Archive for the ‘inspiration’ category

Random Thoughts About Things That Confuse ME

October 12th, 2015
 People have often asked me, “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” In fact, I was in gym class. Six years after that, on April 4, 1968, I was in Pittsburgh when Martin Luther King was shot. I was back again in Pittsburgh on June 5, 1968 when Bobby Kennedy was killed. Finally, as a young teacher in Johnstown, on May 4, 1970, four students were killed and nine more were wounded by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. Between the riots and civil unrest that followed these events, I was pretty sure that our world was spinning out of control, and I had just graduated from college.

It was during that time of the Vietnam War, the escalation of the Cold War, the race riots and political rallies, that a chasm began to appear between those men who still had crew cuts and white socks, and conservative hippie kids like me with my wire-frame glasses, sideburns, and mustache.

In fact, at my very first job interview, the department head, a man who was still firmly planted in the 50’s, asked me if because I was my college class president, I’d ever been involved in a campus riot. Meanwhile, there had only ever been one small demonstration at my university, and I wasn’t even on campus when it happened. But his question offended me so much that I replied, “Only the one.” Needless to say that job went to someone with a crew cut and white socks.

Throughout my life I held profound optimism that because we were a country that embraced education, espoused Judeo-Christian love, and incorporated tolerance and diversity in our stated beliefs, our philosophies would prevail and the world would become a better place. Wrong.

Because I spend much of my time on the road, Facebook is often the way I keep in touch with my virtual and real families. It keeps me apprised of changes, challenges, and the daily activities of those I both care about and want to be connected to through this last quarter of my life.

Of course, Facebook is filled with puppies, kittens, babies, and opinions, and many of those opinions remind me of the Archie Bunker character who so famously dominated the airwaves in the All in the Family sitcom of the 1970’s. That series, along with MASH and The Jefferson’s attempted to challenge the way Americans dealt with race, war, and general closed-minded prejudices.

It makes me sad when my friends, people that I love and most often respect, write posts that are passionately in support of social beliefs that embrace continued gun violence, racial prejudice, twisted religious beliefs, intolerance, greed and hatred. It would be easy to unfriend them, to write them off, and forget about them, but the teacher in me wants to try to educate them and to help them find their way. That never works because most of them are Archie Bunker’s age and older. All I’m asking is for tolerance, the embracing of diversity, and a non-violent philosophy of loving others. It’s the Golden Rule. Unfortunately, it’s often the Rule of Gold that seems to prevail.

I can tell you where I was on April 20, 1999, April 6, 2007, December 14, 2012: Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandyhook. Unfortunately, I can’t even tell you the name of the school or how many kids were killed on January 4, September 14, September 30 of this year. October 1, 2015, however, became more tangible because the hospital that cared for the wounded in Oregon is run by a friend, and Troy Polamalu’s cousin Brandon, a teacher at Umpqua Community College, was on campus at the time of the shooting.

Minimally, as a country, can’t we invest in behavioral health initiatives and enforce background checks.

Meathead really was the voice of reason on so many levels

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BMW . . . ing

August 20th, 2014

 

If you don’t know what that abbreviation stands for, Google it!  I’m not referring to: BMW: Born Moderately Wealthy, BMW: Brought My Wife, or BMW, Bring More Worries.  In fact, I’m not thinking about anything that is directly related to a thing, okay, well, maybe I am.     

What I’m referring to is the phrase, Bi*ch, Moan, and Whine!   For whatever reason, I’ve recently been inundated with individuals who are not happy about various things impacting their lives.  I’ve been hearing about money, jobs, marriages, fees for cable TV, healthcare and college costs, the government, animal cruelty, gasoline prices, racism, city manager selections, and a dozen or so other issues.  In fact, even though Heinz just had to pull their tainted baby food off the shelves in China (Now, that’s a reversal of fortune, Mr. Buffet).  The only thing that I haven’t heard people complaining about (euphemism for bi*ching) is the “price of rice in China.”   

