As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara James.
Barbara James is the Assistant Vice President, Chief Development Officer, Bethesda Hospital, Baptist Health Foundation, Baptist Health South Florida in Boynton Beach, Fla. Since joining the Foundation in 2017, James has raised an impressive $27 million through annual giving, private donors, fundraising campaigns, events, and corporate sponsorships. James earned a Bachelor Degree in English & Business Management from Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tenn. and will receive her Master of Science in Management & Leadership in Spring 2021 from Western Governors University in Seattle.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I am originally from Upstate New York and have been married to my husband for more than 30 years. We raised our two daughters in the Pacific Northwest before relocating to South Florida. We enjoy spending time together near the water with our dog, Finn, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.
Before joining Baptist Health South Florida in 2017, I previously served in executive roles at CHI Franciscan’s Harrison Medical Center Foundation (now called St. Michael Medical Center Foundation), Washington State Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), Big Brothers Big Sisters Puget Sound, and St. Charles Borromeo in Seattle and Tacoma, Wash.
I also spent time in Southern California at UC Irvine’s Chao Comprehensive Cancer Center, as well as at Families Forward, a non-profit center that provides transitional housing, a food pantry, and career development, Laura’s House, a domestic violence agency, and Orangewood Children’s Foundation, a social services agency for children in the foster care system.
I actually started my career in West Palm Beach, Fla. as the national project manager for US Diagnostic, the largest publicly-held physician practice management provider in the U.S., so my career has come full circle and brought me right back to where I started, Palm Beach County.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I spent a period of time in my early career putting on events. I always say events are the perfect place for everything to go wrong. There have been lots of funny things that have happened throughout my career where you have to have a Plan B or C. I had a big event at the San Juan Capistrano Mission in Southern California and no flowers arrived for the event, and I was like, you know what, we are the mission. It’s gorgeous. We were under the stars and moonlight in Southern California. Who needs flowers? At one event, I had a band that got delayed. At another, a famous Grammy-award winning singer almost breached contract. In the event business, you have to be on your toes constantly. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have an extremely supportive family. Certainly my career changed after becoming a mother. I became motivated to make my family proud. It always tickled me to have my daughters join me for some activations. I have several women in my life who are my sisters of choice and they are the ones who I often go to to bounce ideas off of. They ground me, remind me who I am and where I came from, and keep me humble.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
As a leader of the philanthropic arm of a hospital, we are most certainly driven by purpose. Our mission is to raise money that will be put towards expanding hospitals to help more patients, purchase new technology, equipment, and devices to treat more ailments, and educate the hospital staff to provide the best care possible.
Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
The COVID-19 pandemic caused many people to lose their jobs, get furloughed, or take a pay cut. The possibilities seemed dismal to raise money in such tough economic times when people were struggling to pay their own bills. Many people do not have spare money to donate.
Also, we rely heavily on events to bring in large donations. When it became unsafe and unhealthy to have in-person events, we quickly shifted to hosting virtual events. This played a pivotal role in our success. Once we tallied our annual fundraising efforts for 2020, we are proud to report we shattered the previous record.
I have my team to thank for this. They didn’t give up when times got tough. Together, we thought outside the box and were flexible. These uncertain times made us resort to Plan B and sometimes even Plan C or Plan D.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Given the nature of our business, giving up is not an option. People are always going to be in need of a hospital and doctors and nurses. People will always be getting injured in accidents, giving birth, getting treated for cancer, needing surgery, having cardiac issues, and more. Advances in medicine and technology require hospitals to keep up with the latest, state-of-the-art equipment to stay relevant and provide the best possible care to members of our community. We want our hospital to be the hospital of choice that people select to come to because they know they’ll receive top-notch care.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
The most critical role of a leader during challenging times is strength. When people look at you, you need to appear like you have your act together and you have all the answers. If your team looks up to you and you seem scared or uncertain, how do you expect them to have confidence in you or confidence in the task or mission at hand?
When the future seems so uncertain, what is the best way to boost morale? What can a leader do to inspire, motivate and engage their team?
A simple “thank you” can go a long way in boosting morale amongst team members. Show appreciation by even the smallest gesture of kindness. Give handwritten kudos, take a moment to personally ask someone how they are and if everything is okay, treat the office to lunch or coffee or cake, acknowledge peoples’ successes, promote deserving people from within, encourage furthering education, and offer mentorship.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Luckily, I leave the delivering of difficult news to the doctors who have to inform patients and their families of bad diagnoses. Because of our resounding fundraising success, I am in the fortunate position of delivering good news to my team and the foundation’s board members. Even when I had to deliver bad news that our in-person events were going to be cancelled, we already had a backup plan in motion and simultaneously delivered the good news that everyone’s hard work had not gone to waste and we’d still be hosting a calendar full of events virtually.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Contingency plans are key. Expect the unexpected and plan for it. It’s important not to get frazzled when thrown off course. Be a master of logistics.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
This word has been used a lot this last year…pivot. Pivoting is the number one principle that can help to guide a company through the rollercoaster of turbulent times. You need to shift focus and approach and objectives.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
- Inability To Stay Relevant- Businesses that fail often do so because they have tunnel vision and are laser focused on only one mission, goal, or objective. You cannot always stay in one lane. To succeed, a business needs to read the room and deliver a product or service that is essential and that people currently want. Evolve constantly.
