Chantel Johnson, PhD, RN

As an operation leader in ambulatory healthcare, my days are filled with “fire-fighting”—staffing the clinics, managing physician schedules, moving improvement work forward, etc.  Little time is spent on individual leadership development.  Let me be more honest–no part of my day is usually spent thinking about leadership.  Yet, it is absolutely essential for all of us to carve out time to further develop ourselves as leaders.

Over the years, I have benefited from various forms of leadership development.   Whether from structured classes, coaching, or making tough mistakes, these experiences have shaped me as a leader.  This year my organization sponsored me to be an inaugural member of the Carol Emmott Fellowship (CEF).  While sitting amongst the other fellows in our first session, I was struck by the deep learning that I was experiencing.   The rich discussions with my colleagues gave me new perspectives on leadership and stretched my thinking.

I went back to work after the first CEF convergence session inspired!  I wanted the leaders under me to be similarly stimulated.  I searched within my company for existing leadership offerings.  Yes, the fundamentals of management were covered well in new manager orientation classes.  How to hire the best, how to use project management skills, how to give presentations were covered nicely by existing programs.  On the other hand, I didn’t see anything like the content I was exposed to at CEF.  I abandoned the idea and felt disappointed for my managers.

A light bulb went on for me a few weeks later while I was having a 1-1 with one of my managers.  I brought up issues of gender in leadership from what I learned in CEF.  I asked her what she has noticed about women leaders in our organization.  I explored her observations on how women leaders behave, how others behave around them.  Interestingly, she hadn’t really thought about it before.  We talked well past our meeting time.  When I was leaving she said that she’d love to have another leadership discussion our next 1-1.  This was the lightbulb moment.  I can bring my managers together and have inspired discussions.  What had held me back was thinking that I needed to be some type of leadership guru.  I thought I needed a degree in leadership or to be an expert on the topics.  I am none of those things. I am not a leadership development expert or professional coach.  However, I have learned some things over my years in leadership.  I am an expert in my own life and experience and that’s enough.

I decided to host a lunch with my managers to talk about gender and leadership.  Gender is a hot topic that most people avoid, either intentionally or because they think gender doesn’t matter anymore.   I invited my managers to this 1 hour “Leadership Lunch and Learn” session.  I sent out a couple of quick homework items before the session.  I asked them to read a short article and watch a Ted Talk video to prime their thinking.  During the session, I gave a 20 minute overview on the gender, women in leadership, and why the topic was important.  We spent the rest of the time in discussion.  I prepared several conversation starters based on the homework and my overview.  I asked them about how gender differences show up in their leadership teams.  I shared my own struggles with being a woman leader with the assumptions and double standards sometimes put on us.  My team came alive with such a dynamic discussion!  One of my managers shared strategies she uses to command more of a leadership presence in meetings.  She does small things like standing up straight and avoiding inflections in her voice.  Another manager jumped in and said she has been struggling with the same issue and wants to try those ideas. They weren’t just talking to me.  They were talking to each other. They were inspiring each other!

For the second offering, I chose the topics of power and influence.  I talked about different forms of power and why influence is such an important leadership quality.  In preparation for the session, I reached out to our executive team.  I gathered their tips for how to: 1) gain influence and 2) how they have effectively used power or seen others misuse it.   My executives appreciated the chance to have their ideas shared with the front line leaders.  My managers loved these tips.  They started guessing which senior leader had given each tip, as a way of connecting to them and matching their impression of them with their words.   I have the third Leadership Lunch and Learn scheduled to talk about our personal leadership philosophies.

The feedback about my sessions have been overwhelmingly positive.  My managers have extended these meeting invitations to their colleagues and supervisors so they can benefit from the content.  My managers shared that they feel valued because I have taken time to offer the sessions.  They said they can tell I really care about them and want to support their growth.

Even more inspiring is that I have noticed my managers are putting their learning into action.  I notice subtle changes in how they present themselves in group, utilizing strategies that increase their presence.   Another example great example of the impact of this type of learning was seen when a manager was recruiting for a supervisor.  She was surprised that one of her star employees hadn’t applied for the position.  From our Lunch and Learn session, my manager understood that frequently women do not apply for promotions when their qualifications are not a perfect match for the position.  She used that information to directly reach out to her star employee and have a discussion with her, ultimately encouraging her to apply.  These are just a few examples of the ripples from the Lunch and Learn sessions.

I have learned so much in this process!  I learned to give myself permission to own my expertise and share it with others.  I learned that I don’t have to wait for someone else to give me “permission” to mentor and coach people.  I don’t have to be a world renowned expert on a topic to still provide meaningful information and spark enlightened conversation.  My team learn more from each other than they do from me.  My role is to help facilitate and guide, prime the pump with some reading and ideas.  I also learned that I don’t have to make it complicated.  No, the Lunch and Learns are not a comprehensive leadership development course.  Grassroots leadership development can be small and still create a huge difference.

I suggest other leaders to give this a try.  Ask your team to join you for lunch.  Pick a leadership topic and dive in.

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