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leadership
Practicing (Episode 4): Chrissy Daniels and Dan Lundergan
For the past 20 years, Chrissy Daniels and Dan Lundergan have been hard at work – building culture, building space, building experiences and building trust. Practicing interviews are conversations between partners about why the work matters. Our goal is to preserve and share the stories of the teams at University of Utah Health.

(Abridged transcript below)

1. How did you get into your line of work?

[Dan:] I was a 19-years-old student looking for a job and I wanted to be at the university because of the 50% tuition reduction. I started in the laundry. Getting into health care was really a stroke of destiny. My work in the laser field with Dr. John Dixon helped me really understand academic medicine. I’ve learned what our hospital really means to patients, which has led to my deep respect for the people who care for them—the staff. Creating relationships with staff is important to me. I fell into health care, but it’s what I’m really passionate about.

Creating relationships with staff is important to me. I fell into health care, but it’s what I’m really passionate about.

[Chrissy:] I have an accidental career at University of Utah. I had a degree in economics and there was a position for a clinic financial analyst, I interviewed for that job and didn't get it. I didn't know that they sent my resume to the CEO of University Hospitals and Clinics, Christine St. André. I got a call to interview for a job I didn't apply for; she interviewed me and I didn't hear anything, so I just presumed that was over. Two months later, she offered me the job. Once I started, I didn't have anything to do. I remember the first day that I met you [Dan]. I had been sitting in my cubicle for three weeks when I walked into your office and I said, "I work here now, I don't have anything to do. Do you have anything I could do?" [laughter]

[Dan:] I remember that.

[Chrissy:] You were the first person who gave me work to do all those years ago.

[Dan:] We have worked closely from that point forward. From that day, we had an immediate connection. We’ve had a journey that led us to all sorts of different twists and turns.

2. I've heard you both say that respect is a fundamental aspect of your leadership. How did you come to that?

[Dan:] My wife and I will often talk about how we were raised. We were both youngest in our family. When you're the youngest, you view the landscape differently than if you're the oldest. Where you are Chrissy?

[Chrissy:] I'm oldest of course. [laughter]

[Dan:] We joke about being raised by wolves because we didn’t get much direction. We had to choose our own pathway, create our own value system. I have a tendency to appreciate people differently. With humble beginnings, you're not necessarily viewed as important. I’ve had that feeling where somebody looks through you. I’ve thought, “I never want someone to have that feeling because of me.” So I go out of my way to make sure that I convey respect. I want to be a listener for people.

That is what I value in Chrissy—she sees the value of relationships. Chrissy, you don't look through people. You look at them, you look into them, and you listen. Your legacy is how you treat people, how you make them feel, and people reach out to that. That is a unique characteristic that is really important. I hope that I share that quality. We share our commitment to the organization, to the employees, to the faculty, and to the patients and treating people with mutual respect.

[Chrissy:] I always joke that I learned how to do my customer service job (which I never thought I would be doing) by growing up in a little town. When you grow up in a small town you know everyone, every job is important, every person is important. It was hard to move to Salt Lake. It felt scary and I wanted that connection. I remember saying, "This hospital's just like a small town. This is our small town." When I started, there were only 4,000 employees here. It seemed normal to me to know everyone. I remember walking down the hall with Christine, and saying "hi" to people and she said, "How do you know all these people?" You know everyone because that's just what you do.

"This hospital's just like a small town. This is our small town."

Dan, the thing you taught me is that results cannot be achieved at the expense of relationships. There aren’t many people at your level who absolutely live by that principle. You gave me that discipline early in my career. I've seen you do it with all of us who reported to you. You don't go get the results at the expense of a colleague, an employee or a peer. You disciplined us to understand that there aren't shortcuts—you follow the process, you get input, you listen to concerns. If people are opposed to something, you value that opposition and have patience. You taught us how to be okay with the fact that things would take time but once we got there they would work.

I see that value of treating others with respect not only happening with you, but with the entire team that you've had for all these years. And now I see that with all the people that they lead. It was mentored and nurtured and valued by you. I don't think I would have been able to do what I do if I had been led by someone different.

[Dan:] Another value that I think we share is loyalty. Building the West Pavilion and the Eccles Critical Care Pavilion, you worked with hundreds and hundreds of people in [these projects]. You took the time to get to know what people were doing and what it meant to the project. That resulted in a lot of people being really loyal to you, you acknowledged and respected them. When you came back and said, "I need a favor,” there was no hesitation. People just said "Absolutely. Whatever you need, Chrissy." Because you took that time to be able to develop those relationships, the result was just phenomenal.

I also believe that we've been extremely loyal to each other. No matter where we've converged or diverted in a sense of our careers and who we reported to, we've always had loyalty and we've always been loyal to each other.

[Chrissy:] You taught me that trust is the most important achievement you can have as a leader. People aren't always going to agree with you. Some days you look good, some days you look bad. But what you always wanted above everything was to be trustworthy and to have earned trust. I think of all those staff meetings where we talked much more about the big picture, how people were feeling. You spent an enormous amount of time talking about people's worries. You would be as transparent as you possibly could. Bad things are going to happen but let's not just surprise each other. Let's work on them together.

Those who don't report to Dan don't know that he comes to work at 6:00 in the morning. That hour between 6:00 to 7:00 is when people know that they can meet with you. You always wanted the heads up and you were never going to get upset about it. You just wanted us to bring problems to you. You didn't take them over but you would help us learn how to sort things out, tackle tough problems, be a sounding board. You didn't fix things for us. I cannot count how many of those early meetings I've had with you in my career.

[Dan:] We're a team. I can tell you that your leaving is going to be tough. It’s going to be hard for me personally. The impact that you've had within the organization has been profound. You have always had your eye out for individuals that were going to be leaders. I can’t remember how many times you would say, "You know Dan, you need to look at this person and believe in them and just get to know them." Then inevitably, in the next six months to a year, that person would be in a leadership position. You see things in people early in their career. There are actually countless individuals who you have said, "This individual can make a difference in the organization." And that's been true.

3. Dan what is the one thing that you'd want Chrissy to know? And Chrissy what's the one thing you want Dan to know?

[Dan:] Well, that's a hard one. Over the years, we've exchanged a lot about how we feel about each other. We could talk about how deep our relationship is. I mean you can talk about love and respect in different ways. On a personal level, it has been great to get to know Scott and see Harry grow up. I think those personal connections are probably the most meaningful. I guess I would just say thanks for letting me into your life, to understand who you are—not only at work, but spending the time with you outside the work. I just want to thank you for that. Thank you for opening up your heart and your home.

[Chrissy:] Dan, the best of University Health Care, you lead that—you are that. Loyal, connected, committed, caring. You, from that first day, invested in me. And then gave me so many chances. You've always watched out for me. I think you have brought out the best in me. And so if I'm any of those things you say, it's because you nurtured the best in me and valued it. So thanks.

[Dan:] Thank you. We'll miss you.

 

Contributors

Chrissy Daniels

Former Director of Strategic Initiatives, University of Utah Health

Dan Lundergan

Chief Operating Officer, University of Utah Health

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