“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” —Eleanor Roosevelt
Sometimes opportunity knocks, and sometimes it practically ambushes us. Those moments can be pivotal in your career. It’s where all of your preparation meets the right opportunity for you to shine. It’s important to remember that these opportunities are finite, and whether or not we decide to act upon them, we have to at least carefully consider them.
And what one thing keeps most people from seizing upon these opportunities? Fear. Plain and simple. The fear of failure, or the fear of not being fully prepared for it. Trepidation can paralyze us and keep us from our best lives both personally and professionally. I believe that most people who accomplish great things feel some version of fear before they set out on their journey. But, they press on anyway.
I’d like to share a couple of those real-life breakthrough opportunity stories that I hope will both encourage you and inform you for that day when the door to what’s next for you swings wide open.
Martha McGill began her 30-year career in health care as a pediatric nurse at Atlanta’s Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center. She worked all shifts and in all departments. Martha made a point to learn everybody’s name—and I mean everyone, from doctors and nurses to administrative staff to cleaning crews. She intuitively knew that relationship building was the way to build a reputation as one who is trusted. McGill set as her goal to become a respected leader, and that included earning her Master of Business Administration and Master of Health Administration degrees, all while working full-time.
Her breakthrough leadership opportunity came when Dr. James Talley, CEO, led the 1998 merger of Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center with Atlanta’s Children’s Hospital of Egleston, creating one of the nation’s largest pediatric health systems. Dr. Talley had a reputation for recruiting brilliant people and helping them assume ever-greater levels of responsibility and leadership.
Previously, McGill had worked at Egleston (part of Emory University Hospital) and experienced, firsthand, the complexity of providing children’s health services in an academic setting. She knew full well that the successful merger of two hospitals with two very different cultures (one private and one academic) would require deep experience in both.
McGill was certain she could be a key asset in the merger and integration, but to do so, she needed a position on Dr. Talley’s leadership team. She scheduled an appointment to meet with Dr. Talley and made her case. “I believe in you, Dr. Talley, and I want to be a member of your leadership team. But with all due respect, leading an academic medical facility is very complex. You are going to need to hold your own with department chairs and deans… I can help you with that.”
Dr. Tally listened intently, acknowledging the complexity of academic medicine’s administration. With that, McGill landed a position on his executive team and helped the merged hospitals exceed revenue and growth projections.
McGill continues to rise as a health care leader. At this writing, she serves as Florida-based Nemours Children Health System’s chief of network operations and enterprise VP, reporting to the chief executive of Florida operations.
Here are McGill’s tips for going as far as your ambitions can take you:
- The merger brought with it tremendous change, and with change always comes opportunity. So, if things are in flux in your firm, look for ways to leverage yourself into more accountability.
- More accountability comes with the risk of failure. Be willing to put yourself on the line.
- In times of change, express yourself confidently and boldly in meetings with top executives. Voice your commitment to the organization and your interest in growing professionally.
Earn people’s trust. It’s the foundation of anyone’s reputation in both life and work. The first step I took in earning people’s trust was to learn the name of anyone who worked in my space—and to use it each and every time we interacted.
Deirdre Quinn, CEO and cofounder of Lafayette 148, started her fashion career at Liz Claiborne. Her first assignment was a basic job in the pattern room. Soon thereafter, she was promoted to secretary to the head of production. Her breakthrough moment came when she was sitting in a meeting taking notes. The men at the table were discussing that skirts were trending up that season, and someone needed to go to Korea the next day to oversee the shortening of 200,000 skirts. When nobody spoke up, Quinn said, “I’ll go.”
The next day she got on a plane to Korea, stayed in the country three months, and got the job done. From there on out, Quinn became the “go-to” person for getting problems solved. Assignments took her to places like El Salvador, Haiti, Sri Lanka, and India. By the time she was 28, she was leading a team as VP of operations.
Quinn’s wisdom about how to succeed?
- Don’t be late to meetings. If a meeting is to start at 9:00, and an attendee has yet to arrive, she closes the door.
- To help her in hiring the right people, she sometimes says during an interview, “Don’t you hate getting up early in the morning?” If the interviewee answers, “I am so not a morning person,” Quinn knows immediately that the person isn’t the right fit. She wants to work with people who are happy in the morning. Period.
- Employees right out of college have to work especially hard and they need to have patience. Of course, a little luck helps too.
- You can learn from a bad boss just as much as you can from a good one.
- Don’t be afraid to go the extra mile. Embrace your job every day.