Skip to main content

In this Leadership Note, Dr. Wesley Burks reflects on the value of perseverance and the benefits of sharing the journey with your teams and colleagues.

Dear Colleagues,

“Are we there yet?”

If you have ever traveled with children, you are familiar with this question and the reaction it tends to provoke. In those cases, though, at least you have an answer – five exits, one hour, or maybe another bag of Goldfish.

So, how do you lead and offer reassurance when the road feels like it is getting longer and longer? And, how do we motivate others to keep going when we aren’t even sure what the destination will look like when we get there?

This month we passed the anniversary of our first COVID-19 case here in North Carolina and mourned half a million lives lost across our nation. As we reach these milestones that would have been once hard to imagine, it seems natural that you and your teams feel drained. I know that we are all tired.

Today, though, I want to share a few thoughts on how we can build perseverance and strengthen morale during difficult times.

Committed to Perseverance:

A personal commitment to perseverance and maintaining a positive outlook requires action. As we have talked about many times over the past year, we cannot care for others unless we are properly caring for ourselves. This will look different for each of you, but make a commitment to step away at times. Spend time with family, sleep, exercise, cook, read, or do whatever it is that helps you rest and relax. My wife Jan and I got a puppy last year just before the pandemic started, and walking with Shelby around our neighborhood has provided important time for us to relax and recharge.

I read an article recently about former Secretary of State George Shultz. Each week, Shultz set aside one hour for quiet reflection. No meetings or calls, just an uninterrupted period to think and process. In advocating for this practice, the author David Leonhardt makes a point that I think we all can relate to, I know I can: “I have confused the availability of new information with the importance of it. If you spend all your time collecting new information, you won’t leave enough time to make sense of it.”

Taking time to care for yourself and taking uninterrupted time at work won’t help us arrive at our destination any faster. It will, however, help us to appreciate and understand each aspect of the journey and ensure we are prepared as we face future challenges, which will come.

Maintaining Morale:

In the first pages of their book, “Leadership on the Line” Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky write: “Leadership would be a safe undertaking if your organizations and communities only faced problems for which they already knew the solutions.”

As we have faced many unprecedented and unexpected challenges and this year, I have been confident that if we have established the right processes, and put people in the right places, we can trust that things will work out for the best.

Empowering everyone we work with and establishing those processes is a key component of maintaining morale and doing good work.

None of us has ever faced anything like the pandemic but everything we have done in our lives professionally and personally has prepared us for this journey. Please appreciate that your team has individuals who can recommend a more scenic route or know the best place to stop for lunch along the way. Celebrate that individual knowledge and foster an environment where those around you feel comfortable speaking up with these suggestions.

During stressful times, transparency in communications and trust in people are key defenses against negativity and cynicism that can very quickly undermine morale. When there are gaps in communication, they will be filled, and usually with negative assumptions. Leaders should strive for as much openness, honesty, and transparency as possible. Share the “why” and not just the decision; remember it is fine to say “I don’t know.”

Try and put yourself in the place of the individuals that you are communicating with and remember that what one person may perceive as too much communication, another may think is not enough.

In my January note, I shared my belief that what defines a leader is the ability to see a way through a difficult situation, to a future beyond our current problem, and motivate others to work together to get there. To go back to the travel metaphor, a personal commitment to perseverance and maintaining morale, and sharing the journey with your colleagues makes for a smoother ride even though we may not know when we will arrive at our destination, though we hope it is soon.

Thank you for all you are doing to support our team and to care for our patients.