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Take jobs you're not qualified for, says chamber speaker
I-Chamber Luncheon pic1
Sonja McLendon, chief of operational excellence at Northeast Georgia Health System, speaks at the April 13 Dawson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon. - photo by Allie Dean

Sonja McLendon, chief of operational excellence at Northeast Georgia Health System, spoke at the Dawson County Chamber of Commerce luncheon last week and gave the business community tips on how to succeed, be good leaders and be good mentors.

To begin McLendon shared the one piece of advice that she said has carried her through her entire career.

Right out of college McLendon was offered a job teaching at another college, teaching a course she herself had never taken.

McLendon said she called her mentor, who gave her the advice to take the job, despite McLendon's feeling that she wasn't qualified.

"She said ‘You better take that job! That's a great offer,'" McLendon said. "‘You march in there, have courage young lady. Treat those students well, be bold, have fun, act with a curious mind- and stay two chapters ahead of the class.' That is some of the best advice I ever got."

McLendon gave the crowd that same advice, and said that women in particular should apply for jobs they're not qualified for.

"I want to speak specifically to the women in the room, and those who mentor women," McLendon said. "Because typically women only apply for jobs that they have 100 percent of the qualifications for. Men apply for jobs that they have 60 percent of the qualifications for. We need to tell our daughters to apply for those jobs."

McLendon also spoke about what to do once people have achieved the success that they always wanted.

A key element to being a good leader, McLendon said, is to lift up the people who work for you and lift up the people who got you there.

"I have written literally thousands of notes to staff members when they have done a good job," McLendon said. "And I send them to their house...I write handwritten notes to people's homes because when they open them, they show them to their spouse, to their kids, it goes on the refrigerator. Recognition is so important."

McLendon also spoke about the importance of recognizing and thanking the people who helped you succeed, and how to pay it forward.

"Mentoring is another way to give back," McLendon said. "Somebody got you here, right? Who are you going to get into this spot? Sometimes we spend so much time climbing that ladder that we forget to reach back and pull somebody up."

McLendon left the room with a final bit of wisdom: leaders don't have to have all the answers.
"I built a solid career on solving problems. But that's not our job as leaders. We just have to know how to ask the right questions," she said. "What I'm going to leave you with today is a tool. It's five magic questions, the five coaching questions."

McLendon said that when approached with a problem, asking these five questions will help teach people how to fix it themselves:

What do you want to happen?
What's happening now?
What are all the obstacles between what you want and what you've got?
What do you think you need to do?
When can I come see how that's worked for you?

"It really does allow for a structured conversation, even with a teenager," McLendon said. "It's amazing, it really is amazing."