Dan McInerney: You need to be vulnerable to be courageous

Vulnerability is the gift that Daniel McInerney brings to his mission: super-charging other people’s success through his courage. I know firsthand that courage and vulnerability have been a hallmark of his leadership. When he shows up, everyone benefits.

Dan McInerney is on a mission to support digital health adoption. He’s not a clinician or a healthcare worker but a professional services consultant who helps find solutions to the many challenges facing our healthcare system – challenges he has experienced first-hand as a consumer and a parent.

In this interview, Dan shares how his vision harnesses his best qualities as a leader and redefines “vulnerability”  as a powerful strength…

What has been your biggest change in 2022? 

Dan: My biggest change in 2022 was my decision regarding the next stage in my professional career. It involved recognising that I should be proud of my contributions to date and commit to staying on course to help in new, better ways in an agenda I am so passionate about. It wasn’t just about changing jobs. It was more about sitting back and acknowledging myself as a leader, and I have more to give.

I had a childhood based on having a boundless imagination. If someone asked me or someone said to me something was lost, I was always a person who said, “it’s not lost; it just hasn’t been found yet”. In terms of 2022, my contribution will be directed to what I’m passionate about. I have a clear purpose for who I am as a person and professional and that is to assist in any way I can to improve how care is delivered digitally. Earlier this year, I sat back and looked at myself in the mirror and said, you know, you’re good at what you do. You have something to say, and importantly, you’re authentic. And importantly, you have something to give back and to help those who are responsible for improving health care delivery.

How important is having a vision for your career?

Dan: For me, vision is very, very important. But what I’ve learned over the last 20 years is sometimes you need to be adaptable. You need to be flexible about what that vision means and how you manifest it and adjust both strategy and plan. To be honest, if you asked me this question 10 years ago, my vision for my career did not entertain being a Partner in consulting. I have, and always will be, focused on my contribution across the sector compared to my position in an organisation. 

There are a lot of things that I love to think about in terms of career and leadership. From a leadership style, Kim, I’m what I call a vulnerable leader. I’ve done a lot of work on resilience, vulnerability, empathy and being courageous.

I strongly believe one of the best qualities of the vulnerable leadership style is that it relates to my vision for my career; to contribute.

It is about showing up, and standing tall, especially when decisions are not always in your control. What I do in my profession as a consultant, isn’t always in my control on who wins the contract for example; but you put your best foot forward always. I stand strong and lean into things I want to work on in supporting new ways health care can be delivered.

You mentioned that you’ve returned to your inner wisdom about your vulnerability, which is also your strength. What triggered that for you? 

Dan: Well, it’s been a journey. I’ve navigated all of the transitions from primary school to high school, to university, to my first job, second job, and so on, to a professional services career. Through all of these, it’s been about who I am and the attributes and qualities I have. Notably, one of the biggest challenges that I’ve always faced over the years is the balance between what some would say is confidence and arrogance. Some would say enthusiasm versus intensity. It probably wasn’t anything that occurred in 2022 per se, but the journey of realisation and acknowledging who I am and feeling comfortable with who I am and being proud of who I am. Because sometimes, you can become very anxious and uncertain. Acknowledging being vulnerable is an experience that’s not easy. Sometimes the leadership qualities of vulnerability have also been viewed as a liability. 

I was not encouraged to be a vulnerable leader in the late 1990s or early 2000s. It just wasn’t a trait that was understood. It wasn’t a leadership trait that was necessarily accepted as I navigated through my early career. I always had to deal with uncertainty, anxiety, and feeling like an outsider and that I didn’t belong. It wasn’t until 2018 when I was able to sit back and say it’s okay to be who I am.

It’s okay to be proud of who I am because I’ve reached a stage in my career where the person I am got me to this level. 

What do you want to say to people who this resonates with and who haven’t reached the level of seniority that you’ve reached yet? 

Dan: I believe so strongly, Kim, that you need to be vulnerable to be courageous. It’s absolutely okay to be proud of who you are. It is okay to commit to the course of being vulnerable. A leader, first and foremost, is just a human being.

It is only when we have the strength to be vulnerable, courageous, resilient, and empathetic, we can truly lead. Being a vulnerable leader involves leading people by understanding or looking through their eyes. Importantly, try to avoid the pitfalls of thinking you have to always be right, or you have to be perfect. Because vulnerability is the first step to being courageous and creating agency.

Can you tell us what it would be like to work for you and with you?

Dan: I try my best to empower people. I empower my people to have an opinion irrespective of where they are in the hierarchy or experience level. I generally work with people within a very flat structure. I try to foster an open environment where people feel comfortable collaborating with me. I’m not always right, nor do I have all the answers. I’m not someone who feels compelled to be the first to answer or come up with an idea. That’s a real challenging stereotype to fight against, especially with the young generation coming through. They very much see the hierarchy. But like I said, it’s about recognising that they have an opinion, that they have a voice and that I’m listening to them. I work with people who want to work with me; people want to help make a change. 

I want my people to stand next to me, and, for me, they must be standing alongside me; I’m not in front of them unless there is a very good reason.

I also like questions from less experienced people who may feel that they don’t want to ask certain questions because they might be silly. One of my catchphrases is that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, only a stupid answer. So, the pressure is on me to provide a thoughtful response. The other mottos I have are Always have fun, and It’s always a learning journey. One of the biggest things that I do is instill self-belief in my people. Most importantly, I always ask people to play it forward. All I want from the people I have helped is to play forward their advice, experience etc. when they are in the position to help others who are less experienced. And that’s what it is like to work with me, Kim.

When you have achieved your career vision, how will you know you’ve achieved it? And how will that make you feel? 

Dan: That’s a great question because my career vision is not always about me. It’s more about seeing how the advice and support I have given influences in how and what others say and do; basically their actions. I get a lot of pleasure when I see people grow and mature and be more open to understanding that the world is not black and white.

There is always greyness when you lead through complexity and when leading change. The biggest thing I will be proud of is my impact on others. How do I help them achieve and deliver what they need to do to feel like they have contributed to something meaningful? I actually don’t know if my career will ever be over.

Define and achieve your own leadership vision

Join Dr. Kim Vella for the 1-day Achieve Your Leadership Vision Workshop. This will be held on 29 July, 2022 in Canberra.

Together, we will:

  • discuss the true meaning of a leadership vision and how it can change your life
  • uncover some of the roadblocks that may be obstructing your vision
  • define a clear and achievable vision you can aspire to
  • use practical tools to set a roadmap for success
  • address typical challenges you may face and how to overcome them

Seats are limited so register early to secure your spot.

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