Ha, bet that rang a bell for you ole folks.  What ever happened to that phrase?  We used to say that all the time in the 50’s and 60’s?  When someone was babbling on about something that we thought was meaningless in our lives, we used to say, “Now what’s that have to do with the price of rice in China?” 

Guess it’s not so meaningless anymore? (If you’re interested, you can look up the “Live Rice Index” for the price of rice in China), but I digress. My philosophy has always been, if you can do something about it, then do it.  If you can’t . . . then move on, my friend.   Truthfully, in this country, we hold the power to change nearly everything, but we choose instead to join the BMW Club.  

Think about it.  We have in our hands the amazing ability to influence and to change almost anything that exists.  It’s a simple formula.  We ban together and say that famous line from the movie, Network, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”  

Could you imagine showing up en masse anywhere and yelling that?  It would be international news.  If we could get enough people to come together to offer alternative solutions to almost any problem that we face, the offenders, enforcers, and especially the elected law makers would be forced to pay attention, and public pressure could change everything.  

The key to this tactic is to find enough people who care about ANYTHING.  

We’ve all seen what Rosa Parks, The First Lady of Civil Rights, The Tianamen Square tank man, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and now Pope Francis, the former night club bouncer, have done to contribute to CHANGE in our world, but we . . . you, me and tens of thousands of our closest friends, can really make a difference. 

Heck, thousands of us just threw cold water on our heads to make a statement about ALS, and before that . . . ?  Probably a lot of the participants thought ALS stood for Advanced Life Support or Apply for Disability! 

What’s the quote from Margaret Mead? “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  (She also said, “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think,” but that’s a different column for a different day.)  

The whole idea here is to get us together, to unit, to make change!  What would you change if you could?  Want lower gas prices?  We could do that.  Want to stop dangerous, unmarked oil trains from driving through our towns and cities.  We could do that. How about big corporations not paying taxes? 

The key is to stop the BMW-ing, and get your friends together and present positive ideas to the folks who can make the changes.  It’s an American right.  

Oh, and you might want vote this year, too! 

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In Memoriam, Dr. Lee Lipsenthal

September 22nd, 2011

We have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find…God.
—Joseph Campbell

Such has been my experience with Dr. Lee Lipsenthal. Lee was the co-founder of Finding Balance in a Medical Life, a recognized leader, teacher and pioneer in the field of provider wellness. He was internationally known for his research work with my friend Dr. Dean Ornish in preventive cardiology. He was also well known in the field of Integrative Health, and past president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine.

Lee Lipsenthal, MD - Enjoy Every Sandwich - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - HealingHospitals.comAlthough Lee’s entrance into medicine was traditional, (a BS from George Washington University, his MD from Howard and an internship and residency at the Medical College of Pennsylvania), he started on his truth path of healing as a resident, where he developed the first multi-disciplinary cardiac rehabilitation program in Philadelphia, a plan that addressed stress reduction, exercise and nutrition teaching.

He then went on to become the Director of Cardiovascular Services for the Benjamin Franklin Clinic in Philadelphia, as well as a staff physician at The Pennsylvania Hospital. In this role, he developed treatment programs for patients with heart disease or risk of heart disease; he developed corporate wellness programs for national companies, and consulted on patients with cholesterol disorders at the hospital.

But who was the real Lee Lipsenthal? Lee was a hero who embraced the adventure and led the way for us all. In an incredibly selfless and positive way, like all heroes, Lee “lost himself and then gave himself to all of us.” He mastered the transformation of consciousness, and taught us all to look deeply inside ourselves. Lee’s life and teaching was always about the powers of life and their modulations through the action of man, and Lee’s actions led us all to a better place; a place of healing, love and understanding. He did this through his words, his music, his soul and his heart.

Lee Lipsenthal, MDLee captured the imaginations of many of us and gently drew us into his circle of positive influence where he provided a psychological center for our lives, he fed our individual and collective souls and he helped us to experience life at its fullest. He often took us to the edge of self-discovery, but he always took us to a place of peace and love. He could literally show us the “belly of the whale,” and then bring us back to a deeper understanding of our lives, our abilities and our spirits.

