Mansue’s advice: Be authentic and true to yourself

It was a single decision some 30 years ago that Amy Mansue credits to changing the course of her life.

“Everything that’s happened, for my entire life, has happened because of that experience,” Mansue said.

A decision almost everyone can relate to.

Mansue decided to not follow in her father’s footsteps and attend the University of Mississippi, and instead headed to The University of Alabama.

And on that campus one thing sure stood out: Diversity.

And it wasn’t a simple definition of diversity. The diversity she spoke about is one where she was first witness to its unbeknownst layers.

“There was diversity of color, diversity of thought, diversity of speech,” she said. “I didn’t understand anything (anyone) said for the first six months. There was diversity of practice. How people got along. … It taught civility in a way that I didn’t understand (before).

“It also taught a level of pain – that a state still suffering from all the discrimination and segregation that occurred. It was still palpable those 20 years later. And it taught me again about when you don’t ever really heal in a way that’s honest. How you carry stuff with you. And that has been an important lesson I hold on.”

Mansue, president, southern region of RWJBarnabas Health, spoke at Executive Women of New Jersey’s “Breakfast with the CEO” event last week at Marketsmith Inc., in Cedar Knolls.

The members-only event features conversations with some of the most prominent and influential corporate women leaders in New Jersey.

As Mansue recollected her career, there were three main life lessons evident in her rise to the top.

The first was building partnerships with people in power and earning their trust.

The second?

Learning cash flow.

She reflected on losing HIPNJ, a nonprofit insurance HMO where she was given the opportunity to run it for a year.

“A 50-year-old company was gone in 12 months,” Mansue said.

All because of a lack of funds.

“You have to know how to read a spreadsheet and you better understand where cash comes from because it can be gone just like that,” she told the audience. “And no matter how good you are and no matter how loyal people are, nobody cares if you can’t pay your bills.

“So, understanding that, was a critical, difficult lesson.”

The third?

Celebrating the successes and not allowing personal issues to affect your overall well-being.

“The biggest lesson I learned is that if I only dealt with my inner demons at 20 instead of 45, I would of saved so much time on my life,” she said. “It would’ve been such a different model. So, the notion that you can fake it till you make it and move forward and nobody sees it – you’re not being authentic.”

And it’s going to show up, she said.

“You’re either going to get sick, or (be) in a job you don’t want to be in or a relationship you don’t want to be in, or personal relationships that are just not (good for you),” Mansue said.

The lessons all sum up into one big picture, Mansue said.

How to be authentic.

“So, I like to wear high heels,” she said. “I’d rather wear a dress than pants. I’m going to be a girl. It’s OK. You don’t have to be, but for me it’s who I want to be and it’s who I want you to see in me.”

It’s all part of being honest.

“I need to be direct,” she said. “I need to tell you because I want to have that kind of relationship with you. I want you to tell me if I have broccoli in my teeth and, in reverse, I’m going to ask that when I give you advice or counsel you know it only comes from one spot – which is my authentic self and my heart.”

And authenticity is why, Mansue said, given the opportunity to work at Children’s Specialized Hospital was a gift.

Although the start of it was an awkward obstacle.

The president of RWJ at the time, called her and said Children’s Specialized lost its CEO after he’d taken the organization through new visions after only being CEO about a year and a half.

“(He) said there’s a big hotshot search firm out of Philly doing this search,” Mansue said. “He said, ‘You are not going to get this job. They want somebody who’s run a children’s hospital before, but I’m going to put you in front of them, do not screw this up. That’ll give you an opportunity to go get other leads.’

“And I said. ‘OK.’ ”

The interview with the search consultant, Mansue said, was terribly uncomfortable.

But she persisted.

“I’m going to be in that Top 5, just to make sure you know you were wrong for writing me off,” she said. “So, I did what I learned how to do.”

She counted her votes. She started a mission.

She said she found out who was on the search committee and who was connected to them.

The best part?

The mission at first wasn’t to get the job, it was to make sure the search consultant was wrong. But in that process, she said she fell in love with the organization and its people.

Which made it even more complicated.

“It came down to three of us,” she said “Two people who were running children’s hospitals and had experience, and me.

“During interviews with the staff – this was a company in mourning; they had lost their CEO – those two other people were talking about all the things that were wrong and all the places they wanted to turn around.

“I just walked in and said, ‘You know what? You’ve got a great team here. You just spent two years creating a strategic plan and a vision. I don’t know what you do on a day-to-day basis, but I know I can help you implement this and we’re going to move forward.’

“And the staff went back to the board and they said ‘We want her. We want her because A) she doesn’t know that much so she won’t hurt us, and B) she gets us. She understands,’ ” Mansue said.

Being her true self, Mansue said, gave her the privilege to work at Children’s Specialized hospital for 13 years. She said during her time there, she helped grow the hospitals four locations to 11, from serving 5,000 kids a year to 28,000, and expanded the number of practitioners serving kids with special needs two-fold.

But, according to Mansue, success isn’t measured in numbers or figures, or the amount of money you make.

Mansue said it’s impossible to do it all. The notion of being the perfect wife, daughter, leader in the community, politician and more isn’t realistic.

“You need to ask for help and create a support system around you that will help you do those things,” she said. “And forgive yourself, a lot.

“I wish I could remember the things I succeeded on, because the things I failed at, I carry with me to sleep every night and they get in the way.

“If you don’t figure out how to let them go, no matter what your title is, no matter how fancy your shoes are, it doesn’t matter.”

Letting it go, she said, means everything.

“Give yourself a break,” she said. “We all are trying to do our very, very best. And some days we get there and some days we don’t. But with the help of God or whomever you believe in, and giving yourself some slack, you can get there.

“And you can find a place to become comfortable with your authentic self.”

And that, she said, is the real definition of success.­