Competent, trusted, straightforward, hands-on, and positive.
These are the words that many use to describe Vera Sansone, President & CEO of CPC Behavioral Healthcare. Her staff and colleagues will agree, you will find Vera “leading” yet also, “doing”. This reputation has bolstered her success in leading one of New Jersey’s largest behavioral healthcare nonprofits--a designated CCBHC, (Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic) which serves over 12,000 clients a year, with a focus on integrated care for physical health, mental health, substance use treatment, and specialized education.
Vera says the concept of being a “servant-leader” has been a part of her leadership style for decades. “As a woman in a leadership position, the best advice I can give to rising female leaders is to always treat others the way you would expect to be treated yourself, and to lead with trust.” Vera is a big believer in “showing people that you are not asking them to do anything that you haven't or wouldn't do yourself, and by doing those very things alongside your team.” She reflects on the importance of, “striving to understand, using empathy, and pitching in when someone is struggling."
When asked if she has any words of wisdom or tips for rising leaders, Vera promptly rattles off a few anecdotes: “Stop trying to be perfect; stop excessively saying you are sorry; strive to understand; give others room to shine; empathize; show up, and never stop asking for help when you need it."
In thinking about female mentors and those in her career that have inspired her, Vera will tell you that she has been fortunate to have had several amazing mentors, but she immediately and fondly recalls her first supervisor in the field, Linda Breslin. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about something she did or said that challenged and/or inspired me. She had high expectations, was tough as nails, and with no fanfare---she was simple and practical, but at the same time, a visionary. Yet, having said all of this, she was empathetic and non-judgmental as perhaps any human can be. I never wanted to let her down.” Vera recalls a story which seems to have shaped her own leadership style. “Linda was influential in planning NYC's behavioral health system, yet I can remember a time finding her washing windows on our inpatient unit because staff were busy taking care of patients. This is the kind of person she was. Her favorite expression was, ‘Virtue is its own reward’ and that is how she lived her life. I am eternally grateful to have had her in my life.”
In considering what makes someone an excellent leader, Vera reflects,
“The most important leadership qualities are really the same qualities as those that make someone a good person. Being unselfish, encouraging diversity of thought, learning from mistakes, and acknowledging that you did without blaming others, holding staff accountable--but also doing the same for yourself, be a lifelong learner, and encourage others to leave their comfort zone in order to grow. I believe in encouraging others to shine and making sure they get credit when they do. Also, learning when to step up, and when to step back, and knowing your limits. Making tough decisions and knowing when to change course. Having a balanced life outside of your job too.”
As the conversation comes to a close, Vera adds one more bit of advice for emerging leaders and concludes with a smile, “always have a really healthy sense of humor, and never think you are done.”
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