Ep. 23: Leadership is About Solving the Right Problems

with Ruth Williams-Brinkley

August 19, 2021

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Ruth Williams-Brinkley
Regional President, Kaiser Permanente, Mid-Atlantic

Ruth Williams-Brinkley is the Regional President of Kaiser Permanente, Mid-Atlantic. In this role, Williams-Brinkley oversees all of Kaiser Permanente’s care delivery and health plan operations in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland, Baltimore, and Northern Virginia. The Mid-Atlantic States Region operates 34 medical office buildings and has 782,194 members.

Williams-Brinkley reports to the group president for markets outside California, Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc. and Hospitals.

Williams-Brinkley joined Kaiser Permanente in November 2017, serving as president of Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals of the Northwest. She oversaw all of Kaiser Permanente’s care delivery and health plan operations in Oregon and markets in Vancouver and Longview/Kelso, Washington.

Prior to that she served as CEO of KentuckyOne Health, Kentucky’s largest integrated health system. KentuckyOne was a division of CommonSpirit Health, one of the nation’s largest nonprofit health systems.

Prior to her tenure with KentuckyOne, Williams-Brinkley served as president and CEO of Carondelet Health Network in Tucson, Arizona, and as president and CEO of Memorial Healthcare System in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Williams-Brinkley has often appeared on Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Women in Healthcare and Top 25 Minority Executives in Healthcare, and was named one of Becker’s Most Admired CEOs.

She holds bachelor’s and Master of Science degrees from De Paul University, and an honorary doctoral degree from Spaulding University in Louisville, Kentucky.

 

 

 

Leadership is about problem-solving, which means making sure you address the right problem. The wrong problem always leads to the wrong solution.

Transcript

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Gary Bisbee 0:43

Ruth Williams-Brinkley was raised primarily by her grandmother on a small farm in Georgia where she was instilled with the values of hard work and resiliency. She began her leadership journey as a nurse serving as a nurse manager, Chief Nurse, and moving on to become a CEO in health systems. Building on her leadership experience, she was invited to join Kaiser Permanente and she has become the regional president for the Mid-Atlantic states. We explored Kaiser Permanente’s unique care model with Ruth and how Person-Centered Care and affordability is at its core. Ruth realized when she arrived at Kaiser Permanente that it focuses more on preventive measures and providing care throughout the continuum, the non-capitated models. Ruth described the partnership with Unite Us to build the Mid Atlantic community network data infrastructure. Its purpose is to merge social and healthcare data to address social determinants of health across the socio-economic spectrum. Mentorship has been an important part of Ruth’s career. Early on, she was advised to network and befriend search consultants who were aware of professional opportunities. Now she returns the favor by mentoring young professionals and linking them with the right sponsor. In regards to advice for up-and-coming leaders, Ruth recommended setting career goals but always being open to new opportunities.

Good morning, Ruth, and welcome.

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  2:22  

Good morning, Gary. Thank you for having me. It’s good to see you.

Gary Bisbee  2:26  

We’re pleased to have you at the microphone. This show is about leadership. And Ruth, you’ve had a marvelous leadership career to this point. And with more to come. our point of view is that understanding the background of our guests gives us a view into their leadership style. So why don’t we go back and start at the beginning? What was life like growing up for you, Ruth?

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  2:52  

I have a little bit of an unusual background growing up, but probably not that unusual. I grew up on a small family farm in Georgia, which is still in our family has been in our family for over 100 years. I was mainly raised by my grandmother. My parents were young parents so my grandparents raised me. My grandfather died when I was four, so it was really my grandmother and one aunt who was still young enough to be at home. And it was the three of us. And that’s how I was raised in a very rural area. For instance, the population is about 400 people, and that’s probably more than on any given day.

Gary Bisbee  3:41  

Looking back, do you think that your leadership style came a bit from your grandmother?

