The Importance of Knowing Thyself

Chief of Staff describes what she has learned in her quest to understand herself better

Beri Ridgeway MD

Cleveland Clinic Chief of Staff Beri Ridgeway, MD, jokes that she could write a book about her mistakes. Those mistakes, however, have informed her understanding of her own choices and leadership style.

“To be an effective leader, one really has to know herself,” says Dr. Ridgeway. Extending grace to herself during this process has allowed her to extend it to others.

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Dr. Ridgeway joined Cleveland Clinic in 2009. She has served as Associate Chief of Staff, Institute Chair of the Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Women’s Health Institute and was the inaugural academic chair for the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology. She assumed the role of Chief of Staff in January 2021.

In the podcast series “Beyond Leadership: At the Intersection of Leadership and Everything else,” Dr. Ridgeway tells Brian Bolwell, MD, about the work she has done on her leadership path.

Podcast excerpt

Dr. Bolwell: I frequently talk about my own views of leadership, which fall into three categories. The first one is that it’s not about you, it’s about your team. It’s about developing people. It’s about supporting them. That’s something that you have done consistently along your own leadership journey.

The second piece for me is that of self-reflection and being honest with yourself when you make mistakes and trying to improve, and actually be willing to change, and hopefully to live your values and have the courage to do that and have the courage to be vulnerable. Can you share some of that part of leadership with us, how self-reflection becomes part of your leadership DNA?

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Dr. Ridgeway: I think leadership is a journey. To be an effective leader, one really has to know herself. And understand why, when someone says something that annoys you, you want to react in a specific way. And that takes a lot of self-reflection and a lot of thinking, and a lot of work. This could be with a coach, with a counselor, with a therapist, with a mentor. But it doesn’t just happen spontaneously. It is about really trying to understand yourself and trying to continually work on yourself, being curious about yourself, and then trying to get better.

Interestingly, you would think that thinking and working on yourself would just make you feel worse about yourself. But it actually is freeing, in that you know why you are the way you are. And also you can start to really clue in on your triggers, which can help you be a better leader.

Dr. Bolwell: One of the keys to this is that if you want to improve, you have to be willing to change. Change is obviously very difficult. It’s very difficult for teams, for organizations, and it’s very difficult for individuals. But if you want to get better, you’ve actually got to change your behaviors. You’ve got to change how you act. You’ve got to change what you do. How have you tackled that?

Dr. Ridgeway: I can’t really speak to a process, to be honest, but I’ll give an example.

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One thing that I’ve worked on actually during a maternity leave with my third child was about empathy. In certain situations, I really wasn’t that empathetic and forgiving, and that came up in a leadership course. For me, that was really very hard to hear. When you’re working so hard every single day, and hear that, it really hurts, frankly. But in the work that I did, I was able to understand so much better.

And you would not think that empathy is teachable, like you’re born with it or not. I actually don’t think that’s the case. But in the work that I did, I really started to understand myself so much better. And in that, it provided grace with myself. And in doing that, it allowed me to do it with others, which is not how I expected things to happen.