In many ways he helped us transcend our humanities so that we all could emerge into a deeper reality of serving our fellow man. He taught us that, as a person, if we don’t listen to the demands of our own spiritual and interior life, we will drift dangerously off-center.

Lee was our center. Lee was our friend, our mentor, our spiritual guide and our hero.

Lee passed this week, surrounded by his wonderful, loving family, and our hearts are breaking from the loss, but also reveling in the joy of having known him, having shared him and always loving him.

Learn more about Lee’s extraordinary journey, and his wonderful book, Enjoy Every Sandwich below.

You will be inspired and moved.

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Big Bird vs. The Status Quo

June 4th, 2010

Feeling “funny,” is something that would describe me pretty well today. Not ha ha funny, stomach ache funny. I’m thinking that Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John Wayne, Amelia Earhart, and even Hawkeye Pierce from MASH may have ruined me. They stood up for what they believed, right or wrong, left or right. They had chutzpah, nerve, and . . . well, you know.

So, what’s making me feel funny? It’s those darn birds. Those birds have touched my heart. Tell me this; how can you not feel empathy for the baby birds being oiled down in their nests, and how about the tiny little birds that are still flying around a few feet from the oncoming disaster with absolutely no clue as to how bad things are going to be in a very short amount of time. I’ll admit that, unlike my mom, I’m not a passionate bird lover, but those big, oil soaked birds are really getting to me.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m allergic to shell fish, and even though, according to some oil company spokesperson, “Louisiana isn’t the only place that has shrimp,” according to my memory, their shrimp was some of the best in the world. So, if you’re not a big bird fan, how about a big shrimp fan, or a big fan of places where people live? How about a big fan of being able to sit on the beach or of jobs; fishing jobs, tourism jobs, even oil jobs? What will it take to get our leaders to show some real passion? I’m thinking Sesame Street.

We all know that getting the kids involved has helped remind us to start wearing our seat belts and bike helmets, to stop drinking and driving, and now texting and driving. Maybe we need Sesame Street to get our country to finally scream out from the top of their lungs, “S-T-O-P it.“ Could you imagine Big Bird or better still the President of that oil company dressed as Big Bird all soaked in oil being pushed out into the Gulf and gasping for air as he slowly is washed away forever? It would make the time they did the “Mr. Hooper is dying thing” seem tame.

One of my favorite sayings is “The problem is never the problem,” and the problem here is, once again, the status quo. It’s that philosophy of “don’t change ANYTHING because I’m personally comfortable with my life.” Just this week, a group of scientists who literally have brought 44 people out of deep, irreversible comas; soldiers, policemen, firemen, coal miners, and little boys and girls had their federal grant blocked because the status quo scientists and doctors involved said that “It was not the traditional methodology for treating coma patients.” Yikes, tell that to the people who lived, many of whom are back to leading functional lives. Come to think of it, that would be a good Sesame Street show, too. Oscar the grouch in Critical Care with tubes, the Cookie Monster administering the Last Rites, and Bingo Bango he’s awake and grouchy again.

Is it possible that no one wants to stand up for what they believe in and take it on the chin anymore? Somewhere there still must be some lines, some sacred requirements that we must meet in order to qualify as human beings on this planet? Could you imagine how different those John Wayne movies would have been? “It’s okay, pilgrim, let ‘em rob the bank. We need their support for re-election.” How about Neil Armstrong? “You want me to do what?” “Are you crazy?”

I still feel funny. Where the heck is Big Bird and Hawkeye when you really need them? We’ve had seagull management in this country for far too long now as they “Fly in, squawk, poop on our heads, and fly back to D.C. “ Pelicans UNITE!