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  3:51  

Absolutely. My leadership style absolutely came from my grandmother. As farmers— and I don’t know how much you know about farmers, but there’s always things to do. After my grandfather died, my grandmother ran the farm herself along with us and the people who helped us. In every season you were either planting or you were cultivating or you were gathering or you’re preparing for the next planting season, so we worked a lot, and we were very self-reliant as most farmers are to a large degree. My grandmother had been a teacher so she was very strong and made sure that we did what we were supposed to do in terms of work, leadership, and education. I picked that up from her. She was resilient, never really verbalized any type of defeat, although I know she must have experienced defeat on several levels. But I got that from her, yes.

 

Gary Bisbee  5:05  

I worked on a farm for two summers as a young person so I can relate somewhat to what you’re talking about growing up on a farm. What was the young Ruth like? What would she think about leadership?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  5:20  

Oh, gosh. I don’t know, at a young age, if I had a real strong sense of leadership. What I knew was that I was motivated to study. I was always a good student. I loved school and I guess that’s a form of leadership. I held class leadership positions as class president, as in a leader in the honor society. We didn’t have any kind of sports program at my first elementary school. However, when I went to high school, I joined high school clubs and enjoyed them a whole lot because I was pretty studious. Having an opportunity to lead in those clubs was was important.

 

Gary Bisbee  6:13  

Do you remember thinking, “I really enjoy leadership and I think I’m going to pursue that as I grow up?” Did that thought ever kind of pass through your mind?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  6:24  

As I think about that, I did enjoy leadership. However, I didn’t think beyond the moment in time in terms of high school, or junior high school, or even elementary school. I didn’t most of the people I was around or farmers. And so you didn’t really see organized leadership, except for the leadership of individual family farms are things like that. And so I didn’t, as I think about it, Gary, I really didn’t see that as leadership at the time. But now again, as I look back on it, there was tremendous leadership. These were small, medium-sized, and large businesses because running a farm is a tremendous responsibility. You’ve got animals, you’ve got crops, and, and so forth, and everything has run on a schedule, and the crops are ready, they have to be harvested. And that’s how you live. So I look back on it today as leadership, but I did enjoy it. I did enjoy having the opportunity to lead in school and to lead whatever I was able to lead in my house.

 

Gary Bisbee  7:32  

How did your decision to enter nursing come to be?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  7:37  

My grandmother always wanted me to be a nurse. She was a teacher and there are a lot of teachers in our family today. I think I’m the only nurse. There’s one other person. I have a daughter-in-law who is a registered nurse. However, my grandmother decided I should be a nurse. And being a bit of a rebellious child, I decided I didn’t know what I want it to be. But I knew I didn’t want to be what someone told me I shouldn’t be. So I went away to college, not quite knowing what I want it to be. and ended up going into nursing, as my grandmother had always led me to lead me towards going. And it’s I look back on it today. It’s just amazing how I ended up exactly where she wanted me to be. And it’s been a great career, it has been incredibly rewarding because I really love helping people. That’s what really motivates me and what drives me.

 

Gary Bisbee  8:37  

I’ll be willing to bet that you gravitated into nursing leadership fairly early in your career. Is that true?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  8:45  

I did. Again, I don’t recommend this, but I didn’t know even after I graduated, about three or four years when I got my first management job. As a nurse manager, I realized that I really loved leadership. And then I’d set a goal that I wanted to be a Chief Nurse. And I reached that goal. And it was again, very fulfilling, very rewarding to help nurses see what could be done and how we as nurses, could impact patients, hospitalization, and their life, quite frankly. Because when you when someone is in the hospital, it’s important to good care of them, make sure they don’t get infected, just make sure they don’t get any kind of unnecessary, unnecessary complications. And that is something that I enjoyed tremendously as well as helping the nurses find their professional voice and their professional contribution. So I enjoyed that tremendously.

