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Meet our Gym Members: Benny Levi

Last month you met Cody Cogan, one of The Communication Gym’s members who has committed to regular communication practice.

Our member spotlight today is Benny Levi, MD, PhD, Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Humanities at the Penn State College of Medicine and Founding Director of Penn State’s Center for the Protection of Children. He is a philosopher and practicing primary care pediatrician whose scholarship interests include both conceptual and applied aspects of respecting patient autonomy, medical decision making, and “reasonable suspicion.”

He is also an aspiring blues guitarist.

Read on to learn about Benny’s experience with The Communication Gym.

1. When and how did you become a part of The Communication Gym?

I was recommended to Dale about a dozen years ago as someone who could help me be more effective at what I do. I was known as a good communicator, but I felt there were things holding me back from taking full advantage of the skills and opportunities I had. Back then, I participated in some open gym sessions, followed by private coaching with Dale. Over the years, I stayed in touch with him because he’s such a good guy. But over the past couple of years, I’ve brought Dale in to work with my academic team at the Penn State College of Medicine. Dale has helped us a lot by providing individualized coaching to various team members, as well as group sessions to develop more effective team dynamics. To be clear, we were a very successful team before we engaged with Dale, but he has really pushed us out of our comfort zone, and disrupted some ingrained patterns that were inhibiting our potential, and thereby our ability to grow and develop.

2. What challenge(s) were you facing before you became a member at The Gym?

All those years ago, I recognized that I was giving away my power when I was in meetings with people I didn’t know well. It turns out that was because I was assuming (mistakenly) that other people would recognize and appreciate the underlying relationships connecting the various points I made. Dale helped me appreciate this disconnect. He also helped me discover that by focusing on my role (in any given setting) I became much better at anticipating what was needed from me. When I identified that role –teacher, listener, constructive critic, father at soccer practice, or leader– I was not only better prepared to carry out that role, I was also better able to modulate my style of communication so I could be more effective. My natural style can be pretty informal. One of the things I came to appreciate is that in certain circumstances, I need to take on a more formal approach in order to effectively leverage the power and knowledge I bring to the table.

3. What have you learned about yourself and others?

I think a good example involves process. Generally speaking, I am not much of a process kind of guy. If a couch needs to be moved somewhere, I don’t much care why it needs to be moved, or how we feel about it. I just want to know where it needs to go, and then figure out how best to get it there. Dale helped me better appreciate the needs of my colleagues, who are much more process-oriented, and do a better job respecting those needs even though I don’t share them. With my larger team, Dale’s coaching prompted discussions that weren’t always the most comfortable, but definitely were productive and beneficial. These discussions also modeled for the team the value of constructive conflict –which I am very comfortable with, but not everybody is.

4. How has The Gym helped you, both professionally and personally?

Personally, I find it very helpful to use “role” as my focus –whether it’s for recalibrating, or sustaining my momentum.

Professionally, Dale’s coaching has empowered us to grow our team in number, scope, and effectiveness. Originally our team was organized with regard to individuals and their skills and personal tendencies.

Dale helped us to restructure the team in terms of roles, responsibilities, and accountability –which has led to greater professional autonomy, higher expectations, and better use of everyone’s time.

5. Can you share an instance with us when the skills you learned @ The Gym led to a positive outcome?

Absolutely. Our team’s M.O. is that when a decision needs to be made, we always want the best idea, the best argument to win. But without a well-defined structure, it was not always clear who got to decide what counts as the best argument. With Dale’s guidance, we created Project Leads and clarified role expectations, which helped each of us do a better job fulfilling our role on the team, and carrying out our responsibilities.

6. Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think it’s important to say that while Dale has a strong personality and physical presence, he does not have a big ego. In my experience, it’s actually pretty unusual to have the kind of force that Dale has, and be able to use it effectively without dominating others. He also brings the advanced skill-set needed to take a group that is already doing very good work and help take them to the next level. That’s what Dale has done with our team –and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the direction we’re now headed.

Thank you, Benny, for taking the time to answer our questions and for sharing your Communication Gym experience.

If you’re interested in finding the focus Benny has described, connect with us here.

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