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This edition of Dr. Wesley Burks’ Discussions on Leadership series focuses on ways to support and develop a new generation of leaders.

Listen to a recording of this message:

Dear Colleagues,

Over the course of my career, one important lesson I have learned is that there are seasons in life and new opportunities that seem to arise in each season. Each lesson you learn and every relationship you create carries through these seasons and prepares you for success even as your responsibilities and goals change.

For those who have an ultimate career destination in mind, understand that it may change. In my career, even ten years ago it would have been hard for me to imagine being in the role I am now fortunate to hold. Again, every opportunity prepares you for the next and you really have to walk your path in order to understand what your destination may be.

In our changing world, that is likely something you have not considered, or a role that does not even exist yet. As Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard said most importantly, “life can only be understood backward, but it must be lived forward.”

We also do not walk alone on this path. It is so important to cultivate relationships with mentors. Plural. I can think of so many who I have learned from and emulated over the years. I still have several mentors that I am in touch with regularly, providing invaluable perspective and counsel. I probably would not have found my way to my current role if it weren’t for these mentors who believed I was capable even before I did.

Many of us now have the privilege to be mentors to others. These emerging leaders, many of whom stepped into new roles and advanced leadership responsibilities during the pandemic, are the future of our organization. In the midst of a national and local labor crisis, our future success hinges on cultivating these leaders and equipping them with the tools to succeed. Helping them to see a clearer vision of their future success and to envision themselves in higher positions of leadership.

One strategy we have used in our senior leadership team and that I would encourage you to consider is the process of succession planning. This is a strategy to identify and develop our future leaders.

Start with this question: who is a possible candidate to succeed you immediately, in 1-2 years, or 3 – 5 years?  Consider your teammates; consider their performance in their current role and the level of leadership potential they demonstrate. Identify skills or knowledge needed to advance and help encourage them to receive necessary training, education, or other valuable experiences. Make time for conversations to discuss their interests and current career goals, share what you see as their potential, and better learn what motivates them in their work. And help them think about future roles that may be completely different than they had expected.

Coming out of these conversations, put these plans to action by advocating for these exemplary teammates. Place them on committees and allow them more decision-making authority. Give them assignments that even feel like a stretch. COVID necessitated a lot of this, but it would be a major wasted opportunity to not continue or even advance these opportunities further to build upon the lessons of the pandemic.

Whether you are new to a leadership role, or have been in one for years, remain open to opportunities that might introduce you to new challenges or stimulate a new interest or passion. And maintain the relationships you have established with your mentors.

We are in such a unique time, in our society in general, but in our health system specifically. We are not going back to the old ways of working. We know we have to transform. As we do that, there will be a need for our emerging leaders to fill new roles, bringing fresh, big ideas. Seize the opportunity to chart your own path.  For those of us further along on our career journey, our responsibility is to make sure you have the skills, knowledge, experiences and confidence to take on these challenges when they come along.

If we continue to work together and support each other, I have no doubt that we can achieve our goals, as individuals and as North Carolina’s health system.



UNC Health’s Office of Learning and Organizational Development can help provide resources and facilitate succession planning efforts. If you are interested in learning more please contact