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Lori’s lessons in leadership: Insights from a winning Beacon leader

Beacon’s Rocky Hill office in Connecticut was named as one of the top 60 workplaces in Connecticut by Hartford Courant, the fourth win for that office. The team won the award every year from 2011-2013 when Lori Szczygiel was Connecticut CEO, and now again following her return to the position two years ago.

Eight hundred employers competed for a slot via an independently administered survey sent to more than 23,000 employees. Criteria included high employee engagement, business practices and values, employee-driven innovation, managers’ willingness to help employees learn and grow, as well as benefits and development opportunities.

Lori Szczygiel shares her leadership insight with Beacon Lens.

Q. What are the top three things that you did to establish a culture in Beacon’s Connecticut office that led to a leading workplace?

When I returned to Connecticut as the market leader, I conducted a confidential staff-satisfaction survey to establish a baseline understanding of the team’s feeling about the work, Beacon, and opportunities for improvement. From there, we ensured everyone was aware of the organization’s mission and vision to create an environment of shared responsibility for culture. Doing so requires consistent communication concerning strategy and organizational goals, opportunities and challenges. Culture is not something the management team can package and hand to the community. ALL of us must own and nurture the collectively preferred culture. Alignment of mission, values, strategies and goals makes that easier.

Q. In your role as the CEO of the Connecticut office, how do you include your management team in helping to promote a top workplace culture?

The management team is responsible for reviewing annual staff-satisfaction survey results and for creating a departmental action plan based on those results. Additionally, I meet with every department to hear directly from staff what is working and what isn’t. We then share our action plan with operations and provide regular progress updates against goals during local Town Hall meetings.

Q. Innovation is a cornerstone to successful organizations. How do you promote innovative thinking and execution among your employees?

I’ve been blessed to work here for some 23 years. For four of those years, I was on the road in sales and strategy, which exposed me to new ways of thinking about our work. This experience, combined with a talented, eclectic team of leaders, has created great energy. Curiosity can and does drive innovation, and folks have to be encouraged to be curious. To be truly successful, however, we need a deep understanding of our clients’ needs to ensure that our innovation will strike a chord and result in programmatic growth. Innovation in a vacuum is not particularly helpful.  

Q. What is the greatest challenge you face as the CEO of Beacon’s Connecticut office, and what do you do to overcome it?

We live in a complicated world – both within Beacon and the healthcare industry as a whole. Leading through change is not easy. Leaders must be comfortable with ambiguity; never lose sight of their team’s ultimate goals; and look beyond their own needs and appreciate others’ challenges. And always try to play nice! The management team talks a lot about this; we acknowledge challenges and encourage each other to take care of ourselves. Leading is hard – holding each other accountable for work/life balance is critical.

Q. Can you comment on how leadership is essential to an organization’s health and success?

Having an environment where individuals thrive, have some fun and take care of business must be embraced by the leader and leadership team. Everyone needs to be aligned. No matter the program or change being implemented, if leadership is not engaged, there won’t be change. In fact, kicking off an initiative and not following through only creates more issues.

Q. Workplace change is becoming a way of life for American employees. How do you keep employees engaged during times of change and transition?

We communicate. Staff meetings, ongoing supervision and feedback by management, local Town Halls, and special celebrations occur regularly. If the staff know and trust the leadership team, that connection helps when leading through ambiguity. Regular and transparent communication regarding performance, opportunities, challenges, etc. helps build trust and also reflects our commitment to a culture that embraces transparency.

Q. It is often said that emotional intelligence is more important in a leader than a high IQ. Do you agree, and if so, what does emotional intelligence do for a leader that IQ does not?

It is essential for a successful leader to have emotional intelligence and to exercise this “muscle” daily. This characteristic helps a leader “read the room”, more deeply evaluate what his/her team is saying – or more importantly, NOT saying. The ability to read clients, providers and consumers and understand when we have not gotten it right allows us to make adjustments and get the work/project back on tract. However, it’s not simply enough to have emotional intelligence; a leader must then engage in critical conversations to move the project forward.

Q. What are the top three tips you would give a new leader to ensure that person’s success?

1. Find a mentor – someone who will coach you and tell you like it is – not like you wish it was!! Growth is hard and painful, and a mentor is an invaluable gift.

2. Listen. There will always be people who know more than you. GET THEM ON YOUR TEAM. Don’t let ego get in the way – the more diverse, eclectic team, the better the outcomes. Folks who can challenge each other and their assumptions drives curiosity, innovation and trust.

3. Be accountable. Follow through on commitments, evidenced through your actions, not just words. Show how you are living the organization’s mission and vision. Be fair, be silly and have some fun, and never forget to express your appreciation for your entire team.

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