14 October 2019
A book review from Randy Cook, M.D.
Uncommonly insightful observations on common human behavior
Janet Meeks never even considered a career in healthcare until a profound and emotionally wrenching life event suddenly placed her inside a healthcare facility as a patient. That experience left her with a deep respect for nurses, physicians, technicians and the many other humans that work together to deliver healthcare in our nation. Later, when she was offered a position within a large healthcare system in her native Mississippi, she sought and received counsel, both pro and con. Eventually, she made the decision to leave the banking world, which she knew and fully understood, to enter the world of healthcare, which was totally uncharted territory for her.
Gracious Leadership is the beautifully written story of her journey over more than three decades, finally finishing her career as the leader of a hospital which was transformed under her guidance into a model of both patient and employee satisfaction. It should be required reading, not only for hospital executives, but for anyone who aspires to be a business leader in any field. Her advice and personal observations are at the core of any attempt to build and maintain productive relationships.
Meeks bases her leadership style on what she calls the “head-heart connection.” To quote her own words: “Leading with both your head and your heart does not mean you’re soft or fail to hold your team accountable to achieve the right results. Much to the contrary, when you lead with your head and your heart, you consistently act in the best interest of your key stakeholders and are purposeful in helping employees understand they are doing meaningful work.”
The book presents an in-depth discussion of thirteen key principles of gracious leadership. The ideas presented in these discussions are informed by real life experiences which Meeks relates in detail. Each of these discussions is then followed by a list of reflective “conversation starters” to facilitate the cultivation of gracious leadership.
As a physician with more than four decades in private practice, I regret that I never encountered a hospital executive who possessed an understanding of how to motivate and cultivate human resources in the way that Janet Meeks so clearly does. I hope this book will find a place within arm’s reach of every healthcare executive in America. In fact, executives in virtually any field will benefit as well. The principles put forth in Gracious Leadership transcend any identity of product or service. It’s a book about people and how to help them become the best possible version of themselves
12 June 2018
A Book Review from Anna Pannier, MBA, FACHE, President-Elect of the American College of Healthcare Executives of Middle Tennessee
It has been several years since I read a healthcare leadership book that has excited me about our work as much as Janet Smith Meeks’ Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before (Smart Business Books, 214 pages, $24.95).
Out of the gate, Janet shares her personal, compelling story that motivated her career pivot from finance to healthcare. She advises leaders taking on new roles to slow down to speed up. She recognizes the trap many smart leaders fall into of jumping into rapid problem solving, believing they show the most competence by making a big difference fast. However, relationships matter and spending time to develop trust-based relationships through listening are the foundation for effectiveness.
While the title Gracious Leadership may sound soft, Janet shares stories and tools that are quite the opposite. Instead it truly represents the intersection of ultimate respect and optimal outcomes.
This leadership model is founded in the concept of respect for all, with an emphasis on listening with purpose and responding with care. She quotes SAS CEO James Goodnight who said,” Treat people like they make a difference and they will.” There is an emphasis on developing others, encouraging others, seeking feedback and remaining committed to continuous improvement of self.
Gracious Leadership asks leaders to perceive every problem as an opportunity for asking the right, empowering questions that will help their team develop solutions and harness the passions of individuals to purpose. Chapters conclude with Conversation Starters for Your Team, lending itself as a leadership team’s tool for creating a shared vision and accountability plan. In this way, this good work may represent the next step in a healthcare organization’s journey toward excellence.
Due to the great alignment with our executive member interests, ACHEMT is working to bring Janet Smith Meeks to Middle Tennessee for an upcoming program, so stay tuned.
6 June 2018
Co-chaired by KeyBank’s Holly Stokes and Michelle Haslinger, our Central Ohio Key4Women community recently hosted a networking event that featured a fireside chat between KeyBank Central Ohio Market President Melissa Ingwersen and Janet Smith Meeks. The conversation centered on Janet’s recently published book Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before and her movement to create a world full of respectful leaders who guide their teams to excellence. More than 100 local business leaders heard this inspiring woman describe how to be tough but kind, straightforward but compassionate, and driven and grateful as a fully respectful leader. The following is a summary of Janet’s message that day.
A better way to lead
There’s no mistaking it: We live in a time when civility and decency have been devalued, creating a true crisis in leadership. For many executives, kind and respectful treatment of employees doesn’t factor into their management model. After all, they reason, it’s best to remain distant and detached from the people around you. Janet Meeks knows there’s a better way. It’s called gracious leadership.
