30 April 2018
Forty years ago this month, I completed my academic studies in finance at the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss was an important part of my family’s traditions, and I treasure fond memories from my time in Oxford. From playing Division 1 basketball to serving in leadership positions within various campus organizations, I am grateful for the opportunity to have received a “well-rounded” education as I experienced formal academic training and also learned a lot about life in general.
Earlier this year I was invited back to my alma mater to lecture in several classes regarding the importance of gracious leadership.
As I contemplated the guidance I might offer the bright-eyed students of the Trent Lott Leadership Institute for Public Policy, several important messages from the school of life took center stage.
Passion, respect and authenticity
First, because these students are deciding what to do with the rest of their lives, I encouraged them to do what they love and love what they do. In every aspect of life, matching the passion of the person with the purpose of the work can yield great joy as opposed to viewing work as “just a job.”
I encouraged these future leaders to get involved in causes they care about and to speak up with confidence about issues they believe are important. I urged them to ask for stretch assignments, so they can broaden their skills while enriching their learning opportunities. And I cautioned them not to fear failure as learning from mistakes is an important part of life and work.
Because these students aspire to serve as future leaders within organizations of all types, I encouraged them to appreciate the value brought forth by “all” members of their teams, regardless of titles or positions. This basic respect is mission-critical as leaders seek to maximize the ROI of their most precious asset — their people.
I coached them to listen more than they talk. Great leaders know that while those who talk the most in conversations may feel better about the discussions when concluded, the individuals who listen the most will likely be more enlightened.
Lastly, I encouraged these students to remain true to who they are versus what they think someone else expects them to be. I shared with them that henceforth, their full-time homework assignment will be: to become all they were created to be.
Mentor with care
When I reflected upon my time with these students, I was reminded that as leaders in the workplace, we also serve as faculty in the school of life.
It is our responsibility to be purposeful in teaching our followers important lessons about both work and life at large. As leaders, we are accountable for helping our employees understand not only “what” they are to lead, but also that “how” they lead is of equivalent importance.
Please remember that the school of life is in session every day, and the lessons your employees learn in the workplace will transcend all aspects of life.
20 April 2018
As I was writing Gracious Leadership, my aspiration was to create and share a timeless message of fully respectful leadership that would impact the leaders of today as well as future generations of leaders.
It is within this dream of teaching our future leaders “how” to lead that I humbly share the following book review of Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, written by Heather Hubbs, an Administrative Fellow at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
I offer my sincere gratitude to Leadership Development Expert Peter Giammalvo, PhD, who shared Gracious Leadership with Heather. Peter recommends that leaders and managers at all career levels within healthcare read this important message about the strategic imperative for fully respectful leadership.
Thank you for your commitment to become a gracious leader.
Janet Smith Meeks
27 March 2018
Last year as I wrote Gracious Leadership, Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, I had an opportunity to reflect upon some very important people in my life…. individuals whose influence made a permanent impact upon who I am and how I lead.
Certainly, my parents shaped and molded my convictions regarding the need to respect all people, to demonstrate uncompromising integrity and to be courageous at all times… especially in the midst of turmoil and difficulty. Loving teachers inspired the young people of my hometown to be our very best in the classroom. They taught us to reach for the sky and to dream big about how we might change the world for the better. And during this week when the NCAA Final Four Women’s Basketball Championship is being played here in Columbus, I fondly reminisced about my high school coach who, by believing strongly in the potential of his young basketball players, led four lanky freshmen to a 28-5 record with all-conference honors during our senior year. That same coach instilled within us a deep conviction that “team” should always take precedence over individual performances and that discipline would forever be required to master any game plan we might pursue in life or in work.
As I wrote Gracious Leadership, I also thought deeply about my most impactful professional mentors. Each one of these leaders clearly made a positive, permanent imprint upon my life and my work as they role modeled “how” to lead. I was taught by their examples early on in my career the importance of developing aspiring leaders and teaching them to become comfortable being uncomfortable in mastering new skills. I learned the importance of showing compassion to all employees while concurrently ensuring that accountability processes were established and followed with consistency. One vital mentor taught me the sanctity of listening to others with purpose as though they were the only individuals within my world. And yet, when pondering an important, high impact career assignment, another revered mentor demonstrated great confidence and calculated risk-taking by placing more importance upon a rising leader’s potential and zeal for excellence as opposed to considering solely the individual’s prior work experience.
