Strengthening the Kindness Muscle


I was watching a funny little show on TV the other day, called Sunday Morning. Jane Pauley is the host who brings together a series of common interest stories each week. One of them caught my eye this time and brought back an important memory of my early years at McGill studying for a BScN.

The story was about kindness and its importance in a world where there is an increasingly dangerous cultural and political climate focusing largely on our differences not our commonalities as humans. The story proposed that strengthening our kindness tendencies was a possible antidote. Kindness, they said was much more than niceness because it implies action in the service of another.

They went on to highlight people with a full-time commitment to kindness, which was described as a fierce tool for change. They talked about the importance of listening to others, being curious about them and learning from their lived realities. It is about understanding that “it’s not what I need, but it’s asking what can I give to help another.”

The program highlighted the work of a medical doctor who was told to put away his medical bag and stethoscope as he began to work with people on the streets. It was life-changing, he said, and highlighted the fact that being homeless means not only being poor and largely unseen but about feeling very lonely. No one says their name, he said. He talked about a foot care program that the clinic instituted. Soaking feet was the best thing that ever happened to me, he said, it’s where I learned most of the foundations for the care we provide.

At that moment I had a powerful memory that took me back to 1986 and a course with Professor Margaret Hooten in the McGill BScN program about the Foundations of Nursing where we met weekly at a shelter for Jewish Seniors. There was always a number of people, mostly men, for whom this was the highlight of their week – someone to listen to them and care about the pain in their feet.

We provided foot care and we heard their stories. Our assignment for that week was to write up the story we were told in such a way as to recognize the humanity – and the reality of that individual’s life. Looking back, I realize it was all about being with the whole person, really hearing their story, and feeling the compassion that one person can provide to another. It was being kind, generous, caring. Being at someone’s feet, said the doctor on Sunday Morning, shifts the power structure; you are compelled to look the person in the eyes; neither person can ignore or be ignored. It is a very personal and humbling experience, one that is not to be forgotten.

I am reminded by the narrator that kindness is a power we all have. We have to decide to use it whenever the opportunity arises so that the muscle is strengthened and it is always available to us – and to the world.

Understanding Resilience


In late October 2018 I was a pedestrian in Toronto and was hit by a car turning right on a red light. I experienced a fractured tibial plateau on my left leg and couldn’t walk. The severe pain kicked in on the ride to the ER at Sunnybrook, our nearest hospital. The admitting experience was largely very well organized and my care was well managed.

After plates and pins surgery a few days later, I was bed-bound for a couple of days and then up with a walker and toe-touch weight-bearing at 25% for 6 weeks. It was a challenging time with pain to be managed and sleep to be enabled, and the inevitable thoughts about the future: When will I be back to normal? Able to take a shower myself? Able to stand long enough in the kitchen to cook a meal? Able to get outside? Able to walk long distances for enjoyment and exercise?

As I travelled the road to recovery, I began to think about the all-important support from friends and family. I decided to tune into the idea of resilience to understand it better and to get a good sense of where my own resilience comes from so that I could focus and strengthen it. I have been thinking a lot lately about mortality – my own and that of my husband of 51 years – wondering with some degree of concern about how I would manage alone. This may be related to the fact that this, my 72nd year, is exactly the age when my mother, now 97, was widowed herself and I am now marvelling at how well she has managed her 25 years of being on her own.

As the days and weeks of my recovery progressed and I found myself less dependent on others for simple things like a meal and a shower, as well as emotional support, I tuned in to my own resilience and tracked not only how I felt at different moments of the experience but also how I reacted to others.

I have concluded that resilience for me has 3 tracks. The first is a large degree of what Seligman (1990) called Learned Optimism, the opposite of his earlier work on Learned Helplessness (1972). Learned Optimism is a glass half full approach, a sense of hopefulness, feelings of upbeatness, or whatever it might be called. Learned Optimism, says Seligman and others, is learning to be hopeful about the future, no matter how difficult the present seems to be. Choosing to focus on the positives in a situation is a skill that comes more easily to some people than others. How you interpret the facts about a particular situation is what matters to your ability to deal with what comes your way in a manner that is useful and increases quality of life. Positive situational focusing helps and often it is in the eye of the beholder.

The second factor in my experiences of resilience is Support and how the love and care of family and friends helps each of us to find our measure of optimism, hopefulness, and trust in a positive future. The relationship between resilience and support is an interesting one. From the friends who brought a cup of cappuccino and stayed to talk for a while, others who sent or delivered food, books and good wishes, to our kids and their families who arranged to deliver pre-cooked dinners from a nearby food emporium, the support was much appreciated from both a practical and an emotional level. Practically it helped us with the day-to-day challenges that I could not manage. Emotionally, it helped me to feel loved and cared for which likely helps healing.

