As part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company” I had the pleasure of interviewing Nate Mabry.
Nate Mabry MSN, RN, CENP is the Chief Nursing Officer at CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (CHA HPMC), a 434-bed community hospital providing quality medical and nursing care to Hollywood and its surrounding communities. Nate has nearly 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry spanning a wide variety of clinical roles and direct leadership oversight of inpatient care units, emergency services, surgical and procedural services and women’s health. At CHA HPMC, he is responsible for the delivery of safe and effective nursing care.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Growing up, I spent a lot of time in and out of hospitals caring for ill family members. During high school and college, I spent some time in surgery centers receiving care for sports injuries. My interest has always been in helping people. From a very young age, I’ve been drawn towards interacting and helping others. In elementary school and junior high, I worked with special education children and helped them with their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs). Getting to know many of the nurses along the way helped me learn more about the healthcare industry and how rewarding it is. I’ve been in the healthcare industry for nearly 20 years. I started as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and went on to become a nurse. The leadership opportunities gave me the ability to help people on a larger scale. I was initially not drawn towards leadership roles, but I realized that I could make a bigger impact on not only my department, but also the entire organization and really provide the care the community needs.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When you work in healthcare, you encounter countless interesting and humbling stories. I was working at a hospital in Southern California which had semi-private rooms for their patients. Once, I was assigned to care for two patients in the same room — a benevolent politician who had fallen ill while touring and a homeless man who I was well acquainted with owing to his previous visits to the facility. While one may not expect friendship to brew between two people of such opposite statures, it was interesting to see how the two men talked and carried on like old friends. We’d never have seen such an encounter outside of this setting. The incident really touched me and I realized how illness and circumstances could bring together people from different walks of life.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I truly believe in the ‘The Serenity Prayer’. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Growing up, I had this prayer posted on my bedroom wall and my dorm in college. I often reflect on these words during challenging times. Regardless of religious beliefs, these are words of wisdom that anyone can learn from.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on your leadership style? Can you share a story or an example of that?
The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) is a book which helped me learn about change management and process improvement. It helped me engage my teams in a uniformed way and helped us achieve our “Wildly Important Goals”. It is a great read, but I’d advise you to take your time to digest it as you go, since you don’t want to miss a thing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Since it opened nearly 100 years ago, CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center (CHA HPMC) has served as a cornerstone to its community’s health, providing comprehensive, quality medical services to meet the needs of its culturally diverse community. CHA HPMC is very unique in that it is a member of CHA Health Systems (CHS), a dynamic global health organization, and it is the only Korean-owned and -operated general hospital in the United States. Headquartered in South Korea, CHS is a leader in global medical research and new technologies. As one of the area’s only safety-net hospitals, we provide high quality medical care for patients from all economic backgrounds. Prior to joining CHA HPMC, I had only been exposed to business in the United States. It is fascinating to learn more about the global healthcare business, philosophies, and expectations outside of this county. I work with the corporate team on a daily basis which is a truly unique experience and I learn so much more than just healthcare.
The road to success is hard and requires tremendous dedication. This question is obviously a big one, but what advice would you give to a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your success?
In my career, I have been promoted or asked to apply for higher level of jobs that I wasn’t prepared for. I remember the day when I accepted my first management position — I hadn’t asked for this promotion. I told my boss, “This is a terrible idea, but I’ll do it”. There was a learning curve, but I succeeded in first management role and was promoted again. I had the same feeling and anxiety moving into the next one. One thing I learned from these experiences is that you may never feel truly ready for the next role, but it is important to believe in yourself and trust the leader who is promoting you. Aptitude and attitude can cover your shortcomings while you learn and grow.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
“Don’t be too nice”. This was told to me by a peer who believed I was too nice to my team and they would mistake me for being weak. I was new to management and thought that my peer may be right as he had more management experience than me. For a while, I tried to be stern and matter-of-fact with my team. But this led them to fear and dislike me. I had a disengaged team who did their work just so they didn’t have to face me. I couldn’t work in that environment either as I wasn’t my true self. I had an open conversation with my team and told them how I disliked my own change of management style. I went back to being “too nice” and we were back together working as a cohesive team to solve problems and provide great care for our patients. My once disengaged team was involving themselves in projects across the organization and were driving change because they wanted to. From this experience, I learned that a respected and inspired team can climb any mountain.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Humility: Don’t get caught up in your title. It is important to remember that the real work is done by the team members. So you must engage with your team and get your hands dirty.
- Honesty: People appreciate honest feedback even when it isn’t what they want to hear. Honest feedback not only helps achieve the desired results but also helps the team grow and learn.
- Accountability: If you make a mistake (we ALL do), own it. The staff already knows your error and they’ll be waiting to see if you have the integrity to own it and the ability to recover from it.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a C-Suite executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what a C-Level executive does that is different from the responsibilities of other leaders?