I am grateful to have had the opportunity within Gracious Leadership to share the lessons of leadership and life that I learned from my positive, role model mentors. It was not only a gift to reach back and thank them for the permanent impact they have had on my life, but also a blessing to pay forward these lessons by challenging the leaders of today and tomorrow to lead similarly in a fully respectful manner.
Throughout my career, I have also had the opportunity to learn from a few colleagues how “not” to lead. From bully behaviors and playing the “blame game” to anger management issues and a preoccupation with organizational politics, I believe these toxic actions prevented our organizations from realizing their full potential. Yes, these toxic leaders also made a permanent impact upon my leadership and my life as I became deeply convicted to lead with goodness and with grace while vowing never to emulate their untenable behaviors.
I’d like to challenge you to take a few minutes and think about the permanent impact you are making upon those individuals whom you are leading…. especially those who are in the early chapters of their careers. Consider the lessons you are teaching them today. And then fast forward forty years and ponder what your followers might say about your mentorship at that time in the books they may write about leadership and life. Will you be the mentor they long to remember with great fondness or did you teach them how “not” to lead?
22 February 2018
Rarely does a day go by that we aren’t bombarded with media accounts of high profile, toxic leaders. From bully behaviors including sexual harassment offenses that have harmed countless individuals all the way to the demise of once “high flying” corporations, the ripple effect of bad bosses seems to be at an all-time high.
Because you are the CEO of your company, as you read this article, I invite you to consider two primary opportunities that are more important now than ever before. First, I encourage you to get real with yourself and ponder if your leadership style includes some of the bad boss behaviors described within this article. Secondly, after you’ve been honest with yourself regarding how you are showing up every day, take a candid look at other leaders within your organization and assess if they display the characteristics of toxic bosses or if they emulate the attributes of positive, high performance leaders. If opportunities for improvement reside within either consideration set, then the simple question for you will be, “So what are you going to do about it?”
During the past year I was immersed in writing a book that teaches leaders how they can be fully respectful and lead their teams to achieve consistent excellence. As an important part of this journey, I sought feedback from highly respected leaders who shared their personal experiences with “bad bosses.”
One colleague said, “My boss, a high-ranking leader in our organization, was well known for throwing people under the bus, passing the buck and ‘putting people in their place.’ When it was time for public recognition, my boss was always the first in line for praise.”
A second colleague shared, “My boss wouldn’t listen when I brought forth legitimate concerns. Because this ongoing dysfunction ultimately made me feel I was being taken for granted, I eventually developed a bad attitude as opposed to being a corporate cheerleader. This drove me to the point where I actually submitted my resignation to work for a competitor.”
And yet another leader stated, “My boss never gave us any feedback unless it was negative. Our work was never good enough for her.”
A wide range of other bad boss behaviors was conveyed such as … My boss took credit for the work of the team… The boss threatened me and yelled at me… My boss was out of control with his temper…. I never knew when my boss was going to “go off on me.”
Why are the toxic behaviors of bad bosses so pervasive in today’s society? What is it that makes so many leaders miss the mark?
Perhaps these well-meaning individuals learned bad leadership behaviors from their own superiors or from within dysfunctional homes. Perhaps it’s because these leaders have delivered a solid bottom line in the short term. Perhaps these toxic bosses think their followers actually desire such negative antics. Or, perhaps these leaders are simply not happy.
While the list of reasons could go on and on, one thing is certain. Bad bosses are not going to change if we remain silent in our acceptance of their untenable behaviors. As a sage person once said, “If you permit it, you promote it.”
Numerous accounts exist of organizations that have fallen from excellence because of toxic leadership. Corporations such as American Apparel and Uber have suffered costly reputational damage and value deterioration because the bad behaviors of their CEOs were permitted. The ripple effect of a toxic boss is far reaching as such individuals will ultimately shape the work environment of affected organizations. And, no quick fixes can readily repair broken cultures.
