Taking Leadership to Heart – Success Stories

David Mafe, SPHR is the Vice President of Human Resources at Emory Healthcare and the featured leader this month for Taking Leadership to Heart.  His team will tell you he is dynamic, mission focused, passionate, honest and transparent.  It’s not WIIFM, but it is WYSIWYG.  He exudes lots of personality. The most common words his team used to describe him were courageous, compassionate and empathetic.  He’s not afraid to be kind. Yet he is no softy either.  He appears to be fearless in the eyes of his team – never wavering in his passion or commitment to excellence.  He respects their expertise and he always has their backs…  always.

David’s team describes him as very assertive but never aggressive.  And that’s a good thing because David is 6’7” with a strong voice and could easily be intimidating.  His impressive stature is not lost on him; he understands how body language plays a huge role in interactions so he never stands directly in front of someone and lowers his voice when talking to them.  That is an excellent application of social awareness.

When asked to share a story that exemplified David’s leadership, one team member shared this:

On a hot summer day, a competitor parked their very large, air conditioned bus with their signage plastered all over it right in front of our building and proceeded to do a four-hour recruitment fair.  They were trying to recruit our nurses.  The moment David heard about this, he immediately joined the COO and two HR Managers as they stood on the sidewalk and talked to everyone that walked by for four hours. He even had a very straightforward conversation with the leader of the other company, calmly expressing his view on the matter.  No shouting, no threats, just a firm declaration of disapproval. That just shows his level of commitment to this organization, not to mention his character.

What a great example of situational awareness and assertiveness.

It is quite evident that his team is motivated.  When asked how he motivates, David said,

“Everybody is different, so how I motivate or communicate effectively with each person is different.  I allow them to get to know who I am and see behind the curtain.  I’m far from perfect and I’m okay with that. It’s an illusion to believe you can mask the fact that you’re human. And I’m okay with them calling me out on my imperfections. I want to work with people who are brave and courageous enough to do that.  I will be who I am and expect them to be who they are.  I like to use humor, have fun and make it safe for them to do the same.

Who wouldn’t be motivated by a leader demonstrating such emotional intelligence competencies as transparency, vulnerability, accurate self-regard, confidence and relationship management?

He is no micromanager.  In fact, he seems to empower his people.  “I allow people to own their areas.  If they need learning or resources, I advocate getting that for them.  I also let them make mistakes.  In fact, I tell them on their first day to go make mistakes.  Questions are fine, but go out and make a decision. They don’t believe me until they make a mistake and see I don’t lose my mind.”

So what if someone makes a mistake?  David doesn’t believe in blame.  His focus is on learning from mistakes and moving forward.  “If they make a wrong decision, we can learn from it and they won’t make that mistake in the same way again.  And I won’t allow another leader to correct my team.  I will do that and do it behind closed doors.  Praise is done in public. I say thank you a lot.  And I tell the rest of the team when someone has succeeded.”

At the time of this interview, David was reading Drive by Daniel Pink, who talks about extrinsic and intrinsic motivators.  “I use some extrinsic but mostly intrinsic.  I like to allow people’s natural curiosity to grow and God given desire to own their accomplishments to be a motivator.

Along with being motivated, David’s team is highly engaged.  “Engagement has a sound and it is laughter.  I like to have fun.  I laugh at myself mostly.  I don’t take myself too seriously.  Once others trust me, I laugh at the goofy things they do too.”   Apparently, David is not above telling jokes to get his team laughing either.  His sense of humor sets a great tone for their work environment, especially when it can get quite chaotic.

And speaking of chaotic, when I asked the team members how David handles stressful or emotionally challenging situations, they noted he seemed to navigate them with ease.  “He is the one who keeps his cool and moves us to logic,” said one team member. Self-management and impulse control play such a crucial part of leadership success.

Work is important but family is more important.  This is one of David’s mottos – and he lives it.   ‘If someone needs to take time to spend with their family, the rest of the team will accommodate that request and jump in to enable that person to go spend that time.  They know they are still accountable for their work, however.   It’s quite the team culture.   In fact, if they aren’t willing to work on a team and be collaborative, they probably won’t work out.’

One team member attested to this by sharing how he had some family issues come up and was struggling a bit.  When David learned of his personal challenge, he told him to take some time, work from home, do what he needed to do.  That demonstration of true compassion was very consoling.

Building a foundation of trust is paramount to David.  And that gets tested through conflict.  “When I have to have a tough conversation, I can be authentic and do it in a way that I told them I would to begin with.  It may take longer, but the payoff is worth it.  I’m not out to get you but we need to address this; it’s not personal.”

David’s leadership impact extends beyond his team.  According to them he is willing to try different approaches which is huge in health care. “He has educated our leaders, many of which are highly tenured, to try different approaches which has had a huge impact on the organization.” This speaks to David’s ability to influence others.  “He is masterful at pulling out someone’s true motives and helping them be transparent when they are focused on what’s in it for them.  He does it in a polite, non-triggering way.”  Being able to engage in potentially confrontational conversations without triggering defensiveness is a skill few can boast about.

Clearly this leader embodies emotional intelligence and it shows in the impact he’s made in his organization.  You may think someone with so many great qualities would let it go to his head, but everyone I spoke to openly admired his humility.  And all of them expressed a desire to continue working for him.  One person said, “I hope to work for him the rest of my career.”  What a testament to his leadership!

David both models and teaches Emory’s Care Transformation Model.  To gain a true appreciation for the challenge of this effort, visit https://www.emoryhealthcare.org/about/care-transformation/index.html

If you know a leader who demonstrates emotional intelligence and deserves to be recognized for it, drop me an email at Dawn@DayBreakEQ.com.

Thank you for reading.  Make it an EQ day!




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