7 Strategies for Successfully Leading During Personal Crisis

A few weeks ago, a member of my family received a cancer diagnosis that none of us expected.  Since then we’ve been on a roller coaster that is all-too familiar to far too many people.  But for us, it was new.  In the hours and days of dealing with the news, I knew we could be managed through a process like many before us, or we could take a more active leadership role in our patient’s care.  We chose the latter.

I wrote a letter (Doctor, Are You In?) simply to help change the dynamic in the relationship with the medical staff.  It helped outline some expectations, some hopes, and some helpful tips for dealing with the large family that rallied around our patient.

Most importantly it outlined the fact that the doctors, nurses, staff were joining our team.  We were responsible for our patient’s care.  We will always care more than they do, and we will be there more than they will.  That’s just part of being a member of this family.

Below are the lessons I learned from writing that letter, the new perspective we have about who’s on whose team, and the positive reception we receive from the healthcare professionals when they see us taking this kind of approach.

1) Lead, Don’t Just Follow

The leaders set the speed of the pack.  Part of leading is setting a vision of where you are headed, defining values and expectations for the entire team.  We set the expectations of who we are, how we work, why we are there, and how to succeed with us – and asked how to succeed with them.  In large systems like healthcare, ‘who’ sets that pace is often unclear.  In taking the lead for our patient’s care, we took mental ownership of that pace.  “Yes, I understand the biopsy will take 7-10 days, just expect that we will call you on day 7 and ask if you have called down to the lab for the results, even if they are not yet in the system.”  The good part is the doctors, nurses, techs, assistants…this is not their first rodeo, and we are not the pushiest/rudest people they will deal with.

2) Seek The Very Best

Healthcare professionals are people too.  Some are better at their jobs than others.  Frankly, for some it’s a job, and for others, it’s a calling.  With growing consumerism in healthcare, doctors and providers are getting used to a lot more information about their systems, physicians, costs, etc. being available.  We did our homework on who we were seeing – did anyone in our network know them, what can we learn online, is that the best facility for that care, where can we get that test done so the results get processed faster, is there a pharmacy that is most likely to have the medication in stock, etc.

3) Own Your Research

There is simply too much information in healthcare for any one doctor or nurse to know everything.  So our team set out to learn all we can.  What can we learn about the diagnosis?  What are the options/alternatives available?  Alternative medicine approaches?  Prominent researchers and their work?  Diet recommendations? Cook books?  Blogs? Everything.  Google.  Bing.  Yahoo.  Not one or the other…all.  Each engine gets you slightly different results.

4) Time Matters, Create Urgency

Patience is a virtue but so is persistence.  Part of that equation was setting an expectation of urgency.  If the provider did not show urgency, we do all we can to create it for them.  If they refuse to demonstrate it, there is someone else we can talk to – that is the benefit of a large system – backups, redundancies, overlapping access.  We know better than to use logic to spark urgency, we know better than to try and bargain or sweet talk.  We go emotional (appropriately) and we engage them in trying to help us care for our family member.

5) Rally the Network

Like I wrote in the letter, our families have a lot of contacts in healthcare.  So we rallied the network often and unapologetically.  We reached out to them to learn who we will be meeting with, we used them for research on the condition, next steps, key questions to ask, to verify timelines and durations.  The best part, they respond to the rally call…consistently and urgently…like family.

A successful network responds to the rally call…consistently and urgently…like family….

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6) This Is Personal

This is personal for us because of who we are caring for.  It is not personal for them.  This is their job, their profession, and for many, their passion.  Most professionals love patients like us – we are informed, up-to-date, communicative, caring, respectful and consistent.  We don’t get overly emotional with them, we go tactical.  They know we are pushing.  There are no hard feelings, they know we are dealing with more than they are.  They get it.

7) Stand Up

When in the hospital, many people will come in and out of our patient’s room, delivering food, some taking vitals, some taking tests or delivering medicine.  Each nurse, nurse’s assistant, physician, tech has their own style and manner.  Not all will work well with the patient.  If someone on-staff does not do well for our patient, we called them on it. If they didn’t adjust, we escalated. We asked charge nurses to change coverage assignments. Once we refused to let a nurse in the room.  We found the nurses who pushed on behalf of their patients and/or had a gentle approach with a needle.  Ultimately the patient decides what they want, and we learned they have a fair amount of influence over who delivers it.

We are now months into this journey.  We are still learning, researching, pushing and rallying.  The pace has settled as the treatment course ahead is more clear.  The good thing is that we own our patient’s care, and for that, they are appreciative.  The best outcome of this is that my daughters have seen how family responds when family needs.  We come together, we learn all we can quickly, and we take the lead.  It is a tough situation in which to learn that lesson, but those are the situations in which leaders are forged.


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Ken Perlman is an engagement leader at Kotter International, a consulting firm specializing in large-scale transformation. Ken is a recognized thought leader, consultant, facilitator and presenter with more than 20 years experience consulting to Fortune 500 companies on leadership, transformational change, communications, training, business process design and technology adoption. At Kotter International, Ken helps leaders to accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations.

  • Ed Pierce

    two things –
    (1) my thoughts are with you and admire your leaning forward and
    (2) How Doctors Think by Groopman (available via Audible) is a wonderful book that can empower you spin up their curious mind which is what you want

  • Ben Simonton

    Good thinking and our prayers are with you, Ken. That said, I suggest that in addition to the traditional care, you try an alternative, After a woman down my street with bile duct cancer was referred to hospice as incurable by our local cancer center, we convinced her to try frequency therapy. In 3-4 weeks, testing at the cancer center proved that her cancer had disappeared. Although she used a simple machine twice to three times daily, you could use remote treatment such that the hospital and the patient won’t even know it is occurring. This is termed ‘research’ since our FDA does not approve of any cancer cure that does not include big pharma, radiation, and chemotherapy. I am aware of one successful treatment done with a machine while the patient was in a hospital, but that was in Lyons, France, not the FDA controlled US. Contact me if interested.

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