By Liz Bywater, Ph.D.
I recently began reading Stephen Hawking's Brief Answers to the Big Questions.
I am struck by the sheer brilliance, determination, and unrelenting optimism of the man. Afflicted at the prime of his young life with a debilitating and ultimately fatal neurodegenerative disease, given a prognosis of just two years to live, the man went on to be perhaps the best known scientist of our time. He lived a rich, complex, and fulfilling life, raised three children, contributed extraordinary insight into the worlds of cosmology and physics. He retained a keen sense of humor and a commitment to making the world a better place.
The last line of Hawking’s introduction reads: Be brave, be curious, be determined, overcome the odds. It can be done. So I ask you: What are you feeling brave about, and what are you most determined to achieve? How will you engage employees, colleagues, partners and customers to join your courageous quest for knowledge, to find cures to today’s most pressing challenges, and create a business that leads the way?
Start with this:
- Ask the right (meaningful) questions. If you’ve followed my recent columns or read my book, you know that I advise my clients to slow down to be thoughtful, strategic, and deliberate. It makes them better leaders and helps them create dramatic performance improvements. But it’s not as simple as just slowing down. The question here is not, Do I slow down, or do I speed up? It is actually, When do I need to slow down (and why) and when must we gather speed (and how)? Pause to reflect on the right questions—they should be nuanced, evocative, substantial—and engage the people around you in finding the answers.
- Set your vision. Yes, I know. You’ve already got a compelling vision. You’ve shared it with your organization. You’ve sent it out into the market. That’s great news. Now do it again. And change it up if you need to. Even if your present-day vision is bold, innovative, forward-focused … revisit it anyway. Ask yourself and your key stakeholders the following: Does today’s vision hold up to the changing state of the industry? Does it guide the way to an extraordinary tomorrow (in which we are driving innovation, thriving, not just holding on)? If your vision requires a change, large or small, change it today.
- Be clear about obstacles. Stephen Hawking never put his head in the sand. He recognized the harsh realities of his condition. He knew he was facing severe limitations. His symptoms would escalate, and the disease would ultimately take his life. To survive and thrive, he’d have to accept his circumstances, pivot and adapt, but he would never give in to despair.
- Remain optimistic—even (especially) in the face of challenges. Consider Hawking’s remarkable hopefulness. Not a naive man, he simply refused to allow his devastating illness to deprive him of a meaningful and rewarding life. He went on to live decades beyond what had been expected, bringing the world extraordinary scientific discoveries, three healthy children, and a profound challenge:
Be brave, be curious, be determined, overcome the odds. It can be done.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of Dr. Liz on Leadership. Each month, I will share new ideas, tools and advice to help you excel in today’s ever-changing healthcare environment. Let me know what’s top of mind and I’ll answer your most pressing questions in future columns. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For additional tools and thought leadership, visit my website, www.lizbywater.com. And don’t forget to pick up your copy of Slow Down to Speed Up: Lead, Succeed, and Thrive in a 24/7 World!