Leadership based on civility and respect
An award-winning C-suite leader with a record of achievement in the healthcare and financial services industries, Janet has drawn important conclusions about the values that are essential for effective leadership. “Gracious leadership is about the power of respectful, positive leadership,” said Janet. “Gracious executives and managers listen with purpose, recognize they don’t have all the answers and demonstrate uncompromising respect for everyone. They unfailingly give credit for successes to the team. And here’s the bottom line: Teams led by gracious leaders can and do achieve peak performance.” To some, the word “gracious” may sound soft. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” countered Janet. “To be gracious is above all to be respectful of others. Gracious leaders provide constructive feedback—delivered with kind candor—to encourage employees to excel. Employees are starving for feedback because they want to understand the impact of their work and to know that they’re making a difference.”
Janet has employed the key ingredients of Gracious Leadership throughout her career, and she’s now spearheading a movement to help foster leaders who put respect and civility at the center of the workplace. She has the proof to back up her beliefs: Janet has consistently led highly engaged teams to generate sustained value, superior profitability and customer satisfaction by facilitating a culture of compassionate accountability. “Gracious leaders believe that compassion and accountability go hand-in-hand,” Janet noted. “Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity, and effective leaders uniformly place a high value on developing healthy, positive relationships. At the same time, employees need to know in unambiguous terms what is expected of them and how their performance is being measured. You aren’t being respectful to them if your expectations and standards are unclear. Leaders must be accountable too—they have to own their results, and their team members must see that.”
Gracious leaders are compassionate, but that doesn’t mean they let poor performers drag others down. “A gracious leader always works with individuals to help them be better,” she said. “But it’s tough love. If employees don’t improve or refuse to be accountable, they have to go. Failing to address problem employees is a sign of disrespect for team members who are performing.”
Janet emphasized that compassion plays an important role in the lives of individual team members as well as leaders. “In the hospital, I saw numerous instances of small acts of kindness—a caring word, a gentle touch—by nurses and physicians who were helping people deal with suffering,” she observed. “They had the head-heart connection. They were doing the technical parts of their jobs and also taking care of the whole patient’s needs.”
Basketball and mentors
“When I was in the eighth grade, my father encouraged me to go out for basketball,” Janet reflected. “While I couldn’t walk and dribble at the same time, I was willing to give it a try. Not only did I fall in love with the sport, but some of my most important lessons about leadership and teamwork originated from this experience. Like any team, our squad had to stick to the coach’s discipline to gain mastery of basic skills. We had to adopt the coach’s game plan and expertly execute plays necessary to win, just as teams in the workplace must follow the leader’s game plan to accomplish their goals and realize the organizational mission.” Like great coaches, great leaders provide constructive feedback when things don’t go well and praise when excellent results are achieved. “It’s really disturbing that some leaders think that praise is soft,” she added. “Recognition isn’t soft at all. In fact, it’s absolutely strategic. The value of telling someone they’ve done a great job is immeasurable.” Janet was quick to underscore the value of mentoring in the workplace. “After 40 years of professional service, I’m convinced that mentors who shepherd subordinates along in their careers have the greatest impact on their development,” she said. “I’d like to see purposeful mentoring programs in all organizations, and I advise aspiring leaders to have the courage to seek out mentors who will give them their very best.”
Gracious Leadership— the book and the movement
Janet’s dream is that we fill our world with leaders who inspire their teams to excel, to shine brightly as positive leaders, and to be the role models of today that the generations of tomorrow will want to pattern their lives after. In the book, Janet describes the 13 key ingredients of gracious leadership that are proven must-have strategies to optimize organizational results. “All of the key ingredients are required,” said Janet. “It’s like baking a cake—you can’t leave one ingredient out and expect that it will turn out well. There are no shortcuts when leaders seek to develop and to sustain highly engaged, enthusiastic teams that produce consistently excellent results for their organizations.” Gracious Leadership is more than just a book—it’s a movement to inspire a high-performance leadership culture based on inclusiveness, respect and openness.
The support you need
To learn more about the gracious leadership movement and to obtain a copy of Janet’s book, visit graciousleadershipbook.com.
For more Key4Women resources to help you reach your goals, visit key.com/women.