In a June 20, 2017 issue of the academic journal The Conversation, authors Katina Sawyer and Christian Thoroughgood wrote an article entitled “Fixing a toxic culture like Uber’s requires more than just a new CEO.” The authors state, “Our work on toxic leadership demonstrates how toxic, unethical, flawed, or otherwise ineffective leaders can do a lot of damage in organizations. But the damage can also run both ways. Susceptible followers, a lack of checks and balances, and other cultural elements can help create or reinforce bad leadership.”
The authors identify two types of followers who are “likely to remain obedient to toxic leaders, turn a blind eye to their behavior, and even participate in the leader’s destructive activities: conformers (individuals who are prone to obedience) and colluders (those who actively align themselves with toxic leaders).” Colluders should be rooted out of the organization and conformers need to be trained to understand what the organization is doing to require positive leadership and a healthy corporate culture.
In 2006 I was asked to lead the turnaround of a struggling hospital. Opportunities for improvement existed across the balanced scorecard. As we taught our leaders about the importance of assuring accountability among all employees for both technical and behavioral competencies, we would initially hear the comments, “But she’s a good nurse” or “He’s a good housekeeper.” We became disciplined in requiring managers to hold individual conversations with all employees, telling them what they did well and what improvements would be required for them to be more effective. Thankfully, most of the employees who had behavioral deficiencies sought to change, and many of them did improve. For those who unfortunately didn’t “get it” … well, let’s just say they were liberated to find new opportunities elsewhere.
Now, back to the two questions that I encouraged you to ponder. If opportunities for improvement exist within the leadership ranks of your organization, what steps will you take to be a fully respectful CEO who also expects consistent excellence throughout your organization? What will you do differently starting today? And what will you require of those who follow you? Just remember that the ripple effect of your leadership… be it positive or negative… will last for many years to come.
29 January 2018
On August 26, 2016, New York Times Op-Ed Columnist David Brooks shared an article entitled “The Art of Gracious Leadership.” While his article was primarily directed towards presidential candidates, his observations regarding some of the most revered leaders in history provided a strategic opportunity for CEOs in all settings to reflect upon how they lead.
According to Brooks, “If you treat the world as a friendly and hopeful place, as a web of relationships, you’ll look for the good news in people and not the bad. You’ll be willing to relinquish control, and in surrender you’ll actually gain more strength as people trust in your candor and come alongside. Gracious leaders create a more gracious environment by greeting the world openly and so end up maximizing their influence and effectiveness…. Such people have a gentle strength. They are aggressive and kind, free of sharp elbows, comfortable revealing and being abashed by their transgressions.”
At the time it seemed ironic to hear this particular call to action for Gracious Leadership as I had held deep convictions for many years regarding the imperative to lead with grace. In fact, earlier in 2016 I had made presentations about Gracious Leadership at the request of leadership development organizations.
As a veteran C-Suite leader within the healthcare and financial services industries, I learned early on from blue chip mentors the importance of displaying confidence and humility. I learned that in order to hold my teams accountable, the buck started and stopped with me as I was responsible for being crystal clear with my staff in advance about performance expectations. I learned that accountability and compassion were not mutually exclusive, and I also learned that employees were starving for feedback because they wanted to understand the true impact of their work. In fact, I saw employees’ eyes “light up” when I thanked them for a job well done and how they listened in earnest as I shared direct, yet kind candor regarding how they could be more effective.
As the chief executive of my organization with almost 2,000 employees, I had to own leading the way by consistently role modeling the attributes of fully respectful, peak performance leadership. I also had to ensure a positive, ripple effect throughout the organization as my leaders were expected, not only to emulate gracious, accountable behaviors, but they were also to teach the same principles within their respective spans of control.
Early in my tenure as a hospital president, I encountered resistance from cynics who believed Gracious Leadership was “soft stuff.” Quite frankly, they were wrong! Through practicing the grace and tough love that are integral to Gracious Leadership, we transformed a struggling, community hospital into an award-winning, high performance regional medical center ranked within the top 5% of hospitals nationally. We had highly engaged employees, physicians who happily collaborated to achieve excellence, very satisfied patients, outstanding quality and great financial results. Gracious Leadership is not soft stuff. Indeed, it’s strategic!
