Exceptional Leadership in the Face of Hardship

December 19, 2016    |  

Photo of John McDanielThroughout his career, John McDaniel always has gone the extra mile to show that he cares.  Before joining the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) he worked in Middle River, Md., as an assistant manager for a pharmacy.  As a show of appreciation for the pharmaceutical staff, he arranged a parking-lot cookout - and paid for the grill and hamburgers himself.

In 2008, he brought the same generous spirit to UMSOD, when he joined its staff as a prep dispense supervisor in the Central Sterilization (CS) and Central Materials Management Systems (CMS) department. His co-workers describe his leadership skills and dedication to mentorship as among his greatest strengths. “John has always believed that the highest calling of leadership is the growth and development of people,” said Bridget Johnson-Ingram, CMS coordinator.

A former Navy officer, McDaniel drew upon those qualities in recent months when two CS and CMS colleagues passed away.

On January 16, Jerome Hillard – who had worked for more than 30 years in the UMSOD laboratories and clinical simulation units died. Hillard was a great friend to both McDaniel and McDaniel’s son, a music performance major at Temple University. The three men frequently attended local jazz concerts together. “He got the bug for jazz from us,” McDaniel said, jokingly. “Every time there was a jazz concert in town, Jerome would ask whether we got tickets.”

On March 31, while still mourning the death of Hillard, McDaniel learned more tragic news:  Sandy Allen, administrative director for CS and CMS, passed away.  Allen had been a great influence on McDaniel, encouraging him to go back to school to get his MBA. But while dealing with his own grief, McDaniel recognized that the entire CS and CMS department had lost a beloved leader.

“Sandy had been with the department since it was formed 20 years ago; a lot of co-workers had the pleasure of working with her,” he said. “She was like a mother to them.”

McDaniel was tasked with filling in as administrative director. On the day he learned of Allen’s death, he also stood before 34 shocked colleagues and tried to be supportive as they grieved. “I allowed everybody to let their emotions go. It felt like hours, but it was probably 20 minutes,” he said.

Stepping up when needed is not new to McDaniel, who served in the Navy for 20 years, working on several battleships including the U.S.S. Iowa, New Jersey, Wisconsin, and Enterprise. After delivering the sad news to the staff, McDaniel recalled, the “military part of me kicked in.”

“I looked around and saw the machines running, and realized that as much as I would like everybody to go home, the clinic had to run, so I worked with the employees to get them to perform the tasks they needed to do on an everyday basis to keep it running.”

The UMSOD clinics serve more than 25,000 patients annually, and without CS and CMS - or with any disruption in these areas - patient treatment would not be possible. McDaniel’s department is responsible for ensuring that sterile packs, infection control products, dental materials, supplies, and instruments are available whenever the clinics are open.

Although McDaniel’s military background has served him well when keeping the department organized, he likens himself to a coach who provides constructive criticism, while looking for opportunities to praise.

That approach has helped raise the morale of the CS and CMS departments in recent months. “John has never lost sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success is how you treat people,” said Johnson-Ingram.

In August, UMSOD made McDaniel’s promotion to administrative director official. Last summer, he also received his master’s degree in science healthcare administration and a master’s degree in business administration from University of Maryland University College, thanks in large part to the encouragement of Allen and McDaniel’s wife, Allana.

As if needed, further proof of McDaniel’s effectiveness came Sept. 29 – 30 during UMSOD’s Mission of Mercy program when the CS and CMS team’s management and sterilization of dental equipment allowed school volunteers to provide more than a half-million dollars of dental care to more than 700 underserved patients.

These days, after the challenge of running the department and providing support for the Mission of Mercy, McDaniel finally has time to reflect upon the past year. “I never got a chance to grieve, because I had to be that person to lead the department, so a lot of the things I was feeling I had to keep inside,” he said. “It feels good now to be able to finally let that out.”