Podcast | Julie Marston on Authentic Leadership

Jun 8, 2024 | Articles, Podcast

Julie Marston, CEO & Principal Consultant at Marston Yoder Healthcare Consultants, sat down with past CAHL president Michael O’Connell to discuss what it means to be an authentic leader throughout her professional career spanning over 20 decades. Listen to the full podcast on the CAHL YouTube channel. 

Marston is an accomplished nurse executive with over two decades of leading inpatient and outpatient hospital-based services, process development, and delivery of patient-centered, high-quality care in academic and non-academic settings. As CEO and Principal Consultant at Marston Yoder Healthcare Consultants, her team collaborates with healthcare organizations nationwide to advance healthcare equity through a population-based approach to chronic disease management. She has been an ACHE and CAHL member since 2020 and resides in El Dorado County. 

During this podcast, they discuss the ways personal experience and vulnerability have empowered the way she leads in her authenticity. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Interview Highlights

Michael O’Connell: Julie, you have a very comprehensive background. As we talk today about the theme of authentic leadership, what does it mean to be an authentic leader, and how do you define it for yourself in terms of the work you have done in the last two decades?

Julie Marston: I channel my inner Brene Brown. She has done a lot of work in authenticity and vulnerability. I like her definition of authenticity as a daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are. Being my authentic self is a daily choice. It is true to me personally and professionally; for me, my professional self is an extension of myself. 

O’Connell: Julie, share with me a personal experience where you were able to bring your authentic self to your work. 

Marston: I was relatively new in a role as a director of many departments, and I brought these departments together and was enthusiastic about process improvement. I was sharing my ideas, and I realized one day no one was as enthusiastic about it as I was. I brought in an office employee and asked her why people were not embracing this and not responding the way I imagined they would and asked if she could give me some insight about it.

She looked at me a little bit sideways. I realized at that moment that I was asking her to be vulnerable and asking her to share something that a boss may not want to hear. I recognized she needed to feel safe to do that. It sat with me that if I wanted to have a positive impact, I had to create a space where I was authentic, and people could be authentic. When people feel safe, they do great work, and inpatient care is all that matters doing great work for patients and creating safe environments.

O’Connell: What strategies do you employ to support authenticity while navigating the complexities of healthcare management? As a consultant, there are a lot of changes going on and a lot of times, they bring you into the organization when there is either a crisis or things that need to be solved. How do you bring authenticity to these situations?

Marston: From my early lesson, I did begin my process improvement ideas with, I have an idea; I would love to share it with you if you have time (that’s important). I would say I want to hear your honest feedback, your thoughts, and ideas; if they are different from mine, that’s great. That’s how better ideas are made.

I try to begin those conversations about change with an open invitation to disagree with me or for them to bring all their ideas. That is an approach that I have continued, and when I approach challenges or if an organization is having an obstacle and they want a solution. I begin with a conversation with everyone involved in any way, shape, or form, possibly involved with this problem or issue. I ask open-ended questions to gain information and gather their perspective in a non-judgmental and supportive manner. 

When something doesn’t make sense or if I disagree with a decision or issue. I ask a lot of questions to seek a better understanding. I genuinely believe that everyone is in healthcare to do good work. I come with the belief that everyone is there for a good reason, and if something doesn’t make sense, I ask and I seek. I’m very honest. If I’m struggling, can you help me? I want to support this; help me get there. Here are some questions I have. That has worked for me in leadership, consulting, and life. I believe that builds trust. 

O’Connell: How do you build that trust, especially in consulting? You are coming in, there is a problem, and they may be afraid they will be fired, laid off, or criticized for something doing or not doing, so how do you build trust and vulnerability in being an authentic leader?

Marston: For example, if it is an exploratory conversation, I’m asking for information. When they provide it, I ask if I have understood them correctly. 

I’m telling them that I hear them, that I’m listening, and that I seek understanding. I use a lot of follow-up questions because I genuinely want to have a good understanding of their perspective. I’ve been fortunate in my consulting roles that the people I speak to share the sense that something can be better with the given situation or project.

 I usually open with, what about this works well for you, or what about this doesn’t work well for you? 

I love asking, if you had a magic wand and you could wave it and make it different, what would it look like for you? People have responded positively to that. Because someone is asking for a unique perspective. I’m not telling people what I think is the right answer; I’m asking them what they feel is good, not so good, and what they could do differently if they could. That opens people up to share. 

O’Connell: Any final thoughts as we conclude our podcast for our listeners today?

Marston: Authenticity is who we are. If we carry that into our work, it benefits not just ourselves, but also healthcare. This is a very difficult profession and business, and at times, it can feel like it’s not treating everyone well. 

I genuinely believe that if we have authentic leadership, we have people who want to lead organizations to good places and treat people well. For me, it’s all about the patient. If everyone feels respected and valued at work, they take amazing care of the patients. For me, that’s what it’s all about.