Jandel Allen-Davis: ‘Grow the next generation’ | Lessons from Leaders

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The president and CEO of Craig Hospital in Denver talks about encouraging women in leadership roles, providing opportunities, and leading in the COVID-19 pandemic.

In describing her career, Jandel Allen-Davis says it’s been “a crazy ride.”

A board-certified physician in obstetrics and gynecology, she practiced for years before moving into an administrative role in 2009. She served as vice president of government, external relations and research for Kaiser Permanente Colorado from 2009-2018.

For the past five years, she’s been the president and CEO of Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, a renowned rehabilitation hospital focused on patients with spinal cord and brain injuries.

Allen-Davis participated in a panel on women in healthcare leadership at the American Hospital Association Leadership Summit. After the session, she spoke with Chief Healthcare Executive® about encouraging other women to take leadership roles in healthcare, her own career, and leading during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I'm only here because people saw in me what I couldn't see in myself,” Allen-Davis says.

“One of our most important jobs is to grow the next generation of leaders and as such, to turn the mirror around to excellence, to brilliance that's all around us, and bring folks along.”

(Jandel Allen-Davis shares thoughts on leadership in this video. The story continues below.)

In the panel discussion, women healthcare executives noted that some women don’t apply for leadership roles, even if they are very qualified, because they don’t think they are ready.

Allen-Davis sought to dispel the idea, pointing out that many leaders have their own insecurities and don’t believe they have all the answers. “All of us walk around being a little afraid, or sometimes a lot afraid, or unsure,” she says.

“It's the role of people who are in roles such as the one I have the privilege of being in to see people, to literally see them and allow them to see me,” she says. “That creates all kinds of possibility.”

Hospitals and health system executives need to realize that with so much work to be done, they must look for opportunities for emerging leaders.

“If we take a moment and think about how it is that we found ourselves having these opportunities, it's because somebody opened doors and gave us stretch opportunities, or maybe not even stretch opportunities,” Allen-Davis says.

Now, she says there are “opportunities for us to bring others along and join us in the journey, with us doing the coaching, us doing the mentoring, us doing the sponsoring.”

During the panel discussion, Allen-Davis encouraged leaders to seize the opportunities to mentor emerging leaders. “Every day is an opportunity to coach and mentor,” she says, “every single day, every single interaction.”

She also offered what she wryly called a “dirty little secret” from mentoring.

“I think I grow more from those interactions … just because it's an opportunity to get away from the email and all the other craziness of the day and actually do what we're supposed to spend the majority of our time doing, which is strategizing, planning and growing,” she says.

Allen-Davis says the idea of sponsoring is important in fostering new opportunities.

“There’s a really invaluable role for sponsorship, that idea of making sure you're dropping the right names with the right people and suggesting, ‘Hey, you know, I know this person has particular strengths or skills or passions. Let's bring them into this conversation and this work as well.’

“It gets the work done more quickly and gives others opportunities,” she says.

When presented with the opportunity to take over as CEO of Craig Hospital, Allen-Davis says she knew she was up to the task. She says she didn’t pursue the position, but instead, “the job found me.”

After Allen-Davis saw the organization’s culture, she says, “I realized I was home.”

She says she faced her toughest test during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was leading our hospital safely through COVID, and keeping our teams intact. Our patients were able to continue to have the therapy they needed,” she says.

Even at times of high stress, Allen-Davis said there were “so many moments of joy.” And she is proud that none of the hospital’s patients developed COVID until long after the vaccines were available, she said.

Allen-Davis says she learned during the pandemic, “We sometimes can make these roles a lot harder than they need to be.”

She talked about empowering teams, but also getting in the trenches to help.

“If you rely on the wisdom of the team, get clear about what your role is, and what only you can do, but also have an absolute willingness to roll up your sleeves and be a player-coach, declare it when you're going to do that, and be part of helping make the systems better, it's not only gratifying and the outcomes are better, but it's a ton of fun,” she says.

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