Greg Raymond

gregraymondDirector of Nursing, NeuroCare & Behavioral Health Services

Deborah Brownstein held this conversation with Greg on October 22, 2010.

Deborah: As organizations become flatter they rely more upon teams to accomplish their objectives, yet many are struggling to make that work.  You have considerable experience leading teams in a major academic medical center and you make a deliberate practice of inner-work. What have you discovered about the link between your inner-work and your leadership work?

Greg: It can be that the blind squirrel finds the nut. With hindsight, reflecting on my leadership team in the ICU, I knew team members had to have comfort and trust with each other. To get there, I let them know it was okay to disagree with me. Without realizing to the fullest how important that is, I was building a culture in which we could speak freely and bring ideas to the table. I was constantly reassuring them that we could disagree; I verbalize that a lot. We had to have those conversations in the right forum and in a supportive environment, so that when we left our meeting, the rest of the staff would see a unified leadership. As a team, we made real progress with this approach. I had people on that team who had no problem disagreeing with me; I really valued our differences.

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the diversity of individual purposes and on the role of shared purpose to align individual effort in an organization. I had the fortunate opportunity to spend a week in Wharton’s Executive Program at the University of Pennsylvania. One of our lecturers spoke about the idea of inner-work without using that term. His message was to appreciate the diversity of purpose. It hit me like a sledge hammer: It is essential to appreciate the diversity of purpose coming into the organization. In some ways, that is the real source of creativity in a learning organization. Everybody comes to the organization with a different purpose, with a different focus, with a different way of approaching things. Will there be conflict? The answer is yes and maybe that is a really good thing. As long as it is not destructive conflict, as long as the leadership facilitates and encourages bouncing ideas off each other. Maybe we do not agree with each other; but our disagreement will enlighten those around us to discover why an idea will work, why it won’t work, or how we can make it better.

Deborah: It sounds like setting out simple rules was essential in order to make it possible to have those conversations.

Greg: Yes, we had to set a framework for dialogue.

Deborah: Reflecting on that experience, besides rules for how you were going to speak to each other, were there underlying values that you shared from the beginning?

Greg: Absolutely. From a very practical standpoint, we all agreed that at the end of the day, what was most important was to provide the highest quality and safest care to our patients. Getting ideas from everybody on the table and talking through those ideas was the best possible way to get to a resolution of how we could provide the highest quality and safest care. If anybody held anything back from that dialogue, we agreed that we wouldn’t achieve our objective. If we left the meeting room with one or more of us feeling uncomfortable with a decision for safety or quality, we hadn’t talked long enough. The values of safety and quality for the patients and wanting to provide the highest standard of care were definitely at the forefront.

Also, one of the things of significance to me and I was very vocal about in my group was how much I valued them as a team. I was constantly reminding them that of all the teams in our organization, they were among the elite. As individuals they brought incredible resources to the table. I knew the value they were to the organization, and we were going to do everything we could to make sure the rest of the organization understood that as well. So, the combination of shared values for patient safety and quality care, and the value that I had for them as individuals and as a team, were foundations for our work.

Deborah: People do respond when you show respect for them.

Greg: Barry talks about appreciating the people you work with for being people, about being present with them, and understanding how precious the moment is when you are interacting with those people. Now that I am no longer their manager, I think back on that ICU team, and I see so clearly how everything eventually moves along and passes on. There is no permanence in anything. There was no permanence in my being in that position of leadership or in being able to spend time with that group of people. Put in perspective, my opportunities to work with them were few; and I think back on those times very fondly. We had our disagreements, but I appreciate how precious that time was. If I bring that understanding of how much value there is to me in the interactions I have with people, then I think the value of respect is heightened even more.

Deborah: Even though the time we have with any person or group will pass, every time we practice being present makes it easier to go back to that space of presence with a new group of people or another individual. The inner-work of cultivating presence is a very important component of our practice.

Greg: Absolutely. Barry uses the example of an athlete which I think is completely appropriate. An athlete may have some innate ability to perform well, but he or she does not get to the level of a professional based upon their given gifts alone. It takes hours of practice to hone skills, to build muscle memory, to do all of that and more in order to enter a state of performance that is unconscious—or we could say, more conscious of the present. I know from my own experience that it’s the same for cultivating presence in my personal life. It takes real, focused practice to be present, to understand what it means to be present, and do it over and over again. It is so easy to slip back into the state of unconsciousness where your thoughts drift back to the past or wander into the future—what happened yesterday, what’s going to happen in the next few hours or days.

Deborah: The choice to engage in inner-work is a deliberate choice, and each of us finds what we need to practice. I think you’ve put your finger on a big one—the practice of staying in the present moment. We’re so easily distracted. Life keeps pouring in on us; situations pop up all the time! It’s so easy to get drawn into those situations.

Greg:  When I start thinking about the next five minutes, my attention goes to all the things that are flying in. I have to catch myself and realize that I’m not practicing presence. The moment is the only thing that is truly happening right now, and not one step forward or one step backwards. If we take it to that level, nothing is more precious or important than the conversation you and I are having right now. Nothing else exists.

