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The Gentle Wisdom of a Caring Leader

The Gentle Wisdom of a Caring Leader

On the last day of his career as a physician, physician executive, and organization leader, Dale Benson ’63 met with the physicians and dentists of the AltaMed health care staff and shared an expanded version of these “farewell reflections.” He had traveled a long leadership road from his days at GC as student association president. Benson’s parting words reflect the practical wisdom of an experienced, effective leader.

1. Be proud of what you are doing. You are doing a good thing. You are impacting lives. For many you are a locus of hope and support in a chaotic world. You touch the body, mind and soul. But be proud in a positive sense, not in a negative egotistical sense. You are devoting your career and your life to the well-being of others. You are making a difference. Be proud of that.

2. Be humble that you have this privilege. Be proud in a humble way. God has given you your talent, your intelligence, your motivation, your ability to interact with people. Be humble in your interaction with patients and staff. Never forget that you might have been that patient and that patient might have been you—your provider. What you do is a privilege. Be humble.

3. Your career is an important part of who you are. There are many components making up who you really are. The genuine you. Your life. Your family. Your values. Your goals. Your education. Your experience.

Looking back over 37 years, I am here to tell you that your career is an important part of who you are. Respect it. Make the most of it. Do not trivialize your career. Spend time learning. Get better at what you do every year. Pass on what you know to others.

When it is your turn to make this farewell address, be able to say that your career was a lot of work, you invested a lot of time, there was stress, there was frustration; yet, there was joy, and there was fulfillment. It was worth it.

4. There is more to life than your career. You know this. You must never forget the balance. You have all heard the reflection that no one ever says on their deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths that you take, but rather by its breathtaking moments.” Fill your life with breathtaking moments. As great as AltaMed is, there are not a whole lot of breathtaking moments around here. The breathtaking moments have to do with family, with sharing love, with volunteer projects, with seeing the world. Don’t sacrifice the opportunities for breathtaking moments on behalf of your career.

5. There are a lot of irritations; focus on what is important. Wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook. Every day the irritations come along. Guaranteed. There is always something not working right. You can burn up your adrenaline and your arteries on these everyday irritations. Or you can teach yourself to take a deep breath, smile, enjoy the irony of the frustration, and move on.

Save your energy for what is really important. When you get frustrated, ask yourself how important this really is in the scheme of things. Think about what is happening, decide what is really important, and then get irritated about that.

6. Affirm your colleagues and coworkers. Thank everybody. Everybody likes affirmation. Everybody needs affirmation. An affirmation from you is profoundly meaningful. It will make someone’s day. Possibly even their week or month or year.

Think about it. You could not do what you are doing every day without the help of many people busting their whatevers so that you can do what you do. Take a minute and thank them. Be genuine. But don’t go home at night without first going to find someone who has helped you and thank her or him.

7. You are very fortunate. Pass it on. You know how fortunate you are. You are adequately compensated. You are healthy. You have family. Many of you have kids. Accept and understand and appreciate your good fortune. And then, pass it on.

Today, keep your eyes open for a chance to surprise someone with an act of kindness or generosity. If they thank you, tell them to pass it on. Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give.”

8. Take care of each other. I have discovered that if you sit and talk to a person long enough, you will find out that person is hurting too. Everyone is hurting in some way. We need to be quicker to put our arms around each other and say to that person: “I know that what you do is very hard.” “I know that your life is not easy.” “I know that the stress in your job drains your energy.” “I know that you are hurting in some way.” “I am here to help our patients, but I am here to support you also.”

9. Take care. As a way of saying, “Take care”, I want to share with you three personal reflections.

• I attended a seminar once with Mike Vance, the Director of Creativity for Walt Disney. He said this: “Life is too long not to do it right.” We often hear life is too short. But his reflection was a profound insight. We need to reflect on this in terms of the decisions that we make and the values that we establish.

• Wilfred A. Peterson has been attributed as saying “Happiness doesn’t always come from doing what we like to do, but rather from liking what we have to do.” As human beings, we can choose how we respond to the things that happen to us in life. This is one of the Steven Covey Seven Habits principles: between stimulus and response we have the ability to choose. When stressful things or bad things happen, we can choose to respond negatively with despair and complaining and low morale. Or we can choose to respond positively by being upbeat and hopeful. And so, “Happiness can come from choosing to like what we have to do.”

• George Will is a well-known columnist and commentator. He said, “The point of life is not to be great, but rather to be all you can be.” My wish for each one of you is that you become all that you can be. Some of you will become great, but that is not the point. The point of life is that you reach your fullest potential; that you become genuine, that you become real, and that you become all that you can be.

10. Have a great life. A few years ago I was in Washington DC for a meeting of the National Association of Community Health Centers. I needed to go to another part of the city, so I hailed a cab. The driver was one of the warmest, most open, interested and affirming human beings I have ever met. During that taxi ride I learned all about her family. I learned about her philosophy of life and why she loved driving that taxi so much on the streets of Washington, DC. And she learned all about my family and my philosophy of life. It was a marvelously affirming time. When we reached my destination, the taxi stopped, I paid her and I got out. The last thing that she did was to wave to me and say, “Have a great life!”

Now most of us when we are in a good mood might say to someone, “Have a great day.” She said, “Have a great life.” I felt “Wow! That is beautiful!”

And so, what I want to say to you, who do so much to help others, is simply this. “Have a great life.” I wish you well.

This story was published on December 06, 2013

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