I took a professional communications certificate program a few years ago. The instructors had us take a personality test during the in-person residency. They split us into groups according to personality traits – mixing up our various qualities to create diverse teams.
They told us afterwards that's what they had done, and I’m still not sold on the ethics of this exercise. Me, an empathetic introvert, was on a team with what I would term was an angry person, an extrovert and a quiet thinker. It was a painful experience and I spent my time trying to nurture everybody so they felt included and heard, to varying degrees of success.
I expressed my frustrations at my debrief with my instructor and he said to me: We need more Sue Robins in the world of leadership.
He did not mean me personally, but he meant people like me: leadership teams need folks who are in tune with feelings and care for the members of the group.
Sadly, the corporate world dismisses us softies. They eat us for breakfast in favour of extroverted alpha dogs. Recently, I was involved with a caregiver strategy session where I watched in horror as caregivers were used for their raw, personal and intimate caregivers stories. The corporate consultant did not prepare them, provide safe spaces or offer a debrief. They were wrung out to dry for their stories. When I gave this feedback after to the organizers, they ghosted me. I have duly noted this experience.
Here’s the thing: while health care might think of themselves as corporate with their boardrooms and consultants in business suits, I’m here to tell you that’s dead wrong. Health care is about caring for each other as human beings. Our biggest problem today is that we’ve forgotten about the love.
Health care is a team effort (read Dr. Brian Goldman’s recent The Power of Teamwork to find out more). The best health care teams have strong nurturers on them. Hear me out: Many times these nurturers are patients because they know first-hand what it is like to suffer and are driven from preventing further suffering in the health care world.
Professionally lovely person LeVar Burton said , “Troi is the soul and the conscience on the Enterprise." - Bonnie Liston
Enter the Star Trek metaphor. I don’t have a lot of knowledge about science fiction so bear with me. The character of Deanna Troi has been discussed endlessly online. She’s been dismissed as ‘too feminine’ and ‘soft’ but the fact is, the Star Trek team absolutely needed her qualities to create a functional team. Actor Marina Sirtis also brought diversity to her role because of her accent and Greek background.
The character Mantis from Guardians of the Galaxy has similar traits. While she is a less complexly-written character – she was presented simply as an empath – she was a crucial part of the group.
I call myself the ‘Feelings Lady’ but I’m not as one-dimensional as that. I can think strategically and am practical about what needs to be done. But I watch everybody else in the room carefully and try to make safe spaces for them to speak up.
I do seemingly woo-woo things like recommend music, read poems or chapters from my books or tell stories. Not everybody responds to this, and that’s okay, but space must be made in groups for Deanna Troi or Mantis-type people too.
The Deanna Trois of the world should be honoured as full-fledged team members, not chewed up and spit out as too girly or soft. There's nothing wrong with being girly or soft. We all need taking care of and we need to also care for the caregivers, including at the highest levels.
You must absolutely have the feelings person on your health care organization's team. Don't forget that this can come in the form of the patient partner or the staff member who brings up feelings. Don’t dismiss them as not being tough enough. It takes a special type of toughness to be vulnerable. Listen to them and take care of them too.
Health care desperately requires a transformation from corporate, unfeeling environments to honouring those who bring compassion to the table. I hereby prescribe us an urgent infusion of softness.