My Mentor, My Friend: Carolyn

My mentor, Carolyn Crowder is responsible for igniting a flame in me that really wasn’t there before within me. I was hired as a temporary board secretary for the Norton Sound Health Corporation when I was 26. Carolyn was on a much deserved sabbatical when I was hired.

Upon her return and leading up to her return, I had no real concern one way or the other about what she might or might not think about me. Not because I was arrogant. Because I simply had no passion for anything of substance at that point in my life – and being a temp hire was just that in my mind.

That all changed quickly when I met her.

The thing about Carolyn is she cares about me. I was caught off guard that she took the time to stop and visit with me. She wasn’t being what I had always experienced up until that point, a typical supervisor. Admittedly, I was skeptical.

But, still I was a temp, so I didn’t obsess about what this weird dynamic meant too extensively. ( Besides the fact that I am reminiscing about it 20+ years later! haha).

There had been one board meeting that I “cut my teeth” on while she was on sabbatical. After her return, we came upon the time of another board meeting. Thankfully, I had some center of gravity about what was expected of me.

All I knew was that there was a lot of information.

I did not know anything of substance, but I knew how to identify the topics. I could only wrap my head around it all because of my need to organize, compartmentalize, and anticipate what may be needed by the board and Carolyn during the meeting.

Luckily, I had the responsibility of compiling the board meeting agenda, so that gave me a template of what information I should have handy and available in the event someone wanted a source document relating to an agenda item.

During the meeting, Chairman Larry Ivanoff asked for a source document. I immediately handed him the file.

I remember him saying to me in front of the entire board, “I should make you my secretary”! Carolyn responded, “She is your secretary”!

It was awesome. I felt so elated. We were all cracking up and for the first time in my adult life, I felt a part of something. I was included and appreciated. It was crazy. Crazy good.

This was during the time before the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium was officially created. She brought me in, trusted me, expressed to me the importance of different things going on statewide and nationally – she never rode me, micro-managed me – and I knew if it was important to her, it was important to me. She asked my opinion of what I thought – which blew my mind. But, by then I was already hook, line, and sinker in love with the Alaska Native Health System.

On a personal level, what made me blossom with her, is that she was almost entertained with my crass and blunt assessments in response to her asking me what I thought.

This is not to say, I did not falter. And that leads me to what I also love about her. She did not coddle me. I always knew she cared about me. But when I screwed up, I was held accountable.

Being held accountable is not an action of withholding or removing love or respect. I learned this from Carolyn. She never explained it. But in her actions, she always carried her loving way while holding me accountable and I learned that accountability is my responsibility.

I can tell a million stories of why I love, adore, and am so lucky to have Carolyn in my life. I’ll just start here, for now, with this part.

Published by Trudy Sobocienski

My blog, "Beyond Leadership" is a creative place to share my personal feelings and thoughts while working in leadership roles for a variety of Alaska Native organizations, both for and not-for profit entities. An incredible leader and mentor of mine once asked while we were in Washington, DC, "What happened to you between the ages of 7-10 that motivated you to serve in a native leadership capacity". I was struck by that poignant thought and as such, include actual entries from my mother and my diaries beginning in the early 1970's. I enjoy sharing these excerpts because it captures the parallels she and I were experiencing throughout life, from two separate worldviews. Hers as a young mother of four and mine as her eldest child. I have never came across a book on leadership that lays bare a leaders personal feelings, thoughts, hopes, fears and dreams they were experiencing. So for me, my goal is two-fold: 1. Share the incredible life my parents created for my siblings and I growing up in remote Alaska; and, 2) Sharing my humanity, through my personal diaries and journals, while serving as the youngest-ever President/CEO for the Alaska Native Health Board. There are passages that will include significant policy issues I was working on throughout my career and travels. There are many more passages that do not. I cannot speak for my mom's passages, because I am reading them as I share them here, with you; with her permission of course.

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