Podcast | Nick Drews Talks Authentic Leadership

Apr 7, 2024 | Articles, Leadership, Podcast

Nick Drews, Director of the County of San Luis Obispo Health Agency, sat down with past CAHL president Michael O’Connell to discuss what it means to be an authentic leader in the agricultural mecca in Southern California. Listen to the full podcast on CAHL’s YouTube channel

Drews has held his latest role since 2015, overseeing planning, development, and implementation of health services including health administration, public health, mental health, drug and alcohol services, animal services, and office of public guardian. Drews has also served as Deputy Director of Administrative Services Logistics Chief during the Covid-19 pandemic and the site manager responsible for building the Cal Poly alternative care site.  Prior to this, he was senior consultant manager for Deloitte Consulting. Drews received his MBA from the University of Southern California. He resides in San Luis Obispo with his wife and two children.

During this podcast, they discuss the highs and lows of trying to remain authentic and achieve goals while being tasked to do things we may not agree to. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Interview Highlights

Michael O’Connell: Nick, you have had some interesting career experiences at Deloitte, working with Fortune 500 companies and working in a predominantly agricultural mecca within California. When you hear the word authentic leadership, what does that mean to you,, and what does that mean in terms of your career?

Nick Drews: I think it is as simple as being honest, demonstrating integrity with your actions,, and doing the things you say you are going to do. There is a little bit of irony,. How do you become an authentic leader? Because if you try to be authentic, you are no longer being authentic because you are doing something you are not. So, there’s a little bit of a task there in how you can achieve this goal while still being honest in the attempt.

 O’Connell: Give an example of a personal experience where your authenticity as a healthcare leader significantly impacted your team and or organization or when you struggled to be an authentic leader during a crisis or challenge.

Drews: It goes back to setting the framework for yourself. We have our goals, objectives, vision, and our strategy. Here at the health agency, we have a mission statement and five different visions that we follow.

One of our values is compassion. Compassion is not something you have but something you must continuously work towards. 

In healthcare, this is very important. We can’t do what we do unless we see ourselves in some way or somehow empathize with the individuals that we are working with, especially in the public health sector.

I always ask myself if I’m doing the right thing. And if I can walk away from it, I might lose sleep at night. But, as long as I know I’m doing the right thing, I feel I can make challenging decisions because I already established a set of core values for myself.

O’Connell: As you look at the value of compassion or, as you talk about authenticity, that may be something that is not well understood by a specific individual or particular group of employees. How do you teach or help those individuals understand this is what compassion looks like or this is what authenticity looks like?

Drews: It goes back to the idea of why we do what we do. We have the luxury of being in a line of work where we can make the world a better place.

One thing I realized when I got into this line of work in healthcare was how much making a difference mattered to me. 

I talk a lot with my staff about connecting to that reason or rationale for why we do what we do. Find that passion, remember why we are here, and utilize that in everything you do.

O’Connell: So, are there certain things that you do within your organization to be able to reinforce those, such as town halls, staff meetings, or reviews of the value of the month? So that people can see that this organization is living out its values.

Drews: You always have to connect the organization back to that value. There are a variety of ways to do that. Communication is key!

It takes every one of us to make it work. Every single person has a connection. Five years ago, we did an engagement survey for our organization. One of the questions was do you feel that your work matters. And we recently did it again, and the results went up.

O’Connell: When you did the employee engagement survey five years ago and did it again recently, you saw the numbers increase from interventions or changes the organization worked on with employees. Are there specific things you can look back on and say that because of A, B, C, D, and E, certain things you built into standard work and daily workflow stuck?

Drews: It starts with the little things. I thanked those who came to work during the holidays. I send emails and use words like “team” and “we”. Reaching out monthly and ensuring it’s a part of our internal communication. I think doing those little things resonates.

I have recently started to recraft the way I communicate. Consistency is important. 

Also, the idea of communicating and not just leaving it empty. These communications that are happening loop back to the fundamental idea that we are here for a reason, and what we do matters.