It Began with Curiosity

By: Jim Bruce
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Today’s Tuesday Reading, It Began with Curiosity, is an essay by Jill Purdy, Director of Finance at the University of Nebraska-Kearney.  [She may be reached at purdyj@unk.edu.]

Her essay first appeared as a program reflection earlier this year.

When my father had a heart attack five years ago, he was flown to Sanford Heart Institute in Sioux Falls.  I was fortunate to be able to get away from work and my oldest sister and I traveled to Sioux Falls to stay for a week as my Dad underwent surgery and cardiac rehab.

As each nurse, attendant, doctor, and therapist entered my Dad’s room, my sister learned their names, their shifts, their hometowns, their kid’s sports schedules, and so on.  In turn, she shared that Dad was a farmer, he liked to fish, he had a wood shop in his basement, and so on.  As the week went by, I saw a change in the caregivers, from caring for the elderly cardiac patient in room 3110 to caring for Pete Flint, the man who liked to work with his hands, the father of four.

I took so many lessons away from that week with my sister.  Be curious, you can always make a connection with someone if you ask questions and are genuinely interested.  Share personal information back to build trust.  Relationships motivate.  My sister also said thank you Ann, James, Dr. Clark, etc., each and every time they finished with Dad and left the room.  When someone responded to a special request from Dad or Mom, my sister gave them immediate positive feedback and appreciation.  Again, I saw results.

By the third day, the evening nurse automatically brought Dad a scoop of ice cream before bed.  On the way back from therapy one day, the attendant took a detour and wheeled Dad outside for a few minutes to feel the sunshine and breeze on his face … a huge psychological motivator for a farmer.  People have a natural desire to please.  Positive re-enforcement motivates people to go above and beyond.

I also watched my sister journal all week.  She told me she journals about everything including her weekly phone calls with our mom.  She said it helps her identify changes in their health or behavior over time that otherwise she may miss since we only see them a few times a year.  I saw how it helped her channel her thoughts so that she felt a degree of control and less overwhelmed in a time when we were definitely emotional and out of our comfort zone.  She also used her notes to participate in Dad’s care that week – talking to the doctors and nurses about his numbers and levels and progress.

After she returned home, she called the nurse’s station each morning for an update on his stats, how his night went, how his physical therapy was going, etc.  Because my sister had told them she would be doing this, the nurse was prepared with a report from each of his areas of care.  Another lesson in motivation, when someone knows they’re going to be held accountable, performance improves.

Three weeks after Dad was admitted, my sister began to advocate for my Dad to stay at Sanford a few days longer before being transferred to a swing bed in his home town.  We knew he was getting optimal care at Sanford and each additional day that we could keep him there improved his chances of recovery.  The patient advocate assigned to Dad was able to make a recommendation to Medicare and the insurance company allowing him to stay four days longer than originally planned.

My sister had used the relationships that she had built to influence.  I don’t know what I expected out of that week with my sister but it had a lasting impact on me.  It taught me lessons in how to engage, motivate, and influence people and get involved and influence the outcome of a situation.  That week, I learned that Sanford Hospital is a state of the art facility with exceptional people;  I learned that my sister is a leader;  and I learned that my Dad was a fighter.  

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The six key thoughts in Jill’s essay – be curious, engage, motivate, influence actions and behaviors, get involved, and influence outcomes – were each part of the key to ensuring that her Dad got the best care possible in Sanford Hospital.  And, they also represent levers that each one of us can use to better achieve our goals, whether they are goals associated with our work or with the other phases of our life.

So, as you plan for and go about your day, ask yourself how you can make use of these tools to further your work and the desired outcomes you have.

Make it a great week.  .  .     jim

Jim Bruce is a Senior Fellow and Executive Coach at MOR Associates, and Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus, and CIO, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.

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