By Taunya Faulkner

I was not the typical Executive MBA student when I enrolled in August 2017 at Kennesaw State University.

I’ve worked at Floyd Medical Center for 28 years and it’s been quite a journey. I started as a physical therapist and served the organization in a variety of roles and leadership levels in physical therapy, inpatient rehabilitation, occupational health, and revenue cycle. When I started the EMBA program, I was the Lean Six Sigma Director.

I’d wanted to achieve my MBA for a long time, but raising my children and caring for ill parents led me to place the dream on hold. In March 2018, I was promoted to vice president of performance improvement. As I embraced my new role, I needed to continue to increase my business acumen to help connect with the other executives. Of the 13 executives, I was one of the few with a medical background. My children were now older and with encouragement from my chief executive officer, I took the leap and enrolled in the EMBA program.

Kennesaw gave me the option of working with a mentor from CEO Netweavers, a nonprofit organization, made up of current and former CEOs and other C-suite executives. I jumped at the opportunity to work closely with someone that could provide me with valuable insight and a new perspective on my leadership.

I was paired with Michele Sarkisian, the chief executive officer and president P3 Advisors, an executive consulting firm. Here are a few lessons I learned from her:

The Importance of Cultivating Business Relationships. Michele quickly reinforced the importance of connecting with other business people that may help solve problems in the future. Michele initially connected me with an individual in the healthcare insurance industry that I was able to interview for a school assignment. But I also reached out to this person later when I was looking for a case manager director.

No matter the issue at hand we discussed, she seemed to know someone that could offer insight or help to resolve an issue. So, I quickly learned how to place more emphasis on making these connections. As a result, I’ve been more purposeful when meeting people from different industries. I see their value differently, and I try to set up opportunities to have more people in my circle, as well as help other people make connections.

The Importance of Listening. Michele helped me understand that I can learn more, and gain the respect of my peers, by simply listening closely to what they have to say. She advised me to become a fantastic listener.

More than that, she taught me to demonstrate to others that I care about our meetings and value their information. She recommended that I turn off my phone before all meetings to show the other person that our time is for them. It helped me focus on building the relationship, by really listening to what they say.

The Power of Story Telling. As part of the Floyd Medical executive team, I need to provide information and opinions that will affect hospital policy. To make a point, Michele recommended sharing a story to connect with people. Everyone listens better and gets more information when they hear a story.

She suggested that I consider sharing some personal experiences as part of any communication when making a point. Michele also stressed that I needed to have the confidence to share my voice with the executive team; doing so has helped me realize the value I can add to the group.

After working with an experienced mentor, it’s hard to believe every Executive MBA program in the country doesn’t require one. Michele has provided me with a new perspective on my career, valuable insight about how to be successful in business, and a fresh jolt of self-confidence.