And third in my arsenal for resilience is something about being able to Measure Progress in a forward direction with a goal of getting to a state that is valued, which for me at this time was mobility and independence. Little things mean a lot when you are measuring progress. Being able to walk down the hall for the first time, reducing the amount of analgesics that are required to manage pain, sleeping more than 3 or 4 hours, getting an appetite back, setting up an appointment with a physiotherapist – all these help with measuring forward progress which in turn helps to engender a sense of optimism and feelings of a positive future.

It was an interesting time, now largely resolved. I will continue to look at the concept of resilience both in myself and in others, and see if this idea of optimism, support and measuring progress holds up in other situations. And I will consider what other concepts might be operating in other situations requiring resilience.

Micromanagement and Humble Inquiry


I have been hearing a lot about “micromanagement” lately in my coaching work with 360° LPIs (Leadership Practices Inventories) where invited Observers are asked a series of questions regarding the Leaders’ behaviours that either support them or detract from their learning, their self-concept as professionals and thus, their job satisfaction. In a series of interviews with professionals in another organization with retention issues, the issue of “micromanagement” surfaced with regard to a leader whose knowledge, expertise and meticulousness led to her team’s sense of being “overpowered’ and disrespected by her tendencies to “micromanage” others.

In the context of business management, “micromanagement” is defined as a management style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls the work of his/her subordinates or employees. In a 10.16.2017 Fast Company newsletter piece titled: ”Stress is making you micromanage, which is making everything worse”, the author, Caterina Kostoula discusses the effects of being micromanaged on health, creativity, retention and productivity and asks the reader to consider why there is a need to micromanage, what is the source of anxiety that is leading to the behaviour. She suggests a number of ways to understand and curb the tendency.

Both these experiences and readings have brought me to Ed Schein’s 2013 Humble Inquiry text, which is about the art of questioning, rather than telling. In today’s social organizational climate no one wants to be told, least of all highly educated professionals of any age who believe that their education and expertise ensures they will be treated with respect as the knowledge workers they are. Ed Schein is a thought leader who has maintained his interest, involvement and noted expertise in the world of people, organizations and culture for 60+ years. He is 90 years old, a former professor in The Sloan School of Management, a master in organizational culture and leadership and still a powerful force in the organizational development world.

There are different forms of Humble Inquiry outlined in the text and there are a few commonalities among them.
1. Humble Inquiry implies a desire to build a relationship with colleagues that will lead to more open communication and greater feelings of teamwork, trust and mutual respect.
2. It implies that one makes oneself vulnerable and thereby, arouses positive helping behaviour to the other person. It is about an attitude of interest and curiosity.
3. Humble Inquiry is necessary if we want to build a relationship beyond rudimentary civility, because we may find ourselves in various kinds of interdependencies in which open, task-relevant information must be conveyed across status boundaries.
4. It is only by learning to be more humbly inquiring that we can build up the mutual trust needed to work together and open up communication channels.

It is likely that in the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous organizational world of today, it is easy to fall into the trap of micromanaging to avoid the anxiety of not knowing. By better understanding our discomfort with highly uncertain outcomes, we may get better at identifying and understanding a tendency to micromanage – and by the way, this tendency may be seen by others before we are able to see it ourselves. The next necessary step is to identify the behaviours that are deemed by others to be micromanaging. The final and very important step is to successfully learn the art of Humble Inquiry and to use it whenever we feel the urge to take the lead away from others to dispel our own discomfort.

With thanks to Ed Schein, Caterina Kostoula, Fast Company and a series of online summarizing authors from sites such as Agile Jottings.

Reflections from Thomas Friedman’s Latest Book


I picked up Thomas Friedman’s 2016 Thank You for Being Late< /em> a couple of days ago and immediately found myself immersed in some of my favourite topics.

First he talks about writing and writers, and what it takes to be a journalist, a subject of great interest to this writer. What I need to share here is that my first career aspirations were in journalism. I attended Carleton University at 17 in the mid 60s to study Journalism. I was young, unsure and I left after Year One – what was called a Qualifying Year, which I found very uninspiring. Chances are I was meant to be a Nurse first, and I have never regretted that decision, although other careers have drawn me to them, specifically Psychology. Now that I have more free time, I hope to meld some of my interests in writing this blog, and write more often – a resolution for the coming year. Let’s see how I do as 2018 nears its opening.

Back to Friedman, who tells the story of his parking attendant, an immigrant from Ethiopia who is a successful blogger, and now Friedman’s competitor in a rapidly changing world. He talks about the role of journalists in taking a complex subject and breaking it down such that she better understands it, and can then help readers better understand and appreciate it. He relates this subject to politics, voters specifically, and to the 2016 American election of Donald Trump. And he quotes Marie Curie who famously said, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less”. To me this is particularly apt at this point in time when so much change is all around us, and happening fast, and many people are struggling to keep up with the pace and the dimensions of the significant changes affecting all aspects of their lives.