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I Remember Stephen

June 2nd, 2010

In the 1970’s, my career was wrapped completely around teaching, not just teaching, but teaching and playing music.  It was during that decade that my trumpet playing reached its peak, and between the numerous big bands in the area, I could play at least two weekend and one weekday nights every week.  The music was good, the musicians were friends, and the audiences were appreciative.

Johnstown Pennsylvania - A History - Part 2 - Randy WhittleThe Lemon Drop, Casa Romani, Mynderbinders, Bimbo’s, the Holiday Inn, the Ramada Inn, and a dozen other clubs with mostly ethnic or fraternal names were the sites of many a part-time playing job.  Be it the Johnstown Jazz Workshop, the Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Ice Capades, or Disney on Ice, my playing salary for the year often rivaled my teaching salary; neither of which came to more than $500 a month.

Along with those playing “gigs” there was one other primary, part -time employment opportunity and that was teaching private trumpet lessons.  It was my choice to teach at the Johnstown College of Music which was owned by Peg and Bob Hornick.  My schedule there was always packed full from 5:30 PM until 9:00 PM Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday mornings.  There were kids of all ages from all school districts, and in the 1970’s those kids helped me pay the mortgage.  Even though I was usually pretty tired by 9:00 PM and often dreamed of learning to sleep with my eyes open, I never did.

One of my smallest students was Steve.  He was a little toe-headed, 7th grader from Forest Hills when he came to me, and he loved music.  He loved the fact that he was learning to play the trumpet from a professional and each week he got a little better.  Steve understood what it meant to work for something that he loved, and he didn’t mind getting an occasional tongue lashing if he hadn’t focused enough on his practicing that week.

Well, one night in 1976, I rushed through dinner, grabbed my jacket, and started for the door when my son, then three years old, stopped me and said, “Daddy, where are you going?”  I explained that I had to go to work.  He very slowly replied, “Daddy, you just came home from work.”  I signed and said, “I know, buddy, but I have to make some extra money.”  He looked at me quizzically and said, “What for, Daddy?”   To which I countered, “To buy you shoes.”  At that point he looked up at me and said in a very stern voice, “Daddy, I have shoes; please don’t leave me.”

It broke my heart to leave that night, but I did because I knew that I had an obligation, and when my first student walked in the door, I took a deep breath and thought to myself, “Steve, I’m here for you tonight, “ but those words were never spoken.
Ironically, there was an obituary in the newspaper last week, and it was an obituary for a 47 year old man who also left behind a son.  The age and the picture drew me further into the printed word where I read a name that seemed strangely familiar to me, Stephen Yanzetich.  It was Steve, my Steve, little 7th grade, toe-headed Steve who shared me that night.

Unbelievably, after 34 or so years, in his parting recognition, the author acknowledged that I had taught Steve trumpet, and as I sat back and read my own name in that obituary, I realized, once again, that it had been worth it, that 34 years later my time with Steve had been important to both of us.  That simple acknowledgement said to me, “Thank you, Mr. Jacobs, for caring enough about me to teach me all of those nights.”  To which I can candidly reply,”Thank you, Steve, for being such a good kid, and may God bless you.”

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IBRF – The International Brain Research Foundation

April 23rd, 2010

Popular Science in their March 2010 Edition published an article entitled “Waking Up the Brain Dead.”  the sub-title read “A Cocktail of Therapies Jump-Starts Patients’ Brains.”  Then, the May 2010 Ladies Home Journal is publishing an article entitled, “World Leaders in Translational Clinical Research for Alzheimer’s Disease,” (The International Brain Research Foundation – IBRF; in November of 2009, The Clinical Neuropsychologist published an article “The New Neuroscience Frontier: Promoting Neuroplasticity and Brain Repair in Traumatic Brain Injury” that was co-authored by at least two members of the IBRF, Dr. Philip DeFina and his associate Dr. Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, regarding the future of treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

Philip De Fina, M.D.With an 84% success rate in waking up patients from deep, irreversible, persistent vegetative state comas traditional neurologists, neurosurgeons, and neuroscientists have called these “wake ups” flukes, but once you have nearly 45 flukes, the question becomes, “Are they real?”  As the Popular Science article states, Dr. DeFina and his team apply already approved medications, electrical stimulation, and nutraceuticals to the patient, but they do it in a virtual cocktail that has had a dramatic impact on these patients.

