There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God…” (Corinthians 12:4-6)
By Michele LeDoux Sakurai
Leadership is a calling. It can come as an invitation, a free-fall from a cliff, or a boot on the backside propelling you into the unknown. However it comes, it is more than an opportunity to advance; it is a time for discernment and prayer. Moving from bedside chaplaincy to management is not simple. The skills and responsibilities are very different and create a culture shift that can be both jarring and surprising.
A year ago at a conference, a chaplain told me that she had moved to being a director and was a bit overwhelmed by this shift. As we talked, I recognized an old and established model for leader development in healthcare: identify talent, offer the opportunity to advance, and then see if the individual rises to the challenge … or not. “How are you managing these new expectations?” I asked. “It seems like my resources are hidden,” she said. “I’m not always sure who to ask, or what to do about barriers.”
In that moment I recalled my own experience, and I offered her two pieces of advice:
- Tell your supervisor (be it a director, V.P., or chief executive) that you need to meet with him/her on a monthly or even bi-weekly basis. Specify that you want to know his/her expectations regarding initiatives and responsibilities and that you want assistance with any barriers to goals and objectives.
- Always go to this meeting with an agenda in hand. This is your meeting, and you must own it. (Send the agenda to your supervisor 48 hours beforehand; always provide the caveat that if another issue needs to be addressed by the supervisor, it becomes the first agenda item.)
With the developing sophistication of healthcare, the “sink or swim” model of developing leaders has become increasingly problematic, with potential leaders dropping from view because the model did not set them up for success. However, in 2007, I experienced a different model of leadership preparation, one that was disciplined and thoughtful, through Trinity Health System’s Administrative Fellowship Program, which offered a specialization in mission.
This model placed me under the mentorship of both the hospital mission V.P and the system V.P. for mission. It was highly structured in terms of objectives and was managed through the system’s talent management office. I experienced decision-making by observing both system and local boards. In addition, I sat at the hospital administrative team table and my voice was welcomed. I managed several projects, including developing diversity initiatives. Trinity Health provided formal education in finance, human resources, and Lean processes, and I developed a Lean initiative that saved the institution over $25,000 a year. Finally, I learned the skills that separate management from bedside ministry.
A third model found in healthcare is mentoring a potential leader. This tends to be more casual than the fellowship model. In organizations in which HR has developed a leadership path through the model of mentoring, there are identified goals within a time line, but the effectiveness depends on the skills of the mentor. If the mentor is overly committed in other areas, is new to the role, or has a style that doesn’t translate well to the candidate, the candidate’s success can be compromised.
Mentorship models are being used throughout the United States to prepare leaders. There is no standardization of practice, and those seeking to move into leadership or management should be proactive when considering this model. Early in the process, navigate the questions that need to be asked:
- Is there an evaluative tool to help identify the skills (i.e. budgeting, managing a team, systems-based problem-solving, etc.) for this role?
- What resources are available to develop needed skills, and is there a budget to support the learning curve?
- Is there an on-boarding path for new managers, and is it available to those who are entering the succession planning process?
- Are there specialization mentors whom the candidate can call, e.g. a specific finance or HR person who can help the candidate better understand his or her department and responsibilities?
Even so, a move from chaplaincy to leadership requires more than a mentor who can teach system processes. During my training, my mission V.P. would remind me, “You cannot think or act like a chaplain in these meetings. You must have an agenda, you have time constraints, and you are required to control processes.”
This is a primary challenge for any chaplain who seeks to move into the ministry of management. How does one balance the gifts of CPE, to listen and honor the journey of another, and still get the tasks at hand accomplished? The shift from beside ministry to manager, director, or other leadership role requires thoughtful discernment. The candidate also needs someone who speaks the languages of both chaplaincy and leadership — someone who understands the depth of change that lies ahead. This will be someone unafraid to ask the hard questions that address ambition, seduction, self-interest, fear, listening, and the meaning of “to be called.” It is also someone who is detached from outcomes, and this is probably someone outside the candidate’s work environment. Lastly, it must be someone who keeps God in the center of the conversation as well as the discernment.
Both chaplaincy and leadership are incredibly important ministries. They are unique gifts that can reveal the love of God in the work we do. Whether you are a staff chaplain, a manager, a director, or a V.P. of mission, you are gifted, and your service makes a difference in the lives of others. As you find yourself invited into change, discern boldly, for it is promised, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)