Friedman argues that we are at one of the most important inflection points in history, unequalled since the development of the printing press paved the way for the Reformation. One could add here the innovation of the steam engine 400 years later, which ushered in the Industrial Revolution, and a societal move from county side to cities, from agriculture to manufacturing. He describes 3 significant driving forces affecting the planet and the people on it: Technology, Globalization and Climate Change, all accelerating at once and he argues significantly affecting the acceleration of each other.

The Path to Health Lies in Nature by Sharen McDonald


I have a treat for readers today. My great friend and excellent thinker and writer, Sharen McDonald of Pointe Claire in Quebec has agreed to do a guest blog on Biophilia. This is an excerpt from a lecture Sharen gave at McGill last week.

How often do we exclaim over a magnificent sunset? Why do we request rooms with “an ocean view” on seaside holidays? What causes us to inhale with deep satisfaction upon entering a forest of pine trees? In these incidences and many more, we invariably derive deep comfort from all our senses. During the latter part of the 20th century psychoanalyst Erich Fromm used the term ‘biophilia’ to describe “the passionate love of life and all that is alive.” Biologist E.O. Wilson later popularized the term with the belief that nature nurtures and calms us.

A century earlier, Frederick Law Olmsted, founder of American landscape architecture and designer of Central Park, presciently believed in the power of nature to refresh our minds, and thus restore our entire body to harmony and health. Olmsted realized that increasing urbanization would become problematic for humans unless parks were introduced to cityscapes. Bit by bit, technology did affect our innate bond with nature through buildings and vehicles that were centrally-heated or air-conditioned depending on the season.

In the 1980s, Stephen and Rachel Kaplan proposed their Attention Restorative Theory, noting that viewing nature combatted mental fatigue and psychological distress. In 1984, Roger Ulrich’s “View through a Window” post-op study was hailed as “groundbreaking.” Despite this, and his similar 1993 study in Uppsala, Sweden, few meaningful changes were introduced to hospital design until recently. Alas, windowless rooms existed still.

Now is the time for innovation. Firms such as Human Spaces are promoting biophilic design in workplaces. The impact on hospital settings is immense, witness the Olson Family Garden at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri. Unsurprisingly, healing gardens benefit not only patients and their families, but also significantly reduce stress-related fatigue for staff. Maggie’s Centres for cancer patients and their families, first introduced in the U.K. in the 1990s, are now popping up across the world. Skylights of blue skies with fluffy clouds are now found in elevator ceilings in The Montreal General Hospital and elsewhere. The City Tree Project offers constructions of moss, each of which may remove pollutants from urban air as effectively as the planting of 275 trees.

Countries and cities worldwide are implementing biophilic strategies to encourage the maintenance of health as well its restoration. In Japan, shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) achieves notable positive health results, not only reducing cortisol levels and the harmful effects of other stress indicators, but also significantly increasing the production of NKC (Natural Killer Cells). (The Nature Fix – Florence Williams) Currently, there are 48 Forest-Therapy Trails in Japan with plans to double this number in a decade. At Alnarp, Sweden, the world’s largest rehabilitation garden offers nature-based treatment for stress-related mental exhaustion. At Chungbuk University in South Korea, one can pursue a degree in forest healing. Saneum Healing Forest is one of 37 such forests in that country. In Singapore’s Changi Airport, you can visit a butterfly garden or nature trail, and their hospital’s ICU was designed with windows 6 feet in height so that every patient may view trees. Finland and Scotland are also on the list of countries making positive strides towards better health through biophilia.

Heading towards the future, there is legitimate concern for children in the fast-paced, stress-inducing 21st century world of technology. Forest kindergartens (Waldkindergartens), so popular in Germany, are now being introduced in other parts of the world. We can look to Chippewa Nature Center’s Pre-School in Michigan, Jaureguiberry Primary Nature School near Montivedeo, Uruguay, and the Hudson Forest School in Hudson, Quebec. These initiatives are encouraging signs of progress, reconnecting young people with nature and establishing a lifelong bond that will enhance their health and their lives.

Irish-Canadian medical biochemist and botanist Diana Beresford-Kroeger, notes, “For every breath you take, thank a tree.” Outside we go!

Developing a Culture of Innovation

    I’ve been thinking a lot about innovation – the concept has crossed my desk from several different directions recently. I always take notice when I see something several times in short succession from variable sources. It usually means something is moving away from the edges and hitting the mainstream. I like to think of the application to healthcare-which is in need of significant innovation. A few interesting definitions of innovation (which can be a vague over-used term) are emerging from different sources.

