Marshaun Butler, 40, is vice president of Children’s Mercy South and Regional Medical Practices. Last year Butler won the Athena award for young professional leadership from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, a recognition of her extensive volunteer work in the community. This conversation took place at the hospital:
You are young to have such a high-powered job. What were the critical turning points in your career that got you to your current position?
I can think of two. The first one was my internship. I started my career as an intern with Health Midwest, which is now HCA, for four summers. And I think that internship was key.
How did you turn an internship into the basis for a directorship?
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I got the internship through a program in Kansas City called Inroads, and that was the expectation. They taught leadership, professional development, how to dress for success and how to interview. So I tried to apply all those lessons and build on what I learned each year, because the goal was to get a full-time job with the sponsoring company at graduation, and I did.
What was the second turning point?
When given the opportunity to move from middle management to director, I had the courage to accept it.
That’s a good point. It’s great to have the title, but the responsibility can be scary. How did you overcome your fear?
I was still in my 20s, so there was a lot of fear. I called what I call my “board of directors” — my closest friends and colleagues who had known me over the years, and I said: “Help me prepare for this job. You are my board — what do you think I need to work on?” And to Children’s Mercy I presented myself with confidence but also willingness to adapt to their culture.
Had you been aiming for a director job?
What I did, and I think this is a key distinction, is not to focus on the next step but to focus on trying to get more responsibility, work on more projects and learn more, to build your tool box. That way, when an opportunity comes around, you are prepared.
When you were young, did you have an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to be a leader?
I was the first African-American homecoming queen at O’Hara High School, and I was seen as a role model. That was a chance to lead and break barriers and set an example for others. It also showed me you can do something if you put your mind to it that didn’t seem doable at first.
What is your best advice for other young women who aspire to director roles?
Lead by example. You can aspire to many things, but the only way others will follow you is if you lead by example. Work hard, be positive, be transparent. That creates trust.
The list of volunteer work you do, and boards and committees you serve on, is longer than your resume. How do you find time for so much community service on top of your job?
The driver for me is my grandmother and my mother always being strong leaders in the church, at home and in the community. Having those women as examples makes me seek out opportunities in the community, not necessarily to lead but to serve. It just comes naturally, wanting to help people better their lives. If you look at the organizations I volunteer with, they are safety net providers or in some way helping underserved people.
Your eyes light up when you talk about volunteering. So you don’t lament that you can never get a free evening without a committee meeting or a board meeting?
No, I enjoy it. I can’t imagine not doing it.