 

Gary Bisbee  9:53  

Just thinking about nursing leadership, and we’ll talk a little bit later about leading the whole enterprise but thinking about Nursing leadership, any tips that you learned about how to lead nurses?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  10:06  

The things I learned about nurses are things that I would apply to others as well. First of all, everything we do in healthcare is through people. We have buildings, we have equipment. We have all kinds of things: devices and technology. However, at the end of the day, it is people that deliver the care and people who care for you. When you’re ill, I never heard anyone asked for a machine when they were critically ill they asked for a person to take care of them. I feel like taking care of your people, the people who are around you is incredibly important. And giving those people an opportunity to have a voice, to exert their professional thoughts and expertise. It’s really important. I have so much respect for nurses because they are there at the patient’s bedside in the hospital setting all the time. They do so much, so nurses are my personal heroes. I love working with them.

 

Gary Bisbee  11:21  

You moved from nursing leadership to enterprise leadership, which isn’t surprising, given you’re given your background in leadership, and you’re interested in it. But what was the story that moved you from nursing leadership to leadership of the whole institution?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  11:39  

It was an interesting area. I had been a Chief Nurse three times and I was in my dream job at a major academic medical center. I was really happy and loved it there loved my life there in that particular city. My husband was working at the time so one of us had to move because we were in different cities. We were commuting, so I moved back to the city where I had left to take this job that I love. When I’m moved back, I was wondering what I was going to do. I was recruited by a consulting firm and I took the job as a consultant doing operational turnaround. We didn’t call them that at the time, but that’s what they were. It was a tremendous experience. I worked in the US at some of the largest academic medical centers. I worked in Canada at two of the largest academic medical centers. It was tremendous in terms of expanding my capacity, expanding my thinking, expanding my strategic thinking especially. So that sort of gave me a different view online. And it helped me to be viewed differently as a professional. After I’d been in consulting for about three or four years, recruiters began to get interested in me for CEO jobs. I did not take a CEO job during that process I interviewed for a couple, but they weren’t the right fit for me. And so I was subsequently recruited to a large Catholic health system. For an operations role that wasn’t a CEO, it was the vice president role, regional vice president role. And within a few months of being there, there was a need for a turnaround at the whole national system. And I had this turnaround experience from my previous job as a consultant. And I was tapped to do the turnaround for this system. I have to tell you, it wasn’t something I look forward to doing because, as you probably know, consulting is a hard job. You’re traveling all the time, I had a teenage daughter, and wasn’t looking forward to more travel. However, I did take the role. And we did the turnaround for that system in about three years. And so this now brings me to about eight years as a consultant. And I was looking for my next role because I knew that it was exhausting. I needed to be closer to my home with my daughter. And it was just exhausting, quite frankly. And so I was asked to take an ad Let it be known in the organization that I was interested in doing something else. And so I was asked to take an interim role as a CEO, and one of the hospitals in that system. And I took the role. And after being there for a few months, I was asked to stay there and that’s How I got my first CEO role, it remains one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling roles that I have ever had. And it was great. It was a great little city, smaller city in the southeastern United States. Because I was from the south, I felt right at home and from the southeast. And so it really turned into a great career path for me. And I would have never guessed that I would have ended up there. Because I’d been a Chief Nurse three times, I was wondering what I was going to do next. I didn’t really have a clear thought and out to be real honest, Gary. At that time, nurses weren’t viewed as professionals who could, who could lead health systems or hospitals in a broader role. So I didn’t have that goal for myself. And it was no surprise a pleasant one. And it really opened up a whole new career path for me.

 

Gary Bisbee  15:56  

You made reference to moving the family. Clearly, that takes a toll on you takes a toll on your family. Ultimately, how did you manage the various moves that you made with your family?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  16:11  

I have two children. I have a son who’s my eldest, and my daughter who’s younger. By the time I was doing this, my son was already in college, so he was out of the house, my daughter really was the one that ended up with a lot of the upheaval. And I tried always to look at it as a sense of adventure. And I tried to instill in her that sense of adventure. But as I look back on it, Gary, it was hard for her. It did make her resilient, it made her adaptable for change. But it was hard on her. And so I would say to anyone who has a family, young children or children that are in middle school and high school, it’s hard, it’s difficult. And you have to really try to put an ecosystem around your children if you’re moving to keep some stability in their lives. And so I am really proud of my two children. They’re both have their own families. But it’s interesting, neither one of them has moved more than once. They’ve stayed in the city, so I’ve learned through that. I did what I needed to do during that time. And I tried to do the best I could to put that ecosystem around my children, but it was difficult. It was difficult.

