005: Chris Lah: Focus, delegate, and ignore
Podcast Show Notes with Chris Lah
Are you putting a lot of effort paddling and steering in the wrong direction? Join me as Chris Lah shares his story of a failed technology implementation project where he tried to do too much. Learn how Chris found himself drowning and what he ultimatly did to sail forward. Learn how Chris found clarity about his mistake six months later and how you can learn from him to prevent missing that important pitch.
Chris is currently the Senior Director of Revenue Cycle Customer Service at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He began his career at the hospital in 1983 as a Financial Counselor while he was finishing his undergraduate degree. In 1994, he left the hospital and managed the business operations and call center for the Mayfield Clinic. In the summer of 1998, he was recruited to lead the project management office for Anthem (now Wellpoint). He returned to CCHMC in 2000 to help centralize customer service operations. His service teams have achieved J. D. Power & Associates certification 6 years in a row and have won national team awards for excellence on three different occasions.
Chris has his undergraduate degree from the University of Cincinnati and is currently completing his MBA at Xavier University in Ohio. He is strongly committed to helping with Children’s Hospital related charities and has been a fund raiser for the Catholic Inner-City Schools Education (CISE) as well. In his spare time, he is a Program Director for TEDx Cincinnati.
Chris currently lives in the suburbs of Cincinnati with his two sons, Evan and Joe. He is most proud of his 2 year old grandson Jack and swears he’s the cutest kid on the planet!
Tweetable Quotes and Mentions
“Good captains steer in the current, they don’t try to paddle against it.” –Gandhi Click to Tweet
“Don’t get in the middle of a whirlpool and find yourself trying to steer against it.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“Every lemon you throw out there hopefully you can find a way to make lemonade out of it.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“Focus, delegate, and most importantly ignore the things you need to ignore.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“The embarrassing thing about failure is I wish I had the epiphany while failing.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“Some stuff just doesn’t need to be acted on.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“If I had just stepped back and got myself out of that churn I might have had an epiphany.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“You can’t live your leadership life looking in the rear view mirror.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“You need to have a balance outside of your work.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“Exhaustion is the biggest way to repeat mistakes or make major mistakes.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“You need to be fit as a fiddle when you go in everyday to lead.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“They need you at your best.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
“My worst decisions were made when I was sleep deprived.” -Chris Lah Click to Tweet
Hump to Get Over
Chris was the lead of a radiology information systems implementation project. By his definition and his bosses’ definition the outcome of the installation project failed. Chris unfortunately was unable to focus, delegate and ignore the things he needed to ignore to properly steer the project. Listen to the show to find out how Chris learned about how his very own leadership led to the failure and what he needed to do in the future to prevent it from happening again.
Some things just don’t need to be acted on.
Best Leadership Advice Received
You need to not complicate the simple.
Secret to Success
Family balance. My grandson gives me inspiration every day.
Chris mentioned a book still being written by Tom Chi, Google X co-founder, on rapid prototyping. See Tom’s Ted Ed talk: http://youtu.be/d5_h1VuwD6g
Brain Writing Tool – A tool used to help separate divergent and convergent thinking in the innovation process. This tool is used by small and medium sized groups to move the creative thinking process in a more structured and expedited manner while improving collaborative idea development.Click to access edited transcript
Intro: Welcome to the Fast Leader Podcast, where we explore convenient yet effective shortcuts that will help you get ahead and move forward faster by becoming a better leader. And now here’s your host, customer and employee engagement expert and certified emotional intelligent practitioner, Jim Rembach.
Jim Rembach: Thanks Kimberly. Okay Fast Leader legion. I’m so excited to get the chance to speak and meet with the guest that I have to introduce to you today. Chris Lah been a long-time friend somebody who I have looked up to. He is just a wealth of knowledge and one of those people that always finds that shining light in a sea of darkness. Chris Lah, are you ready to help us over the hump?
Chris Lah: Looking forward to it Jim.
Jim Rembach: Awesome. Chris I’ve actually given our listeners a brief introduction, but can you tell us what your current passion is so that we can get to know you better?
Chris Lah: I had to laugh at that cause I am what you consider a died in the wall Aquarius by definition. We are obsessed with making people happy and I try to live up to that title.
