Every health system leader has unprecedented executive management challenges facing their organization in the wake of the pandemic. As a leader, you must know how to respond properly to crises or hinge moments. Start investing in your people because they will be your legacy. Think of yourself as a startup that thrives in innovation. And focus more on your peripheral. Talk to the people around you, your customers, or the people you work for. In a time of crisis, you need to be open to everything.
Join us as we talk to Dr. Michael Lindsay about his ten-year research into what makes leaders tick. Discover what true world leaders do in crises. Also, learn more about Dr. Michael Lindsay’s new book, Hinge Moments: Making the Most of Life’s Transitions. Start finding and leveraging your own hinge moments.
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Responding To Hinge Moments With Dr. Michael Lindsay
Ben, we had the most amazing interview with Dr. Michael Lindsay.
It’s so full of insights and not surprising, given ten years of research with 550 leaders, well-recognized like a couple of presidents and secretaries of state. It’s super insightful.
What a great way for him to launch his career. He has got such an impressive resume. We are delighted that he was able to spend some time with us. I’m so excited for our audience to gain from the wisdom that we got from Dr. Michael Lindsay.
I asked him the question, “What recommendation do you make for the leaders that have gone through the crisis that healthcare leaders have gone and how should they respond?” He gives three very impactful answers. I’m not going to give it away. I’m not going to spoil it, but please tune in because you are going to find his answers very insightful.
You want to take notes on this. Go get something to take notes. Here is our conversation with Dr. Michael Lindsay.
Our guest is going to be so much fun to talk to, Dr. Michael Lindsay. I have a little bit of interest in this because he is the President of Taylor University in Upland, Indiana. That’s where my daughter and a lot of our money went many years ago. My wife and I were involved with the parents’ organization there. We love Taylor and have a lot of friends who are graduates. It’s a great institution. He previously was at Gordon College, Rice University and Princeton. He spent some time at Oxford. This guy has been all over and he is so young but packed it in. Dr. Michael Lindsay, it’s a delight to have you with us. Thank you so much for sharing with our leaders.
It’s my pleasure. It’s great to be here.
The reason that I wanted to have you on is I did get ahold of your book Hinge Moments: Making the Most of Life’s Transitions. This is your second major work. Your first one is View From the Top. What an impressive project this was. Tell our audience what View From the Top is. I could but I would rather hear it from you.
I spent ten years of my life interviewing senior leaders in society including 250 CEOs of some of the largest companies, including twenty of the Fortune 100 CEOs. Another 200 leaders of the non-profit sector, including the presidents of Harvard, Stanford, and Princeton, and then about 200 senior leaders in government and law, including former presidents Carter and Bush. Cabinet secretaries like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, leaders in the Military, and a variety of different Federal agencies. It was a great project designed to figure out what makes leaders tick. From that, I published a couple of different projects, View From the Top, which came out a few years ago and then Hinge Moments, which looks at the power of change and transition and how to make the most of those in our lives.
Thank you for investing in all that. I know it started out as your doctoral dissertation, but it chronicles so much about what makes these leaders tick and their life history. I can’t recommend this highly enough because if our audience out there thinks there’s a formula, there isn’t. There are some common things, and I hope we can get into some of those common themes that you’ve discovered in the course of all of your interviews.
Back to Hinge Moments, and I love the subtitle, Making the Most of Life’s Transitions. Our audience is primarily healthcare. That’s the genesis of where we are. I spent nearly 40 years in healthcare leadership. Ben and I go way back. We worked at my very first hospital. Ben is a physical therapist by training, but he has been a serial entrepreneur ever since and has done some great things, most of them in the healthcare space. Here’s the bad news, Michael. All that work, that ten-year study, and after reading both of your books, I came to the conclusion that you are going to have to redo it. These leaders that you interviewed, it’s an incredibly impressive list, I looked at every name. I knew a few of them personally. It’s crazy.
