Those That Do Are The Best Teachers

Chuck Christian, VP/CIO, St. Francis Hospital

Chuck Christian, VP/CIO, St. Francis Hospital

Kate Gamble’s request to share my experience of being a mentor caused me to pause and consider if I’m actually filling that role, directly or indirectly, and to reflect upon how I’ve been mentored during my career as a healthcare CIO. Most will know that I’ve recently made a change in employment after 23 years with one organization. Just recently (after a few weeks on the new job), I was asked by a young man, whom I have grown to respect over this short period of time, if he might have some of my time to discuss his career options and next steps. I was humbled by his request and gladly scheduled some time for us to meet and see how I can help. Our conversations have covered my career path from radiology technologist to healthcare CIO, as well as conversations related to what he felt his focus and talents might be and what are the next levels he would like to go toward.

When I started my healthcare career in the very early 70’s, I had the privilege of working with a gentleman who was the CEO of a faith-based hospital; it was my first introduction to someone who led by example and by doing. When extra hands were required, it was his hands right next to mine — doing rather than just providing direction or oversight. In the 14 years I worked for that organization, I don’t believe I ever heard him use the word “employee”; we were always coworkers or team members. I learned that if you want people to move forward, you need to get in the boat and go with them.

Having started my CIO career in the early days when the title CIO meant a great number of things, I had the pleasure of connecting and becoming friends with some of the industry’s best and brightest CIOs — those who helped define what it was that we in the role really should be doing; not only to move our organizations forward toward success, but to improve healthcare delivery and patient safety in the process. I will admit that not one of these ladies and gentleman may have known that they were mentoring me. But if the truth be told, they were mentoring the whole first generation of healthcare CIOs; not that they had all the answers, but they were great leaders and wonderful examples of how to lead.

Now you may not think that mentoring by example should be considered actual mentoring; but for me, it is the best kind when people lead by example. Those examples shine a bright light on skills and behaviors that, if emulated, will provide the necessary tools for a successful career.

The individuals I mentioned above not only helped shape my career by being an example to me, but they also took the time to share their knowledge and skills in a variety of educational programs and venues, and continue to do so today. The methods have gotten a little more high-tech — webinars and conference calls verses classrooms and lecture halls, but are nonetheless effective and important.

This April, I will begin my second full year as a member of the CHIME CIO Boot Camp faculty, an honor that I hope I can live up to. Many of the people that have mentored me by example have also shared these faculty positions; some still do. I can’t begin to express how humbling it is to be able to share in this level of experience with those that I’ve watched and attempted to emulate in my career. I will also confess that I get as much, if not more, out of this experience as the Boot Camp attendees. I am always on the lookout for examples of great leaders.

If you have the opportunity to reach out to someone who you think can help focus your career or provide advice or direction, don’t be shy in asking; you have a 50 percent chance of getting an affirmative answer. However, not having a direct relationship doesn’t mean you do not have a mentor; you only need to look around the healthcare and other industries for the talent and examples of people you feel will help you along your career path. Always be on the lookout for great examples, but also remember that as you are watching, you too are being observed. I pray each day that I’m worthy of the observation.


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