Are you a jerk?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this article, No More Working For Jerks, since I read it back in January. 

My basic take-away is that there has been a shift between folks feeling an undying loyalty to an employer, even the jerks, to a realization that working for a jerk is just not worth it. 

Luckily for me, I have had a very few experiences working for jerks. Perhaps the few experiences I have had, incredulously, shaped me as a manager in positive ways. First, I could not ever imagine treating someone, anyone, like my old boss treated me. Perhaps I don’t have it in me to be a jerk. 

The sudden shift to working almost exclusively remotely has prompted me to do what I’ve come to think of as an “empathy check”. When I am working fast or a million things are on my plate, I have a tendency to shoot off quick responses to messages. I came to realize that a punctuation-less response of “sure”, even if it really was a “Sure!”, could be read as if I was not enthusiastic, only giving it a passing thought, or, worse, didn’t care. Now, I don’t know about you, but in these last few years, I have worked more and more with people I have never met face-to-face. If you’ve met me face-to-face, you know that I almost always mean “SURE!!!!” So, my empathy check can go a long way. 

Similarly, I almost never pop a context-less meeting on someone’s calendar. The exception has often been that I am trying to pull off a surprise virtual birthday party, but that is an aside. I would never want my team to think that I am stewing on something. I would never want someone to be blindsided coming into a meeting with me when something is wrong. And, finally, I would never want a team member to start stewing while wondering what the meeting is about. 

How have your management practices changed over the last few years? If you’d like to meet for some coaching sessions or could use some advice around a particular challenge, please reach out! Similarly, if you’d like to bring leadership and management training to your team, let’s talk! 

Why Your Doctor Should Care About Social Justice

It seems we’ve all been thinking deeply about race and racism in the United States. My interest in public health stems from a desire to work towards equity and justice.

One of my favorite TEDTalks is by Mary Bassett: Why Your Doctor Should Care About Social Justice.  Dr Bassett is the Health Commissioner for NYC and a long time health activist.

As you may know, I worked for several years at Partners In Health (and am working there on the COVID response now) and so appreciated her nod to the work of Paul Farmer when she says:

“But I knew that epidemics emerge along the fissures of our society, reflecting not only biology, but more importantly patterns of marginalization, exclusion, discrimination related to race, gender, sexuality, class and more. It was true of AIDS. It was true just recently of Ebola. Medical anthropologists such as Paul Farmer, who worked on AIDS in Haiti, call this structural violence: structural because inequities are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world, often in ways that are invisible to those with privilege and power; and violence because its impact — premature deaths, suffering, illness — is violent. We do little for our patients if we fail to recognize these social injustices. Sounding the alarm is the first step towards doing public health right, and it’s how we may rally support to break through and create real change together.”

She ends her talk with this statement:
“Our role as health professionals is not just to treat our patients but to sound the alarm and advocate for change. Rightfully or not, our societal position gives our voices great credibility, and we shouldn’t waste that.”

Videos like this can be great ways to spark ideas among your team members. What if you showed this video to your team and had a conversation about it?

Here are a few questions that may help to spark conversation:
  • What do you think your individual role is in addressing the social issues that accompany illness?
  • What do you think our collective role is in addressing the social issues that patients experience?
  • Have we pushed the envelope far enough as an organization to ensure that we are using our positions of power to advocate for patients and families?

Time Blocking for Productivity

If you are like me, you likely have a lot to accomplish every day and it can often feel like there is not enough time in the day to do it all. 

One of the tricks I often use is time-blocking. It is a simple technique, in essence, that helps me to stay focused on the task at hand and, as such, check more off of my to-do list. 

First things first, the to-do list is a critical element to the success of this technique. I am a big fan of and heavy user of the app-based to-do list called ToDoist.  It allows for items to turn up on your list every day, every month on the 13th or every month on the third Thursday of the month, every-other-day and probably a ton of other customizable options. For me, this was a game changer. I have reminders programmed for weekly tasks like writing this blog, annual tasks like renewing business licenses, and daily activities like exercising. 

The key to time blocking is to have a robust to-do list where you can see like tasks. For example, you would have a block where you’d respond to emails. Another block could be used for any phone calls you need to make or appointments you need to schedule. For me, a big block of time each day always goes to writing. 

Next, consider the best time to do each of the types of work. For me, starting the day out with exercise energizes me and sets the stage for a productive day. I also find that my creative energies are flowing best in the morning and afternoons are a good time for tasks that require less brainpower. 

