Impactful leaders celebrate Women’s History Month at Michigan Medicine

March 28, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

At Michigan Medicine, leaders take on a variety of different roles each day — and they do so in their own diverse leadership styles.

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Headlines caught up with some of the most impactful female leaders across the organization — from research to education to patient care — to learn their perspective on what makes a powerful leader, who serves as their inspiration and what advice they have for the next generation of women leaders.

Beth Lawlor, M.D., Ph.D.

Director of Ph.D. graduate program in cancer biology; associate director for education and training, U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center 

Headlines: What do you feel are the most important traits in a strong leader?

Lawlor: I think that the ability to truly listen to people is essential for strong and effective leadership. It is also critical that leaders not be afraid to act when it is clear that the status quo is not working.

Too often we come to the table with our own preconceived ideas about what the issues are and how to resolve them. Strong leaders are able to listen to and learn from the people around them, integrate all of the varied viewpoints and then follow through with what are sometimes difficult decisions.

Listening to your team members will also help create a culture of trust that benefits all individuals — and the organization.

Diana Witowski

Associate chief financial officer, U-M Medical School

Headlines: What advice would you offer women who will be in our next generation of leaders?

Witowski: Preparing yourself for leadership requires professional and personal self-awareness and an ongoing investment.

Professionally, not everyone has to like you or your ideas, and that’s ok. Put the organization first and lead with your core values — but don’t constantly worry about what others are thinking. If you do, you risk consuming yourself with these thoughts rather than focusing on your next potential contribution.

If you have something to say that adds value to the conversation, speak up! It may be uncomfortable at first, but gets easier with practice.

On a more personal level, take care of yourself.

We have so many roles: mothers, daughters, sisters, caregivers, friends, leaders and more. Think of your life as a marathon: if you run too fast out of the gate you will burn out quickly. There are no shortcuts so prepare yourself for the journey.

Become aware of what you need personally to fuel your day — whether it’s sleep, exercise, reading, nutrition — and make it a non-negotiable commitment in your life, letting those close to you know so they can help support you.

Phyllis Blackman

Director, Office for Health Equity and Inclusion, U-M Medical School

Headlines: How can Michigan Medicine better support the development of women leaders?

Blackman: We are experiencing a rapid change in our workforce due in part to the departure of the baby boomer generation. To stay ahead of this shift, employees should be prepared to fill leadership positions as they become available.

Michigan Medicine can help in this process by consistently providing opportunities for women to serve on committees and to be thought partners in new initiatives. That will allow faculty and staff to gain exposure to the exciting work that is done across the organization and will help to develop and empower women to succeed in the workplace. It will also add diversity of thought to every situation.

Additionally, the opportunities to attend leadership development courses and conferences helped prepare me for the role in which I currently serve. I am encouraged by the number of women that are motivated and have the desire to learn and advance in their careers here at U-M. The opportunities are out there; now we must all stay committed to seeing them through.

Barbra Miller, M.D.

Assistant professor, endocrinology; one of the faculty leaders in clinical care for patients with endocrine surgical diseases

Headlines: What do you feel are the most important traits in a strong leader?

Miller: You don’t need a formal title to lead the way — true leaders lead from whatever position they may hold. They continually identify areas needing improvement, tackle tough problems for the greater good that others may not want to acknowledge and are learners for life.

Leaders also think big and plan long into the future.

During my career, I have also found that the leaders with the greatest impact teach and aren’t afraid to allow others to learn to lead. Supporting colleagues along their career journey makes for a stronger organization as a whole.

Anna Lok, M.D.

Director of clinical hepatology; assistant dean for clinical research; President of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases

Headlines: Who were your role models as you progressed through your career? What made you look up to them?

Lok: I look to three of the most important people in my life as an inspiration.

First, my mother, who taught me resilience. She went from growing up in a family with live-in maids to running a family with kids and my father sick and unemployed by the time I was born. She never let that stop her from giving us the best upbringing possible.

I also admire my teacher in Hong Kong, a woman who went on to be dean of the medical school and provost of the university.

Finally, I was inspired by my mentor in London, Dame Sheila Sherlock, one of the first women to become a chair of medicine in England and a founder of hepatology as a medical subspecialty.

All three of these remarkable women taught me to believe in myself, showed me that nothing is impossible and that women can accomplish everything that men can.

Because of their example, I can honestly tell the future leaders in medicine to work hard, persevere and not let any barriers or naysayers get in your way.