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In this Leadership Note, Dr. Wesley Burks reflects on the spirit of adaptability that has guided our work through the pandemic and how we can use the lesson learned in the last year in the years to come.


Dear Colleagues,

The last year has been many things. It’s been hard, first of all. It’s been frightening at times. It has also been amazing and inspiring, filling each of us with a sense of purpose unlike anything we have ever felt in our careers.

While we could each call on our past experiences to a certain extent, the problems we faced were new and ever-changing and the risks were high. With a spirit of adaptability, we solved problems quickly but when required, we changed course quickly, too.

The writer Dale Carnegie has a famous quote: “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.”

I began this note with a few words to sum up the year. Adaptability, action, and courage would certainly make the list as well.

In my March letter, we shared some thoughts about the value of fostering an environment within your teams where everyone is empowered to speak up and share ideas. As leaders it is incumbent on us to consider the thoughts behind each of those ideas, recognizing a new or unique perspective, appreciating a skillset, curiosity, or untapped expertise that could be directed in a new or different way. We want to foster an open and transparent culture, and also enable the individuals within our teams to learn new skills and take on new challenges.

The work of responding to the pandemic has required everyone filling new roles and doing new jobs with new teams. During this time, we have seen our next generation of leaders rising to the occasion. I know that you could each name someone who stepped up to lead others in really important work.

The 70-20-10 rule says individuals gain 70% of their knowledge from challenging experiences and assignments, 20% from other people, and 10% from formal training. One of our tasks now is to continue finding new and engaging assignments so that these new leaders can take full advantage of the knowledge they have acquired. Allowing them to take a step backward in their responsibilities once things are “back to normal” would represent a wasted opportunity.

Naomi Sutherland, a leader within the organizational consulting firm Korn Ferry, shared this insight earlier this year: “Leaders can’t open doors for only those who are most like them or who they naturally feel connected to,” she added. “They need to flex themselves to connect with people who are not like them and who do not share those same similarities.” I hope that a focus on maximizing the unique talents of those you work with has naturally fostered a greater sense of inclusion within your teams.

We have seen time and again that the best ideas are generated by teams with a diversity of experience, background, and expertise. Be deliberate and ensure that diversity exists when filling work groups and making assignments.

As we look to the future and continue our work toward improving the health and well-being of all North Carolinians, it is important that we take the lessons of this year and use them to push us forward. We will do that by putting people first – those we work with and those we serve – and advancing the work of building a truly unified, equitable, and inclusive culture.

We will achieve this by building onto the foundation of ONE UNC Health, which we initially introduced in the Fall of 2019. In the next several weeks and months you will receive information about how you and your teams can play a role as we reengage and refocus on this work. It is my hope that this represents an opportunity for all members of our One Great Team to come together to shape this next period as we reimagine what it means to be North Carolina’s health system in the years ahead. Please make time to consider how you and your teams can become involved, even if it is not immediately obvious.

Thank you for all you do each day. It is truly my privilege to work alongside you.

Sincerely,

Wesley