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.