I spent 15 years at Cerner—I was one of the first employees, in fact. My co-workers and I worked on complex, enterprise-wide IT systems.
The humans who develop, configure, test and support these systems are not perfect. Problems happen. Some are catastrophic, and some are merely annoyances.
The interesting thing to observe about these problems is how people react and behave during a crisis due to a system failure.
People will show you who they really are in these times of duress. Their behavior may be calm, in control, levelheaded and methodical, or they could become over-the-top or aggressive. Like Cyndi Lauper sang, you’ll see their “true colors shining through.” Whether positive or negative, when people show you their true colors, believe them. That is who they really are.
This lesson was pointed out to me mid-career. I wish I had learned it earlier.
When I was with Cerner, I had the opportunity to manage the Immediate Response Center (IRC) and the Situation Management group. Both units tended to get involved in serious system failures, situations where there were life-critical risks and consequences.
One of the shift managers in the IRC—we’ll call him P.F.—followed the same course of action no matter what the situation was. When a client would contact us with a problem, he would take the call and find out what was wrong. After asking for “one moment, please,” he discussed the issue with the team and, if necessary, asked the client follow-up questions in a monotone voice. After the team had resolved the issue, he would wish the caller a good evening.
Even though the stakes might have been high, P.F. was cool and collected. His approach had a way of calming the client—sending a message of confidence and competence rather than contributing to the emotions of the moment. P.F., who is retired now, was an expert, and his teams tended to follow his leadership, approaching serious situations in a controlled, professional manner.
There are three big lessons I took away from watching P.F.:
» Watch and learn how leaders and others react under extreme duress. It will provide great insight on how that person is wired.
» If you lead, lead in a controlled and professional way. The teams you build will be a reflection of you.
» Before you personally fly off the handle on some call-center person, think about the old country saying: “You will attract more flies with honey than vinegar.”