Leaders Are Always Watched

Leaders Are Always Watched

As I have mentioned in previous blog posts, leaders are watched. Whether you realize it or not, followers listen to you, even when you don’t intend to send messages. It is for this reason that I am often very cautious about staying focused on messages of leadership and organizational culture while steering away from political messages. I have not used my leadership platform to make any statements that may be misconstrued as political. In fact, I value people from “both sides of the aisle” and I have worked along side of both Democrats and Republicans.  

I have kept to this practice until recently, when I began speaking out to advocate for preserving Medicaid funding for children. I was even a bit uncomfortable putting my views out there but I felt that I need to be the voice of children who cannot vote or speak for themselves – who better than me, who has the ear of elected officials? Now, I must take that a step further, as I believe all leaders need to do when we face intolerance. I cannot insulate the people I work with from some of the hate in this country but I can make my workplace a safe and tolerant place for all employees and patients. And, I can use my leadership platform to send messages to employees. Here is an excerpt from a recent message I sent to employees:

“…It was painful to see the hatred that unfolded in Charlottesville, but it inspired me to work even harder to model the values we are reinforcing. I am confident that tolerance and equality will overwhelmingly defeat hate and violence. We have a shared responsibility to make our workplace a place where all staff, visitors and patients feel respected, welcome and safe. By promoting a culture of respect and diversity, we can deliver on this commitment and send a strong message that our team of 14,000 will not stand for anything less….”

If you are a leader, now is the time to use your platform in more deliberate ways to influence others. It is much easier to be complacent, but as history tells us, dangerous things can happen when leaders look the other way.

How Values Trump Experience in Leadership

How Values Trump Experience in Leadership

Photo by Jeff Fusco

I took a bit of a break due to a trip to the summer Olympics in Rio and a 9-day trip to London. Now that I am back from that travel, I plan to update the blog more regularly!


Over the summer I guided an older gentleman on a tour of CHOP. He had a special historical connection to the Hospital and has been a longtime supporter. I felt grateful for the opportunity to spend time with him since he is the retired CEO of a very successful company. Although he is no longer CEO, he remains on the board. Along the way, he had some good advice for me.

He told me the story behind hiring the CEO who replaced him. He said that he had two candidates, one who had the very best Ivy League School business credentials with an impeccable resume of experience. The second candidate he considered was someone from a less prestigious business school and not as experienced.

His company selected the second candidate for the role. Although he did not have the same pedigree, this former CEO told me that the board hired the second candidate simply because he embodied the company’s values.

His comment made me reflect on the organizational values where I work — Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect and Excellence — and the importance of assessing those values in the people that I hire. Experience can be gained, but embracing and truly living your organizational values is what is most critical to success. When you hire people, reflect on your values and the values of the company where you work. Make certain that you ask questions and reference check to better understand how well your candidate embodies those values. Don’t get distracted from what’s important by placing all your focus on pedigree and experience.

I always tell people that everyone you hire is a reflection on you and an extension of your leadership. Ensuring that you surround yourself with people who espouse your values is an important foundational step toward making sure they represent you as the leader and the place where you work.

Why Influencing Skills are More Important than Your Title

Why Influencing Skills are More Important than Your Title

Over the past month, I have spoken to three people about their future career options. Each was seeking career advancement and an executive title. In each case, I told them that chasing a title is not actually the best way to advance. Of course, that seems easy for me to say with the title of President and CEO. But hear me out…

When I probed about their interest in title progression, I heard them make comments such as, “I want to have credibility and I want a seat at the table.” I continue to hear this from others that I have mentored over the years. They hold the misconception, as many do, that a title will buy them leadership credibility and followership. But the title is not the ticket to leadership. There are other qualities that shape a leader and that, most importantly, generate followership.

One of those qualities is possessing influencing skills. These are skills which help you understand how influence works in your organization and how you can use that influence to better carry out your leadership goals.

More than a title, aspiring and current leaders need to understand that gaining followership from influencing people is critical to success. So, what does that look like? How does one gain influence? First, one must identify the stakeholders. These are the people that are impacted by a certain decision. Once you’ve identified them, spend time with them. Share your viewpoint on a situation and ask them to identify others that may help you to lead in a certain direction.

An effective leader does not say “Do this!” and expect it to be automatically done. An effective leader creates a map of who needs to be involved, who will be impacted, and who is in a position to help me lead.

Even with the title of President and CEO, I use my influencing skills to lead far more than my title. It is with influencing skills that one actually get things done.

Developing Your Leadership Presence – Philadelphia Business Journal

A recent article in the Philadelphia Business Journal offers “2 ways women can develop their leadership presence.”

Want the thumbnail? 1) Tout your accomplishments, and 2) use technical/numerical terms to discuss the impact of your work.

Read the article, then re-visit my thoughts on how to establish your executive presence here.

How to Hire and Motivate the Right People

How to Hire and Motivate the Right People

In a recent mentoring session with an emerging leader, we spoke about the challenges of the hiring right people. Beyond that, we talked about how I motivate new team members and make sure that they support my vision as a leader.  It’s an important conversation about a topic that can be easy to theorize,, but difficult to put into practice. I told her that the first thing to remember is that as a leader, everyone who works for you is a reflection on you. You’re only as good as the people that surround you. I often let that knowledge motivate me to take a bit of extra time before choosing a new hire.

