By Ivan Bartolome, Executive Vice President, FSP Leaders
We all want to be successful in our careers. The problem is the path is often more difficult than we’d like. It winds and twists when we’d prefer it to be straight. We make mistakes, take a wrong turn or circumstances change. But often the mistakes we make — or decisions that may seem like mistakes to other people — can turn out to be some of the best decisions of our career.
I’ve made several decisions in my career that seemed like mistakes at the time, but many ended up being beneficial to me in the long run. Below are five “mistakes” I’m actually grateful to have made in my career.
1. I didn’t listen to my father.
I had just finished my masters degree, and the hospital I worked for was talking with me about moving from a marketing leadership role to a service line leadership role. As I always did with career moves, I called my father who was a very experienced respiratory therapist. “Can you take a blood pressure or vitals?” he asked. As a non-clinician, I admitted I could not do anything clinical but was needed for business development and service line leadership. “Well, I’m not sure you should take that job,” he responded. I didn’t listen to him. It was really one of the few times I refused his counsel. I was the cardiovascular service line leader at that hospital for more than eight years. It was a tough eight years, but I think I made things better. I earned the respect of the all the clinicians who worked for and with me, and it has made me a better search consultant.
2. I left acute care hospital work.
I was a newlywed who needed to follow my wife from Texas to Kansas City where she was in medical school. After searching for work for more than a year, I answered a newspaper ad for a leadership role at a school of nursing. I worried that taking a role in academia would end my desire to be in hospital leadership. But I needed a job in the same city where my wife was training. I called a former boss who was a hospital administrator. He counseled me to keep looking and pass on the academic job if I wanted to stay in hospital leadership, but my desire to live in the same city with my wife outweighed his sensible counsel. I was sure my work in the acute care setting was over. Instead, I became colleagues and friends with some of the best academic nurses I will ever know. Many of them continue to be my friends. Now my experience in academia is viewed as a significant strength.
3. I ignored the advice of a legacy hospital CEO.
This CEO was known for his years of building what is now one of the largest not-for-profit hospitals and health systems in the country. One day he called me to his office to tell me he thought I should take a leadership role at a smaller and more rural hospital in our system. The CEO at the smaller hospital had a matrix reporting relationship to him. He told me he would call the smaller hospital CEO to encourage him to offer me the job. A few days later, the smaller hospital CEO found me at my work station and offered me the job. Going against my CEO’s advice, I turned it down in favor of a smaller role at a large tertiary hospital. The smaller role I took, however, positioned me well to quickly take a more senior role within a year, and the experience in a tertiary hospital continues to be valuable to me as a search consultant.
4. I transferred to a hospital with a “poor” reputation and a “tough” CEO.
This hospital was within the system of hospitals I worked in. They needed a new marketing leader, and it would have been a big title and compensation upgrade for me. I was encouraged to consider the role, but I didn’t think the hospital provided good clinical care. In addition, the hospital CEO had a reputation for being tough. I called a former professor to seek his counsel. He said, “Ivan, you might consider that the place where you can do the most good is actually a situation that isn’t good.” I took the job. Eventually, that hospital was named a Top 100 hospital for two consecutive years. The CEO really was tough, but to this day he remains a mentor to me and we have exchanged Christmas cards every year for the past 20+ years.
5. I fired a physician.
Well, really the CEO and I did it together. We were desperate for cardiology physician coverage. We needed every cardiologist we could find to keep our service line viable after our largest cardiology group left, taking with them their referrals for open heart surgery. This cardiologist, however, was not demonstrating strong clinical quality or maturity with interpersonal skills with nurses and other physicians. So we made the difficult choice to release him from his employment arrangement. We knew our volumes would suffer. But as a result of our tough decision, which some viewed as a mistake from a volume perspective, we gained the trust of clinicians who saw we were not willing to compromise on quality.
As Thanksgiving approaches, I’m reminded of how thankful I am these “mistakes” are a part of my career. Each step has made me an even stronger executive search leader, allowing me to offer unique insights and expertise to our clients as we work with them to find the right candidates.
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