Thriving in Change & Beating the Cold

Yesterday I flew into Minnesota to speak at a conference of health care finance leaders on the topic of “Leading in Times of Change.” Given that I traveled from North Carolina to this event and, in the process, experienced temperature swing of 60 degrees F, this topic became even more personal to me.

As a former Northerner that moved South, let me just say that -25 degree wind chills are not something that makes me feel warm inside or out.

“Your blood got thin!” is a phrase I’ve heard many times as I shiver in what used to be considered moderate temperatures.

And that whole blood-thinning thing is not scientifically accurate. I mean, if human blood really thinned in hot temperatures, people living near the equator would surely bleed out if they nicked themselves shaving.

No, my blood did not change. But a couple of other things have changed in how I handled the cold years ago when I lived in the Midwest and now that I live in the South.

Successful change requires successful preparation

1. Map out what success looks like.

When I lived in the Midwest, I didn’t need a special “plan” for cold weather. I just needed to slip on something from my vast array of clothing for the two seasons we had in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: Winter, and almost Winter.

But for this trip, traveling from one climate extreme to another, I needed a checklist to make sure that I had planned to not only survive the cold, but to thrive once the plane landed. So I packed my Columbia All-Weather System (given what I paid for it, don’t you dare call it a coat!), wool cap and socks, insulated footwear, and gloves.

In healthcare, leaders have had to plan to survive different types of cold: an aging population, reduced reimbursement rates, implementing ACA and ICD-10, intense competition, and even mergers and affiliations. Survival requires only that you’re the “last organization standing” at the end of the day. But that’s not the same as thriving. Organizations that thrive look further than the mandate du jour and work beyond developing worst-case scenario planning to prevent failure. Organizations that thrive envision what the new world requires today while developing strategies for them to thrive into the future.

If you’ve ever played a piano, you’ve heard of Kimball Electronics. In the 1950s, they developed new skills in electronics so they could jump on the demand to manufacture quality organs…only to see the market fall out of their new product. Instead of closing their doors, they took advantage of their newly-acquired expertise in electronics and diversified. Today Kimball Electronics is more relevant than ever, manufacturing products ranging from automotive to medical, industrial and public safety. Kimball didn’t make plans to survive in the piano and organ market; instead, they planned to thrive in any market, regardless of the changes they faced.

2. Confront your “realities” and use them as fuel.

Planning for this trip, I obviously had to know the weather realities in Minnesota. But I also had to mindful of the realities closer to home in North Carolina where an ice storm was predicted to hit the morning of my scheduled travel! A very wise member of my team, my wife, suggested I leave a day early so I could get out before it hit.

Not knowing the weather realities in North Carolina would have doomed me, because I wouldn’t have even made it to Minnesota. My scheduled flight, indeed, got cancelled. I could have thrown up my hands in frustration saying, “That’s why they call it an Act of God. I can’t do anything about it.” But I could do something about it. I could confront my current realities and use them to plot a new course.

Shawn Achor in his book Before Happiness suggests that we all have the power to choose which realities we listen to. Had I listened to the “I’m screwed” reality of the North Carolina weather forecast, I would be sitting at home right now instead of preparing for my keynote tomorrow. I chose to pick another reality, a reality Achor calls “the most valuable reality” in which I could respond to what is true (bad weather is coming), helpful (I can avoid it by leaving early), and positive (I get to keynote for an incredible client tomorrow while my wife has a bonus day of getting to hold the TV remote).

Rumors of downsizing? If that is your reality, ask yourself what is true, helpful, and positive that you can focus on. True: “I’ve heard these rumors before, and I’m still here.” Helpful: “I have a chance to prove how invaluable I am to this organization.” Positive: “This organization, and others, always needs smart, engaged, change-ready, competent people like me!”


Your intelligence, resilience, skills, and attitude got you this far. Continue applying those resources so you can thrive instead of survive in your current change. Map out what success looks like. Picture yourself thriving in this change, doing what you love to do, bringing your A-game with you. Take negative realities that fall outside of your control to fuel positive realities that allow you to execute the best outcome.

Oh, and as in the case of the cold weather I’m currently experiencing, remind yourself that “This too shall pass.” Once we come through a challenging time, the strength we’ve acquired will last much longer than the chill of the moment.


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