None of them, at the time of the interview, had lived through what we all lived through in the last several years. It would be fascinating to do an addendum and interview some leaders that have had to lead through this crisis, but now they have to lead out of the crisis. Obviously, you are not going to redo it, but I hope we can talk a little bit about that. What are some of the things that you have learned that can help leaders learn to live not just after the crisis, but leading out of this crisis?The 20s and 30s are critical decades of your life. Your life is not over past 40, but some things that happen in your 20s or 30s help determine the angle of your trajectory. Click To Tweet
It was important to me that Hinge Moments was released as we are in the recovery phase from the pandemic. We have gone through a societal-wide inflection point or hinge moment. I think that we are going to be forever changed. It’s changing everything from how we do work to how we relate to one another to even how we think about ourselves.
There’s a lot that the pandemic has brought to the surface, but I have always been a glass-half-full kind of guy, and there are lots of good opportunities that the pandemic has brought to the surface and good possibilities for us. In my own field of higher education, we are seeing lots of possibilities. Healthcare has been in a perpetual state of transformation as a sector and yet so many advances have occurred. Think about telehealth and how that has been dramatically changed. Now, when I need to see my physician, I can get a Zoom appointment and it makes things a lot easier. I’m certain that it makes it easier for my healthcare provider. I’m excited about some of these good possibilities.
The basic premise of Hinge Moments is that if we live to be 70 to 80 years old, we probably are given somewhere between 30 and 40 million minutes of our lives. It’s a lot, but our lives are determined by things that happen in at most twenty individual minutes of our life. The minute you are born, the minute you meet your spouse, the minute you land your first job, and the minute you lose your loved one. All of these are significant inflection points.
They happen in a snap or in the blink of an eye, and yet we process them in weeks, months or even years. Change happens to us instantaneously, but transition happens over many months, sometimes years. What I have found out from these 550 interviews that I conducted is that those people who are most successful, not just professionally but also personally, were people who had learned how to maximize and leverage those hinge moments for the greatest impact on their life. Not only did it help them land new jobs, new careers and opportunities, but it also helped them to be people of greater value and virtue. We would all say we want to be the kind of individuals that embody virtue. How do you use those inflection points as hinge moments for the greatest good?
In your interviews which were 60 to 90 minutes, I’m sure you get so many personal stories that you are able to recount and you did in the book, which makes it a fascinating read. Thank you for taking the time to do this. You tell one story in Hinge Moments about your cousin when you talk about change happening in an instant. Can you tell that story again?
I’m an only child and my younger cousin Trent was like a little brother to me. I have been approached by the search committee to apply for the presidency of Gordon College in Boston. At the time, I was a faculty member at Rice. I thought I would probably be at Rice for the rest of my career. I loved it. It was a great job. I had a chance to work with great students.
The search consultant said to me, “Do you ever see yourself being a college president?” I said, “Maybe, but I think it’s probably 10 to 15 years from now. It’s not anything I’m interested in applying for right now.” He said, “Would you pray about it?” I said, “Sure. I will pray about it. My faith is important to me.” It was a prayer of, “God, please help those people in cold Boston where they have to endure blizzards and winter.” The thought is funny. It was not a serious prayer.
About a month to the day after that search consultant had reached out to me, I received a phone call that my 32-year-old cousin Trent had been killed tragically in a car accident. In a moment, he was gone and it was devastating for all of us and his family. The family asked me if I would conduct the funeral and deliver the eulogy at his funeral, which I did.
After the funeral was over, we packed up the kids and started driving back to Houston for me to be at work the next day at Rice. I was thinking about Trent and his life. He died about six months before Christmas. I wondered what had he planned on giving his kids for Christmas that year. I knew he had been hoping for a big promotion at work, and I wondered how close was he to get that promotion.
It then got me thinking about his future and what was on his mind. I wondered what was his plan for his life over the next decade or 15 or 20 years down the road. The minute that question went through my mind, I instantly recalled that conversation from a month earlier with the search consultant who had said, “Do you see yourself being a college president?” I said, “Maybe, but I think it’s 10 to 15 years from now.”
