When I am asked about my career journey, I often tell people that the continuous theme has been saying yes to every opportunity, even when it has been outside of my comfort zone. When someone offers you the chance to do something new, even if you’re not 100% comfortable, just say yes. Find a way to get yourself up to speed and transition to the new challenge. There are many ways you can do that, either by coaching, peer mentoring, reading relevant articles and books and networking with people who are experts. Two resources that have been particularly helpful for me have been The Leader’s Edge, an executive coaching and consulting firm that helps women expand their leadership skills, and Barbara Pachter of Pachter & Associates, one of the world’s leading experts on business etiquette and communication.
Years ago, when I was Vice President of Clinical and Family Services, I was asked to take over revenue cycle management. I did not feel confident in my knowledge of this area, and had no technical skills to rely on, but knew it was an opportunity for me to learn another side of the healthcare business. I said yes. My next step was to find people more senior to help me learn. I read a lot, talked to people in the departments that made up revenue cycle, and worked hard to get myself up to speed. Eventually, I became more confident over the course of several years. When I took on this new responsibility however, it did not come without sacrifice. I had to give up a few other departments that I was managing, and it was some of the work that I loved most about my job. But I knew that I wanted to get out of my comfort zone, and so I traded that for a new challenge.
I continually give this advice to women I mentor, but I also continue to live it myself. I was recently offered the great honor of joining the Comcast Corporate Board. Although it was certainly a goal of mine to join a corporate board, I did not expect the opportunity at this point in my career. I worried that perhaps taking on this new challenge while simultaneously getting up to speed as CEO of CHOP was too much to take on. But I’ve spent my entire career in non-profits, so this is an excellent chance to get out of my comfort zone. I don’t have a background in the technology, communications, or entertainment business but I believe that by studying, talking to experts, and finding someone on the board to mentor me that I’ll be able to bring important learnings back to my organization while growing my own competencies.
Additionally, I’ve learned that leadership skills can often transcend technical and industry experience. As I was reading through Comcast materials, I started to realize many of the general concepts were similar, and began to feel like I will be able to use my skills and leadership abilities as a former COO to bring value to the board. I think often times, women don’t give themselves credit for what they bring to the table outside of technical skills. You don’t have to be proficient in something to take it on, in fact you should always be pushing yourself to do not just the things that you’re familiar with. That’s what stepping outside of your comfort zone is all about. I’m truly grateful for this next challenge, and I applaud Comcast for adding another woman to their board.
I recently suggested to a woman I’m mentoring that she identify 3 areas in her work that are intriguing to her that she doesn’t already know about. I said she should find people to talk to and learn from, and then tell them she’d be interested in any openings that may come up. It can be hard to take on more, but I’ve always found that you can find bandwidth by delegating to other people. Why trade something you are great at and may love for something you know nothing about? It’s all about gaining experience and perspective. When you’re feeling unsure, just remember that in a year or two you will know this new area, and it will be a part of who you are and what makes you effective in your job. It can be hard to know your own potential, and by stepping into area that you are not comfortable with you ultimately learn what you’re capable of, which is the ultimate confidence booster.