Chapter 14: On Leadership, Leading, and Dealing with Kids
Dr. Mills begins this chapter by telling the story of a pot he has on his office bookshelf that carries the title, "Ashes of Problem Employees." He says that a senior administrator needs to inspire a little fear in order to lead effectively, telling the story of serving in the Endowed Positions Committee to demonstrate. Next he comments on the fact that he deals well with children because of his ob-gyn training and talk about dealing with manipulative children and what this teaches for dealing with adults.
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Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :The head of the Division of Cancer Medicine, before John Mendelsohn, or sorry, before Bob Bast came and took over the division, Dr. Krieghoff used to have a book called The Management Approaches of Attila the Hun, that if you came into his office and that was in the middle of his desk, you knew that there was a problem. And so this was given to Bob Bast when he arrived, and there were lines like, "Happy huns are disciplined huns," and all kinds of beautiful opportunities.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:Well, just for the record, since that's an amazing surprise, you know on the recorder, given the subject matter of our conversation before the pause, I was just noticing that there's a little pot on the bookshelf that's entitled, "ashes of problem employees."
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :And so the story that goes with that is there needs to be a little bit of insecurity or fear for a senior administrator, in many cases, to be effective. If everybody thinks you're a marshmallow and that you love everyone and everything, it can decrease your ability to accomplish things. Just a little bit of edge is not a bad idea. Respect is very important and that comes with just this, I'm not quite sure what's going to happen.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:Keeping people off kilter a little bit.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :That's right, off balance.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:A little bit, a little bit.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :Not too much, just a little bit.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:When you start building fires on your chairs, turning people into ashes, then they'll know they're in real trouble.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :Yes. I think I get a lot of jobs because of that. One of the more challenging ones that I was given was the head of the Endowed Positions Committee, which I was asked to take over. That is a -- at the time, is a plum position to have, because you get to give out chairs, you give out endowed positions, and that makes people happy.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:Except for the people that don't get them. [01:30:
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :Well, even there, that's the responsibility of the committee more than the chair. The people who do get them thank the chair. But immediately after I was asked to do this, I got called into Dr. Mendelsohn's office and he said well, "You need to understand why we asked you to do this," and I said this isn't going to be good. He says, "I need a series of endowed chairs to help recruit people and retain those that I want, and that means I need a process to take the ones away from those people who no longer need them or deserve them. It is your responsibility to figure out how to do that." And so we now have a process that went through all of the committees, to make that happen, but in order to make it clear and stick, the first thing that I had to do was to go to Margaret Kripke and convince her that since she had become vice president for research, that her endowed chair specific to immunology was no longer appropriate and that she would have to turn that back in to the system. So this was a case where I asked if I could have a bodyguard and someone to check under my car every day for bombs. So as you point out, sometimes it comes with a bit of worry.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:It does. But I'm remembering that story that you told. I'm not even sure if I had already turned off the recorder, about when you had that job, that summer job, and the guy asked you to -- what was it he asked you to do?
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :My job was to get someone to quit within a week.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:That's right, that's it.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :Yes, that's part of the job.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:That's part of the job, yeah. Obviously, there's something about your aura, you're the man that can get that job done.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :Right. At least that's what people think. It's nice for people to think you're mean. I'm not but it's nice to have people believe that.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:And then they're so pleasantly surprised when they have a different face of you.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :Most of them never get to see it.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:I'm sure that's not true. Actually, I can't remember who it was that told me this, but someone said oh, you should ask him about how good he is at taking care of little babies. You look shocked, but somebody said that you've got a way with little kids.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :Oh yeah, that's a different story. I'm an obstetrician by training.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:Oh well, okay.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :So you have to be able to deal with little kids, because when mom comes into your office for their postpartum exam, you have to keep the child entertained while you're talking to mom, so you become good at it.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:You become good at it. So that wasn't, you know, because you took care of siblings or anything like that.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :No. I have taken care of a number of difficult children.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:Your own or others?
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :Others. My child, my son is great. No, and sometimes it's not -- I guess the best story is that children are manipulative, they are born knowing how to manipulate parents. I had a good friend of my wife's, who had a baby who, according to her friend had colic and she was just about ready to quit, whatever, could not deal with it anymore, and I said well why not bring the baby here and you go out. The two of you go do something, I don't care what it is, take two or three hours off, I'll be a babysitter. The baby and mom came in and basically, cried from the time that the mother arrived at the door and was picked up and carried and still cried, and you could understand why she was going crazy. Basically, because I'm an obstetrician, a crying baby is a healthy baby. When you deliver a baby and they're quiet, that's what scares you incredibly, that's something wrong. Babies make noise when they're born. And so the baby was crying and I said fine, cry, it's not going to hurt you, not a big problem. Cry. This kid cried for a good half an hour and finally realized that it wasn't going to do it any good, and it got to sit in its cradle, so what's the point of crying. And so basically, every time the mother would drop the baby off, which was about once a week, the baby would cry for ten minutes and say, Oops, not going to help here, play, have fun, no problem. We'd play together, but I wasn't picking it up and doing what it wanted. The mother would come in the door and instant baby heard mother's voice, crying again, and was picked up and handled and carried. Didn't speak a word, I mean it was two years old and it just pointed, or not two years old, but old enough, had not learned how to speak by the time it was two years old, because mom did everything for it, just on request. One day, out of probably ten times I babysat; the kid probably did have a bit of colic and did cry, but the rest of the time, no problem. There was no colic here; this was not a bad baby. This was a baby that had trained mother. And so yeah, you can do that.
Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:Don't play me, kid.
Gordon B. Mills, MD, PhD :That's right. You have to be able to deal with crying and tears. I've had people in my office in tears because of things going on in their life, and jobs. You acknowledge, you accept, but you do not melt, and that helps. So that's what I learned from the baby.
Mills, Gordon B. M.D., Ph.D. and Rosolowski, Tacey A. Ph.D., "Chapter 14: On Leadership, Leading, and Dealing with Kids" (2016). Interview Chapters. 73.