In our Western culture, we are rewarded for being people of action, constantly on the move, constantly busy. You see it in businesses everywhere; I see it at work every day. We can’t walk down the hallway and just be where we are. How many people do you see with their head down, buried in a Blackberry, completely distracted and out of the moment? I think that’s a real commentary on how busy we are. We pass by many people and many things every day that we don’t pick up on. Think of all the missed opportunities to speak with someone, to share a smile, or to see something that needs our attention in our organization or in our home and family. If we are constantly active, are we really present? I know for myself, I have a lot of work to do in that area.

Deborah: The question of how to invite co-workers to join us in a deliberate practice of inner-work comes up for many of us. Recently I spoke with someone who had read The Inner-Work of Leadership; pages were dog-eared and highlighted. She saw herself more clearly as she read about the ways our egos exhibit their antics. Then she started to see her coworkers and their egos more clearly. Yet, she didn’t know how to get her co-workers interested in the inner-work of self reflection. I wonder if you’ve been to that stopping point yourself. Or, perhaps you’ve watched a person get to a point of rising self-awareness and then sort of freeze in place.

Greg:  Just like the deliberate practice of cultivating presence, it takes practice to introduce the idea of inner-work to other people and do it in a way that is not threatening. To recognize an appropriate opportunity to share is to recognize when you’re ego is out of the way. If you come from your ego, you’ll trigger an ego defense in another.

Is bringing inner-work to others the next level of practice? I have my doubts. It certainly can be difficult.  Perhaps it is better to focus on your own inner journey and help to inspire.  Rather than blatantly telling someone they should spend time on inner-work, you may be able to guide them into it through reflective dialogue.  I’ve experienced this myself when talking to colleagues about their lives. A colleague may come into my office to tell their ego story. My response may be to ask, What are the assumptions you are making in the story you are telling and why are you making them? Theirs may be a long, drawn-out story about how they are the victim of their circumstance. I may respond, I can see what you mean when you tell me that, but can you consider…this or this? Sometimes just asking those types of questions can help people to become more reflective and chip away a little bit at barriers to self-reflection.

The stories we tell are powerful. Barry uses stories in his book to drive home the message of how important inner-work is. Stories we tell in our organizations can really connect employees to the values, vision, and mission of the organization and connect everyone to the purpose of our work together. In my organization these are stories of compassion and care for our patients. Likewise, we use stories to communicate our woes to each other. Storytelling is part of human existence; we use stories without even thinking we are storytellers. Speaking of practice, we’ve been practicing that for eons!

Deborah: It’s hard enough just to step back and see our own stories, much less decide that we don’t really need them anymore.

Greg: I remember an opportunity I had to sit down with Barry and talk with him about some things going on in my personal and professional life and about mistakes I was making. Something that he said to me has stuck with me very acutely. I reflect on it quite a bit when I am sharing information with another person and giving them feedback. Barry said, “The truth is important. But the truth in the wrong context can be very painful, because someone might not be ready to hear it. And you may end up doing more damage exposing someone to the truth in a wrong situation or context.” So, I slow myself down and reflect on that before I offer advice or feedback. I ask, Is this person really ready to hear what I’m about to tell them? Is this the right opportunity to share what I feel are my insights in the situation? And a very important question, Am I ready to hear their reactions if I do share my point of view?

Deborah: You could ask, Am I willing to change if they change?

Greg: That’s right. What assumptions am I making about this person? Why do I feel I need to tell them this? What is my purpose? Am I the right person to tell them this right now? Maybe I’m not. Maybe my context is completely wrong. Maybe when I think I have the truth, I need to check my assumptions.

Deborah: Every time we think we can fix someone else, it’s a signal that we need to look at ourselves first.

Greg: Absolutely. I have a quote from Gandhi on my desk: “Be the change you wish most to see in the world.”

Deborah: So when it comes to inviting others to do inner-work…maybe that’s not our business either.

Greg:  If you are truly focused on doing your inner-work, you are not worrying if someone else is engaged in their inner-work. The spark, the inner-light that comes from doing inner-work, becomes the influence. Others will experience the peace, the calm, and the creativity.

Deborah: Yes, wholeheartedness, purpose, and meaning are infectious. The capacity to be wholehearted is a product of inner-work because we align our thoughts, emotions, and actions with the highest part of ourselves—our True Self—and come to our work with purpose and meaning. We may not always do this consciously, but we experience wholeheartedness when we connect our work to our True Self. Others pick up on that.

Greg: People are incredibly perceptive; they pick up on the smallest of cues from those around them. When you are genuine, transparent, and honest in your interactions with others, even at a subconscious level, people resonate with your integrity.

Deborah: Practicing inner-work is challenging for us; what advice do you have for those who are going down this path?

Greg: Something that I am learning is how important it is to forgive myself for the myriad of mistakes I make when I slip back into the unconscious ego-mode. If you practice inner-work, then by the definition of practice, it means that on occasion you are going to slip into unconsciousness. As you start a deliberate practice of inner-work, more often than not, you are growing increasingly aware of just how often you are controlled by the ego.

