t’s hard to leave a place where you’ve opened your heart. A coworker in Memphis was fond of saying that if you opened your heart to Memphis, it will open its heart to you, and that felt true during my years there. I was proud of the way Andrea and our girls opened their hearts and found their places in the first American city where we lived for more than an intentionally temporary stretch.
One of the American wonders that struck my heart in Memphis is the school bus. Big and yellow and rumbling, they stop and children get on them, or children get off, backpacks on their shoulders or straggling behind them. I was quite in awe.
I never got to ride a school bus as a child. Now here in Boston, imagine the thrill—for me—that my girls get to ride buses! I’m star-struck. On the first day of school, one lumbered to a stop at the end of our drive, and Ellie got on. A few minutes later, another arrived, and Ava got on.
Andrea had to remind me that first day of school photographs are meant to focus on the children, not the buses.
We arrived in Boston in the summer because my work brought me here, but I am once again proud of my family’s resilience in finding themselves in a new place. Ellie prepared for the first day of school in her usual way, which is to put a smile on her face and go out into the world and be kind. Ava is more practical. She said, “Dad, I’m going to take My Little Ponies and some dinosaurs. That way I’ll have something for anybody I meet.” Knowing Ava, she had a few other things in her backpack as well. She had it covered.
I thought about that. As a CEO and a leader, what is my equivalent to dinosaurs and My Little Ponies? What do I carry with me to be sure I’m prepared to connect with anyone I meet in the organization? Experience has distilled my style of leadership down to three essentials.
Liberating talent. As a leader, I want to liberate as much talent in the organization as possible. When people have their say and feel they are part of an organization, rather than its pawns, talent blooms down every hallway.
Belief in knowledge. Everyone has life experience knowledge, and a healthy organization is a respectful, welcoming place where sharing knowledge creates even greater connection. We all have a great deal to learn, and diversity of life experiences enriches us.
Purpose beyond self. Helping people feel part of something greater than depositing a paycheck unquestionably leads to creativity, productivity and inspiration to excellence.
I name these values in particular because I believe all three can be mediated through respect. I have lived my career based on deeply respectful approaches at all levels—ideas, staff, experts, people who use services, governments. Trying to hold on is difficult at times, but the dividend respect pays back is worth the investment.
That’s how I can open my heart not only to a new city but to a new organization and a new leadership role. Sometimes you have a smile on your face, and sometimes you have My Little Pony tucked away to help you connect with the people you meet.
Now if only I had a yellow bus at the end of the drive and could get Andrea to take my photo in front of it.
President and CEO
South Shore Mental Health