Jim Rembach: You know, I didn’t know that we even shared that. I’m an Aquarian as well, although I can say that you’re probably more of a master at doing what you just said than I am, and you know what, it’s true. You execute on that and everybody recognizes it. But you know even behind that piece of trying to make people happy and somebody who I feel is an excellent leader. When people like us who look for inspiration, who try to help others, who try make people feel better about themselves and create that better environment oftentimes I linked to leadership quotes. Leadership quotes are one of those things that to me, trips or trigger a lot and provide some inspiration. Now do you have a leadership quote that guide you, helps you and that you think is one of your favorites? Can you please share with us?
Chris Lah: Thanks for asking that Jim. I’m probably going not to Gandhi complete justice on this, I’m going to paraphrase him, but it had to do with the [inaudible 2:23] about what a good captain does, typical Gandhi, it going to be somewhere between allegory and a metaphor. But good captains steering the currents they don’t try to paddle against it. So there’s a lot of good leadership quotes that are out there. For some reason the one with Gandhi just for me it applies to most situations that I need to step back, I need to take a look at a project and issue whatever you’re steering in to. There’s a lot like a current that your better versed thinking of how to anticipate and try to project what’s going to happen and don’t get in the middle whirlpool and find yourself trying to steer against it.
And I do use this, not so much that read the quote out loud but I always think about it in the back of my head when there’s some type of a problem or some type of project, there doesn’t even have to be a problem, it can be a project that you’re trying to anticipate what you’re going to be up against I fall back on that one more frequently than I do anything else.
Jim Rembach: Oh, that’s a great quote and that’s also great mindset. I oftentimes talk to people about just one-on-one interactions with somebody even if it’s a sale situation or customer service situation, is to try to find a way to get alongside the person instead of trying to hit them head on. Oftentimes we have just things that we do habitually, like I say, when you say yes but, when you’re responding to somebody that’s exactly what you’re doing, your butting heads. So you have to try to find that path that allows you to swim with the current swim with them so that you both have forward momentum. I love that quote, thanks for sharing that with us. You talked about how you apply that, how would you say that you weave that into you—you talked about the day-to-day—can you give us really a little bit more of a specific example where you’ve used that quote, apply the quote?
Chris Lah: So many times you draw on failure rather than success. [Laugh] But I’m a big proponent that for the old—every lemon you throw out there hopefully you can find a way to make lemonade out of it. But on a personal story and inside my career I do draw on an important failure where I didn’t apply my own credo. I didn’t even know Gandhi’s quote back then that’s what I think this one story I’m going to tell you probably actually help prove it.
It was back when I was early in my management career in a position that was half technical and half customer service, and I guess maybe Yogi Bear which has play half something else at the same time, but I was in the radiology information system implementation and it’s really one information systems were relatively new so we’re going back in to the early 90’s on this. And retrospectively, I look at a failure on the outcome of the installation of that project, and it was a failure not by only my definition but I think by at my bosses and maybe even my staff. Retrospectively, I look on that the communication, the middle ground, the relationship with people, the current that I in not realizing them, I didn’t find that middle ground between my bosses, my staff and my customers because I wasn’t acknowledging, not anticipating what I was in the middle of, it led to the failure to the actual project and that I retrospectively was not able to focus, delegate and most importantly ignore the things that I needed to ignore to be able to better steer.
Jim Rembach: That’s very profound when you start talking about things that you should ignore. A lot of times we try to look at every single thing instead of being aware that we need to ignore certain things, that’s pretty important note that you point out. So getting over the hump of what you’re talking about, can you give us a little bit of a specific example on when that epiphany occurred for you and knowing that you needed to do just that—ignore certain things?
Chris Lah: Well the embarrassing thing about failure is just I wish I would’ve had the epiphany while I was going through the failure, I probably could’ve prevented it. But it was about six months afterwards, oddly enough—I’m a baseball fan—and so many good things I think sometimes come out of baseball for examples that you could use—but am a big Reds fan—and I remember being frustrated a Red’s game and they were in the losing streak and I was watching their hitters get up to the plate and they were swinging at the first pitch over and over and over again and not having what I thought was, “My God, you got to have an strategy when you go up to the plate you just can’t get hack at the first pitch you’re out over and over and over again”. And then I thought, “Oh, this is what I was doing, I was jumping in to this situations” the subsets to the project that I was working on and I wasn’t being methodical and that was something like a Gandhi approach on it. I was getting up there and I was jumping on the first thing trying to answer it, trying to satisfy everybody and I was going to the churn and burn of it not realizing that some of the stuff it just didn’t need to be jumped on it didn’t need action I was hacking at the first pitch over and over again.
