It seemed like today was going to be just like any other day.
I got myself ready for the day, ate breakfast, and then I was out the door by 8:30 to head to a series of meetings. That evening, we were supposed to have another couple around for supper, and on Saturday, we were supposed to take our son on a day excursion. Patty contacted me at midday and said that she had been experiencing discomfort in her abdomen ever since she got out of bed, and that it was becoming worse. I inquired as to whether or not she desired for me to return home. She informed me that she did not require me to be at home, but that we should probably cancel supper in the case that she had something infectious. I had been gone for a few more hours when I returned home to find her seated on the couch and complaining that the pain had not subsided. The doctor recorded her temperature as 101. We spoke with a tele nurse who speculated that it could be an infection and advised us to visit urgent care as soon as possible. We only had to wait a moment before we were able to check in. The ache persisted, and it was now accompanied by a queasy feeling. They began by conducting blood tests, and once they had the results, they chose to proceed with a computer tomography (CT) scan of her abdomen. What were the results of the blood tests? Why do you need a CT scan? What exactly were they trying to find? Just what is going on here? During the time that they were taking Patty away for the scan, these questions kept running through my head. After what seemed like only ten minutes, she returned to the room where we were sitting, and there we waited for close to two hours with Patty's pain and nausea still unrelenting. After that, the doctor entered the room.
She remarked as she entered the room, “There's some stuff going on.” “There's some stuff going on,” she replied. At that very instant, I have no idea how many different ideas ran through my head. She identified it as appendicitis in her diagnosis. “You are going to spend the night at this facility, and we are going to schedule your operation for the next morning. The norm in most cases.” I suddenly felt a tremendous amount of relief wash over me. The fact that Patty was going to require surgery was certainly not good news; yet, in my mind, in terms of the spectrum of terrible news, this was about the greatest bad news we could have had. Patty was going to need surgery. She remained in the hospital throughout the night, and then at 1:30 in the afternoon, she went in for a laparoscopic appendectomy. During this procedure, they created three small incisions in her abdomen and removed the irritated appendix by the use of telescopic rods and a video camera. We arrived back home at 5:30 in the evening, only four hours after the surgery, and she started the recuperation process there.
This is something I'm writing on Sunday, the day following her operation. She has finished her meal, showered, and applied her cosmetics before settling down for a comfortable rest. I give thanks constantly that it wasn't something more serious and that she will be back to normal in such a short amount of time. The events of the past few days did, however, bring to mind two words that are essential for us to keep in mind as leaders:
Maintain your viewpoint.
Throughout the course of my professional life, I've encountered a number of situations in which I've felt as though the entire world was collapsing around me. Almost without exception, the crisis was resolved, and it did not have an effect on the long-term trajectory of my professional life, whether it was a project that was falling behind schedule (or that completely failed), a challenging situation involving an employee, or an entirely unexpected issue that consumed my time. Throughout the course of my professional life, I've been confronted with a number of situations that “reminded” me that the challenges I was facing were relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things, such as the death of a loved one. My sister died of cancer when she was 54 years old, and her passing was a big wake-up call that helped me gauge the crises of the day and maintain perspective on the issues that we face.
Now, I'm not suggesting that we as leaders should be tone deaf when problems develop; by all means, we need to confront concerns and not bury our heads in the sand. But I am saying that we shouldn't be tone deaf when problems arise. However, what makes great leaders great is their ability to approach problems in a focused and deliberate manner, all the while avoiding the creation of additional stress along the way.
In the course of my professional life, I have gained the ability to use the following three questions as a tool to assist me in maintaining perspective when confronted with challenges:
Will the crisis continue to have an effect on me in the years to come, or will I have long since forgotten about it in a year's time?
Will the crisis result in any kind of injury to any of the people involved?
How does this crisis stack up against other challenges, such as getting sick or losing a loved one?
When you're in a leadership role, it's easy to become preoccupied with the current situation and let it ruin your day. When you find yourself in the midst of a challenging situation, I want you to remember to keep things in perspective and to ask yourself the three questions listed above. It is my sincere hope that the realization that, although while the crisis is significant, it may not be as life-altering as it seems to be right now would bring you some measure of calm.