Service Lessons Not Included


Certifiably “smart?” Perfect 4.0 G.P.A, all the “right” pedigreed schools and lots of initials after your name sort of guaranteeing your bright future?

Recession aside, not much to fear when it comes to jobs, success and money, right?

Walking into the Stanford Li Ka Shing Center giving a talk to young M.D.s fresh out of med school and on their way to finishing specialty training, I could not help but marvel at this “temple” of cutting edge technology dedicated to the future of medical education. The young men and women I met are so lucky to learn in such a place – ah, correct that – hard working, focused, competent, great aspiring minds who will make the difference in lots of people’s lives, healers, care-givers, compassionate, brilliantly reassuring and doing everything to offer hope…

Yet, as always, life is so much more complex, wavering and intriguing. Similar to lawyers, architects, and all these professionals who deal with people – isn’t really everything we do about connecting an idea, a product, a gadget to and for people? – young college graduates learn the theory of “stuff” while not learning much about service.

Coincidentally, today’s NY Times has a feature story on lawyering. “…The fundamental issue is that law schools are producing people who are not capable of being counselors. They are lawyers in the sense that they have law degrees, but they aren’t ready to be a provider of services.” 

Experience will make better? Of course it will. Yet, the bizarre, hard to explain incredible depth of perception combined with subjective psychology and the wonderful instant flash of a feeling that creeps in and takes over our rational brains can bend the steely weight of pure skills, knowledge, and talent. By now, EQ is an established business term – and even lab rats have been exposed to kindness because of it. Daniel Goleman’s  “emotional intelligence” immortalized the term with his 1995 book and since then hordes of leaders have gone through the “uneasy, esoteric, internal” characteristics of it.

So many young college grads -doctors and lawyers alike – in their maniacal quest to conquer the GPA wars and the sleepless nights that will give them the edge in their game of life, sometimes forget that what it takes to be great is not the science only. The building blocks of emotional smarts–self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill–can sound unbusinesslike, but tell that to the father of the 5 year old cancer patient who all he really needs is hope.

Behind-the-scenes interventions and under the skin healing of invisible wounds are sometimes as critical as prescriptions and treatments. Similar to doctors, lawyers have to help clients overcome pain – and law school does not necessarily teach you how to do that.

Interestingly, most of the young doctors I met at Stanford seemed to know all this. The language of business had long ago crept into their professional lives and they were open to consider those things that make them uncomfortable – what keeps them up at night; what do they want to be known for; what “best” means to them; where do they find their circle of support and source of strength.

They had never shared such stories with each other.  Only one senior faculty member – admittedly a great mentor and adviser to them all – was present and no other senior physicians were in the room to listen in. When asked to give a big picture sort of their life map, less than half could paint their own life canvas.

“Very young, they don’t know yet,..”  the senior faculty member speculated later. But while they are old enough to treat patients or if lawyers, defend clients from going to jail, we don’t do everything we possibly can to prepare them for actual service.

It may be a bird, but will it fly? Not when you are sitting buck naked on the exam-table thinking that the mole on your back is cancer; not when you are about to lose your house; not when your hopes are in this young doctor’s or lawyer’s hands… No, it really won’t.


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