By combining like tasks, you use less mental energy shifting how you think and what you are seeking to execute. For me, it it also helps to make sure I am working according to my priorities and the priorities of my clients. 

How do you make the most of your day? 

Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe

I was recently reminded of this great TED Talk by Simon Sinek called Why good leaders make you feel safe.  

In his talk, he suggests that when the right environment is created, we are all capable of doing remarkable things and acting in great service to others. He attributes trust and cooperation to building that great environment.

I have found that, perhaps oddly, when I’ve worked in really fast paced environments (ie: disasters, pandemics, epidemics), the tolerance for mistakes is higher. We know that we are making decisions quickly and not everything will go right. But, in some ways, that increases the trust and feeling of safety. It allows for honest conversation. It encourages people to ask for help.

But, how do you do you build a sense of safety? Simon proposes some suggestions, have a listen!

What are your thoughts?

How do you make your team feel safe?

Or, in your own heart, what could you be doing to increase that level of safety and security?  

Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

I’ve often witnessed an amazing power in collaboration around brainstorming and great ideas; it is amazing when it happens and has led to some of the best work in which I’ve participated.  At times, though, managers will need to nudge their teams along when it comes to brainstorming. We’ve all been in a position where we don’t want to be the one to share the dumb idea or to be the one to suggest something that has been tried before.

This talk by Adam Grant about the Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers and the accompanying discussion guide may help you to appreciate how your team may process their ideas, come up with creative ideas, and communicate about those ideas.

In global health, we strive to be innovative and come up with creative approaches to solving complex health issues.  It is a task with significant weight–truly lives are on the line.

Might you be up for leading your team in a discussion about creativity and original thinking?  Hopefully we can help to support the creativity of our teams and help to grow comfort in thinking about the same old problems in new sorts of ways.

PS: The Lean In website has lots of great resources that you can use. I am a fan of the discussion guides that can be used to guide our teams through difficult conversations or to help set team norms.


What it Takes to be a Good Leader

I’d like to share some  ideas about what it takes to be a good leader.

Take a listen to this talk by Roselinde Torres.

She distills the best qualities of leaders into three elements:
1. The ability to see changes that may be on the horizon and prepare for them
2. Networking skills that bring various perspectives to the work
3. The willingness to take some risks and abandon practices that may have been successful in the past but no longer serve the team

The reflection questions below may give you insight into your own practices and habits (and maybe encourage a change or two!):

  • What are your skill levels as they pertain to those three qualities?
  • Take a moment to think about, as she suggests, how you spend your time–do you allow yourself the opportunities to develop in these three ways?
  • Are you cultivating your team to be leaders?

What do you think about her distillation of leadership qualities? I would add skills around trusting and transparent communication to her very valuable list. To me, trusting and transparent communication is critical to giving and receiving feedback and to ensuring that your team is helping you to see what is on the horizon.

Have you considered watching TED talks like this one with your own teams? I have always appreciated leaders and managers who ensure that I keep learning and developing. Plus, they are short enough to fit into team meetings or over a lunch break. How do you help to foster growth and development in your team and in yourself?

Laughter makes us better workers!

Did you catch this great news? Laughter is not only the best medicine, but it makes us better workers, too!  Great news for those of you who (normally) enjoy the water cooler banter with colleagues and organizing the office parties–all of your efforts are justified!

I love tips about increasing productivity, but this one is extra special. Now, how does this news relate, say, to training efforts?

Well, I’ve facilitated lots of training of trainers (TOTs) and I’ve written lots of curricula that other people deliver. One of my great challenges is in convincing novice facilitators that the fun activities are written into the training to, yes, be fun breaks and to allow opportunities for team building, practical application of learning, and create lasting impressions of the materials. Those memories, especially when laughter is involved, can be the most lasting impression of a training and, thus, can help learners to recall other elements of the training.  If you are a novice trainer, challenge yourself to pace your trainings to allow for the active components of the training. If time is running out, consider restructuring your training to limit the PowerPoint or the lectures before you ax the activities. 

So, the moral of this story is…don’t skip the ice breakers, the energizers, and the activities.  Your team will be more productive because of it.

New Year’s Resolution?

It is now the end of March — if you are like the masses, you likely have not been keeping up with your New Year’s resolution.

The reason why, that habits are hard to create and then sustain, is an excellent lesson for instructional design and teaching. 