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1 June 2018
A Book Review from Bruce W. Miller, CPA, CFO of Transportation Research Center, Inc.
I recently read Gracious Leadership – Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before, by Janet Smith Meeks. I have read many books on leadership as growing and supporting good leadership is a personal passion. The two things that struck me most about this book were Ms. Meeks honesty and the simplicity in her writing style, which was very refreshing. I find so many books on professional development to be written for PhD’s and in such depth that they tend to miss the mark of simple and actionable steps.
By using the KISS principle, Ms. Meeks’ approach makes each of her thirteen “Key Ingredients” of how to be a Gracious Leader very practical. Providing not only a thorough description, but also ways to implement the ingredients as demonstrated through her years of leading organizations. No complicated steps, no complex formulas, just straightforward and honest.
Ms. Meeks benefited from Gracious Leaders throughout her life, starting with her father. And while she encountered poor leaders along her career, she used those experiences to strengthen her own foundation in order to promote better leadership styles. What’s even more important is how she used those negative experiences to solidify her character and graciously coach, mentor, and if need be, stand up to bad leaders – even bullies.
One of the most important issues that Ms. Meeks identifies, which is something I too have noticed for years… “the tone of the organization is clearly set at the top, and how leaders behave will cast long shadows, not only throughout their businesses, but also into our homes.” Few people can leave their professional troubles at the office. Instead, they wear those problems like a millstone around their neck to their homes, their places of worship, their civic clubs – literally everywhere they go. Toxic work environments impact a person’s marriage, their children, their friends, even strangers they meet on the street. It is also a significant cause of both physical and mental health issues. The tentacles of toxic leadership reach far beyond the confines of the office.
Ms. Meeks ends each chapter with a series of insightful questions to discuss with your team and/or colleagues. I would suggest you first sit down in front of a mirror to ask yourself these questions and be brutally honest with yourself. Truth may hurt, but it is the only way to ensure your leadership style is fostering positive outcomes. If you suffer from the greatest weakness of bad leaders, ego and pride, then doing these steps may be extra painful, but also liberating as you move towards a Gracious Leadership foundation.
I highly recommend this book to all C-Level leaders, managers, aspiring managers and every MBA student. Our workplaces, houses of worship, homes, society, and especially the halls and chambers of our local, state, and national governments need to read, learn, follow, and execute all thirteen “Key Ingredients”. The need for Gracious Leadership is critical!
As Ms. Meeks quotes from SAS CEO James Goodknight, “Treat people like they make a difference and they will.”
28 April 2018
In the 1980s, Janet Smith Meeks thought her future was all planned out.
Working at a bank in her home state of Mississippi, Meeks enjoyed the finance field and was expecting her first child. But when a heartbreaking event occurred, her whole life changed.
She lost the baby to a congenital disability upon birth. Meeks fell into deep mourning, but she was thankful the hospital staff was helpful and sympathetic during the incident. These events inspired her, and just four months later, Meeks found herself working in the health care industry.
“They did so much more than meet my clinical needs. Whether it was a gentle squeeze of my hand or someone saying the words ‘I’m so sorry.’ … Those employees loved me through that time,” Meeks says. “In the weeks that followed the baby’s death, I could not get it out of my mind, and I became convinced and, in fact, convicted that I belonged in health care.”
Meeks’ first position in health care was at the North Mississippi Medical Center as director of public relations and development. She learned fast and her leadership skills grew, which eventually led her to a job as president of Mount Carmel St. Ann’s.
Meeks retired from Mount Carmel St. Ann’s in 2015, but she’s keeping busy with hobbies, her family, her consulting start-up company, and promoting her new book, Gracious Leadership: Lead Like You’ve Never Led Before.
When Meeks was asked to give a presentation at the Ross Leadership Institute in 2016 about leading, she laid out her notes and saw the words “gracious leadership.” The talk was a success, and soon, colleagues began to ask when she’d write a book.
The writing process, which Meeks describes as natural and fun, began in February 2017. By Jan. 2 of this year, Meeks was holding a physical copy.
“Leadership is what we are to do to get the right results, gracious is how we lead to get the right results,” she says. “I had a desire to lead these lessons for those who are leaders now and will be leaders in the future.”
With the recent sexual assault incidents in the news, she wanted to get the book out promptly, but the scandals weren’t the reason for writing. Meeks says she wanted to create a timeless, politics-free book that helps all leaders understand respect.
