Courage to Lead: Dean Margaret W. Baker

By Dulcey Reiter, Office of Development Communications Posted Thu, 09/14/2017 - 10:00

Promoting physical and mental health. Caring for people who are sick. Leading systems to improve healthcare outcomes. Using big data to drive improvement and practice change. Influencing policy to improve the health of populations and the environment. The health professions cover a lot of critical ground that impact the lives of many. So, what is it like to oversee the School of Nursing and Health Professions at the University of San Francisco and make the tough decisions that affect not only students, faculty, and staff, but also the future of healthcare?

Dean Margaret Wooding BakerDean Margaret “Maggie” W. Baker of the School of Nursing and Health Professions shared her thoughts on what it takes to lead well. Drawing from her experience as the associate dean for academic affairs at the University of Washington in Seattle, her experience as a senior health policy analyst for Washington state, and her three-year executive nurse fellowship with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dean Baker comes to USF with a wealth of knowledge and experience providing organizational leadership. Here is some of her shared wisdom:

1. Know yourself

Know as much as possible about yourself on an ongoing basis. Learn to trust yourself. Get a good mentor and stay close to this person. One of the most important parts aspects of leadership is understanding yourself as much as possible and reflecting on who you are. What kind of a leader are you right now? What kind of a leader do you want to be? How do you influence change and make it stick? This process of reflection in really understanding who I am not only helps me gain confidence that I can take my leadership to the next level, but helps me reflect differently on my interactions as a leader.

Professional and personal growth as well as using reflection has helped me to be less reactive, less judgmental, and more relationship-based. It’s helped me to understand the primacy of relationships and figuring out what matters to people, including what matters to them in terms of what they want for the organization. The vast majority of people are here because they love our mission and care about our students. They want to provide the best service they can by supporting students to do well - from a personal and professional standpoint - and live our values. How can I help them to do the best that they can and reach their goals?

2. Take time every day to reflect on your successes

At the end of every day, regardless of where it is that I am, I get to a certain point in my walk and think, “Ok, what went well today?” It’s so easy to get wrapped up in and focus on problems. I think there’s such a danger to miss all of the things that have gone well. Sometimes it’s not just about what went well today, but reflecting on what’s gone well in the past week, month, semester, or even year and to celebrate the things that have gone well and take note of the progress that’s been made. That’s a super important part of my practice: Taking stock and looking forward to what the possibilities are.

3. Build strong organizational foundations

How do I make sure that we’re prepared for what’s needed ten years down the road? My role comes in making sure that we have organizational, operational, and relational excellence as a base. We need a strong foundation that allows us to take calculated risks. A strong foundation means one in which the school is functioning well, and people are free to reach higher order goals while still experiencing joy at work; where faculty are able to focus on research, teaching and service and staff members are able to fulfill their roles and responsibilities while adding to their expertise. With this, we can be innovative and futuristic, and people are able to perform at their highest potential.

We’re in a time where people are really not sure about what’s going to happen next. People are worried about where the jobs are going to be, how they’re going to survive, and how they’re going to take care of themselves and their families. The pace of change is so fast now that nobody can really keep up with it. So, if we can’t keep up with it, what do we do? How do we make decisions about what we’re going to focus on and cut out some of the noise while not ignoring what’s happening around us?

4. Courage is a key characteristic of good leadership

When asked what one characteristic every leader should possess, Dean Baker responded: The answer I’d give today is courage. When you take on a formal leadership role, you have ultimate responsibility. In Dean Baker’s case, it’s the whole School of Nursing and Health Professions, which enrolls more than 1,700 students in 11 academic programs spread across six satellite campuses, including nursing, public health, health informatics, behavioral health, and clinical psychology. At the end of the day, it takes courage because it’s not just about the courage to make the hard decisions. There’s a piece of this where you’re putting yourself out there, and you’re putting yourself on the line. It’s not just about the organization.  

It takes courage to take this on when you know this organization is so important and means so much to so many people and there’s so much at stake.

This organization is important to so many people because students leave here as leaders who will change the world from wherever they are. They live the values they have learned here for the rest of their lives.

Many have told me how extraordinary our graduates are, and you see this all over the place. That’s the legacy of this school. It’s what makes me realize what a tremendous honor this position is. I am now entrusted with this jewel, and I want to keep it safe and well-polished.

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