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Learning Not to Wait For Someone To Say My Big Ideas Were ‘OK’ Transformed My Career — Here’s How | Fairygodboss
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Big Ideas
Learning Not to Wait For Someone To Say My Big Ideas Were ‘OK’ Transformed My Career — Here’s How
Photo courtesy of Sara Kwan
Fairygodboss
Fairygodboss
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Having a lightbulb moment is one thing. Being able to turn that bright idea into a tangible reality is another matter.

Oftentimes, it can feel like we don’t have the resources at hand to execute our starry-eyed ideas, particularly when support from other parties is needed. It’s difficult, after all, to find people who are as excited about our ideas as we are, and bringing those with the ability to implement on board can sometimes feel like an uphill battle. That’s why Sara Kwan, Imaging Region Manager at GE Healthcare, finds the birth of GE LEAD — a program designed to advance the careers of women radiologists — so remarkable.

“A mentor of mine reached out to me with the idea. She had a concept, but no real framework. I asked her if she had permission for the program; she said, ‘No, but let’s go for it!’” Kwan recalled. “Too often we wait for someone else to tell us it’s okay. We saw a need, so we created this program and our company supported us.” 

One year later, and the creation of GE’s LEAD program has been a resounding success, with plans for next year’s class underway. As co-creator of the program, Kwan says the go-for-it, supportive attitude that made the program possible is just one of the reasons she’s still invigorated by GE Healthcare after nine years at the company. And none of it would be possible, she adds, without the “make-my-day” people she has the privilege of calling both colleagues and friends. 

Recently, Kwan shared with Fairygodboss how exactly her team at GE Healthcare keeps her so motivated, as well as her No. 1 piece of advice to women who don’t feel similarly supported at work.

Tell us a bit about your job. What are your main responsibilities in your current role, and what were you doing previously?

I currently lead our multimillion-dollar imaging business for New York and New Jersey. I have a team of about 20 sales professionals. My job is to motivate and inspire them to do their best work. 

What do you love most about your job? And what about your company?

I love the people part of my job. I love the feeling of watching someone on my team set a goal and go after it. Celebrating with my team is important to me. I consistently try to acknowledge promotions, customer wins, and offer up recognition for a job well done — those are the moments that make my day. I work for GE Healthcare because of this culture. 

We are more than just work colleagues; we care about one another and stay focused on the people part of our work, taking this same approach as we build relationships with our customers.  Every day my team has the privilege of working with our customers to solve their problems and help them deliver the best care to patients. When our talented team comes together with these passionate providers to make strides towards improving healthcare, that’s one of the most fulfilling feelings in the world. 

You participated in the 2018/2019 inaugural LEAD class. Tell us about LEAD and how you got involved. 

LEAD (Leading Empowering and Disrupting) is a program designed to bring women radiology leaders together with the goal of elevating their careers. The year-long program focuses on leadership and mentorship through monthly learning and professional development workshops, designated mentors, and live networking sessions. 

This program came to life when a mentor of mine reached out to me with the idea. She had a concept, but no real framework. I asked her if she had permission for the program; she said, “No, but let’s go for it!” Too often we wait for someone else to tell us it’s okay. We saw a need, so we created this program and our company supported us. One year later, it has been a success and we are now planning for next year’s class.

Does  the program have a structure in place for mentor/sponsorship, or is it more of a casual thing that happens organically? 

This program is designed so that each woman in the program gets two mentors — one is a doctor and a director of radiology and one is a senior business leader. What we have found is that women are often over-mentored and under-sponsored. Our goal with this program is to create true sponsorship for the LEAD women in their organizations. We’re pushing these sponsors to play an active role in giving these women the tools they need and promoting each LEAD participant’s talent in their organizations.   

How do you approach your mentorship/sponsorship relationship differently than you think about your relationship with your boss/manager? (How are the goals you set different / how do you think about your progress and development?)

Sometimes you are lucky enough to have a boss that is also a mentor or sponsor. For me, it is all about building a “board of directors.” One mentor or sponsor just isn’t enough; you need a board. Your board should be diverse, it should have people from outside your company, so you get advice and ideas from a variety of places. It is too easy for your one mentor to take a different job or lose influence. You need a variety of people supporting you. Diversity of thought is always a good thing. 

How has having a mentor/sponsor enriched your own work experience?

I have been lucky to have a lot of mentors, sponsors, and peers to learn from, and I learn just as much from my mentees as I do from my mentors. We have a saying on my team: “Send the elevator back down.” It’s about making it easy for anyone to move up and get to your level. Your role is to support them in their efforts to take the next step. I used to think that I had to get to a certain place in the organization before I could start helping others, but I was wrong. If you are on floor two of your career, send the elevator back down and help the people on floor one. Helping others has really enriched my work experience. 

How do you feel like this experience has been reflective of your overall experience at your company? (In what other ways do you feel valued/well supported at your company?)

At GE Healthcare, we often joke that we don’t make MRIs or X-rays — we make leaders. The LEAD program is just one more example of this. In my nine years with the company, I have grown and developed my own brand of leadership. I was supported at every pivot point to continue to grow and learn. When I got stuck in my journey, GE Healthcare doubled down on their investment in me to continue to evolve my leadership skills so I could become the leader I dreamed of becoming and am now today. 

 What’s the No. 1 thing you think women should know about working at your company? 

If you’re the type of person who loves continuing to learn, enjoys working with high performing teams, or gets energized by change — GE Healthcare might be the right place for you. As a mature company, we know that our people is how we differentiate ourselves. Our customers buy from us because they trust our products and our people, and so often they buy from us again and again because of our people.

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