• News post

    KeyBank: The Transformational Power of Gracious Leadership

    6 June 2018

    Originally posted on KeyBank’s website on June 6, 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.”

    Compassionate accountability

    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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    KeyBank is not responsible for scheduling conflicts, cancellations, postponement, or event of force majeure. KeyBank is not responsible or liable for, and is hereby released from, any and all costs, injuries, losses or damages of any kind, including, without limitation, death and bodily injury, due in whole or in part, directly or indirectly, to participation in the event. Key.com is a federally registered service mark of KeyCorp. © 2018 KeyCorp. KeyBank is Member FDIC. E92399 180504-398840

  • News post

    CityScene: Instilling Leadership Style into Other Professionals

    28 April 2018

    This article was originally published on CityScene on April 28, 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.

    Gracious Leadership

    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. 

    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.” 

    The Future

    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.

  • How Janet Meeks Helped Transform the Culture of St. Ann’s

    2 August 2016

    Originally published on SmartBusiness on August 2, 2016

    Janet Meeks, former president and COO of Mount Carmel St. Ann’s, believes in stretching yourself.

    Her career started in banking, and her mentor constantly gave her unfamiliar tasks. He asked her to create a personal banker program and named her interim vice president of marketing, a year out of graduate school.

    Today, Meeks tells young professionals, particularly young women, don’t be afraid to take risks.

    “Always step forward when there are opportunities for stretch assignments because that’s how we learn and grow,” she says. “And that’s how you begin to develop the full set of tools that you need in your toolkit as far as your leadership competency.”

    She applied those same lessons later in health care, after switching industries in 1983.

    Mount Carmel Health System recruited Meeks in 2004, and she told the CEO she’d be delighted to move from Florida to Ohio in return for one thing.

    “In this case, I was making a multistate move, and I had a long-term dream of leading a hospital,” she says. “So I made a commitment that I would come and help them get the corporate development programming refined if they would let me lead one of the hospitals at some point.”

    Eighteen months later, Meeks became president of St. Ann’s. The next nine-and-a-half years were among the most gratifying of her professional career, as Meeks helped create a culture of accountability.

    Strategic change

    In 2006, St. Ann’s financial performance was suboptimal, patient satisfaction was among the worst in Central Ohio and the employees weren’t fully engaged. While the staff was proud of its culture of compassion, Meeks says there wasn’t accountability for consistently achieving results.

    In order to transform the culture, her leadership team followed triple “A” leadership — alignment, accountability and acknowledgement. The change was easy to articulate, but difficult to pull off, she says. It was a five- or six-year journey.

    “In a culture that considers itself to be compassionate, when you start introducing more granularity or more specificity in the goals, some people will say, ‘Oh, this is counter to our culture.’ Or other people will say, ‘You’re micromanaging.’ Or, ‘You don’t trust us,’” Meeks says.

    As you increase the levels of accountability, you have to bookend that with lots of praise when people get it right, she says.

    It helps when your team embraces the new vision, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have difficult conversations with the few still not on board.

    You need thick skin because you will fall prey to criticism, Meeks says — even though you’re correctly acting as a fiduciary on behalf of the organization.

    “There are a lot of people who think that when you talk about culture that it’s soft stuff, and it’s not. It’s absolutely strategic,” she says.

    Corporate culture is, in fact, moving front and center in the boardroom. Meeks believes it should be a top priority for the C-suite because the health of the corporate culture will most likely correlate with the organization’s performance in the long run.

    It’s personal

    With culture change, employees must see the connection between corporate goals and their daily work. It needs to be personal and hit the head-heart connection.

    The staff also needs to know how they are doing, no matter how busy you are. You have to let people know they’re making a difference.

    “Giving staff feedback on a regular basis is so crucial because, to tell you the truth, they are just hungry for it,” she says.

    But that feedback goes both ways, some of St. Ann’s most gratifying and effective results came from listening sessions.

    “It was like going to a fire hydrant for a sip of water because people had so much feedback that they wanted to share,” Meeks says. “When we were able to take that feedback and use that feedback, they felt valued and they felt honored — and it made them want to provide even more input and insight into how we could innovate.”

    You need a solid bottom line and outstanding quality and safety. But how you get there, in Meeks’ opinion, is through highly engaged employees who appreciate how what they’re doing every day affects the organization’s growth.

    Passion with purpose

    Business leaders need to do more with less, so it’s important to match passion with purpose, Meeks says.

    “When we were beginning to create the vision to transform our culture into one of compassionate accountability and beginning to create this vision to transform the hospital into a regional medical center, we were very quick to learn that we did not have all the resources we were going to need in order to make those dreams come true,” she says.

    So, St. Ann’s created eight leadership councils — colleague communications, colleague engagement, community relations, growth, leadership development, patient experience, philanthropy and mission.

    Each council had a charter outlining specific work it needed to accomplish, and middle managers and a few upper leaders were enlisted as co-leaders.

    “We required every one of our 70 to 80 leaders to get involved in at least one of those councils,” Meeks says. “We told them: Find something you’re passionate about and get plugged in.”

    By exposing people to new areas, they became better managers and leaders.

    “The results were absolutely remarkable as far as the amazing work that these teams were able to accomplish, frankly, without much expense at all,” she says.

    Meeks also held the councils accountable. She met monthly with the co-chairs to discuss their accomplishments and what barriers needed to be removed.

    These kinds of relationships matter, because sometimes you have to slow down so you can speed up.

    “When you go into a new role within an existing organization or when you go into a new organization, you have fresh eyes and you often times can see things that need to change,” Meeks says. “I have learned that unless the house is burning down, you don’t assemble a committee to say, ‘OK, we’re going out that door.’”

    You have to build trust and get to know people first, she says. If you don’t come in like a bull in a china shop, you can get greater change accomplished in a shorter amount of time.

    Meeks’ thoughts on…


    While Janet Meeks was president and COO at Mount Carmel St. Ann’s, her husband, Dick D’Enbeau, was president and COO of Mount Carmel New Albany.

    The two retired in the summer of 2015 — a purposeful plan that went back three years. Meeks didn’t want to be the football coach who stays one season longer than she should have.

    “It was a gift because we were able to leave both of our organizations in a level of optimal performance, and leaving the organization in very capable hands,” Meeks says. “And that feels good.”

    To avoid going from pedal-to-the-metal for 38 years to a full stop, the couple created Healthcare Alignment Advisors LLC, which offers advisory services to C-suite executives.

    “It’s really not rocket science,” she says. “It’s about being brilliant at the basics.”

    Meeks says it can be difficult to find advisers who tell CEOs what they need to hear.

    “I think that kind candor is critical,” she says. “And I think CEOs need to receive that type of kind candor because there’s no C-suite executive I’m aware of who has the luxury or spare time or money that could be expended on useless mistakes or re-work.”


    Looking back on her career, Meeks says with 12- and 14-hour days at St. Ann’s, she often didn’t have time for networking events or to meet somebody for lunch.

    “If I had it to do over again, I would have started purposeful networking a lot sooner,” she says.

    Meeks has discovered that the women’s network in Columbus is the most vibrant and supportive she’s experienced in any of the cities she’s lived in.

    “We are so blessed to have so many female executives who are stepping up to support one another, to see each other excel, as opposed to some communities where I understand that you can have a queen bee syndrome,” Meeks says. “I don’t sense that in Columbus. It’s just been awesome.”