Tag Archive for cancer

Waiting Room Leadership

waitroomIf your life has the feel of a waiting room, then I’m afraid you’re likely missing some opportunities.

Thanks to kidney cancer, blood clots, and the like, I’ve come to be a bit of an unofficial mostinterestingwaiting room aficionado. In other words, I am the most (un)interesting man in the world.

Waiting rooms are to me what fine wines and cigars are to other (normal) people. Waiting rooms have their own particular ambiance. There’s a particular way they smell, sound, and feel. You’d be tempted to say they all smell, sound, and feel the same; but you’d be wrong. Trust me. Having been in as many as I have been, I’ve picked up on the nuances of the various holding pens waiting rooms.

Upon entering one, I close my eyes, allowing the essence of the room to interact with my auditory and olfactory senses. Ah yes, I say quietly to myself, a vintage 1987 oncology waiting room. The light blue hues on the wall sluggishly trudge down the hallways, dragging the dated, 50-shades-of-gray (settle down, ladies) carpet along with it into every room.

Take a deep breath and you’re treated to a scent that can only be produced when that which is old and stale is forced to mingle with that which is just recently sprayed out of a Febreeze bottle. The mutant offspring of this scentsless affair (see what I did there?) isn’t what those Febreeze commercials would have you believe it is. Nay, my friends. It is more akin to the pungent fragrance that permeates a school bus full of adolescent boys who have layered some god-awful body spray on top of their sweaty lather following a basketball game.

It’s within that context that we sit. It’s always sobering for me. As my eyes transition from taking in the decor to glancing at the other folks sharing the space with me, that vintage ’87 atmosphere gets heavier.

For many of these people, life is on hold. The hustle and bustle occurring just outside the walls of the building is of little or no concern to those within it.Lymphoma_waiting_room

Specifically within the oncology waiting room, there’s not a lot of talking. The only sounds you hear are faint whispers, awful music playing quietly over the speakers, and the turning of magazine pages as patients stare blankly at their contents.

We’re all just waiting. Waiting to go in to see the doc. Waiting for an update. Waiting for news. Waiting for what we hope is good news. Waiting for what we suspect is bad news. Waiting to see how bad the bad news is. Waiting after receiving our news because we have no idea how we’re going to tell others our news. Waiting.

Maybe it’s silly or stupid, but I find myself thinking about that room a lot, with its stupid walls and stupid carpet and stupid magazines and stupid music. Why? Because things started changing there and they’ll never go back.

Too often people (myself very much included) wait on this or that. They wait for approval from everyone they know before they act. They wait for the timing to be perfect before trying something. They want to be sure what they do won’t rock their boat. Or anyone else’s boat for that matter.

If there’s something you want to try, try it. If there’s something you want to create, create it. If there’s a problem you want to solve, try to solve it. Quit succumbing to the pressure to fit in, fly under the radar, and be representative of the status quo.

Stand up. Turn toward the door. Leave the freaking waiting room.

A Leadership Lesson from Livestrong

notbike The dust appears to be settling a bit. Another chapter in the this whole Lance Armstrong fiasco is behind us. I mean, once you go on Oprah, stuff’s official, right? Like most folks, prior to this latest bombshell, I fell somewhere on a spectrum of belief in Lance’s story and skepticism of the same, and that spot moved back and forth a little over time.

Want to know what’s weird though? Over the past few years, I found myself caring less and less about what Lance did or didn’t do. On one level, as one who’s had a little dust-up with cancer, I appreciated–and still appreciate–his battle to survive cancer, regardless of what he did or didn’t do afterward.

On the other hand, that little yellow rubber band that’s sometimes around my wrist wasn’t and isn’t really about Lance Armstrong. To me and millions of others, it doesn’t symbolize the ability to win a bicycle race or seven. It doesn’t symbolize our allegiance to a sport. And it doesn’t symbolize our endorsement of, excitement about, or admiration of Lance Armstrong.

This did get me thinking, though. Why wasn’t I more ticked about all of this? Should I be? As I looked around Facebook, Twitter, the web, and so on, I almost felt bad that I didn’t feel the same indignation that others seemed to. I mean, sure, it’s crappy; but I guess that while Livestrong has played some little part in my life, Lance Armstrong really hasn’t. Consequently, his current situation doesn’t really hit me like a ton of bricks.