    Innovators are people who apply new and original ideas and methods to solve existing and potential issues and problems. Using creative thinking and idea development, innovators are willing and prepared to embark on an initiative that will advance their profession, organization, business, and/or goal. Turning their ideas into action, they play a key role in driving something forward (adapted from Donner and Wheeler).

    An HBR article on Twitter today by Soren Kaplan provided some further insights. Innovation he says can be categorized into 3 different types: incremental (small tweaks that advance the core business), evolutionary (changes that evolve with other changes), and disruptive (defined as an innovation that creates a new market and value network, eventually disrupting an existing market and value network, and often displacing established leading market firms, products, and relationships). A lot has been written in recent years about disruption and disruptive innovations (see Christensen HBS).

    Most organizations today want more innovation. They want employees to be focused on how things could be done more efficiently, smoothly and with more positive outcomes. The highly competitive environment demands this kind of thinking and action. Organizations need people who will find a problem, create an innovative solution, evaluate its functionality and scale it up. Often what stands in the way of more innovation is organizational culture, known to be one of the areas that are hardest to change. Strategies proposed by Kaplan are: embedding innovation in structures and processes across the organization, getting people in all roles and levels involved, training and development in innovative and design thinking, ensuring that good ideas get traction and are widely publicized, and supporting a few key leaders to effectively champion the ideas and keep up the momentum. Many people believe there are no bad ideas; what counts are the early ideas.

About Fractals


I have been cottaging for a couple of weeks with our family. I’m really enjoying the ease of summer, the sunny mornings where all the wet towels (which spend the night in the screened porch) are hung outside to dry and freshen up in the sun before the day’s events. Ah the sun – how would we ever manage without it!

I’m nurturing an interest in fractals, trying to understand them better, and see them more readily both in nature and eventually elsewhere in the built environment. I take my paddleboard out in the early mornings to explore the trees along the banks where the fractals are numerous and diverse – once you develop the eye for them. My interest in fractals stems from a broader interest in complex adaptive systems, and how an understanding of CAS can help us to better understand and adapt to changes in our organizational structures and activities, our relationships, even the ups and downs of family life.

There are many interesting definitions, and excellent photographs, of fractals on the web. I’ve tried in this post to pull out some of the simplest, most informative and easy to understand ones – so that I can find them more readily. Continue reading “About Fractals”

Liberating Structures


I have stepped away from this Blog for a while now keeping busy with other things. I am hoping to commit to more writing about things that interest me, and affect the work we do developing health care leaders.

Today I want to talk about Liberating Structures, which, in its simplest form, is a suite of tools that enable people in organizations, teams, communities – groups of all kinds – to engage with each other in meaningful and collaborative dialogue, and work together sharing thoughts, ideas and experiences in order to achieve the outcomes they want. Liberating Structures have the power to alter the way individuals and groups interact with each other, and transform workplace culture.

Henri Lipmanowicz, former President of Merck Intercontinental and a founder of The Plexus Institute, and Keith McCandless, a founder of the Social intervention Group have published their suite of tools in The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures. “So why is it” the authors ask, “that so many organizations of all stripes are filled with disengaged workers, dysfunctional groups and wasted ideas?”

Feeling that improvements could be made in the way people work together, and recognizing that Complexity Science has tremendous potential and practical application to support transformational learning, the authors began to collect ways that people can use to engage everyone, bring out thoughts and ideas, and get people talking and problem solving together. “Gleefully we cut across academic disciplines, tapped spiritual practices, roamed the planet and deepened scientific insights along the way.”

I have been interested in these kinds of practices for 25 years or more. I heard long ago that “the answers are in the room”. I don’t know where I heard it – probably in the Lippitt living room in Ann Arbor, Michigan where I was involved in a Planned Change Internship in the early 90s, working with a small group of diverse others interested in organization and leadership development. This kind of thinking has stayed with me as I navigated the very hierarchical healthcare system working to support transformative change. We know from personal experience that everyone has significant contributions to make, and we know how important engagement in the workplace is to people and outcomes. The question is: How do we engage everyone, provide a safe environment, and enable new ideas to emerge and grow? Liberating Structures effectively support these efforts. Check it out at liberating Communities of practice around liberating structures are popping up around the world. If you’re interested in organization development (OD), developing leadership, engaging people and teams, it’s a movement worth following.

DWHLI 2017


The 2017 DWHLI was held May 23-26 at the BMO Institute for Learning in Toronto. Eighty five participants from across the health professional spectrum of roles and disciplines, and representing several provinces, participated in 4 long days of concentrated leadership development programming. More information about the program, the speakers and facilitators, and the innovative projects that were launched by the attendees can be found at

Exerpts from Longwoods Nursing Leadership, June 2016, Special Focus on the The Dorothy Wylie Health Leaders Institute


Exerpts from Longwoods Nursing Leadership, 29(2) June 2016 Special Focus on the The Dorothy Wylie Health Leaders Institute