Changing Your Mind: A Thoughtful Strategy


Leonard Zwelling

Decision-making is probably the single most important characteristic on which a leader is judged. While consistency of purpose is surely a positive aspect of a leader’s strategy, so is the much rarer trait of nimbleness. Can a leader change course when that change is beneficial and at variance from previous decisions that leader has made?

Donald Trump is starting to appear more nimble than one would have ever imagined from his campaign rhetoric of misogyny, nativism and nationalism. Where once the use of American military force in Syria was deemed out-of-bounds, 59 cruise missiles later, Trump obviously changed his mind. ObamaCare was to be gone by now. It’s still with us. No Wall is in sight and his Muslim travel ban is locked up in several lawsuits. None of this has halted the president’s forward motion. Setbacks appear to be no more than speed bumps to The Donald.

He does seem to have grown frustrated with the do nothing Congress, his White House staff, and domestic policy in general. He seems to be moving rapidly into the realm of foreign affairs, a shift that most new presidents take months to make. Good for him!

After all he did say he would handle security matters and in Afghanistan, North Korea and even maybe Russia, he means business. I am not at all sure how this works out, but Trump is not idle. He’s doing what he said he would do. He has to get credit for that. If he winds up firing Bannon as he did Flynn or working with Democrats to pass a health care or infrastructure bill, and throw the Freedom Caucus under the bus, more power to him—and us.

What about the leadership at MD Anderson?

Previously, there was a single-minded plunge toward commercialization and drug development that has thus far yielded little. Now that the major force behind these awful decisions is gone, will there be a distinct change in course? Will clinical care re-emerge as the critical activity of the cancer center or will MD Anderson, along with the rest of the Texas Medical Center, try to turn Houston into Research Triangle Park West?

The Chancellor has promised an environment of greater shared governance. I suspect consulting with most faculty members would lead the Chancellor to guide the ad interim leadership back to a mission of first principles and core values, and not in the direction of crass commercialization. We’ll see.

It is no longer necessary to get the past president to change his mind. All that is needed is for the new leaders to listen and be open to change.

MD Anderson must develop a strategy and business model that preserve its values and shift the income statement into the black. It’s not impossible, but directions must change. Tactics must shift. The minds of leaders must change as well.

At least one mind no longer needs changing as that light bulb really didn’t want to change anyway.

Leonard Zwelling