After having spent several days working with the folks at the International Brain Research Foundation, my personal heart strings began making their own music.  Not unlike the work that we did at my previous employer, DeFina’s Research Foundation is blazing new trails, not necessarily by inventing all new methodologies, but by applying new approaches to  well-established and FDA-approved drugs and protocols.  They are making unbelievable progress with highly nuanced protocols that will potentially change neuroscience forever.

In typical “small science” fashion, the traditional approach to these patients has been to apply one protocol at a time, and when that fails, move on to the next.  Dr. DeFina appropriately points out that this unconventional approach is effective because it goes to the source of numerous highly complex brain centers.  He asked me to imagine the Wright brothers trying to fly an airplane one “part” at a time.  “Orville, do you think this propeller will fly?”  Of course, that concept is absurd, but that is an appropriate description of how  Traumatic Brain Injuries are currently addressed.

Image from Popular Scince -  Waking the Brain DeadNearly a dozen years ago, when we were beginning our work at the research institute, it was obvious that the reason that cancer had not been cured was because science takes a very laser-like approach to everything;  let’s call it small science.  When we determined that we should have a pristine, highly-annotated collection of specially-collected breast tissue, that we should have a central data repository, and that, heaven forbid, we should have ensemble-type multi-disciplinary teams of scientists and MDs working together, it was as if we had suggested that all science be trashed.  It was so controversial.  To think that one scientist did not keep total  and complete control over all of the data generated by his work.  It was heresy.

Bottom line?  I believe that the International Brain Research Foundation will have us rethinking our living wills not to many years from now as they continue to awaken deep, irreversible coma victims and help them find their lives again.   Not unlike the activities at the Windber Research Institute, where the “Platinum Quality Tissue” is currently being used to map the breast genome.  We are looking into the future of science, and it is very exciting indeed.

IBRF Banner - Dr. Philip De Fina - Nick Jacobs - HealingHospitals.org - Sunstone Consulting

The very difficult news is that the IBRF is totally and completely dependent upon donations and grants for their work, and traditional granting organizations do not favor nontraditional approaches to curing disease and saving lives.   So, after you do your due diligence, if you are as moved as I was, check out the IBRF’s website (including their excellent videos) at www.ibrfinc.org, and help them change history.

For further reading:

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Jacobs in Wonderland

April 16th, 2010

Back in 1969, a famous singer by the name of Peggy Lee came out with a song entitled, “Is That All There Is?”  She sang about her lifetime experiences of having her house burn down, having attended and then realizing that she hated the circus, and then being dumped by her boyfriend.  After each one of those experiences she would sing, “If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing.  Let’s break out the booze and have a ball.”

This song could only be described as a “downbeat song of disillusionment.”  It probably contributed to the creation of most of the new antidepressant drugs that we have today.  Now that was  a wonderful contribution to society that evolved that even Peggy could never have foreseen.  So, for an optimist, one must dream that “from trials and tribulations good things may happen.”  Or, if you’re the head of a pharmaceutical company, you might say, “from depressing songs we can make billions of dollars.”  (It’s a joke …relax.)

Truthfully, we all spend time each day kicking away the many disappointments that come at us as we work our way through the myriad speed bumps that come up during our own personal journeys.  This week was a week of observation for me.  I spent time observing what is going right and what is going wrong at all levels: personal,  business, national, and international for friends, fellow employees, relatives, other loved ones, companies, and politicians.   During my periods of reflection it became clear to me once again that “change is inevitable.”  In fact, change is life and life is change.   Those who can embrace it, deal with it, and make the best of it seem to thrive.

