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Symposium 2009: Dr. Marshall Wade T.O.R.C.H.E.S. – Leadership Lessons from the Hinman Tornado


ell-known to the SSC community, Dr. Marshall Wade received the Excellence in Study Club Management Award in 2000, the Study Club of the Year Award in 2001 and the Charlie English Award for humanitarian service in 2008. He is the senior partner in Maplewood Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Diplomate of the American Board of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery and has been voted top dentist in two separate magazines in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a published author and a highly sought-after speaker across the country. Dr. Wade’s current passion is to lecture and teach about T.O.R.C.H.E.S., a methodology for understanding how to deal with the crises we may encounter in our lives. Dr. Wade loves to motivate people to complete more than they believe they are capable of achieving.

2006 Hinman Dental Meeting Dr. Wade shared his life changing experience of living through the 2006 Thomas P. Hinman Dental Meeting. The Hinman meeting is the third largest in the country and is attended by roughly 25 thousand dental professionals. In Atlanta, the evening before he was to deliver his third lecture, Dr. Wade’s wife arrived amid some fairly strong thunderstorms. As they were in their hotel room, Dr. Wade working on the next day’s presentation and his wife watching television, they noticed that there weren’t any weather watches being issued despite the strong storms they were experiencing. Dr. Wade’s wife, who is a big fan of natural phenomena, called him out to the balcony to take a look at the growing storm. When he observed the dark clouds and debris flying through the air, he recognized what he was seeing as a tornado and rushed her back inside, trying to get to the bathtub for the best cover available on the 14th floor. As they ran toward the bathroom, the sliding door leading to the balcony exploded into the room behind them. From their vantage point in the bathtub they watched the excess bedding fly from the closet shelves from the pressure

created by the vortex as the building shook. Afterward, they discovered they had experienced a direct hit from a category F2 tornado. The morning light revealed debris everywhere on the streets, cars missing their windows, portions of roofs torn from buildings and trees oddly decorated with insulation. Ironically, the title of the presentation he was meant to give that day was, “T.O.R.C.H.E.S. – Leadership That Lights the Way in the Darkest of Times.”

Crisis Situations The nature of a crisis is that it is sudden and unexpected, it requires a reaction, sometimes immediate, and it results in a change in the way we live our lives. T.OR.C.H.E.S. is both an acronym and a mnemonic designed to help recall this useful information. Truth - Tell yourself the truth of the situation. Order - Establish order. Responsibility – Take responsibility. Courage – Act with courage. Humility – Embrace humility. Empower – Empower others. Stamina – Continue to act with stamina. “Brain lock” is a scientific term attributed to a phenomenon sometimes experienced by skydivers. When under stress, memory, cognition, processing and decision-making skills are all impaired. Thirty-five skydivers per year die because they don’t ever pull the cord to open their parachute. Their brain is in a crisis mode and they are unable to make the decision to open the parachute. The frontal lobe of the brain processes the crisis and then attempts to match the information with situations that have been experienced in the past to decide what should be done. The mind can get stuck in this matching loop and the brain never reaches a decision to take action; rendering the body immobile. This behavioral inactivation is well-documented in several types of disasters. For example there have been airplane crashes where people have remained in their seats waiting for someone to tell them what to do rather than taking the initiative to get out of the plane. There are essentially four categories of crises.

International crises are wide-spread and affect more than one country. An example is the Tsunami of 2004, where 280 thousand people were killed and 42 thousand went missing, with casualties spread across 15 nations. National crises are widespread but affect only one nation, such as in Hurricane Katrina. Community crises are limited to a community, such as when the Interstate 35W Bridge in Minneapolis/St. Paul collapsed, killing 13 people and cutting off a main artery in and out of the city. Personal crises are composed of the five Ds: Divorce, Death, Disease, Destitution and Dissolution. All of us have either experienced ourselves or know someone who has experienced a personal crisis. The effects can be extremely debilitating and far-reaching. Dr. Wade went on to share another personal story, asking the audience to visualize a remarkably humid day looking over the hills of Iowa. Dr. Wade’s family was gathered to celebrate a wedding and his 11-year-old son Scott was on a boat outing with his grandfather. After taking a break from water skiing to let all the children swim off the back of the boat, Scott was challenged to climb back into the boat using the anchor rope on the front rather than the ladder in the back where the rest of the children were coming aboard. His grandfather was driving and didn’t realize that Scott was not on the boat yet when he took off. Conscious the entire time, Scott was bounced off the hull twice before going through the propeller, cutting open his chest. When Dr. Wade and his wife heard of the accident, they rushed to the hospital in a panic.

Truth In a crisis the first step is to determine the truth of the situation. In Scott’s circumstance the first truth was to determine if he was dead or alive. This is our first challenge in a crisis; discovering the truth. Upon arriving at the hospital Dr. Wade learned that his son was in fact alive and the propeller had not penetrated his chest cavity. The wounds on his chest and neck were superficial however both of his knees had been torn apart. The truth was still important; Scott was alive, but it was going to be a long haul of recovery. Now that the big truth was known, there were a series of new truths to discover. The truth was that they needed to hang in there

as a family. The truth was that they needed to find a place to stay and ways to care for the other children while Scott needed their attention. And the truth was also that although their schedule for the summer was packed, they were going to do everything in their power to help Scott recover. James Bond Stockdale was one of the most highly decorated officers in the history of the United States Navy and was also the highest-ranking naval officer held as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He was imprisoned for seven years and routinely beaten and tortured. After his release, Stockdale was questioned on how he survived seven years when so many other prisoners perished and provided the following response: “Retain the faith that you will prevail in the end, while at the same time you must confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” This is now referred to as the Stockdale Paradox. Stockdale claimed that many prisoners with unrealistic optimism would perish. They would literally die of a broken heart when their optimistic plans were not realized. Dr. Wade and his family were living in this paradox; retaining the faith that Scott was going to survive this episode and that it would become a defining moment in his life, while at the same time knowing that there was a long and painful road to pursue.

