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Dare to Pioneer: Leadership Insight

If you live in the Dayton area, you may be familiar with Provoke, an inspirational leadership forum. I attended this month’s Provoke session at SouthBrook Christian Church moderated by Scott McGohan of McGohan Brabender and featuring Deborah Feldman of Dayton Children’s Hospital. While the 7 a.m. start time required a serious personal pep-talk, the content was refreshing, motivating, and provoking.

If you don’t know Deborah, she is the fourth president and CEO of Dayton Children’s Hospital. An outsider to the healthcare community, she was selected to lead the hospital through turbulent times. Deborah’s visionary leadership transformed the hospital, and this transformation is felt by patients and physicians alike.

If her name sounds familiar, it may be from her previous role with Montgomery County. She served the county for 30 years in successive leadership roles, most recently as county administrator. Her contributions to our region are evident. The Dayton Dragons, Schuster Performing Arts Center, Riverscape Park, and Austin Road interchange are just a few of her projects that benefit our residents every day.

So how does someone like Deborah go from county administrator to the leader of our region’s nationally recognized pediatric hospital? Inquiring minds were dying to find out!

After spending much of the morning discussing her unexpected rise to leadership in our region and some of her greatest challenges, the audience members were on the edge of their seats when Scott asked her the question we all wanted to know. Allow me to liberally paraphrase his words: “You’re an unlikely candidate for hospital CEO, so tell us how this all really went down!”

I expected Deborah to go into a complex explanation for how her county experience technically maps to some aspect of hospital administration or provide some big nugget of wisdom based on the latest leadership theories. Deborah’s response was much more straightforward than that. She said, “I saw the opportunity, and I thought I could do it!”

What an unexpected and brilliant response. While it seems relatively simple on its surface, her response is packed with great leadership insights. Let’s explore a few together.

  1. Be courageous – Imagine what you could do if you just had the courage to do it! JJR’s Motivational Monday quote this week was “Failure can become our most powerful path to learning if we’re willing to choose courage over comfort.” Think about how comfortable Deborah had to be in her role with the county after 30 years. It takes tremendous courage to take on a new career in a new industry, and most of us would likely file the opportunity in our pipe-dream bucket. Deborah had the courage to pursue that dream despite numerous reasons not to. Failure was a real possibility, but courage propelled her forward, arguably leading to one of the best decisions in her career.

  2. Be confident – Just the sound of being “president and CEO” of a hospital sounds intimidating, doesn’t it? Not to mention you have no experience in the healthcare industry, don’t speak the lingo, and the hospital is at risk of going under. It’s safe to assume many people would be paralyzed by this challenge, but Deborah didn’t flinch. She was confident she had what it takes to lead the hospital! When Scott asked Deborah where her confidence comes from, she credited her former boss at the County for always expecting and believing she could do anything. She said, “If he believed I could do something, then I believed I could, too.”

  3. Don’t overthink – Assessing risk is an important part of any decision-making process, but too often we make this assessment unnecessarily complex. Deborah could have thought, “I can’t afford to fail this late in my career,” “I have a community legacy and reputation to protect,” “I don’t have the right technical background,” and the list goes on and on. Instead, Deborah saw the simple solution in a complex situation. Leadership. The hospital needed leadership, and she knew she could provide it!

There are many reasons we at JJR admire and respect Deborah’s leadership, and chief among those reasons is because she embodies two of our core values so well.

  1. At JJR, we are “INSPIRED.” We believe we are connected to something greater than ourselves and are compelled to be servant-minded. Deborah’s service to Montgomery County and extreme dedication towards building our community is the definition of servant-mindedness. She’s taking this to a whole new level in her role with Dayton Children’s by improving the health of our community.

  2. We are also “PIONEERS.” We are self-starters who question, create, and innovate. We seek possibilities! Deborah’s pioneer leadership is evident across our region through the economic development initiatives she led at the county and now the complete transformation of our pediatric hospital. She relentlessly pursues what is possible for Dayton!
    At this month’s Provoke session specifically, Deborah reminded us that sometimes our greatest opportunities are the ones we least expect. To make the most of them, we must be prepared to respond. Thanks to her insight, we now have some actionable takeaways to master while we openly await our next unexpected opportunity.

Written By: Carly Cox, JJR Solutions Vice President of Operations [Read more about Carly]

To watch Deborah Feldman’s entire visit: WATCH NOW

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