On the shoulders of mentors

Oct. 25, 2018

I just returned from a quick trip to Chicago for the Bellwether League’s annual Healthcare Supply Chain Leadership Forum and Induction Dinner. Unfortunately, I only caught the very end of the Leadership Forum itself, but the dinner, my first, was incredibly inspiring and put in context how this profession has evolved since its inception.

And it has evolved. One of my favorite stories from one award winner was just how dismissive physicians and surgeons used to treat supply chain and pharmacy professionals, i.e., similar to how French aristocrats would treat the peasantry prior to the Revolution.

“You have absolutely no business being on this floor and how dare you speak to me,” is a rough estimate of a typical interaction with a clinician. Get thee back to the basement!

Luckily, this typically is no longer the case with clinician/supply chain interactions. And fortunately, change did not require a revolution, just time, patience, perseverance and leadership, characteristics demonstrated by the men and women honored by Bellwether.

“The work is painstaking and often goes unrecognized”

Nearly all of the inductees recognized the progress made in advancing supply chain in healthcare as a profession while also citing the lack of “glamour” to the work. As SMI co-founder and 2018 Bellwether inductee, John Gaida jokingly said, “Supply chain in healthcare is kind of like wetting yourself in a dark suit. You get a warm feeling, and no one ever notices.”

Funny yes, but what I took away from all of the inductees is that none were really seeking glory. Every one of them played a role in the ongoing transformation of the healthcare supply chain, and all of them displayed a great sense of pride in having played the role they did.

One of the more striking aspects to this Induction dinner was how emotional many of the speakers became. A big part of this had to do with the sudden passing this year of Patrick Carroll, one of Bellwether’s Board of Directors and a 2018 Inductee. I did not know Pat, but from the outpouring of emotion from other members as well as from his spouse who accepted the award on his behalf, I can only believe he was a tremendous influence on anyone with whom he worked.

The role of the mentor

None of the speakers left the stage without mentioning important mentors they had in their lives. For me, this was the primary takeaway from the ceremony. We stand on the shoulders of our mentors until it’s time for us to mentor others. What I learned about Pat Carroll during the ceremony is that he was an exceptional mentor throughout his life. I don’t know all the folks he was able to influence, inspire and help to build their own careers, but the fact that the industry has evolved as it has makes me believe it was a lot.

In supply chain, where glory is secondary, legacies are built off of the success of an individual’s mentees. That is how the industry will continue to evolve and the profession of supply chain will continue to attract innovative, young and diverse talent. If the healthcare supply chain becomes known as a haven for career growth through the presence of exceptionally effective mentors, then the talent will follow.

Definition of Bellwether

I had to look up the definition of bellwether and was so pleased to learn that it’s derived from the lead sheep in a flock. Shepherds would place a bell around the lead sheep’s neck and be able to locate the entire flock in poor weather just by listening for the sound of the bell.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionalry, this animal was called the bellwether, a word formed by a combination of the Middle English words belle (meaning “bell”) and wether (a noun that refers to a male sheep that has been castrated). It eventually followed that bellwether would come to refer to someone who takes initiative or who actively establishes a trend that is taken up by others. This usage first appeared in English in the 13th century.

Many of the individuals honored in Chicago have played that role. The industry is better for their contribution, and more importantly, it will continue to improve and advance, as their mentees step off of their shoulders and lead the next generation of supply chain professionals.