Acknowledging Our Mentors: Michael Elley’s Pearls Of Wisdom

Michael Elley, CIO & VP of Support Services, Cox Medical Center Branson

Michael Elley, CIO & VP of Support Services, Cox Medical Center Branson

A favorite quote of mine, by an unknown author is: “Leaders don’t create followers, they create other leaders.”

As I reflect upon past mentors and those I consider mentors today, I find that quote holds very true. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many great leaders, both inside and outside of IT. Some of those interactions turned into (mostly) informal mentoring relationships; only one was truly formal in nature. I’ve worked in finance, government, and healthcare, with healthcare being by far the most inspiring and fulfilling industry that I’ve had the opportunity to experience. I started at BJC HealthCare and had several mentor relationships with my leaders, and I found that the informal relationships were just as productive as the formal one.

Generally, a formal mentor arrangement is traditionally part of a “program” where future leaders are identified and a structure is put into place to allow the mentor and mentee to meet on a consistent basis to share, learn, and plan. An informal arrangement is just that — there is no set time, place, or venue for nuggets of wisdom to be shared or advice given. In my experience, both environments provided great direction, and both provided a consistent message that I took from them, and that message related to relationship building and meaningful communication. (On a side note, if you’re like me, you’ve found yourself using the word “meaningful” much more often than just four years ago. Thank you, federal government, for that inclusion into my vocabulary!)

Anyway, I learned that the most effective way to advance the agenda of the hospitals I led (or sometimes even my agenda) was by establishing and cultivating relationships built on common goals and interests. It’s not that hard; be personable, be polite and kind, and follow through on what you said you were going to do.

However, the advice given wasn’t always good. I recall some coals of folly such as: always look out for number one first; don’t let your direct line leader know you are seeking out more responsibility (because they think you will just leave); and use your authority to get the job done. That being said, the pearls of wisdom largely outweighed the coals of folly.

Shortly before I left BJC for what is now Cox Health, I was told to not try to get everything done myself, but to use the team that surrounded me. I think that’s great advice for anyone who is entering into a new organization. Quickly bring your team into the fold, and allow them to be instrumental in changing the environment, whether it is cultural, technical, or operational in nature. It helps builds trust, it allows you to more swiftly analyze their skillset as well as their motivation to change, and it shows you are there for the team.

At Cox Health, and in particular Cox Medical Center Branson, I’ve gotten to work with an outstanding executive team. And the message holds true from my BJC days — it’s all about the relationships. The bonds you build with the team will foster trust and commitment to the organization.

As a senior executive, I find I’m the one trying to deliver words of wisdom to those who want to listen. Some of the points I try to push are education, wellness, and work/life balance. I’m a huge proponent of continuous education and learning. When we keep our brains active and challenged, people are able to accomplish more, communicate better, and ultimately advance more rapidly.

There are a few reasons to remain physically active. One, it will help you mind stay sharp in an industry that has a high mental bandwidth. There are some sharp cookies out there, and we need to remain at the top of our game. Two, being in healthcare, I feel it is important to emulate a healthy lifestyle to help improve the health and wellness of the communities we serve. That being said, we must get right on the inside first, before we attempt to fix the outside. Finally, I think it is important to maintain a solid work/life balance. If you’re not happy at home, you’re likely not going to be happy (or productive) at work.

I appreciate the opportunity to write about my mentor experiences and hope everyone has an opportunity to at least find that one person they can rely upon to help them in their work and life experiences.


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