I finished my master’s in nursing administration in 1994. Two weeks later, I interviewed for a director of nursing role at a small specialty hospital in Houston. There, I met and was interviewed by an amazing nurse leader named Janet Matthews.
Janet was the assistant administrator of clinical operations (AACO), this organization’s chief operating officer role. We struck an amazing connection and after a whirlwind day of interviews she brought me into her office and handed me an envelope. It contained my job offer.
She said, “No matter what anybody else said in the interviews today, I was going to hire you.”
Just two weeks after receiving my master’s degree I jumped multiple levels in a traditional management hierarchy. I went from a head nurse with four years of management experience to a director of nursing. I was astounded at her blind faith in me.
My first day on the job, in our first formal meeting, Janet looked at me and said, “This is a growing company. I give you a year, and then I’m sending you out of this hospital up through the chain in this corporation.
We’re going to spend every moment of every day in a mentoring relationship. You’re going beyond this role.”
She gave me free rein to mold the nursing department as I wanted to. She was a fantastic sounding board and she let me fail and learn from my mistakes.
We would talk through HR issues and how to manage the boss and the politics. She said, “You are a nurse. Don’t ever stop being a nurse, but as a chief nurse who’s going beyond this role, you must move into systems thinking. You’ve got to understand the perspectives of strategic planning, of the CEO, and of operations – and we’re going to spend this year getting you there.”
She involved me in meetings with the vice president of the region. She said, “You’ve got to be in front of this man because he controls your destiny in this corporation.”
She was a fantastic sounding board and she let me fail and learn from my mistakes.
About 11 months into the job, a role opened to do the equivalent of Janet’s job but on a fraction of the scale at the smallest hospital in that chain, Vencor, which was in Oklahoma City. She talked me into performing that role concurrently with the one I was already doing, which meant I flew back and forth every two weeks between Houston and Oklahoma City.
After about a month, when I was on rotation in Houston, she reminded me of one of the first things she ever told me, which was to keep an empty box in my office.
She said, “Go pack your box.”
She left a pregnant pause hanging in the air.
Then she said, “Because you’re the brand new AACO of Vencor, Oklahoma City. You take over that role a week from today.” She knew this was what I wanted.
About two weeks into that job, a regional VP showed up. He said, “I know your goal is to be a CEO.” I didn’t tell him that. Janet did.
He said, “I commit to you in 18 months, you’re going to be a CEO in this system. But this is what I need to happen.” His list was long. He said, “Don’t ever give up your mentoring relationship with Janet. You’re here because of your talent but you’re also here because of her.”
Janet and I had continued to talk casually, about every other day or so. She was my rock in this situation.
Sure enough, almost 18 months to the day, the regional vice president walked in and he said, “I hear you have a story about a box.” He added, “I pledged to make you a CEO.”
That day, they gave me the top position of the largest hospital in that system. I went from 18 months at a little tiny 40-bed hospital in Oklahoma City to a 250-bed hospital in downtown Chicago.
After time, I moved on to other things and my career progressed beyond that hospital system, and eventually I retired. When I did, Janet said, “All right. I think you need a break. I give it six months.” Six months later, I was hired by Vocera. Janet was one of my references.
I’ve studied the theory. I’ve always been a fan of Harvard Business Review. I like reading all these things, but Janet was the person. She was the mentor who gave me the freedom to thrive and to action what I was reading.
For 23 years, she has remained my friend, my mentor, and my coach.