‘Imposter syndrome? Conquer it!’ C&W’s Kelly Baird-Cox’s advice for women leaders and vision for the future

March 23, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership

Kelly Baird-Cox, D.N.P., R.N., CPNP, CPEN, C.E.N., TCRN, NEA-BC, CENP, has been working to break the glass ceiling for women since a young age … she just might not have known it at the time.

“I was the quarterback on a boys Pee Wee football team and pitcher for boys Little League baseball,” said Baird-Cox. “And the only girl on both teams.”

Headlines recently sat down with Baird-Cox during Women’s History Month to learn more about her role as chief nursing officer for C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital and how she hopes to inspire the next generation of women leaders.

Q: Every day is different, but what does a “typical day” look like in your role?

KBC: I typically wake up and start my day by focusing on my base: 10-minute planks, 50 pushups and yoga stretches that include inspirational music and a notepad and pen. This time is often where some of my best thinking, new ideas and connecting the dots happen for me.  

Once arriving to work, I am intentional in my actions and focus on two key concepts: “back to basics” and “We are Better Together.”

I always focus on people before things. I’m confident that individuals who feel safe, experience a sense of belonging and are cared for are more likely to be connected to each other, committed to teamwork and embrace our purpose. While caring and serving alone is not sufficient for strong leadership, these core behaviors serve as my base.

As I start my workday, I stay grounded in my purpose by being visible and present in our early morning and late day C&W safety huddle structure that incorporates our Michigan Medicine BASE priorities. This is a key time for me to connect, listen and support individuals and teams while enabling me to meet them where they are at. My typical workday can often be long but starting and ending my day focused on and connecting with those who matter most keeps me grounded. 

I also try to remember that a day of work for me is a life event for our patients, families and staff.

Q: You’ve been in the CNO role now for about six months, after serving as interim for several months. What has been the greatest challenge so far?

KBC: The best way to address a challenge is to confront it. I can think of three significant challenges since starting my role.

First, and most vital, is caring for and healing the workforce, our most precious commodity, post pandemic. For a complex health care system to deliver safe and high-quality compassionate care to patients and families, our team’s emotional health, wellbeing and work-life balance are critical elements. When leaders intentionally take steps to support mental health and wellness, it benefits our employees, teams and those we serve.

Second, we must prevent the instinct of “returning to our old ways” post pandemic to enable us to rebuild, enhance efficiencies and be innovative in care delivery in an agile, fiscally responsible manner.

Third, we are all committed to taking steps to ensure a diverse, equitable and inclusive future, but how do we move beyond these words to real “action.” To make progress, it is okay for our actions to be imperfect.

Q: What are you most proud of your C&W nursing teams for accomplishing?

KBC: As hard as the last two years have been, I’m so grateful for and could not imagine doing this work without the partnership of my leaders and front-line teams as they conquered the unimaginable. Their leadership and moral courage were not only tested but awe-inspiring as the challenges of COVID-19 impacted their personal and professional lives.

They worked collectively to create surge capacity for our patient populations. We trained our teams to work differently in new and different units and locations, caring for patients in ways never done before.

C&W leader and front-line staff engagement and presence were consistently noted as they inspired each other to confront each COVID-19 wave with grace and strength. At this unprecedented time, their individual and collective “Better Together” efforts made a tremendous difference during the pandemic and on each other. This powerful experience will forever be a part of me. 

Q: What areas of your work do you hope to inspire change, and how so?

KBC: The impact of the pandemic on the nursing profession has been profound. It has accentuated and hastened the challenges we have faced in our profession for many years in terms of an aging workforce, workforce shortages and lack of autonomy.

To address our challenges, I engage staff, colleagues, patients and families with purpose and humility to harness their energy. Engagement creates a sense of culture and belonging, and humility promotes listening and supporting ideas/suggestions. It also fosters a connection with our colleagues and demonstrates genuine care and value for what they bring to the team.

As we emerge from this public health crisis, I am optimistic about the strength of our leaders and teams to address these challenges and their commitment to leading by caring about individuals, developing multidisciplinary partnerships and building consensus among our diverse stakeholders to take action.

I instill hope and inspire others to believe that we can successfully navigate this crisis together and achieve even greater strength and stability. However, imparting hope and staying positive does not mean things will turn out okay. Instead, it is more about how we will be okay no matter how things end.

Q: What are you most excited about for the future in Mott and Von Voigtlander?

KBC: Fast forward, as our leaders and front-line staff have worked tirelessly and responded to the needs of the pandemic, new challenges have emerged. The COVID-19 crisis burdened our health care system, led to unprecedented financial implications and taxed our most precious commodity — people!

Our C&W leaders were faced with even tougher decisions, including unparalleled workforce shortages and accompanying downstream impacts.

What next? Thinking about how to stabilize our nursing leadership workforce is vital if we want to stabilize nursing.

We have an enormous responsibility to take care of our leaders. In turn, our leaders have an enormous responsibility to take care of our front-line nurses. Finally, our front-line nurses have the most critical obligation as they care for our patients and families. 

Q: All of March we have been celebrating Women’s History Month. What advice do you have for other women leaders?

KBC: Four pieces of advice:

  • Remember: whenever you say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else. 
  • There will always be someone who does not see your worth. So don’t let it be you.           
  • If not you, then who? As women, we underestimate our ability to lead on a grand scale.
  • Imposter syndrome? Conquer it!

Q: Being a leader is stressful. What are your hobbies outside of work/how do you decompress?

KBC: Outside of work, I spend time with my husband of 33 years, my three young adult kids, other close family and friends, and my dog. I prefer most anything that involves physical activity or exercise, and I will play any sport.  

The best way for me to decompress is a good night’s sleep, take naps, spend time outdoors, read and, sometimes, eat chocolate.