Making it Happen – How to Advance from Intern to CEO

Author: Carren Colvin |  From:LinkedIn
When I was a sophomore at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills, I started working in a co-op position at the former St. Elizabeth North hospital in Covington, Kentucky.
Now, many years later, I’m serving our community as CEO of what is now St. Elizabeth Healthcare, one of the largest medical providers in the Greater Cincinnati region.
People ask, “How did you gain the skills to advance from a college intern to a CEO within the same organization?”
Jokingly, my answer is that I’m still figuring it out. It’s a long journey. But, since people ask, I’ll share some lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Don’t worry about who gets credit.
One of my favorite quotes is, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”
Ronald Reagan reportedly kept a plaque with this quote on his desk. Harry Truman used a version of it. And some sources, say it actually originated back in the 1800’s with a Jesuit priest named Father Strickland.
In any case, this was probably my number one philosophy. I figured that if I worked hard and made my boss look good, without worrying about who got the credit, I would be valuable to him and to the hospital. And, good things would happen.
Don’t get me wrong; I was never a “yes” man. It’s about putting your head down, investing the time and doing the work necessary to get the job done well.
Throughout my entire career at St. Elizabeth, when I look for people to fill important roles, I look for people who have that similar philosophy. It’s that important.
Go above and beyond.
If you go above and beyond for people, chances are, they’ll take time to invest in you – show you the ropes and give you new responsibilities. Honestly, I never dreamed about being CEO. I just always had the desire to enjoy my job, hoping that I would stay gainfully employed, if I kept that attitude.
Focus on your strengths.
Accounting is to me like breathing is to most people. It just comes naturally to me. When I first started at St. Elizabeth, I did some menial work – filed checks. I also did bank reconciliation and a lot of support work that helped the accounting team. Early on, I knew what my strengths were, and I knew my weaknesses. So I focused on building one of my strengths – accounting.
And for me, it worked. When I graduated from Thomas More College in 1986, my co-op turned into a full-time position as a staff accountant at St. Elizabeth. From there, I went on to work as manager of accounting, director of accounting, controller, vice president of finance, chief financial officer, chief operating officer, and, in June 2015, I became CEO.
Attitude is everything.
Have a positive attitude. I pride myself in being optimistic. To me, the glass is always half full. Debbie Downers and Negative Nancy’s will not grow in any organization, no matter how talented they are. If you have a negative attitude, you won’t become all you should be.
Associate yourself with talented people.
Be part of a good team, and you will grow. Again, never take credit for work others have done. Instead, take advantage of opportunities that are presented to you, even if you’re not going to benefit from them. I’m here because of the talented, conscientious teams I’ve worked with (and learned from) every step of my career.
Find good mentors.
I would not be the CEO of St. Elizabeth without the people who mentored and advised me throughout the years, whether formally or informally. Some of my mentors worked for St. Elizabeth; others volunteered for the hospital. I respected them. One mentor, who probably had the biggest influence on my career, was someone I talked with frequently. I stopped by his office many mornings and evenings to bounce ideas around, get advice and give him my opinions as well.
Get to know people – and listen.
Take time to talk with people. Get to know your associates and listen to their viewpoints.Everyone deserves to be heard. Every person in an organization – no matter their role – is as important as everyone else. And, you can’t be successful if you don’t take care of people.
Realize – it’s not all about you.
One thing that was very clear to me, even when I started working here at age 19, is that the St. Elizabeth community operates with a sense of “family” and takes pride in its high level of service. No matter what your role is, you should consider the consumer’s, or the patient’s, welfare first. But I also learned that you should take good care of your colleagues too – everyone around you. You’re part of a mission bigger than yourself. I think that is good advice for doing well in any organization.
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