Leland Kaiser - Healthcare Futurist - Nick Jacobs, FACHE - Healing HospitalsThe challenge for most of us seems to be that of being able to get ourselves into harmony with what we want. Some days we have good thoughts, then not-so-good thoughts, and then the next day good thoughts and so on.  It has become clear to me that we need to reach a permanent state of believing without any doubt in exactly what we want to have happen.  Then, not unlike those 10,000 hours that I practiced my trumpet, it a matter of sticking with it until you get better and better at creating your own destiny, designing your own future.  Because as Leland Kaiser has said over and over again, “The Future is a Design Function.”

Dr. Denis Waitley, a positive mental attitude psychologist for the U.S. Olympic team, often speaks of positive self talk, but more importantly, he speaks of taking positive action. If  you don’t like what is happening, work to change it, but first you need to dig deep down inside yourself and determine if it is because you are truly offended by what is happening or if it is just change itself that you resent or fear.  Positive energy is not a “Jacobs in Wonderland” phenomena.  Rather, it is the movement that brings good things to life.

So, embrace healthcare reform as you try to figure it out.  Embrace nuclear arms reduction.  Embrace the fact that you are stranded in Europe because of a volcanic cloud.  It’s all good, or at least we can make it all good.  As long as we have life, love, and a will to succeed, it’s all good.  And, Peggy, the answer is, “No, that’s not all there is.”

There is nothing more fulfilling than living a purpose driven life, than contributing to the betterment of mankind in some meaningful way.   As I work with the International Brain Research Foundation to help them find support to bring traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients out from what were previously believed to be deep, irreversible comas: as I work with the fine people in breast cancer research to spread their work internationally; as I work in Patient Advocacy, and in finding resources for hospitals and physicians to enable them to provide even more superior care, I can tell you that “That’s not all there is.”   In fact, it’s just the beginning.

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There are (at Least) Ten Reindeer

December 13th, 2009

{Taking a business blogging break this week for a little holiday fun.}

This holiday thing is intense. I was reading the other day that people started really getting into celebrating Christmas around 354 A.D. So, we made it from 354 until about 1954 before things really became so commercial. It took 1600 years for capitalism to take hold, but when it did, WOW! I’m not exactly sure what a Christmas recession looks like in other countries, but in the United States, we seem to still buy everything; we just try to get it on sale.

So, in the spirit of holiday capitalism, I went to the mall today with three of the little kids; the six, four, and almost two year old.  We went there to see Santa Claus, or, as their mom called him, “The Big Cheese.” When she called Santa that, there was a three kid pause, and finally, the four year old said, “Cheese?” Who is the “Big Cheese?” “Santa,” her mom said, “Santa Claus is the Big Cheese.” Nina said, “Why is he cheese? I thought he was Santa.” By then mom realized that it was not good to confuse little kids about elves, magical people, and such because it was already confusing enough.

Photo Credit: AP

Photo Credit: AP

The day’s plan was simple: get their picture taken with Santa. We needed Annie Sullivan, Helen Keller’s teacher to pull off that miracle. The oldest one with two missing front teeth, played with everything in the garage before agreeing to be strapped into his seat, and the baby somehow flipped the lining of her seat and buried the belt latches. Only the four year old, who was wearing her Christmas dress, sliver dancing shoes, and holiday hair ribbon climbed into her seat and said, “Let’s go see Santa.” Not unlike her three year old cousin, Lucy, who spent hours under the Christmas tree staring mesmerized up into the lights and decorations, Nina was completely into it all.

When we arrived at Santa’s workshop, we watched a string of tiny kids panicking on the ole boy’s lap. The two year old was no different. Nothing helped. Squeaking reindeer toys, binkies and funny faces, were all in vain as she screamed in the arms of this strange, red suited man. After the trauma, we bought their Christmas picture. It had one terrified baby and two older kids looking off into space as if a hypnotic alien was on top of the camera. It could have been a scene from “Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.”

