PFS director develops 'personal renovation plan'

'The key is to stop and look at yourself'

After 22 years as director of patient financial services at Watauga Medical Center in Boone, NC, John D. Cook Jr. reached the point where he had "no drive, no energy, and no motivation."

"It was very clear to me that it was time to do something else," says Cook. "I gave a 60-day notice and my last day was June 28, 2002."

That step led to the development of what he calls his "personal renovation plan" and ultimately to a job he loves and plans to keep until retirement.

First, however, Cook took a couple of months off, and then spent about a year serving as interim CEO for a large physician group. Later he freelanced and did consulting work and motivational speaking before joining Data Image of Charlotte Inc. in May 2006 as director of sales and marketing.

"There were ups and downs and total adjustments," he recalls. "The whole key is to stop and look at yourself and then look at the steps you can take to become a better leader."

One of the biggest insights he gained during this period, Cook says, "is that if your drive is lacking, if your motivation is lacking, you can't expect your staff to have those things. It all starts at the top."

Now, Cook says, he is in a professional role in which he is able to add value to others' lives through providing products and services and by building one-on-one relationships. He continues to do motivational speaking as a hobby.

"Our company slogan is, 'We want to help you put the pieces of the puzzle together,'" he adds. "I carry that through everything in my life.

"To be honest, as I look back, I got to this role by charting a personal course to renewal," says Cook, who now shares his experiences and observations on personal and career development with groups such as the North Carolina Association of Healthcare Access Management. He spoke at that organization's annual conference in Carolina Beach in September 2007.

What Cook finds is that the intensity and pressure of today's health care environment has taken many of the access directors and managers he meets to the point of personal and professional exhaustion.

'Nip it' before you burn out

"They may not have reached the burnout point, but they're getting there," Cook says. "They need to nip it before they get to burnout, which can lead to depression."

His answer, based on his own experience, is to "do a personal renovation process. Stop and look at your principles, priorities, and practices. You might find that you've got principles and priorities, but you're not practicing them." (See worksheet below.)

Charting the Course to Renewal

Personal Renovation Process
What are your personal Principles, Practices,
and Priorities?

Which of these do you feel need some
"renovation work"?

What do you believe your Personal Mission to be?

Chart Your Course: What will be your Personal
Renovation Plan?

Begin It Now

I proudly say I am
I am clear about my mission. I commit my pas-
sion to this cause. This cause will create new
energy for myself and others.

© 2007 Data Image of Charlotte, Inc.

First, Cook suggests, honestly answer these questions:

1. Do you believe that your fire needs to be reignited?

2. Are you willing to take the steps to do that?

3. Will you commit to at least taking a look in the mirror?

Continuing the process, he says, look at these critical areas:

1. What motivates you to get up and do your job?

2. What is your passion? (If you don't have one, you need one.)

3. Are you actively engaged in your career or are you detached from it?

4. In all honesty, can you say that you embrace where you are?

One of the things Cook did during his years as patient financial director that he recommends to those in similar positions was to arrange an annual retreat for his staff.

"We did it over two days — because half the staff had to be at the hospital — but we got away, we went to a nice place, and we did exercises that helped them grow, but nothing related to work," he says.

The retreat "was all about them," Cook adds, "and they got to know each other better and started understanding the things they can do for themselves to be better people."

His own personal renovation involved, among other things, quitting smoking and losing weight. A practice that has become part of his life, he notes, is making sure at a certain point to leave his home office — where it is easy to get caught up in working late hours on the computer — and go upstairs to spend time with his wife.

With all the volumes that have been written about leadership, Cook adds, he believes his own list of principles, while simple, is also profound:

  • Have a servant's heart.
  • Listen and be accessible.
  • Help those you lead to add value to their lives and be successful.
  • Create an atmosphere charged with meaning and purpose.

(Editor's note: John Cook can be reached at