Angela Dunn, Utah COVID Expert, on Leadership and Communication

As a former Utah epidemiologist, Dr. Angela Dunn, 40, found herself leading public information on the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

While many raved about his concise and jargon-free press briefings (Governor Spencer Cox wore an “I (Heart) Dr. Dunn” t-shirt during his last press briefing), Dunn also faced many opponents and even threats. But through it all, she continued to focus on information rather than politics.

In her new role as Executive Director of the Salt Lake County Health Department, she reflects on what she’s learned about communication, leadership, and bringing people together, especially when it’s difficult.

As said to Benoît Morenne

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

When I was young my dad berated me when I ended a question with that kind of uplift where you end every statement like you’re asking a question. My parents favored clear communication. I had to say “Dunn’s residence, Angela was talking” every time I answered the phone. It was probably the beginning of my understanding that the more clearly you can get what you want, the more it puts you on the right track. After entering the medical field, I learned to break down very complex ideas into simple terms so that my individual patients could understand them.

I have weaknesses, of course. One of the key attributes of a true leader is understanding their own weaknesses and gaps, and then filling their leadership team with people who fill their own gaps and weaknesses. It takes a lot of humility for a leader to say, “Yes, I’m the executive director. But you know what? I’m not great. As leaders, we should never seek out people who only blow our feathers. We need to look for people who are open enough to disagree with us in a respectful way.

I appreciate a true team approach where everyone’s contribution is sought and valued, no matter where they fit into the organization – from front desk staff to the assistant manager. To truly serve the community the way we want it to be, it’s important that all team members have a voice in how this will happen. If you want an organization that thrives on innovation, loyalty and consistency, you have to make sure that everyone is proud of the way the organization is evolving.

“Leadership” is not a job title. Leadership is how you present yourself and act within your own circles. The best thing we can do in these difficult times is to relax our judgment, listen to those around us, and try to understand their needs and what they are saying. If we are to be a unifying force within our own social networks, someone will have to stand up and say, “Let’s see where they come from. It could go a long way.

This story appears in the December / January issue of Déseret Magazine. Learn more about how to subscribe.

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