It was a moment of conviction for me that we are not promised tomorrow. We live our lives like we always have tomorrow, but we don’t. We are not in full control of those kinds of things. It was a moment where I took stock and said, “I try to live my life as one who is guided by his faith and his values.” I want to be that kind of person every single day.
I called the search consultant the next day and said, “If you are still looking for an applicant, I would love to throw my hat in the ring.” I did not think it would come of anything. I never dreamed I would land the job, but I thought it would be a good experience. I do think each of us can use moments of great tragedy in our lives to become inflection points for the greater good.Often, there are opportunities that you didn't orchestrate but have come your way. Be open to all of them. Click To Tweet
In the book, I tell the story of Trent and how his sudden death became an important moment of redemption in my own journey. I hope it encourages readers to think long and hard about possibilities that maybe we try to make happen. Oftentimes there are opportunities that we didn’t orchestrate, but they come our way and we have to be open to them.
That’s a great story. It does say something about that belief I shared with you. Our lives are a collection of providential events that happen and opportunities. We have the choice. We can say no, ignore them, or we can pursue them. For me, it has always been easier to find a door locked or closed in front of me than to perceive one opening in front of me. You got to jiggle a few doorknobs to find out where you are supposed to go and see what doors are open. That is true for a lot of our audience as well, looking at their career and what are the events that lead up to promotions and opportunities. That reminds me of many of the stories that you chronicle in the book. You said that life begins at twenty or your career begins at twenty. Did I have that right?
The 20s and 30s are critical decades. I can say now at my age that your life is not over past 40, but there are things that happen in your 20s and 30s that helped determine the angle of your trajectory. I do think it matters a great deal to think about who are the people that you hang with, who are the people that become mentors, and what early career opportunities you can take advantage of.
I find so many people are risk averse. I share it in the book. The research is so compelling that it is so much wiser to take those risks than it is to avoid them because it propels you in dramatic ways. You never know what you can get away with until you try. It’s worth being willing to take the risk. At the same time, you constantly benefit from those relationships, whether they are friendships you’ve formed in college or early career networks, you become part of. All of those end up shaping the trajectory. You want to try and maximize those as much as possible.
That old Max, “It’s not what happens to you that’s important. It’s how you adapt or how you respond to what happens to you.” This doesn’t sound so profound but it’s important. I have a good friend who always asks, “What’s the worst that can happen?” When you talk about risk-taking, what’s the worst that can happen? Sometimes it’s bad but most of the time, it’s not fatal. It just takes a little bit of extra courage to take that risk.
Even the things that we think might be career suicide ended up becoming a great catalyst for a lot of good. It’s just a matter of taking the risk.
Our audience is largely healthcare leaders and they have come through COVID. They are faced with a whole new market economy. Labor costs are out of control. A lot of their non-operating revenue, which is based on investments is helping try to stabilize the bottom line, which is much more challenging than it was pre-COVID. What is the message to them based on your research and what you know about leaders that have gone through these kinds of crisis? What are some of the key insights or things that you would share with them to say, “Take stock. Consider this. Think about this.” What’s the advice?
There are probably three things that stand out to me that are very important. Number one is that the people you invest in, the people you draw to your team, and the people that you send out will oftentimes be your greatest legacy. You want to give a disproportionate amount of resources, time and energy as a leader to your people. Who are you recruiting, retaining and developing? It makes a huge difference.
Number two is we have to constantly be looking for emerging opportunities. We have to think of ourselves as a startup. You’ve got to constantly be saying, “Where is the leading edge of my industry and how can I move into that space?” The interesting thing is that if you think about it, most businesses, organizations or industries are organized by a core and a periphery. Prestige, honor and reputation are always housed in the core. Energy, innovation and a new direction are always on the periphery.
