Sarah Sinclair stands at the top of an escalator at Cleveland Browns Stadium, shaking hand after hand, greeting each person with a warm smile and a “Thank you for coming!” that has a touch of a Southern accent.
The bright blue scarf around her neck catches your eye, but it’s only when you look closely that you notice the pattern of small squares, instantly identifiable as the Cleveland Clinic logo. She serves as executive chief nursing officer of the Clinic’s Stanley Shalom Zielony Institute for Nursing Excellence, which is responsible for standardizing care among the health system’s 11,000 registered nurses.
As she shakes hands, Sinclair appears pleased with the massive hiring event that was her brainchild. Faced with 600 openings for nurses throughout the health system, she wanted to get it done all at once. That led to the first hiring event, where a two-week process was condensed into three days. Some 1,500 interviews were conducted, and 450 prospects got job offers the same day.
» Nursing is about passion and purpose. Every nurse has to have that, and they have to want to make a difference.
» I’ll tell you why I got my MBA instead of a master’s in nursing. I learned early on that to get the resources you needed, you had to be able to talk a financial language.
» I made a commitment that the way to make a bigger difference was for me to be an advocate and the strategy maker for nurses and patients.
» If we don’t create the environment for women to excel, men are never going to do it.
» Understand that people’s differences are our strengths.
“After doing this all these years, you see whom you’d like to hire when they come up the steps,” Sinclair says. “But it’s not me doing the hiring. It’s the managers and the directors at the unit level, so I have to step back and let them do it.”
That sums up the management style that has brought Sinclair success, as well as compliments from colleagues she has worked with since joining the Clinic in 2009. “She doesn’t micromanage,” says Deborah Small, vice president for patient care services and chief nursing officer at Fairview Hospital. “She wants it short, sweet, give-me-the-point, let’s-make-a-decision. She’s made me better at that.”
Sinclair hired her away from another hospital after meeting her at a reception, even though Small wasn’t looking for a job. That type of personal recruitment is one of the ways Sinclair has built her leadership team.
Longtime employees have noticed the difference with Sinclair at the helm, too. Jeanine Nemecek, a nurse manager in orthopedics, has been at Cleveland Clinic’s Euclid Hospital for 20 years and has worked closely with Sinclair on the three-day recruiting event.
“Sarah has been instrumental in really giving nursing a voice in the Cleveland Clinic system,” she says, adding that Sinclair has streamlined care throughout the system.
Consider, for example, one of Nemecek’s initial meetings with Sinclair, who asked two questions: “Do you have enough nurses?” and “What are you doing for your nurses?”
It’s a style that Sinclair describes as “leadership with heart.” She says it’s one of the most critical components of transformational leadership, which enhances motivation and morale as well as performance. “You have to have the process that takes you from the start to the finish of what you’re trying to accomplish and measure it,” Sinclair says.
The other key elements of a strong leader are passion, executive presence, emotional intelligence and the willingness to take risks, she says. Sinclair eyes the activity in the stadium. “This was a huge risk,” she says.
It doesn’t look that way today. The place is positively buzzing. Nurses who have registered are interviewing with specific hospitals and departments. Walk-ins are guided to a bank of computers where they must complete a pre-hire assessment. Those who pass go to the next interview level. Those who make it all the way through the interview process complete a pre-employment physical and drug screening. The event is just one of Sinclair’s many ideas focused on the patient.
“I’m not a particularly patient person when it has to do with patient care,” she says. “I want to make sure we’ve got the right people.”
She co-chairs a physician and nurse collaboration program at the Clinic and is working on a simulation program to examine the dynamics among nurses, doctors and other health care professionals.
Sinclair, who came to Cleveland from Texas, says that in the past she has stayed with a health system for just five or six years, enough time to make a difference and move on. But she’d like to stay in Cleveland longer.
One perk of her job here is having her three grandchildren relatively close by — in Columbus. Even before leaving Texas, she had a condo near them and spent four-day weekends with them every six weeks. When a recruiter called her about the Clinic job, she saw the opportunity as ideal.
As for her current position, she sees herself as a change agent. “I like taking things that are either completely broken and fixing them or don’t exist at all and creating them or moving something from where it is to an even greater place,” she says.