When I was a 24-year-old crime writer and investigative reporter working in Houston I had no idea what my career end game should be. It was not that I just assumed that I would always work in the news business; I did not think about it at all.
Later, as I moved into healthcare, mentors taught me executive skills, style and presence, but they never talked to me about the future. For the most part their mentoring was for the here and now especially when it meant that my success contributed to their performance objectives. There was no investment in time to help me explore other possibilities for career growth.
I was not much different from other people, then and now. We looked for those who could help prepare us for the next job, usually in the same industry — operations, clinical management or marketing. There was little if any talk about taking a step back, thoughtfully examining where we were, what we could do, where we could go or what we were really passionate about. That is what I refer to as the “here and now” approach to mentoring. But there has to be more.
I was very lucky. I attracted offers for new jobs that took me in new directions. My degree and early work experience were not the stuff that would lead me to becoming a healthcare CEO, although I have done that several times in my career. I am not sure that the three people who profoundly shaped my career knew what to do with someone like me. What I find so interesting is that there are many traditionally trained successful hospital CEOs who are not doing that particular work at the end of their career. Some left the industry when the job offers dried up or when they lost interest. Others, who classify themselves as the lucky ones, found new work outside the traditional hospital industry path to success, work about which they are enormously passionate.
Thinking about my own experiences and the stories of those who have left behind their traditional hospital management careers, I have come to believe that we need to rethink what mentoring in healthcare management should be in an era that will produce spectacular transformation in the current inefficient health services business model. I think young healthcare leaders should look to a two-dimensional mentoring model that challenges them to become better at what they are doing now, and then, as they gain more experience, shift gears to find someone who will challenge them to think about what they are really good at doing and what they are really passionate about. They should challenge their mentees to examine other career pathways to achieve professional success and deep personal reward.
Sad are the stories of executives who confide that the work they do is no longer satisfying, it is just what they do. It never occurred to them that there were other, more enriching ways in which they could contribute in this industry.
So here is a thought for you early and mid-careerists: find a mentor who will guide you through the trials and tribulations of the basics and, as you advance, challenge you to re-evaluate how your skills and passions can best be used to produce a career that provides constant joy. It may be as a hospital executive, but then again, it might not.
In a blog post last month, I borrowed from the words of Wes Moore, a Rhodes Scholar, White House Fellow, social entrepreneur and Afghanistan war veteran. What he said speaks to this subject in an important way:
Every day that you do something you are not passionate about, you become more ordinary.
Find a mentor or mentors who can provide a two-dimensional mentoring experience — for today and the future.
© 2020 John Gregory Self