Order The second step in crisis management is to establish order. The question becomes how to go about prioritizing and deciding what to do next. We have the power to establish order and control the chaos in a crisis situation. Little by little the Wade family was able to establish order and regain some control. In overwhelming circumstances establish small goals, identify the problems and take action on them individually. Eventually this adds up to gaining control over the entire issue that initially seemed to be completely overwhelming. This technique allows you to control the environment rather than letting it control you.

Responsibility We have to take responsibility for our actions. Dr. Wade highlighted one of the most prominent examples of blame in recent history:


Hurricane Katrina. The people who could not be evacuated blamed the mayor, the mayor blamed the governor, the governor blamed FEMA, and ultimately FEMA blamed President Bush. No one took responsibility for the situation. In dentistry blame is sometimes used in situations such as patient compliance, lab errors or insurance. Blame is nothing more than a waste of time. The only thing accomplished is keeping the focus off of you. Dr. Wade asked the audience to look back over their own lives and recognize when they had been the source of a problem. When you face a problem and take responsibility you can begin to move forward toward a solution. Without responsibility it is much more difficult to come to a solution. Essentially, we are always the crux of whatever problem we are facing. This point is illustrated beautifully by the following quote from Char Sweeney: “Whenever I go into a dental office where there is a problem, I know that the dentist has either caused it or is enabling it.”

Courage Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it. — Mark Twain Soldiers in Iraq exhibit uncommon courage on a daily basis. However there are also acts of common courage that can be seen every day. Dr. Wade shared a story of the courage of a woman named Kristi who found herself married with three children to an alcoholic. She initially felt she could control her husband’s drinking but it eventually spun out of control and her marriage ended in divorce. She continued to raise her children on her own while also purchasing and taking over her father’s busy and successful dental practice. This type of common courage is remarkable. Every time he encounters someone with this type of strength Dr. Wade makes a point to voice his appreciation and admiration.



Humility doesn’t keep score, it accepts responsibility for any wrongdoing, and it responds gently to criticism. — Chuck Swindoll, A Life Well Lived Dr. Wade admitted that he has had a personal issue with responding to criticism. Criticism can come in helpful forms, but mostly we see it in an

unhelpful form, at a time when we least need it. It always seems to come when we least deserve it, and from people who are the least qualified to give it. For Dr. Wade, humility is the most difficult part of T.O.R.C.H.E.S. to master. Tony Dungee one of Dr. Wade’s heros and he believes him to be one of the most humble and strong individuals we see today. In 2005, Tony’s son took his own life at age 18. He was able to call upon friends, family and his faith to get through his horrible loss. In 2007, he went on to become the first African-American coach to win the Super Bowl. When Tony speaks of his success in interviews and in the books that he has written he continually credits the help he received from friends to cope with and rise above his personal crisis. Tony Dungee continually displays humility. Dr. Wade also shared a short parable, said to have been found in the pocket of an Israeli colonel after he had been killed, about the perception of loss. The parable spoke of watching a ship disappear on the horizon. The size of the ship continually diminished until it disappeared from view. However, this is only the perspective of someone watching the ship sail away. The ship is also becoming larger from another perspective.

Empowerment Empowerment is to enable or allow someone to do something or to give someone the authority to accomplish a task. Dr. Wade pointed out that in our own crises, we often don’t want to inconvenience anyone to help us. Most people will not provide assistance until we give them permission by asking for help. In a crisis we all need emotional and physical support as well as help from the network that comes from our friends and family. Networking is key to finding new resources and getting the information we need to overcome a crisis. When we know that we have support from others, we act differently and survive situations that we didn’t think we could handle. When there is nothing or nobody waiting, people have little chance of surviving a struggle for life. Accident victims cling to life because they know their children are at home and need their support. Knowing that there is someone relying on us gives us motivation to make it through the most trying circumstances.

Stamina Stamina is endurance, staying power, perseverance, tenacity and it is the glue that cements the rest of these characteristics together. Weariness, depression, loneliness, financial difficulties or failing health can all be barriers to stamina. In an effort to define stamina Dr. Wade shared the story of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to the Antarctic. His ship, named the Endurance, encountered many obstacles along the journey, and somewhere around day 490 of the expedition the ship became trapped in pack ice and was crushed. Shackleton knew that they couldn’t stay out on the ice and led his crew in a search for land, failing at each attempt. Finally, the ice began to break up and they were able to leave in boats. As the men set out, the water splashing over the bow of the boats was so cold that it froze to the sailors’ clothing. After six days in this freezing water they reached Elephant Island, which is a very small outcropping of rock. They were finally on land however the island was so small and remote that there was no hope of rescue. Shackleton knew that they would need to reach South Georgia Island to find help. Leaving most of the crew at Elephant Island he led a small band of five men in the 800-mile sea journey to reach help. Shackleton found the needed assistance and returned to Elephant Island, refusing to desert the rest of the crew. Finally, after 654 days at sea, every member of the crew was rescued. It is amazing how much people can accomplish, above and beyond what anyone believed could be done.

Closing Returning to Scott’s story, the Wade family eventually made it through their crisis. Scott had a long road of recovery that involved multiple reconstructive surgeries on his legs. He exhibited courage through the process. He empowered others to help him. He maintained the stamina to completely recover and eventually became a pastor. He is now married and has a beautiful child of his own. In closing, Dr. Wade left the audience with a Walt Emerson poem that illustrates the crux of what T.O.R.C.H.E.S. is all about. What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.



Leadership Lessons from the Hinman Tornado Keynote Speaker Marshall Wade