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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

Oh, Grow Up!

Published December 12, 2009 4:40 PM by Glen McDaniel

A psychologist friend of mine is fond of telling patients they can always have a second childhood. This seems silly or funny, but is actually based on the fact that many adult patterns derive directly from childhood experiences. Not only are values, morals and perceptions formed, but there is much imprinting of behavior in one's early years. It is very easy to simply go on automatic pilot in the way we behave, based simply on what we learned in childhood.

He has found that changing a destructive habit often starts with recognizing the behavior, investigating how it started and then making a conscious effort as an adult to admit that such behavior no longer serves the patient well; and may in fact be self-defeating. He does role playing in which he, in effect, regresses his patients to childhood where they re-learn new ways of behavior. He has had great success treating everything from addictions to inertia and self-image issues.

One of the most interesting observations is that many people in management -including laboratorians - seem stuck in childhood. Their customary behavior is feared or abhorred by subordinates while they produce frustration the manager. They simply do not seem to work for anyone-no matter how hard the manager tries.  What's a manager to do?

Steve Tobak, a former Silicon Valley executive and current management expert often gives a speech in which he advises managers to "Learn to behave like adults."  Being a manager should include more than childish behaviors such as seeking attention , demanding respect and acting out when you don't get your own way. His suggestions include:

Be realistic about weaknesses as well as strengths. Most managers tout their strengths but are hesitant to admit as a manager that they have any weaknesses. It adds authenticity to the manager-employee relationship and creates trust to admit weaknesses; even as they are draw on the strengths of their employees. 

Be hands on. Although a manager needs not be able to perform the daily duties with the same skill and competence as the employee who does that task daily, a manager should have a global view of the process. In an emergency or times of change, be willing to pitch in and help to the level of your capacity.

Employees will appreciate you and reward you with respect, loyalty and hard work. As the COO of a hospital, I have not only shadowed a housekeeper, but have put on scrubs and helped nursing assistants pass meal trays or turn patients on a hectic day. That always scored huge points.

Become adept at 5 things: finance, selling, presenting, negotiating, and communications.

Finance. It doesn't matter if you manage an entire laboratory, a single department, or a non-healthcare entity you need to learn about finance. All companies, including "not for profits" are  grounded on both enhancing revenues and controlling expenses. Yes, sorry to break the news, but healthcare IS a business.

Selling. You must be able to sell your programs internally. You have to justify staffing, flexible scheduling, new hires and new equipment to administration. Externally, services have to be sold to the community, physicians and outpatients. If you don't sell, your "competitors" win.

Presenting. It's hard to imagine your career going anywhere unless you can deliver an effective presentation. This is not a natural talent for all. But it doesn't have to be complicated. Just list your main points, know the justification and be ready to articulate those points. A long speech is often not necessary. In fact with time constraints, I am more turned off by long rambling speeches that try to impress or twist the facts than I am with a short, concise presentation.

 Negotiating. You might not call it negotiation, but it is the skill which is used to arrive at any win-win situation or to get your fair share of the pie.It is essential for any give and take interaction with supervisors, peers and subordinates. It is also used in coaching employees and in conflict resolution among employees.

Communicating. Great managers are also great communicators; it's a critical success skill. Again, this is just a way of packaging information and passing it on in a clear understandable way. Keep employees in the loop; don't let them guess about changes. Tell them what their role is in the big picture such as a strategic plan. Check often to ensure the message has been received accurately.

If you don't provide employees with information they need to make daily decisions, they often either shut down and feel alienated; or (worse) they listen to gossip and fill in the gaps with worse-case scenarios not based on fact.

These are all adult proactive skills, not learned in childhood and not based on simply RE-acting or sulking.


Mr McDaniel,

Thank You so much for the nice letter. Thank you for the help also. I actually have asked for human resources to be present once and also one time I said I needed a break to calm down.

I just feel it shouldn't have to come to that. It makes me feel bad. I can only be responsible for my own actions. We all feel like we must walk on pins and needles never knowing when we

may have an altercation or issue. I love what I do. I love my job.

I love the facility I work in. I want to stay here as long as the Lord is willing.            Thank You Again, Jennifer

Jennifer, hospital setting - MLT, St. Vincent's Frankfort January 9, 2010 10:13 PM
Frankfort IN

Hello, I am an MLT (ASCP). I have 15 years experience as a generalist in a hospital laboratory. I am presently working in a facility with two female laboratory managers. For the first time in

all my working years (I am 50 yrs. old), I find myself on a defense

when it comes to confrontation for anything with my superiors. I have tried to evaluate my own feelings and actions. One of them debates everything the other one is in a bad mood all the time and I'm afraid to be around her. I am a good tech. I work extra, do more than I have to all the time. I do my best to be perfect. I could use some communication skills. Do you have any suggestions? Do you know any good seminars, books, etc. on communicating with your superiors so the outcome is positive?

We've had several people quit including 20+ year veteran's over these two.

                                       Desperate for a positive outcome,


Jennifer Zook January 3, 2010 3:14 AM

December 28, 2009 5:39 PM

Glen, that is such a good point. Those of us who have been at this game for awhile can recall at least one boss who just demanded respect without actually earning it. I have had bosses who have stopped talking to employees that upset them rather than doing the mature thing and addressing the problem.

I have bosses who sit in their office even if the sky is falling in. They dont think they are techs anymore once they get that promotion.

A BIG problem is that most times techs are promoted up with no management training and are shocked to find that just because you are a good tech it doesnt make you a good supervisor. Also you might lose friends because  you can no longer gossip and act like one of the gang.  You have to be above it all an dnot take sides.

In a tough situation, my mom always said "Janice put on your big girl pants." That's what managers need to do. Not enough lab managers do that.

Good post.

Janice A. MLT (ASCP) December 13, 2009 4:13 PM
Atlanta GA

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