Five years ago, my younger brother Steve graduated college and was commissioned as an officer in the US Army. As I watched my older brother, Pat, a retired Navy officer, swear him in, it hit me that the fun-loving, affable kid I’d watch grow up was about to inherit an enormous responsibility. He was going to be in charge of people twice his age.
I remember him asking Pat what he might expect in this new role, and I’ll never forget his response. It went something like this, “They’re going to come to you with every problem. ‘Can I borrow some money?’ ‘Should I propose to my girlfriend?’ Should I buy a motorcycle?’ They’re gonna be scared, they’re going to make a lot of mistakes, and you need to steer them in the right direction.”
I don’t know about Steve, but I was overwhelmed. It seemed to me like some of these enlisted guys were more in need of a parent then an officer. And that’s when Pat said, “Well, that’s kind of what you are to them.” For some of the guys, whether they didn’t have a father or if their father wasn’t really present in their lives, it was clear that they needed someone to help fill the void — even if that someone was a 22-year-old college graduate.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that part of being a great leader means taking on the role of a father (or parent) figure, whether it’s by dishing out tough love or giving advice that can help guide an employee down the right path. In our interviews and blog postings, CIOs have shared many of the moments where they’ve either acted as a parent figure or received valuable advice. With Father’s Day just a few days away, I thought it was the perfect chance to share some of those nuggets.
- Push Yourself. In a panel discussion last fall, Bobbie Byrne, MD, SVP & CIO at Edward Elmhurst Healthcare, recalled a discussion with a young woman she had been mentoring who decided to turn down what Byrne believed to be a great opportunity. And so she told her, “You can do more. If you get in and it gets to be a little bit too much, then we’ll talk about how to work through some of these problems.” Like a parent, Byrne refused to let the woman sell herself short. “If our young women are always working in their comfort zone, then they’re not going to reach their full potential,” she said.
- Know When To Scale Back. This is just as important, according to Sue Schade, CIO, University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers, who recalled a conversation in which one of her top performers approached her about scaling back to part-time after returning from maternity leave. Being a mother herself, Schade offered support, telling her. “Don’t worry. You’re going to have a time when you can come back into that role.’” Schade believes that by helping employees work through major decisions, it will increase the chances of holding onto great workers.
- Trust Yourself. For Anna Turman, CIO and COO of Chadron Community Hospital and Health Services, the best mentoring technique was to empower her to come up with solutions on her own. “I learned quickly that going to him with a problem and no idea for a solution was a waste of both our time,” said Turman of her mentor, CEO Harold Krueger. “No matter how often I wanted turn-by-turn directions on how to succeed, he challenged me to get there — wherever ‘there’ may have been.”
- Maintain A Sense Of Balance. The message Tom Pacek gives to his team is simple: “When you’re home, you’re home. When you’re not on call, please be with your family. Don’t be checking your emails.” The work will always be there, but it’s critical to maintain some separation, said Pacek, who is CIO at Inspira Health Network.
- Take Care Of Yourself. Michael Elley, system VP of IT, OhioHealth, is a strong believer that staying physically active can help “keep your mind sharp in an industry that has a high mental bandwidth.” He also believes leaders need to set an example, adding, “It’s important to emulate a healthy lifestyle to help improve the health and wellness of the communities we serve.”
- Treat Your Work Family Like Family. This nugget came indirectly from my dad, Steve Huvane. At his retirement dinner a few years ago, one of his former coworkers told the story of an industry event they attended earlier in her career. She had been nervous not knowing anyone there, and so my dad took her around and introduced her to everyone he knew. She got emotional when the told the story, calling him a “class act.”
I couldn’t agree more. A true leader must be willing to have the tough conversations, offer endless support, and never lose sight of the best interests of those on his or her team.
Just like a parent.