Black History Month: Profiles in Leadership

February 5, 2016  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

In February, we celebrate Black History Month – a time to honor African-Americans and their contributions and sacrifices.

UMHS has voluntarily declared a formal diversity initiative as a matter of integrity and as an institutional imperative.  The premise of our declaration is a simple reality: our organization reflects the diversity of our times – our employees, our patients, our business partners, and our vendors come from all points of the globe.  To achieve our vision and mission to become the national leader in healthcare, we embrace diversity and innovation to inspire excellence.

In support of this initiative, we caught up with a few of our own to talk about what the month means to them, leadership, and more!  The first interview in this series is with Executive Director of C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital  and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital Paul King.

Headlines: Why is it important to celebrate/focus on Black History Month?

PK:  Black History Month started out as “Negro History Week” in 1926.  It was celebrated during the second week in February to coincide with the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass.  In 1976 (as part of the American Bi-Centennial), it was officially extended to include the entire month of February.  Having an “official” month to recognize the contributions of Americans of African descent ensures that there will be dialogue and recognition at least annually of the many contributions made by our fellow citizens.  Americans of African descent have a unique history tied inextricably to the manner by which we came to this country.  It is a story of hardship and triumph.  It is a story of an extraordinary people and the challenges that we overcame through that history, many of which continue to the present time.  Taking a moment each year to reflect on those lessons learned, and to celebrate the many contributions of several exceptional citizens helps all Americans celebrate the richness of the diversity that makes this truly a United States of America.

Headlines: What does it mean to you to be a leader?

PK: Webster defines “leader” as a person in charge or in control, offering synonyms of “boss” and “chief” to further a better understanding of the term.  Other definitions state that a leader is a powerful person who controls or influences what other people do.  I gravitate more towards the concept of servant leadership, as defined by Robert K. Greenleaf.  He defined it as a person who wants to serve first; someone who makes sure that other people’s highest priority needs are met.  Servant leaders put great emphasis on listening, understanding, empathy, persuasion and rebuilding community.  I am humbled and honored to be a leader within the University of Michigan Health System.  As a leader, there are many constituencies that my colleagues and I serve; patients, families, faculty, staff, learners from many disciplines, donors, volunteers, and the greater community – each with unique needs.

Headlines: How has past history impacted or directed your career path?

PK: My career path has been impacted significantly by those who have come before me.  I am blessed to have a vision of a bright future made possible and attainable by the sacrifices made by the giants upon whose shoulders I stand.  It is amazing that we are only five or six short decades (or roughly three generations) from a time when it would have been unthinkable that I would hold the position that I have here at the University.  I now share in the responsibility of repaying the debt created by the hardships endured by our predecessors to make sure that all Americans (not the least of whom includes those who have been historically and systematically denied opportunities) are able to achieve the promise that this great nation provides to all who choose to grasp it.