How To Succeed When You’ve Never Done The Job Before


Leading the third-largest COVID testing lab in the United States amid a pandemic, was not something Dr. Jon Cohen learned how to do in medical school. His career in healthcare administration and politics didn’t fully prepare him for this experience either. As Executive Chairman of BioReference Lab, Cohen had to apply a critical skill he adopted early on in his career, namely self-directed learning.

Self-directed learning, the ability to identify your learning needs, formulate learning goals, identify the resources needed to learn, and develop a plan to actualize the learning, can be a differentiating factor leading to success. Cohen is no stranger to adopting this critical learned skill. He’s routinely been put in situations in his career where he had to adapt and learn quickly.

Jon Cohen, MD is the Executive Chairman of BioRefernece Lab, the third-largest COVID-19 testing laboratory in the country.
Jon Cohen, MD is the Executive Chairman of BioRefernece Lab, the third-largest COVID-19 testing … [+] COURTESY OF BIOREFERENCE LABORATORIES

Cohen led an eclectic career. He was Chair of Surgery at a major medical center by the age of 40, executive director of the hospital, and then Chief Medical Officer of the health system. He was a healthcare advisor for presidential candidate John Kerry, ran for Lieutenant Governor of New York on healthcare reform and ultimately became senior advisor for New York State Governor David Paterson, responsible for all policy and strategy. From there, he served as a senior executive for Quest Diagnostics before his current role leading BioReference Lab. 

Cohen’s career transcended academia, politics, and the scientific industry. From each experience, he learned new skills and connected with more people. Each role informed the next, and each opportunity would not have been possible without his previous learned experiences.

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By Cohen’s admission, developing high emotional intelligence was critical to his success. He needed to routinely manage people and tensions and didn’t shy away from surrounding himself with top advisors who were motivated to succeed. He read a great deal on every imaginable topic and sought counsel from his advisors. He was always learning, even, and especially, as Executive Chairman.

During our chat, Cohen identified seven competencies which he feels helped him succeed in his career: 

Develop your interpersonal skills

Learning to engage with others, manage tensions, and reading the room is critical for mitigating challenges before they occur. 

Take calculated risks

You cannot be afraid of trying something new. Have confidence that you can learn the skills that are needed to do the job. Continuously seek challenges that will help you learn and grow.

Be a lifelong learner

Read and learn about varying topics. You’d be surprised at how things are connected, related, and adaptable to multiple situations.

Being nice makes a difference

Being not nice is a career killer you’ll never even know hit you. It only takes one person to remember your bad attitude and you are finished. They’ll bring it up in a meeting and you won’t even know it happened.

What goes around comes around

When he least expected it, the number of people Cohen interacted with and treated well, proved helpful. It’s a deep network of well-formed relationships he developed over time. It was that network that led him to work with Kerry and his role at Quest.

Staying in touch and maintaining relationships 

Cohen reaches out to his network once a quarter just to stay in touch. He makes a point of sitting and scrolling through his contact list. He knows it is important to stay on people’s radar.

Be optimistic

The pandemic has proven that there are many bad days. Leaders cannot be pessimistic. Focus on the opportunity, however difficult it may be to find.

If you are looking to advance in your career, you will have no choice but to tackle the responsibilities you’ve never faced before. The current pandemic has proven that a crisis can occur at any time, and without warning. It is critical to have the self-efficacy and curiosity to tackle it head-on. Surround yourself with knowledgeable people, listen to their guidance, and participate in self-directed learning. Every new concept you learn is a critical step forward.

Click here for original post on Forbes