Willis Tisdale is a small-town South Carolinian—which is why he likes working at Shriners Hospitals for Children—Greenville. It’s a small hospital and workplace, but also a caring and important one. People know one another and are sensitive to personal dynamics and relationships in a way that’s comfortable for the longtime human resources professional.
“I had 54 people in my graduating class in high school, and I had 300 in my college class at The Citadel,” Tisdale explains. “I'm used to small. I had a big family, but everything else in my life is small. I like the size of our hospital, the culture and mission we have here.”
But while Tisdale might be comfortable with being on a first-name basis with the employees at the Greenville Shriners Hospital and serving as a jack-of-all-trades HR professional, he’s also been a consummate leader in his field for many years. He’s been a member of the Greenville Society for Human Resource Management since the mid-1980s, and South Carolina Healthcare Human Resources Association (SCHHRA) since the 90s. Over the years, he’s also served in a variety of leadership roles at the local, state and national levels—and he’s currently the Vice President of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA), where he will take over for Sarah Fredrickson, Director of Human Resources at the Mayo Clinic, on January 1, 2020.
Tisdale says he was initially encouraged to take over leadership roles at a local level and one thing led to another as he continued to answer the call to serve. “To me, it was always about making sure that I give back to the profession that has meant a great deal to me,” he admits. “Where I’m from, Kingstree, South Carolina, everybody cared about everybody else, and anybody would help you if you had a problem.” He believes HR professional groups are small and have the same feel. “If I'm having a problem with an issue, I can go just about anyone for assistance. They are a very collegial group that can make your life easier.”
And while the move to national leadership may not have been on Tisdale’s radar at the start of his career, he says his ASHHRA isn’t that different from what he did in South Carolina for years. “Honestly, it’s a little bit different, but it is fundamentally the same as the state groups.” He offers that it is “a different ball game [at the national level] because you're thinking on a larger scale. Most of your local chapters, when they think strategically, are thinking about 100, 200 members. When I came on to the national board, we had slightly over 3,000. I had to adjust to that and I continue to adjust to it.”
As for his role as president of the organization, he recognizes that “it’s a lot different. They demand more of you,” but he also knows he’ll be working with a team of professionals and bringing his decades of experience in HR membership groups. “I know many of the past ASHHRA presidents, and that helps if you need guidance.” ASHHRA has seven staff members who support the board and members, he notes.
“It's tough to say ‘no,’ especially when you think you can help this organization. I think, ‘can they use my talents’ but it's also about what can I learn—it’s always a learning experience for me.”