By Renee Jensen
This is a trying time for leaders in the healthcare industry. The pandemic is putting stress on operations and financials, and is straining the capacity of the entire healthcare system. We have huge challenges to overcome, but it’s difficult to know how to lead and find a way forward in a situation no one has experienced before.
When circumstances are difficult in my life or career, I need to dig deep to find the motivation to accomplish the goal before me. Meeting challenges head on and finding ways to work through them with mental strength and determination has built my confidence for the next tough goal I face, and has given me some incredible stories to tell.
You have a choice.
Every year my husband and I take time off work and go on a long motorcycle journey. Times like these bring to mind the toughest ride we’ve ever had. Over the course of 12 days we rode from the East Coast back to Washington State, traveling through Canada. It rained all day on 11 of the 12 days of our journey. One day, we even got snowed on—while riding our motorcycles over a pass in British Columbia! The fact that we made it back to Washington safe and sound is a testament of sheer will power to get you through the most difficult situations without giving up.
The longest day I’ve ever had on a motorcycle, we rode 750 miles (on our wedding anniversary!). Once we got caught in tornado-like weather, and every trip is not complete without at least one bike breaking something! You have to overcome hunger, exhaustion, and the natural elements to reach the goal of getting to your destination each day. When conditions seem impossible to bear, you always have the choice to quit. You can pull over, get off the motorcycle, have it shipped home, and find a simpler way back to your destination. But there are consequences to these decisions. If I quit in the middle of the ride, it doesn’t just affect me. My decision impacts the people I’m travelling with. To motivate myself, I try to stay focused on the bigger goal, reminding myself, “If we make it through this, think of the story we’ll get to tell.”
The same is true when leading an organization through rough waters. Just like on our motorcycle journeys, you have the option to choose to quit, retire, or change jobs, but those options come at a price too. If I give up, it affects my team. If I fail, they fail too. But if you keep going, think of the stories you’ll have to tell! For example, at my first hospital, we had only a few hours of cash on hand when I started. But my team had grit, and we didn’t give up. It was challenging to lead through a precarious situation, but we made it to the other side. Now we share the incredible experience of turning that hospital around to serve the community more effectively than ever.
Focus your mind on the goal.
This has been a year of transition for me. I’m working hard to create a business my husband and I can enjoy together: helping leaders find solutions to their challenges. As I started this endeavor, I found that I needed space to clear my mind and focus my energy. I accidentally found running as a way to settle my busy mind and make space for myself. My new-found love for running started out as a need to take the dog for a walk. I couldn’t even run a mile. Today, my easy run days are six miles, and on long days I run a half marathon.
Running, like motorcycle riding, is all about mental stamina. There are points where your body says, “I’m done!” You might need to refuel your body, but in those moments it’s also important to refuel your mind by staying focused on your mileage, time goal, or simply finishing. Don’t let distractions get in the way of your perseverance. Mental strength can get you through almost anything.
My dad used to tell me that you can do anything you set your mind to. Setting your mind—actually wanting to do something—is half the battle. I hope other leaders have that person in their lives. I’ve found that seemingly impossible things actually can be done. Any challenge is just temporary. There will be a solution. You will get through it. When you make it to the goal, you’ll feel accomplished and be fortified for the next challenge you face.
As you face challenges in your organization (and in your life), remember:
- Choose gratitude. As a runner, when you have a tough mile and don’t think you can keep going, there is something called a gratitude mile. For that mile, you remember all the things you’re thankful for and what you appreciate. It distracts your mind from the challenges, and refocuses you on what’s important in life. I have found this principle so helpful in my career, on my motorcycle rides, and even in parenting. Take a deep breath, pause, be grateful, then re-approach the situation.
- Take a break. Just because you’re out to run a half marathon, doesn’t mean you can’t walk a few minutes. In your work life, you can shift gears. You can stop and re-evaluate. This is not the same as giving up. Sometimes taking a break, changing the pace and re-evaluating the plan can help you to see beyond where you are in the moment, then restart…keep going!
- Swallow your pride. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Admit when you’re at a point when you need a break or need input. You don’t need to be everything to everyone all the time. Involving others can help you reach a difficult goal and could mean the difference between success and failure.
- Find your cheerleaders, people you trust that you can call and ask for help and advice. Having someone to run ideas or concerns by is invaluable. In my professional life, I’ve been so fortunate to have my husband as a fellow executive in the healthcare field. He understands the challenges I face in my work, and I’m able to get the support I need at home. Develop friendships with colleagues outside your organization, but in your field, who understand what you’re going through and are there for you, and be a sounding board for them as well.
When you have overcome hard times and seemingly impossible challenges, finally achieving your goal is so much more rewarding. When you look back, the physical and mental challenges you met along the way will have faded, but the feeling of accomplishment remains strong. Let that feeling of satisfaction drive you to meet your next goal in the future. Riding goals will get longer, running goals will get faster, work goals will get more audacious. It all creates forward momentum that will leave you believing that you can make it through any challenge because you have experienced what is possible when you don’t give up.
About Renee Jensen
Renee Jensen is a healthcare executive leader with over 19 years of experience in public hospital district operations and integrated healthcare systems. She writes about leadership and building high-performing teams at jensen2solutions.com.