For Dr. Mark Martin, a 2019 graduate of Antioch’s Leadership and Change program, effective leadership is about engaging with people, getting to know them, and serving them authentically, even within the constraints of a large government or corporate organization.
“You have to think of ways to authentically serve others and be yourself while working within a given framework,” says Martin, who spent 17 years on Wall Street in banking and finance before moving into leadership in the healthcare industry 14 years ago. “My approach is to personally engage the people I lead and serve as much as possible, tapping into their gifts and making room for their talents. Leading like this is about engaging with them and finding out who they really are; bringing your whole self, and being authentic in return.”
These practices are part of what Martin understands as “servant leadership” in his current role as the Deputy Director of Minority Health at the Maryland Department of Public Health. He says healthcare is particularly apropos for this leadership style.
“Healthcare for me is about the people who we serve,” says Martin, who recalls some of his most memorable experiences in this work through community outreach. “It’s an opportunity to engage in innovative and compassionate thought leadership that can make a real difference in people’s lives.”
He recounts a time when he was working as a Director of Community Partnerships for a major healthcare provider in North Carolina and making visits during an outreach campaign. A customer who had recognized him from a different outreach event asked if he might help her understand her healthcare bill — as she found its contents and organization to be confusing. Even though billing was not within his realm of responsibility, Martin shared the concerns and recommendations with the company and eventually was pleased to see that the bills had become more user-friendly. Martin realized that something as small as the format of a patient’s bill can have a lasting impact on the quality of engaging with a patient and the overall outcome of the patient experience.
Martin was first drawn to healthcare while pursuing his MBA. A professor in his program suggested he look at healthcare for its long-term career opportunities, and the chance to work in an industry that is constantly evolving and innovating. He was so intrigued by the field that he ended up earning a dual master’s degree in business administration and health administration, which gave him a primer to working in the healthcare industry, where he has been ever since.
“Healthcare is constantly evolving because it is science-based and it has far-reaching effects on an individual’s quality of life,” says Martin. “I appreciate the opportunity to engage in relevant thought leadership with industry leaders with the goal of improving the patient experience and patient outcomes; the type of positive outcomes that make a real and impactful difference not only for individuals, but for families, communities, and beyond.”
This, along with his penchant for learning and progressing in his field, is what led him to pursue his PhD in Leadership and Change at Antioch.
“I knew that I wanted to research servant leadership and how it impacts healthcare,” says Martin, who adds that the Antioch program fit his lifestyle in that it offered the academic rigor that he sought, while also allowing him to continue working full-time. “I knew that the program was going to stretch me and that it would keep my passion alive.”
Martin appreciated how the program allowed him to continue to whet his appetite for learning more about leadership and change, while contributing his own research to the field. The program supported his desire to lead, teach, and apply his knowledge about leadership and change to systems within and beyond his industry.
In his current role, Martin works with his staff to implement the principles of servant leadership that he has gained from his research. Principles such as practicing the art of skilled communication that involves demonstrating empathy, inviting feedback, and engaging in persuasive communication has been one of his strategies, as well as practicing the principles of systems thinking that involve leading effective change, being adaptable, and becoming comfortable with complexity. Martin is intentional about giving his team better tools to enact change across an organization that is heavily governed by rules, protocols and procedures, and introducing a new “leading through serving” ethos.
Finally, Martin adds: “When you model leading as a servant and when you engage others with your whole and authentic self, barriers of mistrust are often broken down and in the end, lives are changed for good.”