Since taking over as CEO, I had been looking for a new for a Chief Operating Officer to replace my former role.  I recently hired someone and of course I took into consideration their technical skills and experience. Equally, if not more important to me was their potential for the future, their emotional intelligence, and their overall commitment to the mission. If  someone can demonstrate to me why they are committed to the mission of CHOP, it goes a very long way in terms of feeling confident about adding them to my team. Looking past someone’s proficiencies means asking ourselves if they are they going to fit into the culture and support you as a leader. But that is easier said than done.

Before hiring someone, try to spend time with them – not just reference checking. Bring them into social situations and see how they react.  I recently took a potential candidate and his wife to dinner with my husband and me. I was able to observe his social skills and it made me feel confident in his ability to work collaboratively. However, a note of caution here. We can often be compelled to hire people who we like; who we feel are like us, or who have similar backgrounds. But this can be a trap. Look for people who are different than you and bring different skills to the table. For example, I tend to look for analytical people since I have a tendency to make quick decisions.

When you are interviewing in a formal setting however, there are a few tactics that I find to be helpful. I usually ask people what led them to apply for the role. I tend to get so much good information from that question, and though it sounds obvious, it’s amazing what you can learn from how little or how much info they give, and how thoughtful they are about their answer. When you can steer the conversation past what they have done and towards WHY they want this job and why it fits into their future you will get important insights. I always say the “why” questions are the best ones to ask to get a sense of a person’s self-awareness. Ask them what others would say about them if you asked. Let them talk more than you. Present scenarios to them and see how they’d respond. All of these tactics will lead you to a better understanding of the kind of person they are.

I once heard a great line: you permit what you promote. Not only are people paying attention to who you choose to hire, but also will keep a close eye on who you promote. It truly gives people an understanding of who you are as a leader, and what you find to be the most valuable qualities in the workplace culture you create. If your employees know exactly what you stand for, what you want to accomplish and how you want to accomplish it, they will be better able to support you and know what is expected.  In order to motivate people it’s really important to give them a big picture of the goals of the organization and how THEY fit in. If you can’t bring it back to how they fit in and what it means to them, I believe that people can get a little lost. There have been times when I’ve had to explain why we’re moving in an unpopular direction as an organization, and the more I’m able to tell people how they fit in and what I need from them specifically, it helps their motivation levels. As a CEO, I want to be aspirational and visionary but I need to still be able to bring these ideas to the front lines and explain how my employees can help to bring  that vision to life.

Lastly, if you do feel like you’ve made a mistake with a new hire and it turns out they’re not the right fit, it’s always best to make the decision early and let them move on. I think a lot of times leaders want to give people excuses before they let someone move on. In the end, it will only hurt them to stay in the wrong position.  

How I Learned Empathy as a Nurse

I recently received the same question at two different post-speech Q&A sessions and during an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer:

What about your experience as a nurse prepared you to be CEO?

Well, firstly, that question kind of makes it seem like I was a staff nurse one day and the next day I was appointed CEO. In fact, my career journey took several turns from my start as a pediatric nurse in an infant and toddler unit to my current position. Still, I appreciate this question because it gives me an opportunity to talk about empathy.

As a nurse, I learned the importance of having empathy to do one’s job well. When you’re trying to teach a family how to care for a child with a new diagnosis, you want the best possible outcome for everyone involved. You try to understand how the family is coping emotionally as they recover from a health crisis in their child and are beginning to accept a potentially life-changing diagnosis. You need to try to understand their family dynamic, their knowledge and systems of childcare, their culture surrounding children. Challenges to good health are often multi-faceted, and no two families are exactly alike. Nurses regularly use empathy skills to know how an individual patient and his or her family will hear and respond to the healthcare provider’s message and use that to determine what the patient needs going forward.

Empathy and effective performance as a leader go hand in hand. As a leader in my organization, I try to put myself in the shoes of not only CHOP’s patients and families but its staff as well. I ask, how can I better enable them and support them to do their best work? Part of my mission is to get out of my office and hear from CHOP’s front line employees so that I can better understand the challenges they face and work to improve how we function.

I can also use that opportunity to tell them about important issues I see and bring the big picture of the organization to them. Together in these conversations, we figure out how they fit into that big picture and what we both need to do to get better. In order to make these effective discussions and not just opportunities for glad-handing, you have to start with empathy — an ability to listen and learn how people hear your message.

So many executive leaders don’t think about how their message will be received. They perfect their stump speeches and leave it at that. But understanding what your employees are going through is essential. When I give a talk, I do my best to find out who the audience will be, why they are coming, and what issues are important to them so I can bring nuance to my message. If I’m to give a talk on quality and value in healthcare, I’m not going to give the same talk to medical students as I do to senior medical staff. I will try to think about what the students know and what their world is about.

Put simply, I try to connect with them. And I learned how to do that as a nurse.