 

Gary Bisbee  17:32  

My father was a minister and we moved all the time, so I understand exactly how all that works. It’s good for learning how to meet people. You just have to do it when you’re moving. What was behind your decision to join Kaiser Permanente?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  17:51  

That’s an interesting story. I have been a long admirer of Kaiser Permanente for years. I experienced being in an HMO-managed care plan early in my career and never forgot the experience. And I liked it. And so I’d always admired Kaiser Permanente, and really had wondered how I could work for them at some point in my career, but Kaiser Permanente I thought was only on the west coast. And I’d always worked and either the East Coast or the Midwest. That’s where my family is. That’s where I’m from. Although as you know, I’m not afraid to move. I just never had the opportunity to work on the west coast. And so, after my last hospital job, a health system job, I was going to take some time off. I had worked my husband had passed away unexpectedly during that time, and I had tried to work my way through it. And that didn’t work that well as most people know, who’ve been through grieving and grief. And so after we decided to sell several of the hospitals in this system, then I just made a decision that I was going to take some time off. And so I got a call from a recruiter that said Kaiser Permanente wanted to talk to me about a role. One thing led to another. And I was quite flattered and surprised to hear from Kaiser Permanente is a great system. And I said I would talk to them, at least have a conversation. And through those through that conversation and several other conversations. I ended up coming to work for Kaiser Permanente. I admired the system before I joined, I admired it even more after I’ve joined.

 

Gary Bisbee  19:48  

You started out in Oregon but then moved a few years back to the southeast. So can you describe the Mid Atlantic states region that you now run?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  20:00  

As Mid Atlantic states region serves three jurisdictions, the District of Columbia, the state of Maryland, and the state of Virginia, we, most of our work is in Southern Maryland, although we do go up to Annapolis, and then in Virginia, we are mostly in Northern Virginia, a broad circle of Northern Virginia and the district. And we have about 880,000 members. across those three jurisdictions. We have about 9000 employees, and about 1700 primary care and specialty physicians. We have 34, medical office building sites, five of which are hubs. We just did the ribbon cutting on our newest facility in Timonium, Maryland on yesterday. And we have three additional hubs and hubs are places where we have ambulatory surgery, we have what we call advanced urgent care, what some places may call observation units. And we have a lot of services gathered under one roof. So today, we have five, we’re going to be opening up tomorrow, we’re really excited about that. Part of the need for these sites is if you’ve ever spent any time in the Washington, DC metro. It’s challenging to get around, and the area is not a large area per se. However, it’s difficult, especially in rush hour in places. And so we want to have geo access, good geo access for our members, and not have them have to drive a long way. So we don’t own hospitals in this region. We contract with hospital systems with 12 hospital systems. And in those 12 what we call our core hospitals, we install a Kaiser Permanente integrated model. That consists of our permanent eye physicians, some of our nursing staff, our case managers, and care coordinators, and our model. We can’t be in every hospital. And oftentimes, sometimes, especially during the pandemic, we had a lot of our members in non-core hospitals. And so but we try our best to keep them in our core hospitals, and the model. That’s how the model works. And it’s a great model. And it’s great to have everybody together. Most of our services are under one roof and our members love it.