“No leader can guide a team to peak performance unless every person in every position feels valued, respected and appreciated,” she says. “We need this message now more than ever before. If we remain silent … then we are making a choice to have our future leaders fall prey to toxic leadership.”
The book features conversation starters, note-taking sections and Meeks’ personal experiences. Part II of the three-part volume outlines the 13 key ingredients Meeks says every leader should have, including respectfulness, listening, accountability and gratitude.
Meeks says she hopes to create a movement from people reading the book and changing their attitudes or those around them.
“I believe we can get enough people truly jazzed and passionate about the impact that positive leadership can and does have,” she says. “I just want (the readers) to be so excited about that, that gracious leadership will become second nature.”
A Loving Role Model
Meeks’ kind, yet go-getter attitude can, in part, be attributed to her father.
Growing up in Mississippi in the 1960s, Meeks’ dad was a country lawyer who supported the desegregation of the public schools. Even after the Ku Klux Klan threated the Meeks family and burned down their barn, her father stayed true.
“My father taught us every person is to be fully respected, regardless of position, regardless of race, regardless of gender,” she says. “And every leader is to do what’s right, even and especially when it’s not popular.”
This attitude has carried on through her entire life. After she moved to Westerville in 2008, she began her presidential role at the hospital, which was then struggling with patient satisfaction. This year the facility was rated five-stars by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
Meeks and her staff focused on areas such as making all-around expectations more clear, empowering employees with feedback and giving positive encouragement or notes of gratitude for hard work.
“I was at peace about leaving St. Ann’s because we had a fabulous leadership team that was ready to further spread their wings and soar, and the hospital was performing at peak,” she says. “And they have continued that positive trajectory.”
After retiring from Mount Carmel St. Ann’s and writing her book, Meeks can spend more time with her large family, especially her husband, Richard D’Enbeau, former president of Mount Carmel New Albany. Together, they enjoy riding bikes, traveling and running their company, Healthcare Alignment Advisors, a consulting firm that helps companies strengthen their skills.
“Westerville is the best hometown ever,” she says. “We love how the people here are so friendly and the residents have such a sense of pride about the community. It’s a beautiful place to live … and it’s home.”
Meeks hopes to continue giving inspirational presentations on leadership, and that the movement will take off.
20 April 2018
A Book Review from a Vanderbilt University Medical Center Administrative Fellow Heather Hubbs
“The positive ripple effect of your gracious leadership carries great potential for many generations to come.” – Janet Smith Meeks
What is your favorite recipe? Maybe it’s a tried and true recipe that has been passed down for generations within your family or maybe it’s a newly found creation from Pinterest. Regardless of the dish, I always find a recipe helpful and I tend to gravitate towards ones that incorporate basic, yet wholesome, ingredients that are readily available.
In the high-stakes, ever-changing, and multidimensional healthcare industry we work in, wouldn’t it be nice if leadership had a recipe? What if the path to becoming the most effective, results-driven, and impactful leader was a formula of skill ingredients that were readily available for us to tap into? How would we lead differently with this knowledge? Fortunately, Janet Smith Meeks has prescribed just the recipe to allow leaders from every industry to attain peak performance while leading in a different, yet better, way. The recipe, however, is not for the faint of heart and allows absolutely no short cuts to be made.
Before revealing the key ingredients, Janet discusses the Head-Heart Connection. Simply put, decisions should be made utilizing both data and hard facts coupled with the broader impact on stakeholders. Contrary to popular belief, leaders can, and should, use both their head and their heart to make decisions; this is a critical factor in becoming an enlightened decision-maker who minimizes adverse results. “When you lead with your head and your heart, you consistently act in the best interest of your key stakeholders and are purposeful in helping employees understand they are doing meaningful work.” This further creates a win-win situation because, “…employees need to experience a connection between what they are motivated to do through their job descriptions and what they are inspired to do from within their hearts.”
After understanding the Head-Heart Connection, it’s now time for the key ingredients, which include the following thirteen strategic components: respect, valuing relationships, listening with purpose and responding with care, seeing problems as opportunities, asking the right questions, matching passion with purpose, developing people, requiring accountability, courage, seeking feedback, providing feedback, compassion, and gratefulness. The ingredients may appear ‘soft’ or too simple, however, they are proven business essentials.