We need to allow ourselves the latitude to practice and to learn from our mistakes. We need to allow ourselves to learn from each time we are not really present with the people around us, when we are not appreciating them as people, when we are using them as object. We need to uncover and check our assumptions as we do our inner-work. Then when we notice we’ve slipped into an unconscious state of being, we may say, I’ve made a complete schmuck out of myself! I wasn’t present with that group; things would have gone much better if I had done…this or that. Instead of engaging those thoughts and beating yourself up, you say, Next time, I will be different; I will make a different choice. Every single day, we have multiple hiccups and trip-ups; and we can tell stories about each one. But if we are willing in any moment to forgive our self for stepping into that story, we allow ourselves to regain presence and momentum and engagement; that takes self-reflection and that is our inner-work.

Deborah: You just touched on something in me. I am reflecting now on a mistake of my own that I made just weeks ago. In a group setting, I revealed my judgment of what another said; instantly, I felt the chilling affect it had. Instead of saying, This is the clay we have to work with, and let’s explore it; I responded quickly in an unthinking way. I carried that chilling moment with me for days; and here I am today, still carrying it. We make mistakes, see them, and still carry them around. We do judge ourselves.

Greg: I do not mean to say we should not reflect on those things. That is part of the inner-work, to recognize when we have been judgmental and, in some cases, to seek forgiveness when we have affected someone in a negative way. We want to set our intention to engage, not in destructive behavior, but rather restorative behavior. We must be present to ourselves, the learner. We must allow our self to be the experiment.

Deborah: When we allow our self to be the learner, to be the experiment, we can cultivate restorative behavior.

Greg:  We can restore our self to a place of non-judgment. We can restore the connection we always have with our True Self and not let our ego run away with us.

Deborah: In The Inner-Work of Leadership, Barry cautions us that the ego judging the ego is still the ego—we can get caught in the loop of self-judgment.

Greg: What a happy place that is for the ego to feed upon itself. In a lot of ways, the ability to forgive your self breaks the cycle.

Deborah: With the act of self forgiveness we allow our self to be the learner, to be the experiment. Isn’t this what we say we want others in our organizations to do?  We want them to experiment, to try, to not hold back, and to learn from mistakes. We always claim that freedom to try opens the door to creativity. But when it comes to our own mistakes, we are not gracious.

Greg:  If you want to see those around you become self-reflective, if you want them to be learners, and change their behavior, then you must go first. You must become all of those things first.

If you are non-judgmental, reflective, conscious of your verbal and nonverbal behavior, and aware of your assumptions while you are engaged with other people, then you will be open, inviting, and engaging. You’ll be a good listener, you’ll foster dialogue, and you’ll allow learning to happen around you.

Deborah: In that process, your organization is transformed.

Greg: Yes, I think so.

Deborah: Barry relates a story that is a model of how you do not have to set out to change anybody else; and yet, you can become the seed of organizational transformation. A junior associate set his intention to be present with others and to practice dialogue. He would go to meetings with an intention to listen—he might say very little and, sometimes, say nothing at all. After the meetings, others thanked him for his contributions. Others had come with their positions and agendas, not with the intention to listen and dialogue. Yet, he seeded the intention to dialogue. With his practice of listening, he changed the dynamics of the meeting.  We can be the magnet that helps things come into alignment within our team or organization. We do not have to wait for our organizations to be transformed. We can change; and in that process, we ignite a transformation of our organization.

Greg: I’m struck by the arrogance to think it could be the other way. It is pure arrogance to sit at your desk and think This is all going to change. I am going to stay exactly as I am, and all this around me needs to change. I’ve lived that. I’ve done that. I think I may even own the T-shirt! Okay buddy, who really needs to change here?

Deborah: It feels good to laugh at ourselves. How human we all are! We create a spin around us all of the time. We can relax and laugh at ourselves and not get to serious. It is easy to get serious. That seriousness may be cloaking a lot of self-judgment, and that ties in with your wisdom that we need to practice forgiving ourselves.

Greg: While it is going to take practice, and we do call it inner-work, we can find some fun in that work.

Deborah: I get a sense that you have made it fun work where you are.

Greg: Yes, when I am truly able to be present, it is fun.

Deborah: You deal with human drama, life and death, in situations that seem to have no solution. I admire you for bringing your presence into those situations.

Greg: Thank you. What we do here may be more visible; but I do not see the work I do as any more special, important, or critical than the work of others. It is just different. We are all engaged in work that makes an impact on the life of another. You never know what you do that will have an effect on another.

Deborah: I think of the image of tossing a pebble into the pond. You can toss the pebble, but were the ripples go, that is not your job. You can’t even image where the ripples are going to go. So you keep tossing the pebbles, making that your job, and trusting the rest to take care of itself.

Greg:  That metaphor applies to the advice I give my managers when I urge them to give up control; their role is to be the influence, to be the pebble thrower.

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