We think of the mind as a bottomless vessel that can continue to be filled throughout life. We also tend to teach in accordance to that bias. We feed participants and students a near endless stream of information and expect it to “stick”. 

Shockingly, it often doesn’t. 

So, I offer you two training tips that should help to make things stick and to help with training-room-management. 

  1. Allow time and space for participants to grapple with the information in new and novel ways. This is key. My go-to for curriculum design is to think about a cycle of teach/lecture, group engagement, solo engagement, small-group engagement. The teaching and lecturing should be as brief as possible and serve as a way of introducing new content. The rest is a mix of activity that allows for connections to be made between what is being presented and previous experience and the insight and knowledge of one’s peers. When I facilitate a training, it often moves along at quite a clip so that engagement stays incredibly high and the ways of learning are diversified. 
  2. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Here are a few ways to allow for repetition that don’t feel, well, repetitive. 
    • At the start of each lesson, give a summary of what was covered previously. Better yet, engage the learners in an activity where they recall and build upon the material. 
    • Write a summary email after a training with a few of the key take-aways. Provide an additional way for readers to engage with the content like a video, article, or discussion prompts. 
    • Quiz games and activities. In a recent role, I trained contact tracers on COVID protocols. As you can imagine, as protocols evolved, it could be tough to keep track of the protocols and what changed. I introduced daily quiz games for the team. They were optional, quick, usually less than 5 minutes, and provided a fun way to reinforce learning and highlight where reinforcement might be needed. 

Are you looking to develop a training or even a series of meetings for your team? Could you use some help in jazzing it up? Would an outside designer or facilitator be helpful? Well, look no further! Please reach out so I can help you make your training “stick”. 



Not to toot my own horn, but I tend to be quite good at accepting feedback and and incorporating it into my work.  I value feedback as an essential tool of collaborative work and as a means of ensuring that multiple voices and perspectives are heard and incorporated.

Of course, I’m sure we’ve all had those painful moments when we’ve gotten unsolicited feedback so late in the game that we end up facing a sleepless night on the eve of a big event or before a deadline.  Oh, the wound is still fresh!

In any case, we can always try to be proactive about getting feedback.  I like the AWARE model for asking for feedback that is highlighted in this talk:

Ask for feedback, 
Watch your emotions, 
Ask questions to clarify, 
Reach out for perspectives, and 
Engage your potential.

I particularly liked the description of why feedback can be difficult–as it lives in that tense spot between the need to learn and grow, and the need to be accepted just the way we are. Yet, becoming comfortable asking for and giving feedback helps to hone our growth mindset and helps us see feedback as a gift. 

Consider watching this video with your team and leading them in a discussion about how they like to get feedback from you and how you can solicit feedback from them.  A sign of a healthy team is one where 
Can you shift your mindset to one of growth and see feedback as a gift? Your challenge for the week? Ask for feedback from one of your colleagues by using the AWARE model.  

The Happy Secret to Better Work

Here is one of my favorite TEDTalks—The Happy Secret to Better Work.

In his very humorous talk, Shawn Archor talks about how we view the world and how that affects our happiness. Seems obvious.

He also says, though, “75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.”  

So what do you, as a manager, do to build that optimism and resiliency among your team? I’ve written about the need for feedback, both constructive and positive, in the past. How can we link that to building that ability to see stress as a challenge and not a threat?

I’ve incorporated several of the lessons that Shawn talks about here (and elsewhere) in my life, including keeping a running list of what I am grateful for. Even on the most craptastic days, there is always something out there that can add beauty to our lives. And if I am really struggling to find something, I create something by reconnecting with a friend, setting a (virtual!) coffee date, or even planning a trip (one of my favorite activities! We can hope, right?). I usually write my list before I even get out of bed in the morning as a way of framing the day in the most positive sense possible.  

Of course, we are in trying times, indeed. When Shawn delivered this talk, we were not months into a global pandemic. I, like many, am managing an entirely remote team. One of the things that seems to be going well on my team is that we’ve built and constantly reinforce the expectation that we will change, evolve, and pivot as needed to address COVID. In some ways, knowing that more change will come, even if we don’t know what it will be, disallows the team to settle into complacency or routine. The routine IS change. That clear-as-can-be communication has been crutial.  What tricks do you have up your sleeve for keeping the optimism on your team?

How have you built up your own optimism and resiliency? How have those skills served you now, given that we are living through this pandemic? What new skills have you been able to tap into?