over – “It was the hiccups.  She only had the hiccups and now she is gone.” 

It is easy to get caught up in the day to day.  Wake up, breakfast, get ready, get kids to school, do work, pick up kids, after school sport then home for dinner, bath and bed.  Rinse and repeat as they say.

Research shows time and again that when people are on their death bed their regrets relate to the time they didn’t have or the things they didn’t do with their family and loved ones. 

So when you leave this earth what are the memories you would like those around you to have and cherish after you are gone?  Go about shaping your life so you can create these memories for them and live in these moments using your senses like a video camera to rewind and enjoy later.

We are reaching the final months of 2019 and 2020 will bring us into a new decade.  I have not become totally comfortable with the thought that a year is almost over.  There is still so much to be done.  A year on from finishing parental leave, and I am definitely wiser about my priorities and what works for achieving the day-to-day balance between meeting the needs of family, work and me.

Stapleton Consulting | See the forest for the trees

All the best for what lies ahead for you in 2019.  If you need help with instilling these life lessons into your culture and making some changes at work then we are here for you.  We help you see the forest for the trees. 

If you need help for your personal life or have team members needing help then we can recommend the services of Vitae or we have several life coaches we can refer you on to.

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