 

Gary Bisbee  22:43  

Thinking about it from your standpoint as a leader. What are the differences between working for hospital systems which you did before Kaiser Permanente, and now leading a unit of Kaiser Permanente? Ruth, what are the main differences that it presents you as a leader?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  23:03  

When I was in Oregon, we had hospitals, we have hospitals in Oregon. And I would often tell myself, okay, when I was on the hospital side of things, I would always be in a tug of war with the insurance companies for more payment, a better reimbursement. And I was like, now I’m both I guess I’m going to argue with myself. But the difference is, as we look at health here in the US, we know that we need to bring our health all of us, Kaiser Permanente, everybody else needs to be working on an affordability goal. And so I find working on the health plan side of things, that I better understand the tug of wars from both sides. Now, I always understood it like everybody has their perspective, the difference is that we have a premium dollar, if you will, and we have to take care of our members. It’s a prepaid system. And we promise and make a commitment to our members and we’re accountable to take care of our members’ health needs, in that put within that premium dollar. And so that’s the biggest difference as a hospital, except for as a Kaiser Permanente hospital, I didn’t have to be as worried about that premium dollar, because I was getting my portion of the premium dollar. And I want it to get what I needed to take care of the members that the plan would put in our hospitals. In this region. We have those same discussions with our core hospitals, with all of our hospitals about payment and how long a member needs to be in the hospital, making sure we take care of them, making sure we get them home and they need to be home. It’s looking at all those components of what we call the entire Continuing from regular office visits to those two places like the place we cut the ribbon on yesterday, to if a person has to go into the hospital or into one of our urgent care centers for two days day to be observed to that part, then if they have to be as an inpatient, that part has to occur, then where do they go after inpatient care? Are they well enough to go home? Do they have the family support to go home? Again, speaking of an ecosystem, do we have enough ecosystem to put around our members? If they go home and still need care? That’s one thing we have to pay attention to. And now, we all Not now, we’ve always paid attention really, to moving upstream, as you call it to look at the social components of health? Does the person live alone? It’s hard to send people who are sick home by themselves. does a person have if they don’t live alone? Do they if they do live alone? Do they have families before? Do they have food? Do they have a safe neighborhood? Do they have money to enough financial resources to get the things they need to get their medications, and that meant we provide our medications as part of the premium but the other things that they need to thrive and do well. So we pay a lot of attention to those social components of health. Because we’ve all known for a while that almost 80% of what happens to a person happens outside of the walls of a hospital or physician’s office. People live in their community. They don’t live in hospitals, they don’t live in doctor’s offices. Except for those that live in assisted living or our skilled care or wherever, they live in their homes. And so we want to put the ecosystem around them to keep them healthy. And to bring them in when they need more definitive care.

 

Gary Bisbee  27:00  

There’s a lot of attention paid these days to a term “organizing around the person.” Hearing you describe Kaiser Permanente, it feels to me like that’s an example of organizing around the person. Would you agree with that?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  27:17  

Absolutely. We sometimes call that patient-centered care or person-centered Care. But it really does involve organ around organizing around the person, what does the person need to stay healthy? Now we’re all going to happen, get medical care, medical intervention, maybe surgical intervention, at some point in our lives. And so how do we manage that so that people who have especially chronic illnesses, diabetes, hypertension, those kinds of things, we want to organize in a way that helps the person manage that chronic disease, cancer, other diseases, and I suspect we’ll see some, some chronic diseases, perhaps come out of those who’ve had COVID. How do we help the person manage those so that they can live the optimal life and have optimal health? That’s incredibly important to us? Yes, that is organizing around the person and I would say around the person and whoever they define is their family unit.

 

Gary Bisbee  28:19  

And then another key issue is affordability, which, during COVID, it was increasingly apparent that, that that’s an issue in the country feels like the Kaiser Permanente model compared to where you have worked for health systems in the past, the Kaiser Permanente model is more affordable with how do you think about that?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  28:44  

I do believe we’re more affordable. We are. That’s something we work on Gary all the time. affordability is one of our strategic goals. And we want to make sure that we’re affordable so that more people can afford health care. access to health care is really important to us. And I’m sure it’s important to others as well. We at Kaiser Permanente want to make sure that our services are affordable and accessible to people who need them. So that’s one of our goals. And it’s a balance because people need their services and each year, things get more expensive, but we really work on trying to make that balance.