Apparently, Livestrong has done something over the years that we should strive to do. They have made their organization about something other than its first famous and now infamous head. It’s always been about the fight against cancer, to be sure; but in its early years it was powered by Armstrong’s celebrity wattage.

livestrong-artwork-templateThey found a way to anchor their identity in something other than a celebrity. If you think back, you began to see less and less of Lance, and more and more grassroots, local stuff popping up all over the place. Livestrong had fostered something that was organic and real; it resonated with people on a human level. It was about them, and people knew it.

It was and is about a community of people with a common bond. Livestrong gave them a voice and a symbol. I think people who really appreciated and appreciate Livestrong did and do so because of its meaning in their fight against cancer, not because of some guy who could ride a bike really fast. In fact, as I think back, I can’t really even remember the last time seeing a Livestrong product made me think of LanceyPants.

If you’ll let me shift gears, isn’t that what we’re supposed to do as leaders? Leaders work hard to provide a compelling context for their teams, help them connect, show them the greater good, and then embrace humility so that they can make sure it’s always about the team. The group. The collective. The greater good. To attribute the accomplishments of a team to just its leader is to do injustice to the team. The group. The collective. The greater good. Sadly, it’s often leaders themselves who are guilty of attributing the team’s success to themselves.

So what do we do? We determine to lead well. Embrace humility. Serve first, then lead. Promote the good of the whole. And remember, it’s not about us.

Thanksgiving, Cancer, & Leadership

“There is no evidence of recurrence at this time. We’ll see you again in a year.”


I thought about both high-fiving and hugging the urologist/oncologist, but decided against it. One of them was sporting a mustache that I could only assume and hope was part of a No-Shave-November effort, but it was enough to give me pause about hugging anybody.

There have been several similar moments over the past couple years. It’s an odd mix of feelings, really. Relief. Gratitude. Thankfulness. The nagging thought–no matter how small–that maybe it’ll be back next year. It puts a different perspective on, well, lots of things.

So perhaps it’s handy that Thanksgiving is in November. (Did anyone else get the weeks confused and think it was actually next week instead of this week? Oh. You didn’t? Yeah, um, I didn’t either.)

As some of you know, November is a big month for me now. It was just two short years ago that my doctor accidentally found cancer during a CT for something completely unrelated. That “accident” obviously changed a lot of things. You look at your life a little differently after something like that. Externally speaking, you get to admire the beautiful 9-inch scar left from the surgeon doing his thing. Internally, your mental and emotional scars and struggles can be magnified and pushed toward the surface.

This whole cancer ordeal has taught me a lot and continues to do so. It’s a challenge for all of us to be more thankful, isn’t it? I don’t say thank you nearly enough, and I don’t think I show enough gratitude with my actions either. I’m reminded that I need to show appreciation to people, both personally and professionally; and that I need to be thankful and content with certain things rather than arranging my life around getting this or that, having this or that, or whatever else. Because really–what good is any of that if you have a terminal illness? A jet-ski doesn’t do you much good then, does it?

Did you ever notice that even after you get this or that, or have had this or that for a while, that you find yourself needing some other thing? You tell yourself that’s not actually the case; but your actions, attitude, and Facebook posts say otherwise. It’s almost like there’s a space in your life that can’t be filled with material stuff, but you keep trying anyway. Or perhaps it’s like a desire that simply cannot be satisfied with the things you think ought to satisfy it, but you insist on attempting it anyway in hopes that it’s this thing that will finally do it for you. That’s no accident. We’re wired to sense in some way that there’s something more than just what we can see or possess.

Within our roles as leaders in our respective organizations, how thankful are we? How consistently do we show or otherwise express gratitude to others, both employees and clients/consumers alike? How often do we complain about really dumb stuff when really we should be thankful we’re in the situation we’re in rather than one that’s way worse.

How well do we serve others? Leadership is more about serving than it is trying to figure out how to get that bigger office or bigger paycheck. That stuff may come, and it’s fine and good if it does, but that’s not why we lead. At least I hope not.

Do we get that this life we’re living and this work we’re doing is and has to be about more than what we might act like it is?

Maybe we need to take a little timeout over Thanksgiving to reflect. Perhaps we should challenge ourselves to be more appreciative of what we have and what we experience. Maybe–just maybe–this holiday, our work, and our lives are about more than what we think it is.