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A doctor’s inspiring legacy

by on
in Career Management,Workplace Communication

by Morey Stettner

When one of America’s elite golf instructors, Jim McLean, told me recently about a “life-changing experience” he had years ago, I expected him to share a secret that Arnold Palmer whispered in his ear. Instead, he described a trip to the doctor.

When McLean suffered an elbow injury, he saw Dr. James Nicholas. The surgeon began the consultation with one simple question, “What’s going on?”

McLean started to describe his elbow pain. Then he paused, expecting Nicholas to jump in with directed questions.

“But he really let me explain it,” McLean recalls. “He didn’t interrupt.”

When McLean finished, Nicholas educated his patient on how the elbow works. At this point, most physicians launch into a fast-talking lecture. Wide-eyed and befuddled, patients sit there nodding blankly and pretending to understand.

But Nicholas sidled over to a human skeleton and pulled off its elbow. He then illustrated McLean’s problem by engaging in show-and-tell.

Nicholas concluded by proposing therapeutic exercises. He demonstrated the precise way to do each exercise, watched McLean mimic him and then sent his patient to a physical therapist down the hall to get further instruction.

“I didn’t leave until they were sure I was doing the exercises correctly,” McLean says. “Since then, I’ve trained my instructors to give golf lessons the same way: Listen well, demonstrate specific ways to improve, suggest exercises and confirm the student can do them properly.”

Nicholas (1921-2006), by the way, gained fame for helping invent arthroscopic surgery and saving Joe Namath’s football career. He served as team physician for the New York Jets and New York Knicks. But he touched McLean and others because he was willing to listen and learn. He didn’t jump to conclusions.

Bottom-Line Idea

When setting goals, make sure they are clear, measurable and attainable. State a well-defined goal that’s specific and free of ambiguity. Devise a tracking mechanism so that everyone can monitor incremental progress. And confirm the goal is realistic so that workers who expend maximum effort can expect to hit the target. If any one of these three elements is missing, problems can erupt.

 

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