Skip to Main Content

Harvesting success through collaboration and inquiry

March 13, 2024
by Daryn David

A blog post "On Leadership"

For the latest Yale Child Study Center (YCSC) “On Leadership” blog post and newsletter column, Daryn David, PhD reflects on a talk given by Gaylord Healthcare President and CEO Sonja LaBarbera, MSOL, MS CCC/SLP at a February 2023 YCSC Grand Rounds session, titled “Leadership through the Eyes of a Clinician – Growing a Culture of Trust and Inspiration at Gaylord.” A recording of the session is available via the link at the bottom of this page.

In her 2014 book Playing Big, women’s leadership guru Tara Mohr writes about the difficulty women (and others) have calling attention to their work. Lest they feel or be seen as boastful, arrogant, or too big for their britches, Mohr argues that women have a tendency to shirk way from sharing successes with others. However, as we move forward in our careers, Mohr posits, it is exactly this type of sharing that needs to occur in order for our work to reach its largest impact and scope.

Specifically, by inviting others to celebrate and join in our efforts, we promote the likelihood that our work will grow in possibility and influence. If we care about what we are producing, if we believe our output has the potential to shape the world positively, then we are effectively beholden to share, so that our efforts may flower into their fullest potential and benefit as many individuals as possible.

I couldn’t help thinking about this paradox - the importance of doing good work, and the complexities inherent in calling attention to it - during Sonja LaBarbera’s YCSC Grand Rounds talk on February 27, 2024.

LaBarbera is the first woman President and CEO of Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, a 120-year-old rehabilitation health system based in Wallingford, Connecticut. She assumed the job about a year before the onset of the pandemic, at a younger age than prior CEOs and with a substantial clinical background. In her descriptions of the extensive selection process she underwent, LaBarbera spoke about needing to prove herself to the Board and establish herself as a leader amongst co-workers who were long-time collaborators and peers.

One trick to her success? Making it apparent that her accomplishments on the job were predicated and intricately linked to everyone else’s accomplishments.

Once a month, LaBarbera lunches with a rotating group of employees at Gaylord. She asks them questions about their roles and what they may need to further succeed. She shares about the aspirations of the hospital and listens to how these individuals may best contribute to this mission. LaBarbera also periodically rounds with the clinicians on the floors, to learn about the work they are doing and current challenges with which they might need greater assistance. By asking colleagues with different experiences and expertise for copious input, constantly, and by actively networking and seeking out mentorship as the demands of her job have grown and changed. LaBarbera has put her leadership at Gaylord in service of the patients and providers, not her own gain.

In speaking about Gaylord externally, LaBarbera does not shy away from touting the many successes that have unfolded under her tenure: expansion of the clinical service, the building out of research and teaching infrastructure, staying afloat financially throughout the pandemic. But as she said again and again in her talk, she puts the people within and served by her organization first, knowing that the money and accolades will follow.

The lesson here? When we lead by owning our successes and by inviting others the table, when we grow the bounty of our accomplishments on collaboration and calling attention to our efforts, we can harvest so much more together.

The On Leadership blog was launched to address the importance of connection, collaboration, and embodying a service leadership mindset in professional and personal contexts. YCSC Assistant Professor Daryn H. David, PhD directs the column and serves as associate director for leadership development in the Yale School of Medicine (YSM) Offices of Academic and Professional Development and Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion.

Submitted by Crista Marchesseault on March 13, 2024