We think that we are trying to organize our companies, businesses or careers by getting more to the core when in fact, the big opportunities are always on the periphery. You got to figure out ways to where you are constantly, like a startup, engaging those peripheral elements. What does that mean? If you are a leader, it means that oftentimes, your best ideas are not going to come from your senior leadership team. They are going to come from on-the-ground everyday workers.
You need to have regular interaction with everyday people, and with people at much lower levels of the organization. It means that most of the innovative work that happens, for example, in healthcare is not going to be in the established companies. It’s going to be in those startups. You have to find a regular way in which you are reading the kinds of things that they are producing. You are engaging those folks and your mind is in that space.
I call it in the book, a liberal art approach to leadership because you got to be an innovator. People don’t win the Nobel Prize because they are doing great work at the core of the discipline. They are doing innovative work at the intersection of the discipline with other disciplines. You have to be pushing yourself to those outer edges and thinking about where the innovation is occurring on those edges.Develop daily, weekly, and quarterly habits that force you to engage in the peripheral. Click To Tweet
Third and finally I would say, as we are thinking about how we reinvent ourselves, it’s important that we have to be singularly focused on what is best for our customers, clients and consumers. Much of what we are doing is reinforcing our own biases. You’ve got to say, “Who are you serving and how do you get into their mindset?”
In my business, I’m a university president. I love my faculty. My faculty is important for the long-term success of my institution, but it is prospective students that I have to spend time with. I have to know what they are consuming on social media, who they are listening to, what they are reading, and what are they saying that is important.
In healthcare, you got to pay attention to, “Who are my patients and how can I be attentive to them?” Those are the folks who will be shaping the direction of the industry 10 to 20 years from now. If you do those three things, you’ll be well-served of coming out of the pandemic and recovering in a much stronger way.
We know that people in crisis tend not to necessarily be open. They put their heads down to try to solve the problem. Given that innovation doesn’t typically happen in a crisis, what is your recommendation to leaders to change that approach?
You have to develop daily, weekly, and quarterly habits that force you to engage in the peripheral. Whether it means every month, you have lunch with hourly employees at your organization who you don’t normally interact with, or quarterly, you are reading a book that has nothing to do with healthcare. You are reading something to sharpen the saw. You develop habits and practices. For me, it’s about daily, weekly, and quarterly habits that I’m integrating into my leadership that put me into contact with many different kinds of people and ideas.
The benefit is when you are in higher education, you are constantly engaging with people. I’m interviewing a chemist at 8:00 in the morning and by 10:00, I’m having a meeting with the finance team. I love that because I’m stretched every single day. I have to think about different kinds of folks. My hunch is that healthcare is not that far apart.
You have to think about legal, HR, medical innovation, or healthcare regulation. There are lots of things that you can do in your own core business that puts you into contact with many different people and ideas. The key thing is that you have to build practices. You have to schedule your life so that you are engaging in those things that keep you fresh and help you to innovate along the way.
I love the liberal arts approach. You also talk about a generalist mindset that you picked up on in a lot of your interviews. Is that something different or is that still the same?
There’s a reason that we call our senior Military officers generals. It’s because they have to be able to have a very broad perspective. The problem is that in healthcare, higher education, you name the industry, we tend to promote people because they are very good specialists. The higher up you move into an organization, the more you have to have a general sensibility. You have to be able to be conversant on subjects you know very little about.
My CFO knows a lot more about finance than I will ever know, but I have to know a little bit to be able to ask the right questions to be able to learn. That’s part of how you grow and develop. It’s important for us as we are developing managers in healthcare. You have to be people who can be conversant on many different subjects.
There’s a great benefit for taking my leadership team, for example, and for them to go to an art exhibition. Art is not something that we necessarily spend a lot of time in the work and we’re thinking about, and yet there are insights that you can get from being in an art gallery that can help you to solve a problem. Whether it’s solving a problem dealing with student financial aid or thinking about labor market challenges. Art can have a way of lifting your perspective.
