Column | Leadership

'Stuck in the Middle With You'

Column | Leadership

'Stuck in the Middle With You'


Even if you are too young to remember this song going gold in 1972, you probably have heard its catchy hooks: “Clowns to the left of me. Jokers to the right. Here I am stuck in the middle with you.” 

The song was co-written by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan and recorded by their band Stealers Wheel. I also like the Jeff Healey Band’s version. Apparently, the song was written as a parody of Bob Dylan’s paranoia, and the signature line was about being caught at a music industry cocktail party. The fact it hit gold shocked Rafferty. You just never know, right?

The song still gets a fair amount of play, and Michael Smerconish, host of a morning talk show on SiriusXM, has adopted the song as his show’s theme. He applied this idea of being “stuck in the middle” to our political climate, where he advocates not for one party or another, one ideology or another, but rather for what is fair, reasonable and just. The belief is that most are in this middle, yet the voices from the middle are drowned out by the loud voices on the comparatively smaller fringes.

Often, we see this same dynamic in our work environment. I have used a phrase many times that I borrowed from a company called Despair, Inc. (satire!) that goes like this: “None of us is as dumb as all of us.”  

It’s a satirical statement about meetings. But the truth is, how many times have we made group decisions that the participants in the meeting would have never concluded individually? And often that occurs because of cognitive bias, decisions made ahead of time and loud voices. 

Sometimes it’s those of us in finance who are guilty of that. But you have a big opportunity to lead here. In finance, you are involved in a wide variety of conversations and decisions, because money touches most decisions. That gives you the ability to be a convener  —  the one who encourages many voices to be heard, the one who recognizes cognitive biases that are misleading and the one who helps guide the decision to its best outcome.

To improve the outcomes and decisions, to go beyond the numbers as former HFMA Chair Joyce Zimowski called us to do, it takes intentionality, and it takes work. The good news is you have relationships and resources through HFMA that can help you be your best self, the best leader possible. I’m glad to be stuck in the middle with all of you!

About the Author

Michael M. Allen, FHFMA, CPA,

is CFO, OSF Healthcare System, Peoria, Ill., and 2020-21 Chair of HFMA.

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