Acknowledging Our Mentors: Scott MacLean’s Baggage Check

Behind every accomplished individual is at least one person who helped shape his or her career and pave the way to success. In recognition of these mentors, healthsystemCIO.com has developed a blog series that provides a forum for health IT leaders to acknowledge those who gave them an opportunity to excel and taught valuable lessons along the way. It’s a chance to give back to those who have given so much of their time and attention. If you are interested in contributing to this series, contact Kate Gamble.

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Scott MacLean, Deputy CIO, Partners HealthCare, Chair-Elect, HIMSS

Scott MacLean, Deputy CIO, Partners HealthCare, Chair-Elect, HIMSS

In the early years of Partners HealthCare’s IS Department, John Glaser and Mary Finlay periodically invited 25 staff members to dinner at our corporate headquarters on the 11th floor of the Prudential Center in Boston. When I was invited in the fall of 1998, nine others rsvp’d and six of us showed up. Unfortunately, Mary Finlay couldn’t make it, so there was John, hosting six of us for dinner. From the outset, two people made it clear they only came for the food, and two others weren’t interested in talking, so that left me and one other person to carry the conversation. We had to ask John the piercing strategic questions that needed to be asked. It was a harrowing experience.

I don’t know what came over me. I was a new MBA hired as an applications analyst, and as we were leaving, I asked John if he could recommend a mentor for me. To my great surprise, John said, “I’d be willing to do that.” The next day, I relayed the story to my site CIO, who said, “If John said that, he means it. Make an appointment through his assistant.” That began a mentoring and coaching relationship that persists even after John moved on to Siemens in 2010.

Dale Sanders did a very nice job characterizing the benefits and perils of mentoring earlier in this blog series. For me, John provided gentle direction on everything from career choices to fashion. We’d talk about what to read and how to handle sticky political leadership situations. John believed we had a role in sharing our successes and failures to improve the industry. He taught me how to write for sites like this one and introduced me to HIT journal editors.

John wasn’t my direct supervisor until much later on when I became CIO of Newton-Wellesley Hospital in 2006, so I was able to discuss possible career moves. In the early 2000s, two small CIO roles became open — one at a Partners site and one at another organization in Boston. John said, “Well, if you need to have the title, go for it, but your current role is bigger. You might want to keep building your experience.” John is a master of finding and keeping good talent, but it was important that I always knew he was willing to support my career aspirations, even outside of Partners.

One day, my trusty LL Bean briefcase finally blew out and all of my stuff fell to the floor. I grabbed one of the freebie bags from a recent conference and threw all of my things into it before going to meet John for one of our appointments. This wasn’t one of the bags we now receive with just one corporate sponsor — this was tattooed with 50 corporate logos on every possible surface. John teased me when I walked into his office. “What is that?!” he said in a ‘that is so uncool’ tone. “Um, my bag fell apart so I grabbed this one,” I stammered. I think he mocked the bag another time during our meeting, then as I left his office he said, “Lose the bag.” I hid it under my overcoat, threw it away at the office, and ordered a new one from LL Bean that night. Sage fashion advice.

Finally, one of our community hospital CIO positions opened up, and I was ready. I went through the 36 interviews with every VP and clinical chief known to man. John was the hiring manager, but wisely, he let the hospital leadership pick the candidate they preferred. I remember the time well because we had developed a lot of internal talent and my competition were colleagues I’d worked with for years and for whom I had great respect. After much anticipation, I received the decisive call from John. “Not this time buddy,” he said. He was encouraging, even in delivering bad news. John was always looking at my long-term potential and providing the right direction to keep me motivated and on track. Three years down the road, I landed the job at Newton-Wellesley.

Recently I was on a conference call with HIMSS senior leadership and John. We were asking his opinion on the direction of the industry and our contributions. One of the HIMSS’ folks quipped about our knowledge of each other from Partners. John said, “Yeah, I’m increasingly bumping into Scott in these industry leading conversations.”

That is so John. It’s because of him that I’m even involved in HIMSS or can be considered an HIT leader. John as mentor has stood up for me, both in private (through recommendations) and public. He has been a champion of me and has used his stature to validate my contributions.

To me, that is the value of a mentor. Sure, I’ve worked hard, built relationships, and had successes and failures, but the mentor relationship is what has allowed me to take risks and to have career-changing opportunities.

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