Written by: SA Kushinka

The biggest innovation in history? The plot twist. Storytelling has always been a way to connect with others and inspire change, but when our stories take an unexpected turn we are given an opportunity to learn and grow. Over the past 3 months, CCI staff engaged in an online course though Acumen to build storytelling skills. We’d like to share stories of our teaching moments to help our partners and grantees learn more about the people behind the programs and how we think. Our hope is that this will encourage you to share your stories and teaching moments with the field to strengthen our network and inspire change in the safety net.

Meet SA Kushinka, Director of Programs at CCI…

It was 1990 and I was fresh out of business school. In a seemingly whirlwind 72-hour period, I had walked through the graduation ceremony and onto a United Airlines flight to Seattle. About to start a new health IT engagement with the title “Senior Consultant” on my business card (which, at that point in time, referred neither to my age nor experience), I made my way to the medical center. I was terrified.

Luckily, I was with a fantastic team that was not only highly experienced, but also took me under their wing. I sat in meeting after meeting, taking copious notes, highlighting all the jargon, and making note of the new customs in this seemingly foreign land. At night, my colleagues explained it all to me — clearly, expertly and with humor — over dinner. When I found myself on my own, it seemed that with just a few prompts, my clients would do all the talking so I would not be discovered for the impostor I felt like. After a month, my boss, the Senior VP of the San Francisco office – came for the official project kick off. At the reception that followed, I found myself surreptitiously listening in as our client’s CFO and CEO gave my boss their assessment of our team’s performance so far: “Adrienne is such an accomplished project manager we know we’re in good hands and Mark is so bright and funny — a real pleasure to work with. And SA,” I held my breath, wondering what on earth they could say; “she’s such a good listener!” he said enthusiastically. I watched a look of satisfaction pass across my boss’s face and a light bulb went on in my head. While my intention in that first month had been to divert attention from the skills I thought I lacked, instead I had discovered a valuable asset: listening. As I breathed a deep sigh of relief, a fair measure of stress was replaced by a modest level of confidence.

It would be many months before I would openly acknowledge the reason for my silence in those early meetings, but I learned two important lessons that day. I’ve been reminded of these two lessons several times during my first months at CCI. First, a great team buoys newcomers and helps you to succeed quicker than you can imagine. I’m thrilled to be part of this team at CCI, humbled by what they’ve accomplished and excited about our collective vision for CCI’s future. Second, listening is far better than trying to provide all the answers. As the new Director of Programs at CCI, I’m committed to doing just that: listening to our partners who provide us with insight from the field, listening to our funders who trust us with their generous resources, and, most importantly, listening to our grantees on the front lines of healthcare with whom we are privileged to work.



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