March 2010

Controlling one's destiny

Clint Eastwood’s latest film, “Invictus,” offers a moving illustration of what for me is a core belief: that as an organization, we control our destiny.

The movie takes its title (Latin for “unconquerable”) from a famous poem that lent strength to Nelson Mandela during his long years of imprisonment. Sentenced to hard labor and solitary confinement, he was—by any imaginable measure—utterly powerless, except inside his own mind. Yet he remained, as the poem says, “master of his fate” and “captain of his soul.”

As I’m sure you remember, Mr. Mandela would ultimately become South Africa’s first black president and bring an end to apartheid—the divisive, exclusionary system that had sent him to jail.

For an organization, as for an individual person, controlling one’s destiny is not a matter of thinking one can dictate external forces. Even inside our Medical Center, there are perpetual time pressures, budgetary constraints and regulatory demands to contend with, not to mention the occasional personality conflict or unforeseen crisis. The key, I think, lies in being clear-eyed about the difficulties and determined to rise to what they demand of us.

When things get hard, there’s always the temptation to blame the state of the world (or other people!). That’s not what solves problems, though.

What does solve problems is anticipating and responding effectively to what happens around us—being part, in other words, of determining our own future.