During lunch we discovered that Santa had known exactly what the middle child wanted for Christmas, and that he had even discussed the particulars with her in detail.  The magic continued. It was also during this meal that  we had a very serious reindeer discussion. The boy’s mother looked at me and said, “Ask your grandson to name the reindeer that pull Santa’s sleigh.” So, I did just that. To which he replied, “Well, Poppa, you see, there’s Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen plus Rudolph and Olive.” “Olive?,” I said out loud. “Yes,” he replied strongly, “Olive the other reindeer …used to laugh and call him names.” The absolute truth about the reindeer is that Dunder and Blixem, Dutch words for Thunder and Lightning, had their names changed to Donner and Blitzen several years ago for better song rhyming. (Another list of reindeer names that I saw included: Fireboy, Leroy, Pablo and Clarice, so Olive worked for me.)

In fact, this week I got another E-mail describing a third grader who was reading a story in class when he yelled out, “Mr. Markle, what’s a frickin’ elephant?” The teacher walked quickly over to the student’s desk to assure him that he was incorrect when he saw that the boy was reading a story about an “A-frican elephant.”? He was obviously Hooked on Phonics. So, “Ho, Ho, Ho, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.”

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Loyalty and The Life of a CEO

August 9th, 2009

Since stepping back from my CEO role, I have had time to reflect upon the toll that a position like that can take on any individual regardless of the thickness of their epidermis. I have come to realize that anyone who is completely in charge of an organization faces many of the same challenges.

CEO_scales256As a young man, I had serious delusions about what it would be like to be in the role of President. It was kind of a Superman fantasy: Yes, I would be kind, understanding, and fair. It would be my further commitment to be honest, forthright, and ethical in every way. My obligation would be to the people and the patients at all levels. My motto would be “Truth, justice, and the American way.”

Then the big day came, and my tenure began. It took about an hour to realize that it was now my personal responsibility to do everything necessary to generate all of the money needed to make payroll for the employees. In an area with a disappearing population base, that was an extremely challenging task, and as the Sisters of Mercy used to say, “No money; no mission.”

During the money quest, the issues of loyalty and fairness were always rearing their ugly heads. Could you, in this very self-centered culture, ever really expect people to be loyal no matter what your commitment had been to them? I would minimally try to play the role of a benevolent, servant-leader.

I was the guy who would reach out to people who needed a break and then provide them with that break; sometimes against the conventional wisdom. What did I expect in return from them?  Simple loyalty. Time and time again, however, those same people who might never have had the opportunity that they were given would turn on me. It became almost predictable.

It took them a long time to believe that they were capable of doing the job that I had personally selected them to take, but usually as soon as they reached their comfort zone they would begin to turn away. Maybe it is just human nature, but even Mighty Mouse would have been disillusioned by this recurring situation.

The other CEO reality is that fairness is situational and so subject to interpretation that it becomes impossible to please or satisfy everyone. The nature of our new collective employee psyches seems to be one of “If it’s not done directly for me, then it’s not fair.” The list of individuals who were brought to the leadership stage over my 22 years in healthcare was voluminous. Dozens of people were given consideration for their education, salaries, promotions, and advancements, yet if one other person was recognized in a similar way, the hue and cry was often, “It’s not fair.”

superman_couch

So, looking back over two decades of running hospitals, foundations, a research institute, and several other spin-off companies, an appropriate summary for any future leader is to “go with your gut.” With that in mind:

You are not now and will never be a superhero.

You are a human being with human frailties.

You cannot right the world or repair dysfunctional childhoods, marriages, or lifestyles through your benevolence.

However:

You can do what you believe will result in the most good for the most people.

You can respect the fact that your efforts could help to continue payrolls for hundreds or even thousands of families.

You can embrace the fact that the vast majority of your mistakes will not be fatal to anyone, but you also need to learn to cut your losses and deal with the disloyal.

One of my mentors used to pull me aside periodically and say, “Nick, you’re doing a great job, but you need to lighten up. We only pass through here once. So, try to enjoy yourself, my friend.”

Now that was good advice.

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