It was my epiphany I was sitting up there in the cheap seats at a Reds game getting frustrated realizing that shoot, I thought I’ll go down there and grab in these guys going, let me tell you about my real experience maybe you guys need to take a couple of pitches before you swing, and that was my epiphany.
Jim Rembach: It’s amazing that oftentimes things are totally unrelated to the hump that were trying to get over permits us some insight into getting over it. When you start thinking about we thing…We all can whiff, right? Whiff and miss.
Chis Lah: It is true that really it’s the unrelated things a lot of times they cause you to have the epiphany. When you’re so caught up in the moment you’d be using that extreme example you start drowning in it. And maybe it’s when you can look over your shoulder, you’re out of that moment and it’s something totally unrelated that helps you connect some of the basic things that you know all these things you learn in kindergarten, you learn in third-grader, you learn from your parents and everything, you start draw or baseball, in my case, you start drawing together and say, ‘should have I just step back and gotten myself out of that churn, I think I would’ve seen it a little bit more clearly and maybe I would have had epiphany before that project failed but that’s the wisdom that goes with it. I haven’t had a failure like that since I’m happy to report.
Jim Rembach: Thank you for sharing that with us. Now if you were to give one specific piece of advice to our listeners to help them get over the hump and regards that story, what would it be?
Chris Lah: That’s a really good question Jim because it’s hard to boil things down, I think, into one piece of advice that applies to all situations. But I learned a lot of it does have to do with the approach, where you see like a rapid coming up ahead or whatever. You need to try to recognize that. You can’t keep on with using another metaphor. You can’t live your leadership life looking in the rear view mirror, you’ve got a look ahead and you’ve got to coordinate all the signals and the best way to do it is you need to have a balance outside of your work. You need to have that balance. You need to be well rested. You need to understand your own personal signals. And for me, exhaustion is the biggest way to repeat mistakes or to make major mistakes. You need to be fit as a fiddle when you go in every day to lead. Your staff deserves that most importantly, your customers deserve that they need you at your best.
I think a lot of that has to do with being balanced outside of work and being well rested going into work. It sounds really corny but a lot of my worst decisions were made when I was sleep depth or I was like going back, I was not ignoring—there were sweating, the small stuff and it was taking away from the energy I needed to make my big decisions. And I think people have to be really cognizant of that when they’re going in to meetings. It’s not being prepared by looking at pieces of paperwork it’s being mentally prepared by being rested and having the energy to be able to—you decipher the signals that you need to be up to decipher—you can’t do that when you’re worn out you just can’t do it.
Jim Rembach: Yeah, I think that’s great advice and we do hear more and more that now where the science are coming out and proving the point that is true, from what you’ve just said. It affects your IQ when you are fatigued. And for us at the Fast Leader Show we’re trying to redefine leadership. At a minimum we lead ourselves and so even when we’re fatigue we can’t lead ourselves very well. It doesn’t matter if you are working in an organization or a nonprofit you’re part of, your own business and you’re an entrepreneur or even a domestic professional, we all have to lead. We lead self, we lead teams, we lead groups, we lead projects and we lead interactions with vendors—we all lead. And we all have to pay attention to how well we do cause it going to affect the result.
So Chris, tell us a little bit about what you currently do and the passion that you have for that?
Chris Lah: For the past 15 years I’ve been in the role where I’m leading the nonclinical aspects of customer service at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, which is recognized as a top three hospital, really not only in the United States I think in the world, it’s a very, very important place. And the nonclinical aspects of customer service are so important because they can unfortunately disintegrate from the overall patient experience that were trying to put on the table here for our patients and families. So the role that I have is to make sure that none of those—we call the revenue cycle processes—take away from what we hope ends up being a very satisfying clinical experience.
