Many of us have heard the saying ‘the person who gets the promotion is the person who’s already doing that job,’ or ‘a leader serves instead of commands.’ Many of you could probably create an entire list of these sayings. We’ve heard them since before the start of our careers. However, what if you aren’t in a leadership position yet? Should you still listen to these sometimes-cliche sayings?
We speak with AARC member Margie Pierce, DBA, RRT, CPFT, to discuss the importance of being a leader no matter what role you’re in. Margie is currently serving as the Administrative Director of Respiratory Care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. To say the least Margie has had plenty of opportunity to learn what important attributes leaders should possess and what does and doesn’t work.
We asked Margie as series of questions and she responded with her advice:
What are the top three skills every leader should possess?
Leadership is situational therefore a wide range of leadership traits will be needed based on the current situation. However, the utmost leadership quality is integrity.
Integrity in a leader refers to being honest, trustworthy, and reliable. People can count on you to consistently do what you promised, show respect for your colleagues, and accept responsibility for the good and the bad. Integrity is your reputation, and it takes time and effort to build it yet can be easily damaged.
Next, is empathy. Empathy is an essential skill that is many times is overlooked as a soft skill, which it is not. A leader who is empathic can perceive the emotions, experiences, and perspectives of others. An empathetic leader can foresee the effects of decisions and relate to how it may impact others. Empathy is about building an environment where people feel safe to share their point of view, feel heard, and included.
The third top skill is agility. The last year dramatically demonstrated the need to modify the way we think and do things. We have encountered many unforeseen roadblocks such as team shortages and supply chain issues. Leaders at all levels had to get ahead of rapidly changing circumstances and make swift decisions. Leadership agility stands out as a key skill. The agile leader gathers input from diverse sources to improve decision quality, prioritizes work, and delegates well since you cannot do it all by yourself.
What does your leadership story look like? How were you a leader in your first role and how are you a leader now?
My first role as a leader began at the bedside. Being able to make a difference to a patient and family brought me great job satisfaction. As a staff RT, I had the opportunity to participate in many initiatives such as new programs and protocol development. Those opportunities were great stretch assignments so I could gain new skills and build my confidence. As I stated previously, the utmost leadership skill is integrity and I believe that being reliable, trustworthy and accountable opened up these opportunities for me. Now, as director of a large department, my number one priority is to find opportunities and stretch assignments for my team so they can learn and grow as leaders. I love helping others develop and succeed.
How can an RT stand out as a leader? What opportunities do RTs have to stand out as a leader?
First, an RT that stands out as a leader will have earned the trust and respect of others, not just within the RT department but also outside the department. Standing out starts with the basics such as reliability, positivity, and a willingness to speak up. I also recommend ensuring your boss knows you would like to be considered for all opportunities no matter how small.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
That is a really long list! I probably cannot name any one person because I rely on many for feedback and advice depending on the situation. It is important to identify who a mentor is, and I would say first and foremost it is someone who will tell you the truth, even if it stings. One of my mentors was good at asking open-ended questions and allowing me time to reflect. She did not give me the answers but rather asked great questions to lead me to the right answer. I asked another mentor for a job reference, and he told me “Absolutely no.” He said that is not the right career move for me and I needed to aim higher. In retrospect, it was the best advice I ever received because it made me pause and reconsider that move. He was right! How’s that for the truth.
As a leader yourself, what qualities stick out to you in your employees?
A willingness to speak up if something doesn’t seem right is a great quality. It demonstrates commitment on many levels. First, it is a commitment to the patient followed by commitment to the department and the overall organization. If you think about it, many great skills are included in the ability to speak up such as effective communication, helping others, honesty, and integrity. The ability to speak up is a quality that not everyone possesses. When you speak up you are voicing your values. When you don’t, qui tacet consentire videtur (Latin), “he who is silent is taken to agree”.
What is one decision you wish you hadn’t made? And one decision you’re glad you made?
Luckily, I have not made any major life decisions that I regret. There are a times in retrospect, where I wish I would have kept my mouth shut or that I hadn’t sent an email response too quickly. If I were to give any advice, it would be to give yourself some time to contemplate how you want to respond. Do not be impulsive. I will write an email and let it sit in my draft folder for a day. Inevitably, the response is different after I have had time to think it through. My husband will often remind me of the Will Rogers quote, “Never miss a good chance to shut up”.
A decision I’m glad I made multiple times is stepping out of my comfort zone. It can be easy to stick with the familiar or have an excuse for why you can’t do something. When something is difficult, it requires you to think and work harder to achieve it and learn new skills. In the end, taking on challenging opportunities ended up being the best decisions I ever made. For example, I passed on the job offer when my mentor refuse to give me the reference. I stayed put and took on more assignments. That decision opened the door for the right opportunity which was an offer at Penn Medicine.
Here I have been able to grow successfully and more importantly help other RTs grow too.
How has COVID-19 impacted leadership opportunities?
COVID19 has created opportunities for RTs to show their skills and innovate on multiple levels. When we were in the heat of a surge, RTs stepped up to fill multiple lead roles. It was a time for collective action. For example, we had RTs step up and provide leadership by training and supporting the outpatient RTs to work acute care assignments, training CRNAs to understand critical care ventilators as RT extenders and expanding the RT role to tele-critical care. The bedside RTs got out of their comfort zone and made a difference as leaders. They worked collaboratively with physicians and nurses to ensure the best patient care. Their talents blossomed. If one thing didn’t work, they would pivot and try something else. Several have advanced on the clinical ladder, one advanced to the Director of Patient Safety, another is in a stretch assignment leading a new team, and one formed a health system committee focused on RT research. It was the hardest time and yet a time for opportunity as well. I think going through something like the pandemic gave RTs confidence in their abilities to do new things.
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