 

Gary Bisbee  29:27  

How about virtual care thinking particularly about the pandemic and the COVID days did the use of virtual care pick up Kaiser Permanente?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  29:41  

Absolutely not. We at Kaiser Permanente, we’d been doing virtual care for over 15 years, and the uptake was around maybe 20% or so. Prior to the pandemic during the pandemic. Virtual care utilization went up to greater than 90% That 95% maybe. And is that a pandemic? I don’t want to say that it’s over because we know it’s not. But since it’s eased a bit, we’re seeing more people being willing to come and see their physicians, and the offices for in-person care. A lot of people were afraid to leave their homes. And for good reason, quite frankly, in the early phase of the early phases of the pandemic, we didn’t know how the virus was transmitted. And so people were most people were sort of confined to their homes, self-confinement, and so now people are coming out and getting the care that they defer during that time. And so our telehealth or virtual care has decreased a bit but there’s still a high percentage use it we’re maybe I don’t know what the percentages are right at this moment, but I know it’s significantly decreased.

 

Gary Bisbee  30:57  

Let’s turn if we could to social and cultural issues that we’re all facing and healthcare in this country. Once again, the pandemic clearly highlighted issues of social equity, which you made reference to that as being much of the interaction with the system really is not in hospitals. Health equity is another key issue in here in the Mid Atlantic states region, and I guess with Kaiser Permanente, generally, there’s a partnership with Unite Us. Can you describe that for us and how that is working and fulfilling some of your objectives at Kaiser Permanente?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  31:42  

Unite Us provides a technology platform that makes it easier for us to address some of the social needs that I spoke about. So if someone has hunger, sometimes we call it food insecurity. I call it hunger. Because when people are hungry, they’re hungry. Or maybe they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. So it’s the food insecurities. So we try to put real United’s helps us to integrate our social care into our physical care so that we are able to help meet that need through community providers that can be accessed through the technology platform, and help us in meeting the patient’s needs. And that could be anything from food, it could be safety needs, it could be psychosocial needs, whatever our members need. And so Unitas has been a great partner with us to help us identify providers who can help meet that need. And it makes it easier for our providers so that they don’t have to have a big Rolodex, or something to call people and start dialing Unitas puts all of that in a technology platform, the physician makes the provider makes a referral. And someone takes it from there. And there’s someone to make sure that the member or the patient gets what they need.

 

Gary Bisbee  33:14  

Given your background, you’re unique in a number of ways. First of all, you’re the CEO who is a nurse, and you made the comment earlier that that has been not a common pathway, although perhaps somewhat better. You’re also a black person and a woman. So you’ve got a bunch of unique characteristics. Ruth, our work shows about 20% of CEOs of health systems are women, many fewer would be black women. How have you found that in your career? Has that been something that you just constantly have to work around? Or? Or how is that done for you, Ruth?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  33:57  

I am very aware of the inequities directed toward women, black people in general, and black women. And so what I have strived to do in my career is to really help mentor young women, young black professionals who want to aspire to a career in healthcare leadership. And I can’t reach all of them because I’m just one person. However, I do encourage people to go for their goals and, and for me personally, I’ve been very fortunate. I think my nursing career and my nursing experience helped me because, as a nurse, you are looking at problem-solving skills because, in any patient care situation, if a person comes to a healthcare provider, they have a problem usually when they’re not living in the community. They’re coming in for either a checkup and there may be a problem detected or they’re coming in with a problem. And so it’s problem-solving, identifying the problem. And making sure that you address the right problem in nursing or whether it’s in a broader leadership is sometimes identifying the wrong problem leads to the wrong, it always leads to the wrong solution, usually, and so you have to spend the time making sure you understand the problem. And I think it’s the same whether you’re leading nurses or leaving an organization. And so for me, as as a black woman, I am comfortable in my own skin, I’m comfortable from where I came from. I mean, you heard me talk about my background earlier. So I am comfortable with a variety of people. And in many cases, I am the only black person black woman in a room, I hope that that won’t be the case going forward. That’s not something that I particularly celebrate, because I want to see more people of color blacks, Asians, Hispanics, Latinx, we need to have a broad tent because our country is abroad. And so we need to make room for people of all races and ethnic groups, to be in leadership. And that’s really important to me.

