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What I Wish I Knew Then

What I Wish I Knew Then | Director's Cut | ICE Magazine December 2020

By Mario Pistilli

Mario PistilliWe have all heard the saying, “If I only knew then what I know now.” This is certainly true of my journey in this amazing career and wonderful life. I am constantly learning and growing and evolving. I have been so blessed with wonderful mentors that took their time to teach a sometimes dumb and often stubborn person. It is on the shoulders of these great people that I have achieved anything in life and for that I will be forever grateful. I hope that I can in turn help in the growth and development of others. I want to share with you some of the important people and lessons in my life that because I am a slow learner took a while to sink in.

You need people that have your back. In climbing there is a concept of belaying, or the action of holding the rope to catch the fall of your partner. It is an act of trust and your life is literally in each other’s hands. We all need these people in our lives to catch us when we fall. In my life my two sisters, Minette Andrews and Marina McLaughlin, have had me on belay my whole life only I did not always realize it. They were my first teachers, and taught me to read and write before I ever hit kindergarten. They were hard taskmasters, but that head start served me well in life. My entire life I could always rely on them to push me and to be proud of any accomplishment no matter how small. I am sure that you have those people in your life as well, so reach out to them often and tell them thank you for being there to catch you when you fall.

Speak less and listen more. There is an old native American proverb, “Listen or thy tongue shall make thee deaf.” I still struggle with this one, as my brain fires off thoughts and I want to blurt them out. I wish over the years that I had listened more to my staff, my friends and my family. Steven Covey, in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” said “people don’t listen to understand. They listen to reply.” One of my coaches, Foster Mobley, uses the phrase, “the best leaders are world class noticers.” You cannot notice things or be seeking to understand if you are focused on speaking. I have also learned that being a good listener may mean pulling information out of people by asking questions.

We over me. It may sound counter-intuitive, but putting others and the team ahead of yourself actually pays huge dividends. Turning your focus outwards is also much less stressful. Try approaching situations with the attitude of helping others be successful instead of yourself. The best leaders understand that helping others to shine makes the room that much brighter.

Slow Down. Ashish Buttan, executive director of neurosciences CHLA, phrased it perfectly, “Everything cannot be accomplished by speed and aggression.” Sometimes it is OK to let a problem marinate if a solution is not readily at hand. Too often I rush into solution mode right away and keep hammering the square peg into the round hole. Give yourself permission to accept that you may not have all the answers right when you need them. Take some time to pause and do more research or just set it aside for a bit.

You can’t ask tomato plants to give you pineapples. I credit this proverb to Dr. Jose Pineda Soto, head of the division of critical care medicine at CHLA. You cannot expect things from people that they do not have the tools or abilities to give. Make sure if you are not getting the response or output that you need or expect, that you have the right people doing the right tasks and the tasks they are trained and equipped to do.

Practicing personal care does not make you selfish. Only very recently have I really started to believe this. I always thought that working hard and neglecting myself was a sign of my dedication and work ethic. Actually it is the sign of my lack of maturity and good sense. If you really want to be the best leaders for others then practice self-care and resilience so that you can be your best self with others. Find those things that provide joy and resilience for you and take time to do those things. Also promote this with your teams and even with your co-workers.

Free yourself from focusing on what other people think. This is another one that took me this long to finally start to get. I let fear of failure or looking stupid hold me back from trying new things. Only now have I learned that those that really matter don’t care and those that care don’t really matter. I credit this evolution to a small group of colleagues that I met during an executive training class (Dr. Cynthia Herrington, Dr. Susan Wu, Dawn Wilcox and Jodi Ogden), each of which are world-class leaders in their fields, wickedly smart and all around great humans. My long-time friends would be shocked to see me front and center at yoga class with Bunok Kravitz, aka the Yoga Bunny, but you will find me there on Saturday mornings next to the Venice Pier. By the way, I am the most awkward and least flexible yoga practitioner on the planet, but I no longer care. I have also committed to take dancing lessons, which is definitely my kryptonite. I encourage you all to let yourselves go and free yourself from meaningless self-constraints and do something that you have always been afraid to put yourself out there and do.

This is just a small sampling of all of the lessons I have grown to appreciate. We are all a work in progress, and I have so much more to learn. This will be my last Director’s Cut article for ICE as the year comes to an end. I am pleased to yield this column to a fresh and different perspective and look forward to learning from a new voice. I wish to thank my loving wife, Suzy, and amazing son, T.J., for the understanding and support. They know I put them first, but also understand that learning and contributing to the health care and lives of others is my oxygen. You will still hear from me as I resume my LinkedIn Series, Lunchtime Walk Thoughts in January 2021. You will also see some future articles and speeches in the coming months with all new content for 2021.

Mario Pistilli, CRA, MBA, FACHE, FAHRA, is administrative director for imaging and imaging research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. He is an active member and volunteers time for ACHE and HFMA organizations. He is currently serving on the AHRA national Board of Directors. He can be contacted at



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