January 10, 2018
Aspire to Be “Untouchable”
This month marks my 10th anniversary at Sound Physicians, prompting me to reflect not only the past 10 years here at Sound, but on my entire professional career. I couldn’t be happier where I landed, as I am privileged to work with an organization reshaping healthcare delivery where I make an impact daily. I have a career with purpose, meaning, and satisfaction; and for that, I feel extremely grateful. But what led me here? Was it luck? Was it my own drive for success? Did others get me here? The answer is YES to all three. Given the momentum around #MeToo, I’m sharing my perspective on the issue of harassment in the workplace. The #MeToo movement is giving voice to women from boardroom executives to frontline workers who felt powerless to out the men who harassed or assaulted them — until now. Women are gaining courage and support to share their experiences, ranging from being the target of tasteless innuendos to out-and-out rape. The wave of personal accounts is astounding and disheartening. This reflection forces me to take recent events into consideration and ask myself – Was I ever a victim? Did male colleagues or supervisors abuse their power as I progressed in my career? Furthermore, did I work in an environment that was silent, ignored, or condoned bad behaviors? The answer this time is NO to all three — thankfully. During the most pivotal moments in my career, which include both success and failure, I was lifted up by a host of men (and women) wanting nothing more than for me to grow, learn from mistakes, and thrive. I built close platonic relationships with powerful mentors who never abused their influence at all. To hear the stories of women coming forward is simply heartbreaking, and I praise them for their courage to come forward. At the same time, I feel an equally compelling need to honor the gentlemen who have pushed me to aspire in my career. The first one is easy – my father – a retired Lieutenant Colonel in the Army who had natural leadership skills that I observed from as early as I can remember. He was always the one to volunteer to lead a team, whether it be coaching, at church, or in civic service – it didn’t really matter. He simply flocked to leadership and others followed. The second is another easy one – my husband – a self-starter who has, at times, sacrificed in his own career so that I could aspire to mine, including supporting me through rigorous travel, long hours, and, worst of all, crankiness that comes from the normal course of stress that accompanies work. He single-handedly manages three kids when I’m not around, and surely all parents agree that is no easy feat. The remainder of my list includes individuals who will remain nameless, but, by their actions, they will know who they are should they read this. To my first boss who promoted me amidst a line of candidates shortly after I started to fill a position I was woefully unqualified for because he said, “You have what it takes.” To a boss who showed me you could have a wacky sense of humor and use it to inspire followership. To a former CEO who provided me a safe zone where I broke down in his office after experiencing a personal situation, demonstrating the importance of empathy at the highest level. To the host of male colleagues who have been kind enough to walk me to my car, hotel room, or client site when they didn’t feel I should venture alone. To a boss who has been exceedingly tough on me – mastering the role of devil’s advocate, but, in doing so, pushed me to fine tune my critical thinking and presentation skills. To a current executive who has taught me that a healthy body creates a healthy mind and sets an example by making fitness a priority, even after long days in the office. To my current CEO who appropriately prioritizes being a father first and endorses others to do the same removing our natural inclination to feel guilty. To my current boss who has far more faith in my capabilities than I do at times and isn’t afraid to push me out of my comfort zone. Similarly, I have a tremendous sense of gratitude for the privilege to work with several inspirational women leaders. I’ve observed a female executive with what can only be described as a fierce commitment to exceeding customer expectations that has shaped my approach to service. One remarkable servant leader taught me that organizations can have heart by weaving philanthropy into day to day operations. One female leader was so formidable that it was well understood that you better have done what you said you were going to do…or else. Some lessons can be painful to learn! And finally, to the numerous superb medical leaders here at Sound whose attentiveness, engagement, and compassion for teammates here at Sound rival the care they give to patients. While there are many to whom I attribute my success, it wouldn’t have happened if I lacked the courage to reach for the stars on my own. I have pushed myself far more than others have pushed me, but the support of these individuals certainly greased the wheels for my early success. The last few decades have brought considerable progress to women’s advancement in leadership roles. The wage gap is narrowing, while more and more women occupy board seats and C level positions. It is my hope for my own daughters, sisters, friends, colleagues, as well as my current team who aspire to be leaders that they intentionally build platonic relationships with powerful mentors who believe in them. A word of caution — while there seems to be plenty of room for some men to reconsider the words they use to communicate to female colleagues, I fear we may observe a subtle counter-movement where male colleagues become increasingly guarded when communicating with teammates. The resulting “walking on eggshells” dynamic will unfortunately work against women in the workforce, creating an invisible communication barrier that might otherwise be a productive, professional environment peppered with some humor and fun. Only an organization with a strong, collaborative culture can avoid and even be brave enough to tackle it head on. My closing message to women – NEVER stay quiet when you have been a victim. It will take courage to extricate yourself from unhealthy situations. Start by seeking support from people you trust to help you. It is incredibly challenging to remove yourself from unhealthy situations but that is the only way to make yourself “untouchable” by those who seek to do you harm. And my message to women in leadership positions now – find ways to create a culture where people connect rather than compete, fostering trusted relationships where ideas are shared and valued. Together, we can change the future and society as a whole – creating an environment where sexual harassment doesn’t exist and where everyone has an equal opportunity to achieve success.