 

Gary Bisbee  36:22  

I’m sure there’s a demand for you as a role model and a mentor, just as a leader, let alone with the uniqueness that we’ve spoken about. How do you handle that? It feels like you could probably spend full time as a mentor if you had the time. How do you manage that?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  36:43  

In our organization, I really try to make sure that every person who wants one can have a mentor or a sponsor. I feel like sponsorship is really important. I can spread my impact in an organization because there are other people. I don’t have to do it all. There are other people who can be mentors, that can be sponsors. I encourage people to get a mentor and especially a sponsor. There are certain people that I talk to on a semi-regular basis when I can, but I can’t do as much as I’d like to do because I just don’t have the time. I do a lot of speaking and a lot of presentations on how to advance in your career, how to really look at your career as— a phrase I like to use is ‘you are the CEO of your own career,’ so how do you manage the business of your career? How do you make sure that works for you? I try to give as much group advice as I can because I don’t have a lot of time for individual mentoring and I also try to sponsor people when I can. Those things are important.

 

Gary Bisbee  38:03  

Looking back on it, did you have a mentor or somebody who was particularly influential in your professional career?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  38:11  

Early on, I had a mentor who, who really gave me some tips on just doing certain things, networking, with groups, joining professional organizations. Everything I learned was so interesting. In one of my early career physicians, I learned the value of networking with a third consultant who can be a sponsor. If you’re busy, heads down, head is down, you get an inquiry from research consultant, if you’re busy, you’re happy where you are, you have a tendency to just ignore it. I found early on that’s not the right thing to do. The right thing to do is to try to give that person some feedback on who might be someone that they could call if you even if you’re not interested. But that’s a networking opportunity right there. And that was one of the things that one of my early mentors told me about, and I took it to heart and I’ve done it ever since. So I didn’t have a formal sponsor throughout my life, that person, we worked together for a few years and then our career, career paths to careers took different paths. I still stayed in touch with that person in their family, but it became a different type of relationship over time. I think that you’re usually probably going to have two or three different sponsors if you’re fortunate through your career, and then you didn’t return the favor and become a sponsor or mentor to others.

 

Gary Bisbee  39:52  

Ruth, this has been a terrific interview. We very much appreciate your time today. I have one last question if I could And that is that we have a number of in our audience, number of people in our audience who are young up and coming leaders, what advice would you have for them?

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  40:10  

That’s a big question, Gary, I think what I would say to people who are in the audience is to be particularly mindful of your own career. Set goals, have a plan. You can see by my comments, I didn’t always have a plan, but I developed a develop a plan method and develop a different plan. But be open to opportunities that come about that aren’t a part of your plan. I would say sort of the plan, being attentive to your plan, and making sure you help other people. And network networking isn’t always for your benefit. It can be for someone else’s benefit as well. And I would say work hard. You got to deliver on what you say you’re going to deliver. And that’s really important because no one is going to take a chance on hiring you or promoting you if you’re not reliable for delivering on what you need to deliver on in terms of your outcomes and accountability.

 

Gary Bisbee  41:15  

Great advice, Ruth. You’re a true professional. Thanks so much for being with us.

 

Ruth Williams-Brinkley  41:21  

Thank you for having me, Gary. This has been a lot of fun to talk.

 

Gary Bisbee  41:26  

New episodes will debut every Thursday. Join me in conversations to gain advice and wisdom from CEOs, presidents, and healthcare experts. Health care leadership is hard work, but it becomes more manageable as we learn from the remarkable lives and careers of our guests. I’ll see you there.

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