Guest Columns

Don't be a Humpty Dumpty leader: How to engage your inner creative self

Share this content:

Editor's note: This is the second installment in a three-part series on employee engagement and the impact it has on leaders and staff.

In my last article, I shared with you the latest research on employee and leader engagement. What we're now learning is that this is a call to action for everyone –— not just some — in healthcare. So let's look at what leaders can do to improve engagement and help themselves become an engaged leader.

When I was a teenager, my parents took us on a summer-long tour to learn about the Civil War. I was trapped in a car looking at cannons, forts and history. I was more interested in the college-aged men working for the National Park Service than the opportunity to learn about history. Fast forward more years than I am willing to share, and I once again found myself exploring history. This time, I was interested in educating myself about leadership in a time of great personal toil and challenge.

During a tour of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, IL, came one of my “moments of learning.” One exhibit struck me more than the others: It was a simple axe. The description stated, “Lincoln chopped wood for Grant's soldiers with this axe.” Lincoln had gone through four long years with his country at war. He was uncertain about the future and deep doubt about his own leadership capability weighed on his shoulders. Yet, he held firmly onto a vision for the future.

You can interpret Lincoln's actions of chopping wood in two ways. One is seen through the lens of servant leadership. Lincoln was serving his team by assuring they had wood to keep warm and to cook. The second lens is that Lincoln knew he needed to be attuned to himself in order to be an effective leader. Chopping wood was one way to achieve inner renewal.

Lincoln has been quoted as saying, “You must realize that the process of renewal releases the critical human talent and energy necessary to ensure success.” 

Having the discipline to engage into a renewal process is the challenge for leadership. There are millions of books on the benefits of exercise, restful sleep, eating healthy and meditation. All of these are important to be an effective leader, but I want to offer another thought. Renewal is not just about staying healthy — renewal is about being able to be engaged and creative. 

Think for a moment about Lincoln's words, “...the process of renewal releases the critical human talent and energy necessary to ensure success.” What process do you use for your own renewal? Early in my career, I heard Denis Berkson speak on Marching to the Creative Beat.  Mr. Berkson wrote, “The Different Drummer Handbook” (Wordplay Productions, 1995). He outlined his research on leaders (whom he called “Creativators”) through the following actions leaders can take:

1.   Do more things you like.

2.   Put things in new combinations.

3.   Make small things bigger, make big things smaller.

4.   Strive for quantity when gathering ideas before assessing quality.

5.   Add something; take away something.

6.   Smile.

7.   Make a change to any part of your physical environment.

8.   Do things in a different order than usual.

9.   Change your routine in any activity.

10.  Make humor part of every project.

11.  Find something to celebrate.

12.  Give yourself and others as many choices as possible.

In that presentation, he also taught us his version of a well-known nursery rhyme: 

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall…

Then did what he always did…

We all know what happened to him…


Staying engaged as a leader in healthcare has to be a conscious decision to no longer keep doing the same things over and over with the same results. Renewal comes when the creative spirit within a leader is freed to explore. Sometimes we need to create space in order for the creative self to be awakened. 

For me, I learned to use art as my creative space so I could allow myself to explore possibilities and to release the tiredness of my soul. Many times as I worked the clay like a sculptor, my mind would burst open with possibilities on an issue or goal within the hospital. I would feel a renewed level of energy and engagement as a leader. I believe Lincoln felt the same as he heard the crack of the wood meeting the point of the axe. 

I ask you again and pose this challenge, “What process do you use for your own renewal?”

Martie Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ, is the chief nursing officer at Medline Industries Inc. and a corporate advisory council member for the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel.


Next Article in Guest columns

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.