I have recently noticed leaders everywhere I go. I see them in organizations stepping up and taking a controversial stand. I see them in retail stores helping customers who are unhappy with a purchase. I see them in volunteer positions packing up sandwiches and making deliveries. I met one extraordinary leader last week that worked in a large healthcare organization that epitomized what leadership is all about-PURPOSE. Her story and courage is still with me today, as she touched every nerve in my body.
In one of my earlier jobs, I worked for a healthcare system where I was responsible for the new hires orientation program. Each week I coordinated with a different department to come in to speak. I remember one time, the head of infectious diseases came in to talk about hand washing and HIV. I can still remember the presentation as it had a big impact on me as well as on the new hires. Little did I know that last week, I would bump into one of those nurses from that same department, who now is Manager of HIV services for the entire hospital system.
As we got talking, we realized we had worked with the same senior leaders and our paths had overlapped so many times. What I didn’t know was what an inspirational leader she had evolved into.
Sue has worked as an RN with HIV patients for her entire career and knows everything there is to know medically about HIV. She is also an HIV counselor, where she runs weekly groups with people living with the disease. And that is where her purpose shines through. With tears in her eyes, she shared with me how she helps empower her group members to see themselves as ordinary people living their lives, rather than as victims. There are still so many stigmas attached to HIV, which I did not realize; but Sue’s goal is to build up this community. This is her life mission and this is how she does it:
She listens to their concerns: The first step in any journey is self-awareness and being able to voice one’s challenges. Through open discussions, Sue focuses in on what each person is feeling and how it is impacting their life. Then she validates those feelings before offering any suggestions.
She welcomes their support system: We all know that we can’t heal without the help of others whether they are family members or friends. The participants in the group often bring in the people who are most affected by the disease to learn and share. Education is key to becoming strong and healthy citizens. She answers questions and involves the group in offering suggestions that have worked for them.
She helps them plan holiday parties: It might not seem like a big deal to many of us, but putting together a gathering to celebrate the holidays is an enormous task to people who feel like victims. She and I spoke about ways to empower them to research and plan the party, instead of her taking charge. This is going to be a huge learning and growing experience for the group; one that can be very therapeutic and life altering.
She is there each week, without fail: Sue makes sure she shows up each week to be there and fuel their forward movement back into society as well as into their personal worlds. They depend on her and she told me she gets more out of this than words could ever express. She presents her case continually to the board of directors of the hospital system to maintain funding for this program because she sees its value and purpose.
We need more leaders like Sue who are willing to stand up for people who cannot yet stand up for themselves. She is a leader we can all emulate.
Do you know any leaders like Sue who lead with purpose? Are you that leader? Please share your stories with us.