The call bell light was on as I walked past the room. This was one of those days that I was lucky enough to be rounding with our Vice President of Nursing. She just has this inner sense of when someone is in need. Without missing a beat she knocked on the door and asked if she could be of assistance. I followed, but was a bit hesitant at first. Even though I am a clinician I was wearing a suit which made me stand out from the VP of nursing and all other staff on the unit. This can be alarming to a patient when they have no idea who you are and why you are entering their room. My current role is not in the capacity of a clinician, rather I work to support those who care for our patients through the use of technology. I was rounding on this day because I wanted to walk in her shoes. I wanted to see through the lens of my peer what she sees, what are her struggles, what are the triumphs, and how in my current role could I impact positive change. As we entered the room an elderly woman was lying in the bed. The room had a foul odor and she was in need of a helping hand. With complete compassion our VP took care of the reason behind the odor and reassured the woman that all was OK. I approached the bed to assist her in moving the woman to a more comfortable position. As we did this I introduced myself and the woman returned the most brilliant smile. She was grateful we had answered her call bell and I was grateful to have been in that moment.
We all look at life through our own lens. Not one of us sees life in the same exact way. What I saw in that encounter with the elderly woman was not the same as what our VP saw it nor was it the same that the woman in the bed saw. We all three experienced the interaction differently, yet we all had the same experience. The facts did not change, but the way we perceived the facts was varied. This is why it is so valuable to walk in other peoples shoes, to create opportunities to see things from different angles. The other day I asked my twin daughters to look at a painting we have on our dining room wall. I asked them both to take turns describing to me what they saw. My first twin saw rocks, waves, sand and logs. My second twin saw red sky, waves barreling, and poles protruding from the sand as a sort of fence that separate two sides of the beach. They were both right, but they both saw different attributes to this painting. As a leader, this point is so important to remember when we deal with people, listen to solution options, or make decisions on key initiatives. What I see with my single focus is never 100% accurate. There is always another way to look at things. That does not mean there is no absolute truth, it means that my view is limited to my experience and perception of what truth is. Before I go too far off the philosophical tree branch let me steer it back to leadership. As a leader I must get out of my comfort zone, step out of my defined role in an organization, and be willing to learn from those around me. When I walk in someone else’s shoes I broaden my mind, I am more equipped to contribute to the needs of the overall organization, and equally important, I build trust with the person whom shoes I have walked.
Leadership to me is not about title, hierarchy, or command and control. Leadership is about example, commitment, integrity and a willingness to put others first. I observed this in action that day as I rounded with our VP of Nursing. She modeled the lens in which she sees her world. Each time she sensed a need no matter what that need was she responded, not as the VP of Nursing but as a leader intent on making a difference. What did I take back with me to my world? The expanded lens of how important it is to model where we are headed and not where we are. Our organization is not perfect, like many others we are in a rebuild state. What we need are leaders who are willing to put themselves out there. We need those who are willing to walk in the shoes of their peers and use those experiences to grow. It is just as important to create opportunities for those who report to us to walk in others shoes as well. Encourage them to expand their lens and you will find that collaboration takes hold and they begin to come up with better solutions to problems. In the words of Edmund Wilson, “No two persons ever read the same book.” Let us all take those experiences and use them to build a better tomorrow.