The Middle Manager

Surviving & Thriving as a Leader


A few months ago, we had to admit my daughter into the hospital for over a week. My wife and I took turns staying overnight, which was not only an inconvenience but really, really uncomfortable. One of the chairs converted into what could only loosely be called a ‘bed’ made from sweat-inducing plastic that squeaked and groaned with the slightest movement. The various monitoring devices seemed to have an innate knowledge of just when you were starting to doze off, and would start squawking in the most annoying fashion possible. Every couple hours through-out the night a nurse or technician would come in to adjust this or that or take vital signs. All in all it was a very stressful experience.

I mention this not to for sympathy, but because it gave me the opportunity to observe the interaction of people in the hospital environment. I’m sure that it’s easy to become jaded to an environment where people are needy and sick. But I found it interesting to see how different nurses and technicians reacted to their surroundings.

For example, there was a technician that came in one morning around 3 AM. He burst through the door, made no effort to be quiet or gentle, roughly took vitals and stormed out, leaving the door open to the brightly-lit hallway – forcing me to get up and close it. This was someone focused on doing his job, with no regard to what was happening in the room, showing no empathy to the patient, and certainly no consideration to the family member who was already struggling get comfortable and rest in the lumpy and noisy chair/bed over in the corner.

On the other hand was the nurse who quietly opened the door and efficiently did her job of checking the equipment, the IV, and vital signs. She was gentle and obviously cared for her young patient, and she always checked to make sure not just the patient was comfortable but that the family was OK and if we were in need of anything. She knew that we were worried and uncomfortable, and did what she could to assuage our concerns.

I’m sure this scenario plays itself out not just in hospitals, but in any environment where clients expect support.

So, how do we look at our work? Is it just an incident number? A new request for software? Or do we see it as a person with a problem, someone that has a need that only we can fulfill? What we do or not do can have ripples a long way from sitting in front of a PC doing remote support.

For example, in my work environment an insurance claims representative may be frantic and upset because their system is down. For them, it may be that they’re measured on how many claims they can process in a given period. Our ability to quickly resolve that incident may mean a lot to that client. Looking at it another way, that claim representatives downtime may mean a claim might not get processed as quickly as it should, which has a direct impact upon the ‘real’ customers – people who purchase the services of the business, the ones who ultimately decide whether a business lives or dies. Clearly, what we do – or don’t do – has the potential for far-reaching repercussions.

What kind of impression do your clients take away from interactions with you and your team? Do they feel like a number, or do they feel like we treat them individually, and actually care about what happens to them? We need to take care not to fall into the trap of just “doing a job.”

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