A large part of the leader’s job is to think about, “How do I introduce my people to ideas or concepts that they are not naturally engaging with? How do I curate an experience for them by asking questions, introducing them to the people, and in the end, helping them do a more effective job of leading the enterprise?”Most successful leaders tend to read a lot or have networks of people who introduce them to many different ideas. Click To Tweet
This is so important to our industry because there’s such a push for specialization. It’s not in the clinical areas. It’s also in the administrative areas. From the very earliest time that you enter the field, there’s a push to specialization and certification and getting all these letters and initials after your name. I have spent plenty of time in higher ed as well, and that’s the same thing. There’s a gravitational pull toward that. I love that you are trying to lift your teams out of that and expose them broadly. Let’s talk a minute about the role of mentoring and maybe some reflections on your interviews, and then how you feel about mentoring and its role in future leaders.
Mentors can make all the difference in our lives. I have certainly benefited from amazing mentors along the way. One story that stands out to me is the example of Condoleezza Rice. If you know her story, in the book, I talk about the interview with her where she thought she was going to become a classically trained concert pianist. She thought that would be her whole career.
She went to the Van Cliburn competition as a relatively young woman and realized she was never going to play as well as some of the competitors. She ended up deciding to enroll at the University of Denver early. While there, she began exploring a variety of different subjects. She took a class from Professor Korbel who had a particular passion for the Soviet Union. Through that, she also developed a passion. Oftentimes, we become interested in subjects because we have mentors who themselves are interested.
Maybe you have a mentor who loves golf and you become interested in golf. Maybe you have a mentor who is interested in 1960s jazz, and you become interested in jazz. For her, Professor Korbel opened up her eyes to the Soviet Union. Through that, she decided she would study International Relations. She ended up pursuing a Doctorate at Notre Dame and then landed a teaching job at Stanford in Political Science International Relations all because of professor Korbel.
It turns out Professor Korbel had immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe because he was desiring to experience the freedom that he could have in American education that he couldn’t have in Eastern Europe. Korbel was an interesting guy because he was not only the professor of Condoleezza Rice. He was also the father of Madeleine Albright. Here’s a man who was the mentor to two women who ended up becoming secretaries of state. A Democrat and a Republican. It’s an amazing story. All of that shows the profound influence of mentors and how they can shape our horizons of what might be possible.
As far as mentoring is concerned, a lot of times we make the mistake or young people make the mistake. Condoleezza Rice didn’t choose someone who’s a classical pianist to mentor her. She chose somebody who probably couldn’t play the piano. That’s also a critical thing to expand our horizons and to have liberal arts or generalist mindset. Not only does it teach you about a lot of different disciplines, but it also makes you a more interesting person and conversant in a lot of different circles.
As always, we are running short of time. In the last few minutes that we have, you reflected a lot in your book about books on leader’s nightstands. I assume that you would agree that leaders are readers. It’s generally the case. I don’t know. I run into a lot of people. I don’t read but I listen to podcasts. What are your reflections on some of the books that are on the nightstands of leaders?
You learn a lot about a person by seeing what music they listen to, what podcasts they listen to, and what books they have on their bookshelves. My main encouragement was that as I interacted with these 550 leaders, all of them are extraordinarily talented in their fields. All of them tend to be folks who read widely or had networks of people who introduced them to lots of different ideas.
Maybe you are not a reader or maybe you are a listener, but you have a regular diet of engaging different kinds of ideas and experiences, and that stretching experience. Oftentimes, leaders use speeches that they have to give as an occasion to work on, building out their diet of new ideas or different kinds of experiences. Maybe they have to do a training session for folks at their workplace that they are helping to prepare for. All of those become helpful to them.
I love reading biographies because it’s a great way to hear a different person’s perspective or to learn from them. My wife is a big fiction reader. I was an English major in college so I oftentimes found that reading different kinds of genres can have a way of stretching you and growing. My dad was in the golf business for his whole career, so he loves reading about golf. Taking up whether it’s the stories of golfers or fun stories of amazing games or amazing rounds that have been played. All of those have a way of shaping us insignificant ways.
