It’s annual review time at my organization and while we could debate the usefulness (or uselessness) of such an exercise and discuss how other large companies are ditching them in favor of other forms of assessments, that’s for another day. I just reached my third anniversary in this role and the other day one of bosses (yes,plural) asked me where I saw myself in a couple of years. My predecessors never stayed longer than three years, choosing to move into different roles so some are wondering if it’s about “that time” for me. The short answer is no – I have a lot to learn yet. But I didn’t know how to answer him and that was confusing to me because in previous roles I would have had a clear path to the next step in my career or education but this transition to operations has caused me to rethink my trajectory. I honestly don’t know what’s next and it’s a little scary for me. Prior to operations, I was on a clear path to becoming a leader of learning/leadership development. The work I was doing and the education I was gaining were both intentional choices to help prepare me for that next step. Then, in the words of Emeril, “BAM” I was in operations. Now you could absolutely argue that this move would help me as much as any degree to become a Chief Learning Officer, and you’d be right but it’s given me an opportunity to pause and really reflect. I had no intentions of entering into operations and yet here I am…and don’t think I don’t love my job because I absolutely do…this just wasn’t on my plan. Growth opportunities usually aren’t always planned and I will always be eternally grateful for this one. Now before you start thinking this is a topic of neediness, it’s not. It’s about the value of being vulnerable, opening up to others, and the impact it can make on you and them.
Not that long ago, I’d been particularly discouraged by a number of things at work and honestly had been wondering if this whole “leader of operations” thing is for me. I’m guessing you’ve all been in this spot before or will be and it’s rough. This feeling is so foreign to me. In previous roles, I was confident, I was surrounded by professionals in my same field, I was accomplished, I was good at what I was doing…really good, to be honest. Suddenly, I found myself feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing…feeling isolated …and feeling like I was failing. What a place to find yourself, huh? But at work, I never let on like anything was wrong. I was the same happy, positive, optimistic person I had always been. Trying the ole, “fake it til you make it” routine. Something had to change, so I reached out to one of my closest colleagues. After sharing my feelings (the other F word for business types), he confided in me that he found himself in that spot often and challenged me to reflect on my first few days/months of my role compared to where I am today. He also said that because of his drive to be the best and constantly evolve that he sometimes forgets to stop and reflect on what has allowed him to be successful and identify what worked. Well that hit home for me. Ever heard of being unconsciously competent? Healthcare operations is so fast paced that often we don’t feel like we have time to reflect, right? We were and are getting top results (high quality, efficient care wrapped in a world-class experience) but I couldn’t say that any one thing I was doing helped us get there. So I stopped suffering in silence and started opening up to others – being vulnerable – and I have been truly blessed by these conversations. Within 48 hours I’d gotten so many little nuggets of reinforcement. It was both bizarre and amazing. Maybe I was getting them all long but I just was just oblivious. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something. Who knows, but the timing was perfect.
Just recently, unprovoked, during a performance eval conversation, one of my employees told me that I had helped her grow in ways she didn’t know possible. I had helped her out of this invisible box she’d not known she was in. She told me that when I first started and had asked her to send an email to another director, it was so scary – she’d never had to do that before. She reached out to family members to help her formulate the email and after doing that over and over again she felt so empowered. She was so proud of herself for accomplishing something I never even knew which then made me so proud for her and I told her so! She had several examples of how I had helped individuals and the team in ways I’d never stopped to consider. Wowza. Maybe, just maybe I was good at what I was doing, I just didn’t realize it.
I’ve often heard the higher you climb in leadership, the more lonely it becomes and I guess I was living that, but I didn’t have to be. I had (and have) plenty of other leaders, friends, who were in the same boat I was, who are supportive and who look up to me. So here‘s the deal. Healthcare is changing at a blinding speed with no sign of slowing down, so as leaders, we have to figure out how to stay sane. Take time to take care of yourself. Stop and celebrate the successes and failures and learn from them both. Realize you don’t have to have all the answers and you don’t have to have it all figured out…after all, if it’s called the PRACTICE of medicine, then it should surely be the PRACTICE of leadership. For the love of Pete, the President of the United States has a whole slew of advisors to help so create your own “cabinet”. Find a mentor or coach to help you prioritize yourself and carve out time to reflect. The common requirement for all of these things is vulnerability. What self-care are you giving yourself? What are you doing to take an account for your accomplishments? Be vulnerable to yourself. Be vulnerable with others.