40-Day Business Leadership Peak Performance Programme Day 32: Get Uncomfortable

You have met Jane several times now. To refresh your memory, Jane was the senior medical administrator in a geriatric hospital’s critical care unit. She identified two key problems.

The first was: staff were coming late for shifts. While it was inconsiderate to other staff the major concern was it was definitely a breach of duty of care and medical protocols and potentially exposed the patients to health risks. As an example, if Jane was short a nurse on say the night shift, any of the nurses-on-duty might literally be placed in a moral dilemma. Let’s say two heart attacks go off simultaneously. Which patient would a nurse go to?  Literally, Jane might bury a mistake.

Secondly, her staff in the kitchen refused to wear the hair net and gloves when preparing food. Potentially a health inspector could make a random inspection at any time and if health and hygiene regulations were not met could shut down the kitchen. This means the hospital would also close because they did not have the budget to outsource the meals. Literally, if the kitchen shuts, the hospital shuts.

The problem was Jane was everyone’s ‘best friend’. Everyone liked her; and Jane liked being liked. But in this environment being liked has too narrow a perspective. She needed to be respected and importantly she needed to be compliant.

Jane had lots of chatter about both issues because it meant – for success – she had to assert herself.

I created is a powerful leadership tool called the Business Leadership Profile that measures your strengths and weaknesses as a leader. It shows you what’s working and what isn’t and what you need to pay attention to. Importantly it measures who you are and where you will go under pressure.

One of the traits that we measure in the Business Leadership Profile is Assertiveness. Jane polled very low on Assertiveness for someone in such a key role. She was the opposite: meek and mild and worried about confronting her staff.

For example, anyone could interrupt Jane – anytime. Jane would give them a job to do, they would come back and say they couldn’t do the job and Jane would roll her sleeves up and go and do the job for them! In effect, they could reverse delegate jobs to Jane!  Jane couldn’t say ‘No’. This meant Jane was run ragged all day fixing problems that other people were more then capable of resolving. I spent a lot of time having Jane explore the implications of not addressing this issue.

Firstly, nurses coming late for shifts was actually illegal! The implications were dangers to the patients, potential personal negligence law suits and loss of registration or closure of a ward pending a compliance investigation. The implications of kitchen staff not following Health Act requirements was also a serious compliance issue that could lead to patients getting food poisoning through to closure of the kitchen and fines.

And reverse delegation is in fact an insubordination issue.

The problem was Jane KNEW the ideal and what was required. She knew what she had to say or do. Exactly. She had to STOP allowing nurses to arrive late. She had to START following the procedure for late arriving nurses. And then CONTINUE with that policy. The kitchen staff had to START wearing hairnets and gloves and she had to STOP letting nurses interrupt her … and CONTINUE with the ideal. But  …

This required her to get uncomfortable. She was experiencing a Comfort Zone attack even just thinking about confronting staff about the issues. But that was what she had to do … for her success. So we have a dilemma. I know what to do but I’m scared to do it.

She had to get uncomfortable but didn’t want to feel the feelings that go with feeling uncomfortable. She thought by avoiding those issues she would feel better but through coaching she started to realise that trying to stay comfortable didn’t feel good either and came at a very high cost.

We encouraged Jane to call a meeting with the registered critical care nurse; and the kitchen manager and confront the issue (You need to check your definition of the word confront. Jane thought the word meant argue and fight. It doesn’t.) But confronting her staff felt quite difficult for Jane.

We thoroughly prepared her for her confrontation. We role played the meetings many times so that Jane felt ready. Her movie was: this is going to go badly. She will upset her staff and there will be arguments.

The reality was both meetings went very well. The registered critical care nurse was also concerned about the issue and they decided to take the ultimate step and suspend staff who refused to comply. The kitchen manager understood Jane’s concerns and immediately implemented a zero tolerance ‘hat and gloves’ policy. And Jane pushed through her own comfort zone and limited the number of interruptions by 75%.

Jane slowly got the hang of pushing through her comfort zones!

When Jane was later asked by the Board to reduce nursing staff and maintain existing patient levels … as a cost saver … she refused citing a breach of duty of care. As uncomfortable as that was, Jane said, “No. Absolutely no.” The Board shelved that recommendation without a fight. (You should know that Jane eventually went on to get full accreditation for her IC Unit on her first attempt – which was unheard of.)

You have to normalise discomfort. What you want has to be worth getting uncomfortable for.


What do you need to get uncomfortable about? What’s your chatter?

Andrew Priestley is a qualified business leadership coach with clients worldwide. He is the author of The Money Chimp, Starting and How Money Flows Through Your Business. You can contact him through www.andrewpriestley.com

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It goes without saying that this is for information only and The Author or LinkedIn cannot be held responsible for any losses or damages that occur as a result of reading this material.

© 2017 Andrew Priestley/TCE Ltd

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