It’s something that we built, it’s not just me, and we build it with quite a few people and senior management over the past 15 years. I think we’ve taken it from being unrewarding experience and department to work in that we weren’t actually helping families to being a little bit, using the buzzword, were proactive a little bit better about that anticipation here as well to try to actually help her families out. So, it’s important that we’ve grown from about 17 people to 48, as we focusing and on improving that experience. I’m happy to report that I think we’re doing pretty well. We were J.D. Power, a certified seven years in a row, for customer service excellence, but it is more than a trophy and a certification. A lot of our people are very passionate about wanting to help families so we change the mindset over here that it’s not just that reactive model. We got some people that are wanting to help people from the minute they pick up the phone.
Jim Rembach: Thank you for sharing that and for the work you guys are doing and the Fast Leader legion wishes you the very best.
Alright, here we go Fast Leader listeners it is time for, Hump Day Hoedown. Okay Chris, the Hump Day Hoedown is the part of our show where you give us good insight fast. I’m going to ask you several questions and you goal is to give us a robust yet rapid response that are going to help us move onward and upward faster. Chris are you ready to hoedown?
Chris Lah: I’m ready to hoedown. Put me on the hoedown hot seat.
Jim Rembach: Alright, here we go. What do you think is holding you back from being an even better leader?
Chris Lah: I still find using that analogy I gave you before. Sometimes I still find myself swinging at that first pitch instead of taking a deep breath and waiting for maybe a few other pitches to come to me.
Jim Rembach: Perfect. What is the best leadership advice you have ever received?
Chris Lah: Oddly enough from an economics teacher, who I think had a good 360 on me. After only teaching me for a few classes he pulled me aside and said, “You need to not complicate the simple” I’ve remembered that one almost as much that Gandhi quote that I gave you before.
Jim Rembach: That’s a pretty good one. What do you feel is one of your best resources that helps you lead in business or life?
Chris Lah: I would say the family balance. Specifically what I found is—I have a grandson and I look to him and he gives me inspiration every day and I take that right into my leadership role. I think of him in the background and it helps me out.
Jim Rembach: Awesome. What would be one book you would recommend to our listeners?
Chris Lah: That’s such a tough question because there’s so many good books out there. I think the best book out there is actually being written right now, I’m aware of it being written. I talk with the gentlemen by the name of Tom Chi, he was part of the Google secret lab, the guys who develop the car the drives itself, the Google glasses. He’s a proponent of what they call advanced prototyping using the process of writing a book that’s going to have leadership elements in it, I can’t wait to read it. It hasn’t even been written yet but I know he’s working on it and I know it’s going to be great.
Jim Rembach: We’ll see if we can try a link to that when it becomes available and thanks for sharing that we’ll lookout for Tom’s work. So Fast Leader listeners, you can find links to other information that’s associated with the things that Chris shared with us as well as quotes to Twit on fastleader.net/Chrislah. Okay, Chris, my last Hump Day Hoedown question for you.
Imagine you woke up tomorrow morning and you were 25 years old again, you are supposed to begin a new job as a manager of a team of people that is underperforming and disengaged, but you’re lucky you’ve retained all of the wisdom and skill that you currently have. Now your task is to turn this team around. You get up, get ready, you head out to work, what you do now?
Chris Lah: Deep breath on that one. The knowledge that I have now taking back to 25 years old again is for me to get my staff more directly involved with my customers, focus groups, surveys, feedback, engagement. If I had flaws when I was 25 the first time, I wanted to do things textbook, I want to follow my gut, I should’ve followed my customers. I immediately get their feedback, I get everything that they need, everything that they’re feeling, everything in the 360 and I incorporate that into the goals of my team especially if they’re underperforming, I think that it would at the very least help, it would help get them reengaged.
Jim Rembach: Good advice. I think we can all use connect with your customers. You know what your customer? To be a lot of different people, who you’re serving, who you’re trying to help. So, Chris Lah, it was an honor to spend time with you today, please share with Fast Leader listeners how they can connect with you?
Chris Lah: I try to make myself as accessible as possible. I will be happy to share my e-mail address, my work e-mail, is the best way to get a hold of me. So they can get a hold of me the e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, my direct office phone, I never turn down a good phone call with a good question, its 513-636-8904.
Jim Rembach: Chris thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom, the Fast Leader Legion honors you and thanks you for helping us get over the hump. Woot Woot!
Thank you for joining me on the Fast Leader show today. For recaps, links from every show special offers and access to download and subscribe, if you haven’t already, head on over the fastleader.net, so we can help you move onwards and upward faster.
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