With a singular focus on the impact of leadership styles on team performance, Erika Dudley, BSN, director of Transplant Services at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, has emerged as a leader in the organ transplantation community. And she has a thriving consulting business that provides personal coaching and leadership training. She recently presented at a Leadership Experience Tour seminar which had 550 in-person and 3,500 virtual attendees.
But it wasn’t always that way.
Erika candidly recounts that early in her career she had a transformative experience when a manager helped her channel her potential to lead and effect change. “She was able to separate how I behaved as an employee and really was able to dig deep and to find the hidden gifts that were in me and helped me channel them,” she says. “And so, I spend a lot of time to dig in deep with my staff, to have grace for them. Grace works and it always wins. So that’s how I lead. I lead with grace.”
Dudley says she uses aspects of her identity as a woman of color in her work as a mentor. “If I’m mentoring a woman or someone of color, then I’m able to share some of my experiences so they can navigate through the waters of leadership and politics,” she says. “I am trying to help them find their place and just really make sure that they’re leading with their authentic self.” She adds, “When I go to different conferences and I look around the room, there’s not a lot of people who look like me in leadership there. But I just look at it from a leadership perspective and also from a woman in leadership perspective and marry the two.”
Dudley works to encourage organ donation among communities of color. She’s on the board of directors for MOTTEP (Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program) at Gift of Life Michigan. “We’ve hosted dialogue circles in African American, Arabic and Latinx communities. We pull people together and we talk about the truths and the myths of organ donation. It’s really about how do we collectively come to the table and how do the hospitals and organ donation organizations really show that they care about the community?”
A practice of setting daily intentions each morning and reflecting on them in the evening resulted in her first book, A Leader’s Guide to Transformation through Intention & Reflection. “I really thought that I was just writing the book for me but because I was asked for advice and to be a mentor the book came about.”
Dudley also emphasized the importance of active listening and being in the moment in her leadership style. “I lead from that the first principle is being in the moment and practicing presence. I always ask my team members, ‘what are your expectations of me as your leader?’ People don’t want you to solve all of their problems. They just want to know that you’re there and that you’re actively listening to them.”
She had led teams with as many as 120 staff members; her current team numbers about two dozen.
Her path to leadership in the organ transplantation community began when she was as a neurosurgical ICU nurse. “I would see that side of transplant, the pre-procurement side, because in neuro ICU you see quite a lot of brain death. But my role as the nurse in the ICU stopped when we took the patient for procurement.” She then ran into an old friend who suggested she look at opportunities at the University of Michigan Transplant Center. She ended up spending five years as a nurse manager and clinical nursing director there. “I love transplant and being able to be involved in people leaving a legacy from the perspective that giving the gift of life is such a phenomenal thing.”
“When Miss Welch, my third-grade teacher, asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said a nurse,” says Dudley. “My mom was a nurse and I was always taking care of animals and people when I was growing up.”
Her relationship with The Alliance began a few years ago when a colleague suggested she get involved. She serves as a faculty member for The Alliance Innovation Advancement Series and is currently a member of The Alliance National Transplant Leadership Council. “In that group, we are taking a look at leadership within our transplant departments and talking about ways to get other senior leaders to buy into transplantation,” she says. “Being a part of that conversation and networking to get ideas from other leaders is certainly helpful.”
Erika lives with her young son and Maxwell, her five-year-old standard poodle, in Farmington Hills, MI.