What Can I Do For You?

Dec 11, 2011

One of my graduate school professors suggested that during every interaction with a colleague or patient we should ask the question “what can I do for you today?” The idea behind this simple question is that it conveys genuine interest in the conversation and in the other person present during the exchange. My New Year’s resolution for 2012 is to ask that question in my interactions with faculty and students at the Institute. My expectation is that from some I will hear that all is going well. From others, I anticipate a list of concerns and problems. These comments are very helpful in operational problem solving that is vital to the Institute. With a clear statement of the concern, I often find that the issue has already been addressed and the “asker” doesn’t know it. Thus, a simple exchange of information can sometimes solve the issue. In other cases, more action or understanding is needed in order to solve the issue. This also needs to happen. These two categories of responses (all is going well or I/we have an issue with________________) are the “business as usual” exchange that assures meaningful day to day operation in an academic environment.

There are two additional responses to my question (what can I do for you?) about which I have strong positive anticipation. First, I look forward to hearing from every faculty member at the Institute about what we might do together to enhance their research, scholarship, service, or teaching. Similarly, from students, I would love to hear about ways that I/we can assure that their learning experience is helping move them toward a future of excellent participation in the discipline of knowledge driven service and leadership. We are all here together to assure that the Institute serves the community of learners and also the greater community, that faculty contribute to their discipline and to our students, and that together we advance the knowledge and practice of our professions. Coming to terms with operational problems or challenges that get in the way of these purposes is essential and is the goal of administration.

A second response about which I am hopeful is a response that focuses on our collective future. Perhaps a reframing of the question should be “what can we do together (or for each other) to assure that the Institute is at the cutting edge of education, service, research, and scholarship?” What can we do to be sure that we are walking into our future together as academic leaders, faculty, and students? I am convinced that these conversations about positive, future oriented change are the vital questions that should drive us. The recognition that we always have room to improve, that what worked last year can always be revisited, and that the health care of the future is likely to be a different world than the one in which learned and practiced can be intimidating (and humbling) perspectives. Courage to face these critical issues comes when we focus on what we can do better as individuals and what we can do (together) as a community. The need for change usually does not imply that something is wrong and we need to react or correct it. It means that when we have new information or new expertise or new environments that we need to change in order to be effective in the modified situation.

Over the next semester I will be inviting some conversation with groups of faculty members, with Schools and Departments, and with students. My first question will be “What can I do for you?” It will be followed by another question, “What can we do together?” I hope that you will take a moment over our holiday break to think about how you might respond.

Best wishes for a smooth conclusion to this semester and an exciting welcome to 2012!

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