- Poor Attitude- People do not want to work for businesses whose owner or staff members do not treat them respectfully. Be kind and considerate and listen.
- Not Following Protocols- If your business does not follow CDC and local governmental mandates and guidelines by requiring staff and patrons/customers/patients/visitors to wear PPE, your business could get shut down, shamed on social media, or receive bad press. Follow the rules to a T. If you do not follow the rules during the pandemic, certain people may be reluctant to ever return to your business and will take their money elsewhere.
- Being Tone Deaf- Be aware of what is going on in the news and respond accordingly. Be cautious of what you post on social media that people might find offensive or might make you seem oblivious to the headlines.
Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
The medical needs associated with our recent turbulent times serve as a prime example of why people should donate to a hospital. People are well aware that hospitals need more beds, more ventilators, etc. The way hospitals can afford to purchase those things and expand is through generous donations. We are fortunate that our hospitals are in Palm Beach County, which has many affluent residents. Back when it was safe to see people in person, we would wine and dine our donors to show appreciation. We now need to engage with them virtually instead.
Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Organization- Being well organized is always important. Have all your ducks in a row. Know where to find everything you might need to look for. Come to meetings prepared. Maintain your calendar and reminders. Checklists and spreadsheets work great to keep you on track. Early in my career, I learned the benefit of using a color coded calendar. I have one calendar and I have it color coded based on personal, family, and work. It keeps me focused and I think that the sharper your focus, the sharper you are.
- Assertiveness- Exude confidence and be an authoritative figure, but do not be intimidating. You do not want the people who report to you to be afraid to approach you. Your employees should feel confident in your decision making abilities. Come across as someone who makes well informed, educated decisions. If you appear to be questioning yourself, others will question you too. It’s really great to lead by example. My team watches me continue to learn. Especially with this last activation, every one of my team members far exceeds my understanding of the technology. I understand how that technology looks at the end, but when they are talking about platforms and tools and cloud based things, I am literally like, teach me. At least break it down in bite-sized pieces so I can understand and relay the information to the people I report to as to why this expense is going to help us move forward. As a leader, being willing to show your vulnerability to your team that you don’t know everything also builds trust relationships and it shows that you are willing to carry the ball. They know that I’ll take the heavy hits and I think that strengthens the positivity and the trust among the team.
- Consideration- Put on your listening ears and open your eyes. Welcome employees to voice their opinion and concerns in town halls, staff meetings, or even an anonymous suggestion box. Make everyone feel like they are heard. Be observant. Look at peoples’ body language and watch for change in behavior and productivity and work ethic. Don’t automatically scold someone immediately. Ask if they are okay, if there is anything you can do to help. Inquire what is causing them stress. See if they need more training or time off.
- Communication- While many people are working remotely right now, communication is extremely important and oftentimes we are now communicating through different channels than we did before. Staying connected over Slack, text, email, phone, or video conferences is uber important to keep team members on the same page. Depending on the policies of a particular organization, people may be working modified schedules from home to enable them to care for children or elders, so your colleagues may not be working the traditional 9–5 schedule. Create and enforce a policy about response time for messages. When one person doesn’t respond in a timely manner, it can prevent everyone else from doing their job and taking the next steps. I tell my team everything transparently. I think leaders fall short on that. They are not as transparent as they should be. I say there’s no secret. You can’t have secrets if you want to be cohesive.
- Efficiency- Many businesses and organizations are having to function with fewer employees and less resources. You need to make the most of what you do have and maximize it. With more responsibilities on everyone’s plates and people wearing the hats of what used to be multiple people’s jobs, now is not the time to get distracted. Stay focused and productive. The calendar is a way for me to be very disciplined with time because I think, “You and Beyonce each have 24 hours a day, but think about everything Beyonce is doing.” It’s important to have the self discipline of knowing that. Also, carve out important reflection time. You can’t just have an 8–10 hour work day with one appointment after another. You have to have time in between to really sit back and reflect on the takeaways, what there is to do, and what the action items are. I think it’s also really important as a leader to delegate. You have to know where you strengths are, know your skill set, surround yourself with smart talent, and delegate. I come at my work with surgical precision. You can’t have 900 different initiatives going on, so you have to harness your top three priorities to get done in the next 100 days. What’s the critical must-dos in the next six months? I regularly engage the staff to cultivate that big picture thinking and to regularly engage them in focused thinking because I think that will lead you to a realistic calendar. There is a time for creativity, brainstorming, and possibility thinking, but you know at the end of the day, back to the Beyonce analogy, we only have 24 hours, so if you’re trying to do everything, and be everything, and do everything for everyone, it’s hard to have that transformational success that you are striving for. Also, after you accomplish something, I think it’s important to really be honest and reflective. Look at the results and assess if you got the desired results. What worked and what didn’t. Did it go according to plan? Is there anything we could have done differently? It is necessary to do the debrief of the good, bad, and ugly. Embrace the ugly because that makes you better the next time.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” — Henry David Thoreau
It’s hard to be brave and so I think confidence is something that has been hard earned for me. I’ve had to find my voice and to feel confident that this is the right direction for my life. I really believe when you give anything your whole heart, that if you are authentic and passionate, and you have all of those pieces, you can achieve amazing things. I have witnessed that. When I was young, I just really dreamed for a quality career and to make my life mean something. The dreams that have come to fruition were beyond my wildest imagination.
How can our readers further follow your work?