The application of fully respectful leadership has also served other corporations well. As an example, the turnaround several years ago at Campbell’s Soup was grounded in then CEO Douglas Conant’s conviction that “To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” Conversely, organizations such as American Apparel and Uber have suffered costly reputational damage and value deterioration because the toxic behaviors of their CEOs were permitted. And seemingly on a daily basis, we are bombarded with stories of high profile, toxic leaders. Sometimes it makes me wonder that if, without intervention, we could be approaching a crisis of leadership.
I believe that teams of all types, within any industry, can reap great rewards by displaying respectful behaviors as they seek to reach greater heights. This holds true at home, on the basketball court, in the C-suite, or in the boardroom.
Please take a few minutes to reflect upon your own leadership style. Ask yourself, “As CEO of my company, is the ripple effect of how I lead creating the right results for my organization?”
My hope is you will be inspired to become more purposeful about being a fully respectful, peak performance leader and lead like you’ve never led before… starting today!
20 January 2018
In 1983 I left the banking industry for healthcare following a devastating health experience. While I was hospitalized, nurses, techs, housekeepers and other employees taught me the true meaning of the “Head-Heart Connection.” These caregivers and support personnel did not know me from the next patient. Of course, they were motivated by their job descriptions to meet my clinical needs. But they also were inspired from within their hearts to treat me like the only person in their world. In short, they changed my life forever!
I have always been passionate about the power of positive leadership and the profound impact of frontline employees. During 2017 I decided to write a book about fully respectful leadership and the importance of the Head-Heart Connection.
I am humbled to share that Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before has just been released. The goal of the book is simple: to teach leaders they can be fully respectful while concurrently guiding their teams to achieve excellence and to inspire leaders to show all their employees they are making a positive difference.
Gracious Leaders in every industry are purposeful in inspiring employees to embrace the Head-Heart Connection. Be sure to sign up for the Gracious Leader newsletter at the bottom of the page. The Gracious Leadership book is now available on our website and on Amazon.
Please share your thoughts about the importance of the Head-Heart Connection. There’s no better time than now to lead with goodness and grace while inspiring employees to serve with their heads and with their hearts. Join in the conversation today!
2 January 2018
I grew up in a small town, surrounded by adults who constantly told the community’s young people to dream big — that we could do anything we wanted and we could be anything we wanted to become.
These words of encouragement led me to dream big as I pondered what to do with my life.
I loved basketball and dreamed about becoming a coach. My father in his infinite wisdom told me the seemingly transient life of a coach would be difficult, and he guided me to pursue the field of finance. My father was wise indeed as, at the time, very few women were in this male-dominated space.
After about five years in banking, I switched to healthcare and over the course of time, I found myself being encouraged by mentors to seek to lead a hospital. Once again, I dreamed big, although I didn’t see this particular dream as being realistically within reach because I hadn’t followed the traditional career path of hospital CEOs.
In 2006, my dream came true as I was given the opportunity to lead a hospital. In the years that followed, I realized my role as a hospital president was actually a lot like the job of a coach. We had a clear game plan. We practiced discipline to ensure our team was “brilliant at the basics.” We celebrated great performances, and we provided constructive feedback to encourage our team members to play at the top of their game. My dream to be a coach had come true after all.
In 2015, I made a bittersweet decision to retire from hospital administration. Once again, I found myself dreaming big. After almost four decades within financial services and health care industries, I knew my true love from a professional perspective was positive leadership. I also knew that I loved to write. I wondered how I might combine my passion for respectful, effective leadership with my love of prose. I soon discerned my next big dream would be to write a book about leadership… gracious leadership.
Encouragement all around
During the past year, I have been immersed in memorializing the important lessons I have learned about leadership and life. These lessons have been gleaned from my parents, my favorite mentors and my own leadership journey. This book has been a labor of love, and I am pleased to share my dream has come true as “Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before” is being released this month.
I have been blessed throughout my life to have been surrounded by encouragers who taught me to dream big. I now encourage you to do the same. Dream big … dream far beyond what you believe is realistically possible. Take risks. Ask for opportunities. And don’t be afraid to fail as it is our mistakes that teach us the most memorable lessons of life.
You’ll never know what a positive difference you can make until you try. It all starts with a little encouragement and your own big dream.
