Define leadership.
The ability to bring a group of people together to attain a common goal.

Who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
My director when I worked at Blue Care Network-Great Lakes, which is our HMO subsidiary; her name was Sandy O’Connor. She promoted me from a regional leadership position into a corporate one, where I oversaw all Blue Care Network-Great Lakes customer service operations. She took me under her wing to guide me and to develop me in a way that I didn’t feel she was micromanaging me. She had one phrase that really stuck out in my mind, and I share it with my team today: “Mean what you say, and say what you mean in your communications.” It has resonated so, that when I say something, people who know me know that my words are very deliberate. She was a great role model. I attribute probably the greatest leadership growth to her.

What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
The first decision that’s the most important is the hiring decisions that I make. I’m not only looking for the skills that people come with to do the job, but how they will complement the team. I always look to see, “What are the unique talents that each individual brings, and where do I have a gap?” I try to hire with that piece in mind. The other thing is, in the decision-making process, to try and gather as much information as possible to make, hopefully, the right decisions. Get other people’s input and make the decisions that need to be made. Also, really communicating: communicating to my team, communicating to leadership, and down.

What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
Be your authentic self. Be real and let the real you show through. Don’t try and be something that you think people want you to be.

What’s the biggest challenge that you see facing leaders today?
It’s the generations in the workplace. Right now, I oversee three generations. I’m a Baby Boomer. I have Baby Boomers, I have Gen-Xers, and I have Millennials on my team. The challenge is trying to be thoughtful and very deliberate in how I relate to each of the generations. I’m not treating people differently. I’m learning as I go, now that my team has three generations, on how I need to look at the best way to relate to and work with the different generations.

Is there one behavior or trait that you are seeing derail more leaders’ careers?
Ego—making it about them and not the team.

What do you do for fun?
I love spending time with my husband, traveling, golfing, cooking, gardening, and being with family and friends.

What’s your “go-to” spot to eat lunch in Southwest Michigan?
Food Dance. They have the best grilled chicken Caesar.

If happiness were the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?
Doing something along the lines that I’m doing today. You wouldn’t think of health insurance in this way, but it’s making a difference in people’s lives. I would do something where I made somebody’s life, hopefully, better in whatever it was that I was doing for them.

If you could go to dinner with three people who would they be?
Barack and Michelle Obama, and Oprah Winfrey.

What are three things that you cannot travel on business without?
My iPhone, my iPad, and some of my business reading material that I don’t have as much time to read and would like to. It’s a great time to get caught up.

Briefcase or backpack?

Who would you most like to meet?
It would be Jesus Christ. Being a Christian (I’m Greek Orthodox), I would love to know the thoughts he had knowing the purpose for which he was sent for, and knowing what the outcome was going to be. Also, how did he go on day by day?

How do you get your most creative ideas?
In the shower as I’m getting ready in the morning. There’s something cathartic about water for me, and I love water. I find it very calming and it helps me clear my head. I think about the day. What do I want to do? What’s important to accomplish that day?

What inspires you?
My faith and my husband. My faith is ingrained in me and one of the most important things in my life. My husband and I have just been married coming up on 12 years. He is such a good, kind-hearted, humble man and knows when to let things go. We have the same values, and we complement each other. The key things that we’re different on are things that he really helps me to improve, and that’s knowing when to let go and just enjoy life and not worry about things.

What are your daily routines that keep you developing as a leader?
Every morning after I get up and shower, I grab my cup of coffee and I read two devotional books. One of them is The Confident Woman Devotional by Joyce Meyer, and the other one is Jesus Calling by Sarah Young. I find it sometimes very ironic whatever the thoughts are in either of the two books that somehow there always seems to be something applicable that day. (Reading these books) gives me the opportunity to contemplate, and make sure I’m the best that I can be for what the day is going to bring me.

What is your favorite leadership book?
Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson. I know that it sounds funny because it’s not your typical leadership book, but what I like about it is life, business—there are always changes. It’s a simple book, but the philosophy’s great.

What’s the App on your phone that you can’t live without?
The news. I love looking at the news. And I have to say, I wasn’t before, but I’ve become a little bit of a political junkie, so I like to see what’s going on.

How do you maintain your and your team’s daily motivation?
When I’m in the office, which being a sales manager (has me) on the road some of the time, it’s touching base with everybody, (seeing) how they’re doing on a personal level first. I ask, “How was your evening? Hope you had a good night,” or, if I know that they had a particular activity the night before, “How did it go?” I keep it personal, not just businesswise because we all have a life outside of work. And so, it’s that and then being available, even if I’m not here. They know they can reach me wherever, whenever.

What are you doing to ensure your continued growth as a leader?
I’ve been to Leadership Kalamazoo. I go to Catalyst (University) every year. We have a lot of internal trainings on leadership and developing teams here, (and I read) periodicals. 269 MAGAZINE™‘s great. I absolutely love it. What I enjoy about it is I’m seeing what my peers locally are doing, and learning from that.

As a leader, the expectation is ongoing development. And to be very frank, I’ve been in a leadership role for 24 of my 33 years here at Blue Cross, and you know, I’m looking at retirement in the next couple of years. I’m not slowing anything down, because number one, things in life can change, but it’s not just about being a leader for work. I’m a leader in my community, in my life, and my home, my church, and the organizations that I belong to. So, whatever I learn here, I take it wherever I go.

What excites you most about the future of Southwest Michigan?
I moved here almost 29 years ago from Southeast Michigan. I love the area, and what I love is how it’s transformed in that time. The community I came into is not the community it is (today) as far as its look and its business climate. I look at how we continue to reinvent ourselves. I remember when the GM plant closed. I recall when the Upjohn company sold to Pharmacia, and then Pharmacia sold to Pfizer. Businesses have come into the community and left the community, and we always bounce back on our feet. I attribute it to the great leaders that we have in this community for being forward-thinking and bringing in the right businesses to the community, and enhancing the quality of our life here in Southwest Michigan.

What’s one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?
Focusing on their own growth and promotability within an organization instead of focusing on developing their team, so that they can realize their full potential. I’ve often said my success is wholly based on my team’s success. It’s not what I do personally to obtain the goal, but how do I bring the best out in them or give them the opportunities to develop themselves. If they succeed, I succeed.

What is your “Life Quote?”
“No” is not an option, tell me how.

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