There is an old expression that the “the cream always rises to the top!” I believe that this is certainly the case with leaders. Real leaders don’t need a title, they lead wherever they are. They are people who are trustworthy and earn the respect of their peers through hard work and self-sacrifice. Leadership guru John Maxwell in his book The 360 Degree Leader notes, “Position has little to do with genuine leadership. Influencing others is a matter of disposition, not position. Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit.” Maxwell argues that anyone can become a leader and make a difference wherever they are in the organization. It is important for executives who do hold titles to recognize those up-and coming leaders who don’t have official positions of leadership but have significant influence in the organization.
Julie Ferguson, practice administrator for Women’s Specialty Center, LLC, has consistently been a leader whose influence preceded her titles. Ferguson graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Mississippi College and was a clinical nurse for over 10 years. Her leadership qualities were recognized, and she was hired to launch and manage a new pediatric unit at Rankin Medical Center. Because she was a humble and hard-working leader, she and her team built a very successful new pediatric unit.
Ferguson went on to serve for a number of years at Baptist Health Systems where she once again led new initiatives including the development of a Women’s Heart program. Ferguson’s leadership and marketing skills were recognized by the physicians at Women’s Specialty Center, a specialty physician practice focused on women’s health. She initially served as Vice President of Marketing and Provider Relations, and in 2009, there was an opening to be the practice administrator. Even though she had not managed a physician practice in the past, the physicians had great confidence and trust in her so they asked her to take the helm.
Running a medical practice these days is a real challenge. A multi-physician medical practice is a big business and involves generating significant revenues, managing large staffs, and dealing with a complex regulatory environment. There are also unique challenges in running a professional practice whether it is medical, legal, accounting, or other professions. Ferguson has always been committed to her leadership development and works hard to make sure that she is always learning and growing as a leader. She credits her leadership style with one of her mentors, Sallye Wilcox. Wilcox served as Vice President of Patient Care at Baptist Health Systems and modeled for Ferguson how to lead with grace and compassion, but also with strength.
Ferguson’s core principles for leading include setting an example of being willing to work hard. One of her favorite quotes is by Vince Lombardi who stated, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” She also strives to be consistent and fair in her dealings with employees. She believes that it is important to be “confident yet humble” in leading a team. Even though she was new in practice management, she credits the honest and transparent atmosphere with her physicians for her success. Trust is so crucial in leadership, and the physicians in her practice obviously trusted her and believed in her abilities. There is an important lesson here for developing leaders. How we steward small opportunities often will dictate whether we are entrusted to have greater leadership responsibility. Ferguson has been named as a Top 50 leading Businesswoman by the Mississippi Business Journal and is no doubt inspiring up and coming leaders herself on how to lead with strength and humility.
Up Close With … Julie Ferguson
Title: Practice Administrator
Favorite Leadership Books: ”Servant Leadership” (Robert Greenleaf); “Team of Rivals” (Doris Kearns Goodwin); Biographies by David McCullough and Edmund Morris; “The Fountainhead” (Ayn Rand); and “Halftime” (Bob Buford)
First Job: ”In high school, I was a clerk in a local pharmacy.”
Favorite Books: Power Phrases (by Meryl Runion); Ordering Your Private World (Gordon MacDonald); and The E-Myth Manager (Michael Gerber)
Proudest Moment as a Leader: “I was honored when the physicians as Women’s Specialty Center had the confidence to ask me to be their practice administrator. ”
Martin Willoughby, a business lawyer in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.