13 December 2017
Several years ago, I started dreaming about writing a book regarding positive leadership. I am humbled to share that this dream has now come true as Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before will be launched in January.
When I started my journey as a young leader, I was not aware of any book that defined the qualities and competencies required to achieve my personal mission as an aspiring leader – that being, to lead my team with uncompromising respect and to achieve peak performance within a work environment that my employees would revere.
Fast forward almost 40 years… When I decided to leave my full-time role in hospital administration in 2015, I reflected upon the reality that leaders still did not have ready access to a “how to” book that might teach them to become good and gracious, peak performance leaders in a fully respectful environment. As such, I started the journey to write a book about Gracious Leadership.
My zeal for this work grew exponentially this past year as I, like you, found myself bombarded with sad-but-true stories of toxic, high profile leaders. It seems that on a daily basis we hear media accounts about bad bosses who have become known for bully behaviors including sexual harassment.
I thought to myself,“Enough is enough.”
Now is the time to turn the tables and focus on all the good that can be achieved, all of the joy that can be derived, and all the value that can be delivered through positive, effective leadership.
Because you are an ambassador of positive leadership, I wanted you to be aware that the Gracious Leadership website is now available awww.graciousleadershipbook.com. Through this site, I will be sharing resources and blog posts that support the Gracious Leadership Movement.
While the book and ebook will be not be available through Amazon until mid-late January,pre-orders of signed copies are now available directly through the website and should be shipped beginning the second week of January.
Please visit the Gracious Leadership website, order the book if you’d like to learn more, and share freely with your friends, family and colleagues. Come along and join me as we seek to create a world full of good and gracious, peak performance leaders.
Together we can lead like we’ve never led before.
7 December 2017
We’re excited to announce that Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before is now available via pre-sale through our website!
A limited supply is available and orders will be filled on a first come, first served basis. The books will be shipped beginning the second week of January.
Please provide special instructions in your order if you would like a signed copy of the book.
6 December 2017
You might wonder why it was important to me that I write a book about Gracious Leadership.
There are two primary reasons. When I started my journey as a young leader, I could not find any book that readily defined the specific qualities and competencies required to achieve my personal mission as an aspiring leader – that being, to lead my teams with uncompromising respect to achieve peak performance results within a work environment that they revered.
As a new MBA in 1978, I simply did the best I could to be a respectful leader who guided my teams to achieve the right results. Thankfully, I was blessed to work for some incredible mentors who showed me the way by the great examples they set.
Fast forward almost 40 years… When I decided to leave my full time role in hospital administration in 2015, I reflected a lot about my journey as a leader and those mentors who had inspired me.
I was struck with the reality that four decades later, we still did not have ready access to a “how to” book about becoming a good and gracious, peak performance leader in a fully respectful environment.
As a result, I found myself becoming intrigued about writing such a book to memorialize the important lessons of respect in leadership and life that I had been blessed to learn throughout the years.
In the spirit of transparency, my passion to pursue this work grew exponentially in 2016 – 2017 as I, like you, found myself bombarded by the media with a seemingly endless proliferation of sad, but true stories of toxic and negative, high profile leaders. I thought to myself, “Enough is enough.”
I decided that remaining silent on the issue of negative leadership was not an option. Instead of falling prey to the adverse impact of highly visible, toxic leaders, it was time to turn the tables and to focus on all the good that can be achieved, all of the joy that can be derived, and all the value that can be delivered through positive, effective leadership.
In short, I wrote this book to inspire a movement of positive leadership… indeed to create a world full of good and gracious, effective and respectful leaders…the type of leaders that inspire teams to achieve greatness. And equally as important, my big dream is to fill our world with role model leaders that we want our children, our grandchildren and the leaders of the future to emulate.
The second reason I wrote Gracious Leadership is both personal and pragmatic. Simply put, books last longer than people, and because the key ingredients of Gracious Leadership are timeless, I wanted to leave these lessons of respectful leadership and life for the generations that will follow.
At a time in our history when civility and decency have been significantly diminished within many environments, aspiring leaders now have an opportunity to step up and serve as fully respectful, peak performance leaders.
Now is the time for Gracious Leadership, a positive leadership movement – and now is your time to make a profound difference as a good and gracious leader! Come along with us. Join us today and lead like you’ve never led before!