Tune in, tune up, tune out
A chief medical officer shares her prescription for transitioning successfully from the emergency room to the boardroom
A few years ago, I was tantalizingly close to landing my dream job – and nearly blew it. I was Director of the Emergency Room and Assistant Chief Medical Officer of a 330-bed hospital under new ownership. The CEO told me that he wanted to promote me to Chief Medical Officer, but only if I proved that I could handle the broader leadership responsibilities and develop the interpersonal skills the role demanded. I had six months to get it together, or he’d find another person for the position.
It wasn’t about my intelligence, or technical competency. The issue was that I wasn’t liked, respected or trusted by many of my colleagues. This was a challenge I’d never confronted before. I’d been the captain of my tennis team, chief resident in medical school… I was even that kid who always got picked first for dodgeball. I’d been leaning in my whole life, and now it somehow seemed to have become part of my problem! I knew I needed help, but couldn’t relate to any of the books I found on women in leadership. So, with the support of my CEO, I decided to hire an executive coach. I chose Eden because I was impressed with her extensive experience and her personalized approach to coaching. Together, we embarked on what I later coined my “tune in, tune up, tune out” journey.
Tune in: Eden interviewed 10 of my colleagues, eight of whom I had less than ideal relationships with, to help us get a better understanding of how they perceived me. The experience of reviewing and reflecting on the feedback she shared with me was the hardest thing I’ve ever done professionally. We learned that people had issues with the way I dressed (not conservative enough). With my hand gestures (too dramatic). And that I was seen as bossy, overly self-sufficient and intent on proving that I was the smartest person in the room. As a result, my voice, my opinion, my ideas and my strategies weren’t being heard.
As Eden and I talked through various scenarios at work – how I could handle difficult situations differently, how I might start rebuilding strained relationships, how to develop a more collaborative leadership style – I started to understand that in order to be heard, I didn’t have to change who I was fundamentally as a person, but I did have to change everyone’s perception of me.
Tune up: We developed a game plan to do that, and I started making small tweaks here and there. I actively solicited feedback and alternative points of view after presentations I’d made and during meetings I was running, and made sure to comment on what others said: “Interesting point.” “Good idea!” “Excellent question.” Or just a simple “thank you”. I stayed off my phone during meetings,and let the emails pile up while I sat still and listened intently.
I went to the lunchroom and talked to everyone (no small feat for someone who feels uncomfortable making small talk), allowing others to start to see me as a person, rather than a disciplinarian.
Most importantly, I asked for advice, even when I didn’t need it. I wanted everyone to feel included in our team decisions. You cannot lead if no one wants to follow you.
After about 6 months, we checked back in with my colleagues from the 360 on my “progress”. The unanimous consensus was that I was now a pleasure to work with and work for. Coworkers felt comfortable coming to me with problems and advice. They wanted to support me and share in my success. My CEO was no longer getting caught in the middle of conflicts I’d inadvertently created.
Tune out: Sure, there were (and still are) people in the organization who didn’t love me. But that’s always going to be true, and I learned not to take it personally. The important thing was that I now had the personal capital and relationships to be heard, and to be an effective leader. I got the promotion – I was on my way!
Today, I may still express myself more passionately than others at the table, but I am successful. I know I am making a difference in our hospital through my leadership. And my voice has never been stronger. Getting recognized for my work by American Healthcare Leader earlier this year was a nice feather in my cap, but what I’m most proud of is the impact my team and I are having on improving the lives of our patients.
Working with Eden was a rewarding experience. Her coaching has allowed me to see my work life with a significantly broader lens, which has helped me be more successful. Her coaching style is direct, personal, insightful, heartfelt and supportive. Her intuition and experience allowed her to go beyond the surface very quickly to get to issues that were limiting my potential. Her coaching has helped me grow professionally and achieve results.
– Meika Neblett, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, CarePoint Health System – Hoboken