Leadership for me has been a journey of self-discovery and trial and error as I found myself unexpectedly becoming the leader of a large, growing and highly innovative business. As a young leader in my 20s and 30s I definitely adopted the top-down “my way or the highway” style that I had been conditioned to believe would lead to success, and am sometimes reminded by my friends that my nickname was “Sarge” as a Chief Resident in my late 20’s and was described by many in my younger years as a “force of nature” or similar to a “Chihuahua that won’t let go of your pant leg”.
Telling people what to do came naturally to me, because I was sure I was right, was very fixed in my views, and assumed that if I ran the world things would just be better. My personality naturally drew me to leadership roles because I could get things done faster and better than almost anyone, I never took ‘no’ for an answer, and moved mountains with a bulldozer approach – get out of the way or you will be run over. This style unfortunately completely failed to recognize the value of other’s opinions and the benefit of teaching others to lead rather than doing everything myself.
“Slowly shifting from a fixed view and the need to be right allowed me to become open and curious, admit where I had been wrong so that new ideas could come in to view, and my own ability to learn and change skyrocketed.”
As the organization got larger in our very early years it became clear to me that we were doing something wrong. We thought we were great, we were growing faster than we could keep up with, patient feedback was generally positive, but staff and physicians were frequently grumpy, gossip was common, turnover was too high and I was becoming less and less excited to come to work. Literally, overnight I had an insight that our current model was upside down, and that top-down leadership was an outdated model that was causing most of our problems. At this point, I hadn’t studied much about leadership, but set about reading every leadership book I could get my hands on and attended every leadership meeting that I could get to. I knew that as the founder of the organization culture change had to start with me, and as a result of years of sometimes painful looking in the mirror have transformed my leadership style from “hero” to “host”, and see my role now as the conductor of the orchestra, but no longer need to play all the instruments myself.
Only from this new perspective could I see the value in others’ opinions and truly engage the energy and genius of my entire team. Slowly shifting from a fixed view and the need to be right allowed me to become open and curious, admit where I had been wrong so that new ideas could come in to view, and my own ability to learn and change skyrocketed. My role became less about dragging the organization forward but gently leading from behind and empowering others to become their best selves. This entirely changed our culture and affected every relationship, particularly the relationship with our patients. The old-fashioned doctor-patient relationship with the all-knowing expert telling the poor patient what is best for her is another example of the Hero-Victim misperception. Becoming a servant leader also meant becoming a servant doctor, which involved a complete mind-shift towards viewing the patient as an equal participant in the relationship and the one primarily responsible for her own life. Our organizational culture became completely immersed in the concept of service, anticipating others’ needs and providing for them before being asked, seeking honest feedback and moving swiftly to recover trust when it had been lost by what we call a “glitch” (any failure to deliver on our promise to provide an exceptional experience), and meeting regularly to ensure that everyone in our organization had a voice and that we were all rowing in the same direction.
As I became more skilled in mindfulness and recognized its importance in business and performance enhancement I sought out formal training first at Naropa University’s “Authentic Leadership” program in Colorado, then through the “Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute” in San Francisco (originating at Google) and through the “Conscious Leadership Group”. Now as a certified mindfulness/ self-awareness/emotional intelligence/ meditation teacher I have passed these teachings on to my senior leadership team. Small changes such as putting all our phones in a basket in the middle of the conference table for all meetings, engaging in short mindful listening exercises with our colleagues, and starting all meetings with a mindful minute or check-in about how we are each feeling have resulted in remarkable changes in the engagement and trust within our teams.
At the risk of sounding sexist, in an all-female organization, our number one nemesis became gossip, and we developed a zero tolerance policy around this dangerous poison to a healthy culture. We developed a monthly speaking series, in which a speaker from inside our organization (sometimes but not usually me) would share an insight related to our culture, about topics such as gossip, mindfulness, active listening, trust, generosity, gratitude, love in business, and service. We also started a book club for our senior leadership team, exploring favorite authors discussing mindful and conscious (self-aware) leadership principles. Interestingly none of this had anything to do with medicine or Ob/Gyn, and everything to do with developing culture, service, self-awareness and relationship building. While our providers continue to stay educated and up to date in matters related to their field, it became clear to me that my personal genius was not in being a doctor and taking care of patients (although I still love that too) but in taking care of the doctors, staff and emerging leaders within my own organization. This naturally lead to my interest in the profession of coaching, which I discovered I was doing anyway, and I became certified through Rice University’s CoachRice program, giving me more tools to continue fostering the personal growth and happiness of my own staff and leaders as well as those outside of our organization.I am also certified through the EQ Development Group to administer and coach using the EQi-2.0 and EQ 360 tools which focus on developing all-important emotional intelligence.
“I started coaching sessions with Dr. Susan at the perfect time in my life. I had some major changes going on that I did not quite know how to handle and was considering backing down from an amazing opportunity. Going into coaching I had a fear that I would hold myself back because I often struggle with truly opening up about what is on my mind, however, Susan was able to hear and pick out the important pieces of what I was saying which continued to open me up comfortably. She coached me through lessons that I did not even know I needed to learn and got me to the other side healthier and more prepared than I would have ever thought possible for myself. I absolutely recommend taking the opportunity to go through life coaching with her.”
“Before starting my coaching sessions with Dr. Hardwick-Smith, I honestly felt I was fully satisfied with the direction of my personal and professional life. However, I did struggle to balance the two greatest loves of my life, new family vs. career. I felt stressed and spread pretty thin. Utilizing the tools and suggestions given to me by Dr. Hardwick-Smith, I noticed my critical thinking, self-awareness, and creativity has begun to thrive and develop. I see the loves of my life in a new positive light and welcome the challenges they bring by implementing the knowledge and tools gained from each session. I am truly grateful, inspired and motivated to achieve higher levels of happiness and contentment within all aspect of my life, both personally and professionally. Thank you, Dr. Hardwick-Smith; I mean this from the bottom of my heart.”
“Dr. Hardwick-Smith’s coaching has helped me take a step back and reflect, and to look at all of my accomplishments personally and in business. I feel more able to sit and appreciate and be grateful, instead of always feeling “not enough”. Her coaching showed me how to really take the time to think about what’s been holding me back in certain areas and how to put a plan together, and take action steps to pursue the changes that I want to put into place.”
“I was very hesitant in the beginning about what to expect from coaching. I was not sure what issues I wanted to address and was somewhat fearful of being judged. Dr. H-S was great at asking the right questions, based on my values, to get me to come out of my shell. This allowed me to see things differently and become more courageous about being myself. She quickly helped me decide what areas would best serve me with our time together and opened my eyes to a world of possibilities that I had previously not thought possible.”
“I have been a manager in the healthcare business for over 30+ years. Dr. Hardwick-Smith’s coaching sessions were phenomenal. She helped me recognize my ‘inner critic’ and guided me to understand how to feel more confident and utilize my new found confidence in presenting during meetings. She supported my growth and development in becoming a better leader. I have changed my approach to managing and my staff are loving the new me. Thanks, Dr. Hardwick-Smith.”