Empathy: A Crucial Leadership Skill

Maria Shriver wrote a great article on the power of empathy recently (Sunday Paper, 8-7-16). Some folks believe you either have empathy or you don’t. Shriver states that there are studies that show it can be taught. Empathy is not like rolling your tongue-a can/cannot do proposition! I believe that empathy is one of the most crucial skills a leader can utilize with others. Empathy is the ability to share someone else’s feelings, and understand their experience. Sometimes you may have even walked in their shoes.

In my forty year career, I have met senior executives that perceive empathy does not belong in the workplace. I couldn’t disagree more. I became a better leader when I exhibited empathy, particularly to subordinates. Empathy isn’t compassion or sympathy; however you may use both in addition to empathy when dealing with work situations.

Empathy is also something we can use for ourselves. As many career women, I am much harder on myself then I am on any other person. Beating ourselves up (or others) doesn’t help us grow or change. If you want more caring, compassion, and collaboration, try looking at empathy as a key strategy. Especially for yourself!


Posted by Susan Odegaard Turner – MentorRN

Leadership Caveat: Let go of vibrating poles

I recently came across two incidents of vibrating poles. This is a reminder that we all need to consider. There are multiple issues in healthcare organizations that can make you crazy. Our natural tendency is to try and control things so we can “fix” them. Many healthcare facilities are extremely dysfunctional, so we can’t change anything. As we continue to try and control whatever is dysfunctional, the more frustrated we get, and still nothing changes. A healthcare organization is the equivalent of a vibrating pole. The temptation is to hang on to the pole to make it stop vibrating. In reality, that makes both you and the pole vibrate. You cannot stop the pole from vibrating, no matter how hard you try! The answer is to let go of the pole. Not easy to do in work settings, but the only thing that will save your sanity.


Posted by Susan Odegaard Turner – MentorRN

What I learned: Control or Coordination?

I recently completed a consulting project involving a large jail healthcare system. The assessment and implementation of the recommendations was long and arduous due to politics, passive-aggressive behavior and an enormous bureaucracy. I was a subcontractor for this gig, working for a respected colleague and friend who “owned” the contract. We have different and complementary skills, and usually work well together. We struggled with this contract due to the issues above, but our biggest challenge was based on communication between ourselves about the project issues. We have very different communication styles and strategies.

This organization was the toughest I have ever consulted in. I believe they truly wanted help but didn’t want to deal with having a mirror held up or implementing the actual changes required to solve the problems. My colleague and I struggled mightily just to have our assessment considered accurate. As a result, we often got caught in others’ verbal crossfire. The question that kept coming up was “who was in charge?”

As a sub-contractor, I was often present physically but didn’t “own” the contract. I worked hard to identify myself as someone who “coordinated” work, but wasn’t in “control” of the work. I had to quickly identify a way to coordinate between us, without appearing to be “in charge.” It was difficult, especially when my colleague wasn’t physically present.

As a result, we had to adapt to this dysfunctional environment by talking frequently, not taking inappropriate staff behavior personally (not always easy when someone is insulting you!) and to improve our own communication so we didn’t fall into the same craziness we were witnessing.

What I learned is that coordination between colleagues is much more important than who is actually in control or in charge. It is crucial to accept that not everyone communicates the same way, and we had to work hard with our different styles. What matters most is that we did communicate, and completed the project in spite of the challenges. Can you tell when you are in control or when you need to coordinate your work with others?


Posted by Susan Odegaard Turner – MentorRN

Moving Your House

Many of you have seen YouTube videos that show up on Facebook and other social media sites. There was one recently that I found amazing. It showed about 80 men moving a complete, totally built house onto an already leveled cement foundation! This short clip showed the men standing inside the house and picking it up at the same time….walking in unison taking very tiny steps. No machines, no yelling, just directing from the person coordinating the move. You see many feet moving in union based on the director’s recommendations for turning and moving. Once the house is essentially in place, there is more guidance from the project director. In less than 10 minutes, the house is in place to be attached to the foundation.

Now think about your organization and how work is accomplished. It doesn’t matter if you work in a hospital, jail, prison, clinic, retail store, coal mine or office. How would your job change and your work tasks improve if you did them in the manner this house was moved?! Single goal, simple direction, working in synchrony. Fascinating to consider! See for yourself- Definitely worth watching!


Posted by Susan Odegaard Turner – MentorRN


There is much written about integration of healthcare organizations, integrating culture shift, etc. The challenge of integration isn’t the concept; it is how to do it. No one seems to know exactly. I think integration is a process of the collective whole and group. If people are not integrated into themselves, then how can they integrate into a larger group?

How do we integrate in our own selves and what does that mean? As a person who experienced childhood physical abuse, I learned at a young age to live in my head and not my body. This means that for many of my years, I lived only above my neck. Not healthy. Through therapy, massage and exercise I have learned to live in my whole body. This has helped me feel better, lose weight and be centered in my own self.

If we are not centered ourselves, it is tough to lead and culturally center an organization. Be sure you allow time for your own integrative behaviors as well as leading others!



Posted by Susan Odegaard Turner – MentorRN

Shoes and Leadership?!

Those that know and love me understand I am a shoe addict! I love them and buy funky ones whenever I can. As I cleaned out the section in my closet that has shoes stored, I realized shoes are a metaphor for leadership….and maybe life.

There are athletic shoes for walking or working out…lots of support and structure. There are old and worn shoes…saved for the walking trips or long days on cement floors. There are pretty colored ones to make you feel great when you wear them. There are “broken in” shoes that make you feel relaxed and comfortable and safe. There are “neutrals” that you can wear with many things, and take out when needed. And then…there is the one pair you never travel without, in case you have a shoe malfunction and need to have “go to” shoes you can count on.

Don’t we all have leadership skills that fit these categories? Lots of support and structure…for counseling and disciplinary documents. Old and worn shoes that still work like writing evaluations or policy development. Pretty colored skills you can use when developing a new program or processes. “Broken in” skills like following the disciplinary process rules or dealing with a difficult employee. Neutrals that can be used in any situation…praise, encouragement, coaching, mentoring and guidance. And last but not least, the go-to skills that you can always count on…Courtesy, graciousness and good manners. Please and Thank you work for everything, every time.

Take an inventory of your leadership skills and see how they look! Shoes can be like leadership skills….and like life.


Posted by Susan Odegaard Turner – MentorRN

Happy Holidays!

As we indulge in celebrating the holidays, please remember that caring
for others is an important component of giving back. No matter what your
religion or spiritual practice, sharing compassion and graciousness is a
universal blessing. Do your best while being your best! Happy Holidays!

Posted by Susan Odegaard Turner – MentorRN