I imagine most people think of the C-Suite as the folks developing strategies, growth plans, and deciding where to invest the organization’s time and money. While that is true, I believe that C-Suite executives are also responsible for creating a culture that promotes success, protecting the brand’s reputation, navigating organizational politics, and other key tasks that are hard to measure. One of the most important responsibilities of C-Suite leaders is to demonstrate leadership skills and set the tone for leaders who report to them; thereby helping them successfully lead their teams.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Early in my career, I looked up to the C-Suite as an infallible group of people who always knew what to do. As you might imagine, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The most successful CEOs or C-Suite leaders I have worked with used their resources incredibly well and knew where to find the answers — all the more reason to have a humble executive that people want to help. So C-suite leaders are not perfect. They may have a lot of experience to draw upon, but they will not always have the right answers.
What are the most common leadership mistakes you have seen C-Suite leaders make when they start leading a new team? What can be done to avoid those errors?
I often see new leaders come in and dive right in hot and heavy to make big changes. I love a go-getter and I am not discouraging this attitude, but it’s important to remember that the things you strive to change are processes and procedures that your new subordinates may be proud of or have helped implement. It is important to share your vision and gain buy-in from your team before making any drastic changes. It may require a little more work up front, but it will benefit you in the long run.
In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Never underestimate the power of fear — fear of change, fear of identity loss, or fear of the new. If you fail to communicate upcoming changes effectively, the staff will create their own message for you, often biased to their fears. If it isn’t the right message, you may lose your support even before you begin. When a big change is coming, I would recommend over communicating your message through every medium and forum. When you’re confident that your team clearly understands it, share it a few more times to reinforce the message. By now, your team should be able to repeat your message because they may have heard it so many times and they should be able to spread your message with confidence.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading From the C-Suite”? Please share a story or an example for each.
I have had the privilege of working with great mentors who were C-Suite executives. So, I had a fairly realistic expectation of the demands and workload of a C-Suite leader before joining the leadership team and didn’t hold any dissolutions expecting the glitz and glamour. There are a few things, however, I wish I knew before taking the corner office:
- Always give your Team the First Chance to Voice their Ideas: It is important to encourage the team members to share their ideas, before you share yours. Regardless of how approachable you are as leader, team members and subordinates are often afraid to push back. So when you’re brainstorming, let your team go first. I have noticed that if I proposed something during a brainstorming session, the discussion would end with my idea being chosen. In contrast, if I let the team go first, I get to hear all of the brilliant ideas — ensuring a great dialogue. Sometimes, I may don’t even have to share my original thought or idea.
- Help is Always Available: People are always eager to help and it is unbelievable how people want to be a part of something special. I have had people volunteer themselves for additional duties and responsibilities in exchange for nothing but personal satisfaction.
- Think before You Speak or Share Opinion: Be cautious when you share your opinion or advice and know what exactly you say. There will be some people who take every word you say as final verdict. I was asked my opinion on a topic that I didn’t know had become a controversial workflow matter, and shared my very brief initial thoughts. The next day, I came in to see a sign posted saying “You WILL do this per Nate Mabry”. I was shocked to see this sign that didn’t accurately reflect my initial opinion and was extremely far from my final, more thought-out opinion. Luckily, I am an early bird and was able to take care of the matter before it was too late.
- Prioritize your Workday to be Productive: It is possible to work a really long day, but still have no idea of what you’ve achieved or done all day. This happens from time to time and it is important to recognize this in the real time and stop yourself from getting lost in the whirlwind. The whirlwind can take our eyes off of what is important. While you may have to deal with urgent matters and meetings, it is critical to shift gears and refocus on the priorities at hand as quickly as possible.
- Surround Yourself with People who are Smarter than You: Many great business leaders share this philosophy, but I have found that many of them lack the confidence to bring in others who may outshine them. As I mentioned previously, C-Suite leaders are not always perfect. It’s important to mingle and exchange ideas with other highly talented individuals within your team, and organization, to get the best ideas. While it may feel intimidating at first, it will help you make better decisions by taking cues from the expertise and experience of others. Be confident enough to lead someone who may achieve more than you one day.
In your opinion, what are a few ways that executives can help to create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
Invest in your staff as they are the ones doing the actual work and executing the plans. Learn what your team wants and help them grow and develop; thereby building a pathway for them to be your successor. While you do this for your team, encourage them to do the same for their subordinates. It is important to engage with every team member. Don’t have your phone out when you’re walking the hallways and make yourself fully approachable. Interact with the staff as this may be the only chance someone has to interact with you. There is no substitute for interaction — it’s all about interacting with the staff in as many ways and settings as possible. Employees should want to stay in the company because of the culture and feel like they are a part of it. We need to shift our focus back to the basics of how the employee wants to be treated and ensuring that we treat them in way which makes it worth their while to stay at an organization.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
As a leader, I’d like to encourage my peers and all other leaders to have a defined strategy for staff empowerment. Whether you have a 3 or 5 year business plan, you must have a focused strategy for engaging and empowering staff.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Readers can learn more about me by visiting www.hollywoodpresbyterian.com or follow my work on my LinkedIn page at https://www.linkedin.com/in/nate-mabry-msn-rn-cenp-a4393a6a/.