Take recognition, for instance. A 10 year study of 200,000 managers and employees was conducted and disclosed in The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. “According to the data, companies in the highest quartile of recognition of excellence report an operating margin of 6.6 percent, while those in the lowest quartile report 1 percent.” As Janet says, “…employee engagement has been proven time and time again to be a driving force in optimizing and sustaining organizational performance.” Greater results come as common decency and respect are restored back into the workplace and gracious leaders set the stage for the opportune time to achieve “the right results in the right manner”.
As you can see, leadership and recipes are a lot alike. To be successful, all key ingredients must be added. However, both can involve wrong decisions that enable a situation to go awry quickly. Maybe you added baking powder instead of baking soda or maybe you were quick to criticize and slow to listen.
Regardless of the situation, becoming a fully respectful and gracious leader, is a journey and not simply an end result. We as leaders must demonstrate patience and persistence in our quest to effectively lead ours teams and organizations. Burnt dishes are inevitable and failures will happen. However, with practice and perseverance, we can instill respect and positivity in our day to day routine and ultimately create thriving teams and organizations that are bursting at the seams with gracious leaders.
In case I have not made you hungry enough with all of the recipe talk, take a look at one of my personal favorite dessert recipes from Ellie Krieger on the Cooking Channel. It’s a crowd-pleasing, healthier recipe that is sure to impress.
Balsamic Strawberries with Ricotta CreamPrep Time 15 minutesCook Time 2 minutesInactive Time 2 hoursTotal Time 2 hours 17 minutesServings 4Calories 180 kcal
- 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 16 oz strawberries hulled and quartered
- 2 tbsp fresh basil leaves cut into ribbons
Put the ricotta cheese, honey and vanilla extract into the small bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, about 1 minute. Transfer to a small bowl and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
In a small saucepan combine the vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil. Simmer over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Allow to cool completely.
In a medium bowl, toss the berries with the basil and the balsamic syrup.
Divide the cream among 4 cocktail glasses, top with the berry mixture and serve.
1 March 2018
“Gracious Leadership is a practical book written by an experienced healthcare executive who has led organizational change. The book is “heavy” in content but a quick read. It would be an excellent preassignment for an executive or leadership retreat or a Leadership Development Institute. The Conversation Starters at the end of each chapter will help the reader ascertain how best to apply the learning. I found the emphasis on accountability and ownership were much more practical and focused than many publications I’ve read on servant leadership.” Read the full review…
Lynne Cunningham, Studer Group
5 January 2018
“Look up the word ‘gracious’ and you will find synonyms such as courteous, civil, merciful, compassionate and kind. While those words might not be the first that come to mind when we think of our leaders today, don’t they describe what we all really want in a leader? In her new book, Gracious Leadership, Janet Smith Meeks helps readers understand thirteen key ingredients necessary to lead graciously and to have a positive and lifelong impact on their people and organizations.”
“First, readers get to know the author as Janet not only shares the routine facts of her upbringing, education and early career but also a very personal and powerful story that illustrates the impact of another leader’s gracious leadership on her life. This event helped Janet form her overall philosophy of the head-heart connection in leader behaviors. Employing terrific story-telling skills to illustrate her leadership principles, readers are all in by chapter four, when the thirteen ingredients instruction begins in earnest.”
“What better way for leaders to start the new year than by investing in their own development? Reading and reflecting on the thirteen key ingredients of gracious leadership will help you lead your team more effectively and be a positive impact on your organization as a whole. Read and study Gracious Leadership and you will ‘lead like you’ve never led before!'”
Eleanor E. Biddulph, Leading Fully Present Consulting
1 January 2018
“Janet Meeks tells a personal, clearly articulated story of learning and practicing ‘Gracious Leadership’ and its central importance to mission success. Hers is a timeless, head and heart journey that reveals a path for all of us.”
C. Robert Kidder, director, Merck & Co.; former board chairman, Chrysler; former lead director, Morgan Stanley; former CEO, Duracell; former CEO, Borden Inc.
1 January 2018
“Gracious Leadership, by Janet Smith Meeks, shares the powerful, personal examples of how passionate, brave, courageous and communicative leaders deliver tremendous value to all their constituencies and are truly the recipe for organizational and personal success!”
Kerrii B. Anderson, former president & CEO, Wendy’s International; corporate director, Abercrombie & Fitch, Labcorp, and Worthington Industries; chairman, Elon University