Repeat After Me (Men Only): I’m Lost, I’m Wrong, I’m Sorry

By

Leonard Zwelling

            My
oldest son Richard was married on July 20. It was a grand event and we all had
a great time.

            Richard
never asked my advice on how to stay married for on August 27, Dr. Kleinerman
and I will have been hitched for 41 years. Oy vey! I have no idea why such a
young looking woman married such an old man. Lucky me!

            The
real secret to a long and successful marriage isn’t all that hard to discern.

            First,
marriage is work.

            Second,
there are no secret formulae.

            But,
if men would learn to say the three things in the title, it might go a lot
easier for any marriage.

            It
is my contention and that of many others including Mika Brzeznski and Dee Dee
Myers that this would be a better world if it was run by women. Why?

            As
my good friend and colleague to many of you Fred Schmitt has observed when 2
women meet they wonder if they can be friends. When 2 men meet, each wonders of
they can take the other. It’s in our DNA. So given that, it is imperative that
each gender acknowledge its potential weaknesses and help the other.

            Men
do need to be strong, forceful and action oriented. This is especially true
when winning is involved, but as the late, great Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire
has observed, “winning only counts in war and surgery”. Running MD Anderson and
getting 19,000 people to pull in the same direction is not about winning. An
academic hospital is one of the most complex organizations known to man. Its
leadership must think like men of action and act like men of thought. I would
argue that we have had little of that in the past 20 years at the top of MD
Anderson, because it has indeed been populated mostly by men.

            So
until the Board of Regents appoints a woman to the presidency of one of the UT
health components, the men who lead them should learn what they need to do and
say to be supportive of the stronger sex. When men get lost, they should say so
and ask for directions. When men err, admit as much and ask for help. When men
make a mistake, say so and ask for forgiveness. We are all human and we all
screw up. It’s correcting the screw ups as soon as possible that is the most
important thing a leader can do.

            Kennedy
had the Bay of Pigs and followed that with the Cuban Missile Crisis. He
learned. Hillary Clinton tried to force a health care program down the throats
of Congress when she was first lady. She learned her lesson and became a
dramatically successful senator and Secretary of State. She may well ascend to
the presidency some day. If she does, she will have done so after making a
whole lot of mistakes from which she learned. (Yes, even women have to say the
three mantras every once in a while). Nothing wrong with that. No one knows
that better than I who have made a ton of mistakes, but have tried, albeit only
partially successfully, to correct my mistakes.

            MD
Anderson is struggling with a faculty and staff morale crunch of an
unprecedented nature and a challenge to our business model caused by health
care reform and basic economics. To my eyes, these realities have not been
adequately acknowledged by the leadership team. That leadership also has not
provided a plan to improve morale or to correct the financial shortfalls that
stem not from lack of clinical productivity but from over spending on
activities unlikely to generate a revenue stream.

            We
will make mistakes, some costly. But the best way to deal with mistakes is to
admit you made them and plot a course to a better future.

            If
the current leadership, all men by the way, wants to really demonstrate that it
has learned from its 2 years of non-stop mistakes start with the title phrase.
Ask for directions. Ask for help. Ask for forgiveness.

            Perhaps
they should all take a lesson from Dustin Hoffman at the end of Tootsie: “I was
a better man with you as a woman than I ever was with a woman as a man, I just
have to learn to do it without the dress”. 

Leonard Zwelling