One of the things that I am most proud of about the North Shore–LIJ Health System is our institutional commitment to leadership training. There are lots of examples, but the best I know of are the “high potentials program” for administrators and the “leadership development program” for physicians. Both accept a fraction of nominated individuals, and provide a variety of support services, classroom training and mentorship to participants. Not surprisingly, the programs get rave reviews and the graduates are sprinkled in leadership roles throughout the organization.
I was recently asked to address a group of about 50 participants from both programs as part of a series called “executive forums,” in which a senior executive tells his “personal leadership story” and does a Q&A with the attendees. Sounds good except – because of some crossed lines of communication – I didn’t realize that was the expectation until I had little or no time to prepare. As it turned out, I am glad I didn’t have more time.
Since I was sort of “winging it” I kept my remarks informal and conversational, and just told the story of how my career unfolded, and ended up with me at the front of the room. I then tried to draw some lessons from the journey that I thought might be helpful.
To start, I made two observations about my own trajectory:
- I could make the path I took sound methodical and well-planned, but only because I was telling the story in retrospect. Prospectively, I was not “aiming” for where I ended up, there were lots of points in time where it could have gone in an entirely different direction, and the whole thing felt a lot more messy and uncertain along the way.
- I was fortunate to have a supportive spouse and a few key mentors, the value of both being hard to over-estimate.
And here are some of the things I said I learned along the way that I thought would be helpful to the group:
- Keep the time horizon short. The world is changing too fast to expect that you can reliably predict what your work environment will be like or what opportunities may arise more than 3-5 years ahead.
- Commit. I told the story of my trying to “avoid burning bridges” back to an old job when I was named interim holder of a new job I really wanted. I was killing myself and was not as effective as I could have done in the new role until someone pointed out to me that “it is really hard to steal second base if you never take your foot off of first.” After that, I let go of the old and concentrated on the new.
- Say yes. Special assignments, projects, committees and the like often seem like a burden, but they are also a great way to learn new things, connect with new people and open new pathways in your career.
- Seek out frank assessments. I can vividly remember a few conversations (some more than 20 years ago!) in which somebody did me a very big favor by pointing out my misconceptions or shortcomings. Those were tough, but incredibly helpful in redirecting me.
- Get a coach. It is incredibly helpful to talk through work-related issues with someone who is invested in your success. All too often, the people we work with have their own agendas. In my experience, the closer you get to the top of an organization, the harder it is to sort out who you should be confiding in. A significant other can often fill this role, but be careful not to turn all your pillow-talk into work-talk.
- Embrace change. It may sound kind of corny, but the pace of change in healthcare is so fast that you can’t be successful without a willingness to acquire new skills or an openness to new ideas.
In the end, it was one man’s story. I tried to make it clear that I was sure that there were other paths to take, and other principles to follow, but it seemed like a lot of what I said resonated with the group.
I hope you find it helpful too.