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In-the-Moment Observations

In life, there are embarrassing, painful, challenging, stressful, enjoyable and fulfilling moments. Often, these moments pass, and we move on to the next task. But I’ve resolved to share these moments and relate them to leadership.

Just like life, leadership is messy. I’m not insinuating I’m an expert in leadership. I am a student in observing emotion and behavior related to inspiration, teamwork, frustration, adaptability and success (or failure). With this in mind, I’ll be sharing moments – relating them to leadership and hoping these stories may inspire you to build resiliency and expand your leadership toolbelt through your moments.

Embarrassing moment: I fell while reclaiming my youthful fascination with surfing.

Lesson in leadership: Key initiatives are not tasks. They need to significantly help achieve a desired outcome.Going to the hospital for surgery can be nerve-racking. Even though you have an idea of what the outcome should be, there are many unknowns. I find this to be similar to developing key initiatives. When we develop them, we have a vision of our desired outcomes – but then once we have committed to leading a key initiative, anxiety ensues.

Here is my story. I was with my family at a water park over Labor Day weekend, I signed up for a half hour of surfing on a mechanical surfing machine. I’m not a surfing expert, but I caught many waves along the West Coast throughout my 20s and 30s.

I get on the board and am doing well until I fall. I instantly felt a shock up and down my left arm – like hitting your funny bone, but more intense. My neck, shoulder and arm were stiff.

I stretched and relaxed as I contemplated trying it again. After about five minutes, I felt good enough to get back on the board, which I did for approximately a half hour.

About a week later I awoke to excruciating pain, I couldn’t move my left arm, and both my hands were numb.

My personal key initiative: regain use of my left arm.

Over six months, I met with several doctors, had numerous tests conducted and learned more about the human nervous system than I ever cared to know.. Nerve regeneration was taking too long, and surgery was recommended based on statistics related to functional recovery versus permanent loss of function.

I knew I needed to make several decisions so I consulted with doctors, recovering patients and friends to validate and understand the impact of medical decisions.

It takes a team to implement a key initiative

I am responsible for my own health, yet I rely on others to provide their skills, knowledge and expertise to achieve a desired outcome. In this scenario, I am the team leader – ultimately responsible for decisions to move forward. I expect the team to provide me with the best information possible so I have confidence making decisions as unexpected conditions arise.

As we navigate the delivery of the key initiative, each person has responsibilities – shifting the responsibility of leadership for tasks. Think of the people you work with while delivering on your key initiatives. For me, this team included a surgeon, anesthesiologist, nurses, administrative personnel and countless others who supported these professionals.

Communication is crucial

Key initiatives rarely go exactly as planned. It is the responsibility of our leaders to communicate their progress across the team. Sitting in pre-op, my surgeon stopped by to confirm the procedure and then let me know the team was behind schedule due to a patient ahead of me. This allowed me to shift my priorities while letting my boss (my lovely wife) know what to expect.

As time passed, other members of the team checked in to let me know they were aware of next steps and were ready to act when the surgeon was ready. Then the anesthesiologist came back to my pre-op room, and with confidence, prepared me for surgery. Lights out.


There has been a surprise or challenge every time I’ve been involved with a key initiative. Knowing what the end goal is and trusting my teammates, oftentimes we have had to do things we hadn’t anticipated but were necessary. If the challenge required different skills, we found the necessary resources and often discovered surprises could be an opportunity for learning.

My surgery was scheduled for four hours. The surgeon’s tasks were to cut me open, move nerves from my tricep and latissimus to my deltoid, and then sew me back up. Sounds simple, and technically they completed the main tasks.

Surprise: during the post-op checklist review the team discovered a needle was missing. They called in another specialist (radiologist) to help them find the needle. After finding the needle, the team opened me back up and successfully removed it.

Are we done yet?

At this point, the team completed the intense set of activities required to enable using my arm well into the future. Like many key initiatives, there is an intense team effort to make an impactful change for your organization,  and you will encounter surprises and challenges along the way.

To me, the biggest challenge occurs after the key initiative has been implemented – verifying it is making the anticipated impact. As leaders, there are no short-cuts in the quest for adoption. Gartner’s Hype Cycle is one way to understand the effort and time required to move the needle in your organization. For this journey, I’m on the Slope of Enlightenment hoping to reach the Plateau of Productivity sooner than the expected recovery time through hard work and regular check-ins with my team.

Summary of concepts

Understand your purpose – have an idea of your expected outcomes. For me, it was to regain usage of my left arm.

Communication is essential. As responsibility shifts within a high-performing team, things change. The team has to know about these changes to adjust and prepare. If communication breaks down, key initiatives falter.

Identify your team. Find experts who can quickly identify additional resources to overcome surprises and challenges. Having the team available to find the needle during surgery saved us all from rework and a longer recovery.

Completing tasks is not completing the initiative. My surgery is complete and the incision is healing well. I have not yet regained use of my left arm. I’m working with an augmented post-op team for physical therapy which will follow the slope of enlightenment until I reach the Plateau of Productivity.