I would say to those folks who are not always readers, there’s value in picking up a book. At the very least, try to read a book every year that helps grow and stretch you. I also think there’s a lot of value in reading widely and being exposed to many different ideas. My wife and I got into the practice of using vacations as an opportunity to read about places we were going to visit. If you are going to go to Greece, for example, having a chance to read about Greece or reading about some different thinkers from Greece can be a great way of stretching and growing you. All those things become important in your own journey.
I’m going to ask you one more question, but before I do, I’m going to tell our audience one more time to encourage them to pick up Hinge Moments. You can get it anywhere books are sold. I encourage you to read it. It will be a fabulous book for you, especially as our leaders think about leading out now throughout and through this crisis that we have been in, and making the most of life’s transitions.
Michael, what encouragement would you share with our leaders who are perhaps seasoned leaders who are weary and maybe even depleted at this point? A lot of people have been in it for a while. They are looking for a good time to retire. In the last few years, there hasn’t been a good time for them to retire. They have hung in there. What would you say to encourage them and how can they stay focused and finish strong?
Finishing strong is important. If you are on the last lap, I encourage you to build a game plan so that you can pass the baton in a good way. The last thing you want to do is to rust out. You want books to feel like, “I may wear out but I’m not going to rust out.” I encourage people to think about that transition, but probably the most important thing we can do toward the end of our season or the end of a chapter where we are serving, you want to think about the people that we are serving and the people we are working with. That’s going to be your lasting legacy. Taking stock of that and figuring out, “How can I make deposits in these people that will have a lasting impact?” That’s probably the best thing we can do.
That’s so encouraging. Thank you so much. Ben, anything before we end?
This is super insightful. The audience will appreciate it. Sometimes the opposite of the instinct in a high crisis time is to withdraw. What you are encouraging them to do is the opposite. Go out and explore, learn, and understand that the innovations are out around you, not necessarily in your protected core.
It’s very nice of you to have me on. Thanks so much for having me.
We are delighted. It was our pleasure. Taylor University is very fortunate to have you. I know that they do appreciate you. I know some of the board members who are so grateful for your leadership there. It’s not an easy place to be, higher ed. God bless you. Continue to lead. Be strong and be an inspiration to the faculty and the students alike. Thank you so much. This has been great. We appreciate it.
God bless. Take care.
For our audience, thank you for being with us again. We’ll do our best to continue to bring you high-quality content as we have now to introduce you to concepts that help you in your leadership and your life. We’ll see you again next time. Take care.
- Taylor University
- Hinge Moments: Making the Most of Life’s Transitions
- View From the Top
About Dr. Michael Lindsay
Dr. Michael Lindsay, Ph.D., serves as the President of Taylor University, one of the nation’s leading Christian universities. Lindsay assumed this role after a decade of service at Gordon College on Boston’s North Shore. His tenure at Gordon coincided with record years of fundraising, campus diversity, sponsored research, athletic success, and faith expression on campus. Since assuming the Taylor presidency, the University has experienced significant momentum in advancement, admissions, and campus excitement for a new strategic plan.
Prior to arriving at Gordon, Lindsay was a member of the sociology faculty at Rice University, where he won multiple awards both for his teaching and academic research. He is the author of two dozen scholarly publications and numerous books, including, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite, which was nominated for the nonfiction Pulitzer Prize, and his award-winning View from the Top, which has been translated into Chinese and Japanese. His most recent book, Hinge Moments, was launched globally on the Taylor campus in 2021 and is published with InterVarsity Press.
Lindsay earned his Ph.D. in sociology from Princeton University and graduate theological degrees from Wycliffe Hall at Oxford University and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Baylor University where he has been named Outstanding Young Alumnus.
Lindsay has been married for over 25 years to his wife Rebecca, an accomplished teacher and speaker who serves as Taylor’s Ambassador for the University. They are the proud parents of three daughters, Elizabeth, Caroline, and Emily.