I walked into the staff meeting 100s of times – this time as the director. This was going to be different. Now I was at the head of the table. The one folks looked to for many things. How would I differentiate myself in the leader role?
I’d been at the university medical center as a senior staff member and supervisor for a while. I was the youngest senior ever hired at that time. I came in with specific knowledge and experience, true. That’s why they hired me. But definitely not enough leadership experience to be great in that role.
I felt as if I had a lot to prove like I needed to know everything and a huge chip on my shoulder. That chip didn’t bode well. Fortunately, I had a wonderful supervisor. She taught me much and modeled leadership behavior well. When the chip began to shrink, I became more open to reaping the benefits of my seasoned supervisor and expanding my mind and self. Grateful doesn’t begin to capture how I feel about that supervisor.
During my growth, my evolution really, I began to highly value knowledge and experience in others. I sat back and listened versus jumping in with an answer. I was a sponge. Taking in information, synthesizing it, discarding what didn’t fit right, and evolving what was taken in. My gosh, the people around me had so much to offer.
Getting back to being the director. What really was my role? Leader. What does that mean? I’ll tell you what it means to me. A leader creates an environment where people feel valued, heard, and recognized for their contributions. A leader creates a mindful structure so staff can do their work with ease – providing the materials and tools they need to do their job well. A leader lets each staff member know what is expected of them and praises a job well done.
A leader notices structural deficits, evaluates why that deficit exists and aids the process, the environment, whatever … to be what their staff needs to be productive. If the deficit is in a staff member, the leader helps the staff member reach their potential… with professional development, mentoring, coaching, and empathy. Professional development and growth for your staff is a must regardless if there is a deficit or not. People need to be enriched. Listen, listen, listen. A leader helps to create a cohesive, productive whole – the sum of all the incredible parts.
In a university medical center setting, there is a hierarchical order dependent on the letters that follow your name – aka your discipline. I supposed that’s appropriate on some level. Heck there’s a pecking order in any setting. Unfortunately, that pecking order can also relate to a value order, being listened to order, being acknowledged order. That’s where I differentiated myself. I valued, listened, and acknowledged every member of my staff… and it showed. After becoming director, WE reevaluated the efficacy of our program. We had retreats to redesign our program, make it better, and collective decisions of how to make the transition. Our program was cutting edge and wonderfully successful for the years that I was there. Why? Because we had the best of the best staff with knowledge and experience galore and they had a place to let that develop, prosper, and shine. Every staff member shined. I learned later in life it was the Culture I developed as the leader that did that.
When it was time for me to leave, I did exit interviews with each member of my staff. A final way for me to thank each one, grow from their feedback, and say goodbye. One of my most memorable exit interviews was with a staff member that didn’t feel particularly valued when I first met him. His parting response to me was, “You looked at me as an equal and invited me to the table to share what I knew, and it was a lot. Thank you so much for asking me to sit next to you. It was a privilege.” It was many years ago now, but I still get emotional every time I recall that moment.
He and I, as they say, arrived. He was so kind to thank me. In all honesty, it was me who had the privilege. Thank you.
Written by Paula Halewski. Here’s what you’ve missed?