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Dickman on Leadership: Seven Samurai & Overcoming Blind Spots

Welcome to a new episode of my video series “Dickman on Leadership” where I explore different aspects of leadership through classic film. As a narrative and leadership coach, I believe film holds a mirror up to society and human behavior. In this series, I’ll share some of my favorite examples of both excellent and poor leadership. I hope you enjoy and learn something new! 

Using a clip from Seven Samurai, I show just how deadly misperception can be and the importance of seeing yourself clearly in high stakes situations. 

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What Lady Macbeth Can Teach Doctors

Thereʼs a big problem in hospitals: patients are dying when they donʼt have to. According to Dr. Richard Pascale, Associate Fellow at Oxford University, “Twenty thousand Americans die every year because they are in a hospital and are exposed to a bacteria immune to antibiotics.” Thatʼs like a plane crash every week—and it doesnʼt have to happen. The culprit is called MERA; itʼs a type of multi-resistant Staph which spreads when health care givers forget to wash their hands. Interestingly, men and women at the top of the medical hierarchy—doctors—forget more often than nurses, EMT or orderlies.

Many hospitals have tried posting stats in hallways; others actually levy fines. But neither approach has helped. (Whatʼs next? Maybe a picture of Lady Macbeth?)

Dr. Pascaleʼs approach was simple. First, he discovered a small VA hospital where there had been a 60% reduction in MERA. Then, he didnʼt talk to the administrators or doctors, but gathered stories from the people below—the orderlies, the patients. One patient said, “When I hears that squish sound”—someone using the disinfectant pump —“I sigh with relief.”

This and other stories led to two changes in hospital procedures. First, the hospital moved the dispensers from behind the bed to in front, so patients could see who was disinfecting before touching them. Next, administrators encouraged both patients and family members to speak up—a friendly, “Hey doc, please wash your hands.” This bottom-up approach has done wonders.

Who in your company has the least power? Perhaps itʼs your customers or assembly operators or your maintenance people. It might surprise and inspire you to spend some time asking them how they see the world and what steps can be taken to make your organization more vital and productive. The results might make you sigh with relief.



Finding hidden treasure

The people we work with every day are often the ones we know the least about - usually they have hidden talents & skills that would enrich our business and personal lives.  Here's an example of that: Jim was a CEO of a manufacturing company based in Chicago. One day, one of his employees, a janitor named Helen, suddenly died. That made Jim sad—then he was amazed to read that over 5000 people went to the womanʼs funeral, including a reporter from The Chicago Tribune. To Jim, Helen was just a janitor—but her full story was much, much more.

For twenty years, after the workday was over, Helen had been a choir director. She had organized and trained ten choirs at ten different churches. It was this life outside of work —a life her bosses knew nothing about—that made Helenʼs entire community turn out to pay its respects.

Jim contacted Helenʼs husband, to give his condolences. “Your wife was remarkable,” Jim said. “She mustʼve really been inspiring to people.” “Yes. And she had great organizational skills,” Helenʼs husband said. “Our company needs people like that. I wish Iʼd known!” From now on, Jim thought to himself, Iʼm going to know the total employee, not just what they do from nine-to-five. My company will discover and encourage gifted people who will share their stories and, whenever possible, support the entire person.

As a leader, do you know what your employees care about away from the office? Do you understand what inspires them or keeps them up late at night? How do you encourage your employees to break down “silos” and share their stories? How do you motivate your people to enrich and vitalize the work culture?

One program Jim started was a bi-monthly lunch where employees were encouraged to share who they were and what they did. People became interested in each otherʼs activities and projects. The most worthy projects were awarded grants from the organization and drew volunteers from all levels of the company. Jim has noticed an improved morale with more loyal employees, who stay with the company longer.

Join me at my Finding Your Story Workshop and release your hidden treasure!

(P.S. if that link doesn't work, copy and paste this one: