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Sitting across the table from Florida Blue’s South Florida Market President, Penny Shaffer, you immediately notice two things: her intense blue eyes and the intelligence shining behind them. When Penny begins to share her career journey in our most episode of Florida Blue Radio’s Women in Leadership series
, we learn that she was already a successful global executive with AT&T before being recruited by her mentor as a Vice President for Florida Blue
. Given her doctorate in global business administration, it doesn’t come as a surprise that she is drawn to the “mosaic” of Hispanic populations who call Miami home. But what is most striking about Penny is how she encapsulates leadership lessons in unforgettable ways.
These five “Penny-isms” are just some of the highlights from our interview:
- Live and lead by the words “seek to understand before being understood.” You’ll find people willing to help you professionally when they know you come from a position where you want to listen – and learn –first.
- You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with, so seek out people who will challenge you to grow and hold you to a higher standard.
- “To those whom much is given, much is expected.” Penny has helped to build Habitat for Humanity homes around the world, mentored teens and small business owners, and even grew her hair eleven inches for Locks of Love. Penny finds her passion projects in the community make her a better leader at Florida Blue.
- “Hold your paw.” As Penny explains, if you hold the paw of a barking dog, it will instantly stop because of the new stimulus. In the same way, check your own impulse to act before thinking through the consequences, especially in moments of stress.
- “God gave us two ears and one mouth: use them in proportion, and listen first.” Penny admits she hasn’t always followed this dictate but believes the best decisions start this way.
It’s not every day that you encounter someone who readily navigates the demands of two highly regulated industries (telecomm and health care) with her sense of humor intact (and in force!), but Penny is just such a person. I hope you find her pithy leadership lessons meaningful, and all of our Women in Leadership episodes a valuable tool as you develop along your own career path. Be sure to watch this space for more wisdom from our women leaders!
The complete transcript of the podcast starts here:
[MUSIC PLAYING] Welcome to Florida Blue radio where we explore health care topics important to you. Whether you own a business, are a health practitioner, or are an individual who is interested in how health care is evolving experts from across Florida Blue will keep you in the know.
In today's session, we continue our Women in Leadership series with Penny Shaffer, South Florida Market President for Florida Blue. Penny shares unforgettable advice on how to be an effective leader and other memorable words to live by. Our host, Kate Warnock, Social Business Strategist at Florida Blue. Now, here's Kate.
I'm so happy to be here today with our own Market President in South Florida, Penny Shaffer. Penny is up here Jacksonville visiting from her Miami location. How are you doing today?
I am great, how are you, and thanks for having me. Oh, our pleasure. So glad that you could be here with us today. So as part of our Women in Leadership series we are wondering if you could tell us, how did you come to Florida Blue, and tell us about your journey within the company since you've joined us.
Sure. Well actually I'm not a long term health care employee. I'm not even much of a participant other than an annual physical, I guess I'm lucky that way, and so coming to Florida Blue was really about leveraging what I know about regulated industries going through massive federal change. I have felt the bang of the federal gavel before.
Well, tell us about that. What was your background before coming to Blue?
Sure. 26 years with AT&T. The most recent assignment before I retired was as the Global Operations Vice President for Latin America and Canada. I used Miami as a city of convenience, and most of my career there I was living under something called the modified final judgment. Catch those two words in the same phrase, modified final judgment. So it was a good precursor for understanding the kind of change, and how agile you have to be when the federal government has you in their sights.
So you lived to tell the tale.
And lived to tell the tale, and hopefully carried a couple of messages forward to the uncertainty that we seem to be going through as we're going through health care reform.
Right. OK. Well so given that, what is it that translated from your career in this global telecom position to becoming a market president for Florida Blue?
Sure. Well I was very fortunate that I got a change in control opportunity that allowed me to retire early from AT&T. I was facing my tenth move, no offense to any of your listeners, to San Antonio, Texas. Having lived and worked in nine other cities, including three international cities, San Antonio really wasn't on my radar so I retired in Miami.
And then, as is wont to happen, I got called by a mentor who had changed career a couple of times himself, and when he took on the role as the market president for South Florida as we were changing from that geographic business unit mentality to more of a functional alignment. If you think about it the reason a company goes to a strong functional alignment is to gain economies of scale, and consistency of experience for both members and providers.
And that's perfect until that approach is no longer relevant in the marketplace, and the only way you can constantly watch for that is to have that geographic overlay that says I'm constantly looking at product, or marketing, or pricing, or whatever it may be to make sure they we're still relevant. Well he had experience with that from AT&T being in the functional and on the geographic matrix side. He knew to instill it here. He was going to have to call in some extra expertise, and he said I have a job for you.
How about that. So he had been a mentor. How did that come about?
I had worked with him.
And would you mind telling us who it was?
Sure, George Foyo. Many people in the community know him, and certainly people at Florida Blue know him, but many people in the community in south Florida know him. I had worked with and for George off and on for about 20 years. His mindset as a mentor was not to have you work for that mentor all the time. You needed a broad base of executive support, and the best way to get that was to work with and for other leaders in the company.
So I had only worked for him a couple of times in that 20 years, but he was constantly keeping an eye on the career, constantly keeping an eye on my qualifications, the next good spot for me to have. And so while I didn't work for him very often he was always right there, the Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder trying to make sure that I knew where to go next, and how best to navigate the waters for my career.
That's wonderful. What a wonderful oversight to have in someone that you clearly trusted.
Absolutely. The most ethical leader I ever worked with, and I do my best to emulate that as much as I can every day.
I will definitely talk to you more about your mentoring experience, but I would like to just for our listeners, if you can tell us, give us a typical day in the life of being Market President in south Florida.
Wow. Well strap on your high heels. You know the days are- we laugh about the fact that portability is important- that comes in many forms. One piece of the portability is I put 15,000 to 20,000 miles on my car a year because the Treasure Coast to the Keys is a pretty big territory.
But also in the day in the life can be everything from starting at a learn to swim program with the Miami Heat and the American Red Cross for children in our community. There are so many bodies of water. They're so ill prepared in many cases. So that puts you in a pair of khakis, and a straw hat, and a pair of tennis shoes poolside.
And you might go straight from there to a chamber luncheon. So quick change artist you must be. Throughout the afternoon you may be meeting with community leaders, or providers, or brokers and you might spend an evening at an evening activity or event related to business development boards, economic boards. So we laugh and say you've got to be pretty portable. You've got to be ready to move from place to place including everywhere to black tie.
Wow. So really it sounds to me like your primary focus is on really developing and maintaining relationships with people in your community, whether it's for community outreach, or for business opportunities, or everything from sales to service to everything in between. Is that accurate?
You know it is, and it's been an interesting opportunity for me to learn. As I mentioned earlier, I didn't come from the health side of the business. But the more issues, the more concerns, the more thoughts that people share with you the more it opens you up to learn more about the business.
And we get everything. I laugh and talk about being on the auto train heading north for the holidays when the phone rang and somebody was looking for an opportunity for some help, and I tell my 86-year-old mother, who I talk to every day, sometimes I wonder what called me out to do this specific thing.
And I get those reminders a lot of times when we intervene on families' behalf. When we intervene on behalf of a community leader or others that are trying to figure out how to navigate the system. It's a complex system. Thank goodness we have lots of help out there, and I consider myself just one of those people that can help.
So I would think for many people you are the face of Florida Blue. You know really in a given environment you are the human face behind the brand. So I think that's kind of both an opportunity and a bit of a big responsibility, isn't it?
There are days where you realize that sometimes you really are holding somebody's life in your hands, but it's an awesome role, and it's probably one of the best roles I've ever had the opportunity to play in my professional life.
Well, Penny, there are three other Market Presidents in our company. You happen to be the only woman. Do you think that you have a different perspective on your role, or what you bring to work with you every day compared to your compatriots across the state?
You know the beauty of this role is that going in it was a little bit ambiguous trying to figure out what is the role, and we all come from a different background. We all come from a different tenure within our communities. I represented my previous company in the community so I had some fairly deep roots, and you think about Dave coming new to Tampa when he became the market president in Tampa.
So we all started from a slightly different place. The wonderful thing is we all are looking for advancing the mission of the company. And as different as our communities are it takes a different way to execute the role. So I can't say that I would say I do it any differently than they do, other than I try to make it relevant for my market, and I know that that's what they hold in their hearts as well.
Right. One thing that I've heard from several of our leaders is that Miami really does represent kind of where the rest of the nation's going as far as its diversity of its population. I was reading recently an article that it's no longer just Cubans who are the predominant Hispanic population, but more and more people coming from South America and really calling Miami home. So how do you keep involved, or how do you yourself who are of not Hispanic origin as far as I can tell, how do you make connections to all those various populations?
Sure. Well, you know, if you live in the United States you think of Miami as being one of the southern most large cities in the United States. If you live in Miami you know you're one of the northernmost Latin American cities, and so it's that mosaic actually that kept me when I had to make that decision at AT&T of whether I go to San Antonio, Texas or I stay put. I kind of had sand in my shoes by that point because I loved that mosaic.
The various countries, the various dialects of Spanish, the various cultural backgrounds, and they are so very different, was attractive to me. I think what prepared me for that opportunity was having had responsibility for Latin America and Canada, and having traveled pretty broadly and repeatedly throughout the region to understand those differences, and the nuances of those differences. So it does make it a little bit easier to relate in the community because you use a different lens.
If you think about the majority of the United States, if somebody talks about being an expert in Hispanic marketing, or whatever it might be, generally that means they know the Mexican culture very well because the overwhelming Hispanic population in the United States is Mexican. But the truth of the matter in Miami it's no longer predominately Cuban. It is not predominantly Mexican. It is a real mosaic.
Right. Right, and again I don't know if it's true for all Hispanic cultures, but I know that family is really so critical to how they approach decision making. It's not necessarily an individual standing on his own. It's input from everybody. How do you see that playing out when you are out in the community? Does that affect what you bring to conversations? Do you feel like you need to bring other perspectives yourself to someone who might make decisions differently from your average American living in Miami?
You know, I think the key is to try to put yourself in the other person's shoes a bit, but only after you've listened. Really to become relevant means in our case at the zip code level, at the street corner level in many ways, and so I think the best thing we all can do across our geographies is stay on top of what the changing demographic looks like.
I had the good fortune when I joined the company that we were still working under the 2000 census information. I joined in 2006, and as we started to look at the demographic changes that were happening I said, you know, the projected 2010 census is not going to match the reality at the rate we are seeing change. And sure enough the 2010 census showed that not only south Florida, but if you looked all along the I-4 corridor tremendous changes happening in the Hispanic demographics.
And so, are we the forerunner for the rest of the state, and the rest of the country? I think probably so, but I think would be a mistake to listen just to the Miami message because as people move north things change. We've got to be listening in our marketplace, every marketplace very keenly.
So with this big responsibility and the changing demographics that you need to keep your finger on the pulse, you must really rely on a very strong team at work. Can you tell us how is it that you foster that sense of team among your staff and really have them bring the best of themselves to work every day?
You know it's funny. When I joined the company under this specific set of roles there was a beautiful little set of puzzle pieces that identified what the market president was supposed to do. Certainly be the voice of the company in a certain way from a public relations perspective, help to grow the marketplace. But organizational effectiveness and alignment was one of those four puzzle pieces. I took that very seriously.
And so when I think about my team in South Florida, I think of all 500 employees. From the Port St. Lucie in line center that's at the front of the Walmart all the way to the falls, and try to engage because every single one of them represent a touch point for a member, or a provider in our community. Again whether it's retail, or delivery, or audit, or whichever organization it might be within.
So all 500 are on my team. And one of the most beautiful things that I can say about those 500 people is that once you bring something to their attention you never have to think about it again because you know it's in capable hands. You know it's going to be taken care of. You know it's going to be dealt with. You can't ask for anything stronger in a team than that confidence.
Because candidly, please don't tell my boss this, I rarely am the one making the final determination, or the final decision, or the final resolution. It falls into many other people's hands to get the contract straightened out, even if it's a one time contract with the provider. Or take care of that members issue, or the bill, or whatever it might be.
And so the ability to pass that responsibility, or the knowledge off to somebody else in the organization, and say please help this person who trusted me enough to tell me, and never have to think about it again, that's the most amazing thing a leader can have in their toolkit is a team that's that committed. And we are very lucky.
We talk a lot. I'm not allowed to use TWCs anymore. We're supposed to talk in English. We have communications. We have conversations. I believe that knowledge is power. Meaning the more we spread it around, the more likely the organization is to react in the same way, and with the same sense of urgency.
And so I can say that quite candidly, that that South Florida team, no matter what corner of South Florida they're in, I trust them to take care of our members and our providers. Whether it's them dealing with them directly, or whether it somehow came through me and through community contact. And that is so powerful about Blue.
So it sounds to me like you really know how not to micromanage, but how to equip and enable people to be autonomous, and I think that really speaks to you as a leader. Can you tell me, when you first came from the telecom industry you had to learn a whole new regulated industry, and health care is its own beast, isn't it?
You were in a leadership role. We had some other of our women executives speak to this, that when they came into a new position they kind of had to split their focus. One was their management focus, and the other was the depth of knowledge that they might bring to the field that they were in.
If they didn't have that depth of knowledge, and they had to depend on their management skills and really rely on their teams to bring them up to speed, did you have a similar experience where you had others really help to bring you along that learning curve to the point that you had as great a command of health care as you did in the telecom industry?
You know it's funny. We've got some funny stories about the ways that we tried to bridge that learning. Quite frankly, if you just ask somebody about their day to day job they're generally quite happy to tell you about it, and the nuances of it, and you can get in the weeds pretty quickly. But I went out to get my license. I said if we're going to have a responsibility to talk to potential customers, I should at least have my license.
Your agent license?
Exactly. And there's some pretty funny stories about me on my first day in class to get my certification there, and license there. But the key was to ask and to learn. My team will tell you that probably my code words are seek to understand before being understood.
So I can have questions about how things play out in the health care sector differently than they do in the telecom sector. And sometimes you see things and you say there must be a different dynamic at play for this to end up in a different way than I expected it based on either my book knowledge, or my experience.
And to the extent that a leader can step back and say, help me understand what's going on, people are quite happy to help you learn, and quite happy to be trusted with teaching you. A lot of it's about your attitude. And so if you go in with a, look I've learned other things, I can learn this too, you couldn't possibly know more than I do, you're not going to be the one that's going to engage people at the end of the day. So hopefully we've taken the time to understand a lot more than we tried to make ourselves understood.
I think that's a very fair position to operate from, and I think a lot of people would respond that way. So looking at your resume, I also see that you have a doctoral degree in international business administration, and clearly from your previous position you already had a global position.
Would you recommend for women or anyone evolving in their career that they look to get that higher education, a graduate degree, or certification of some sort as critical to career development, or how do you know if it's right for you?
Sure. Well first thing I'll tell you is that I've worked with two different companies where having a Ph.D., or having the term doctor in front of your name implied something completely different. Because at AT&T if you had doctor in front of your name they thought you must have been at the labs, which I wasn't. And here, if somebody calls you doctor they automatically assume that you're a medical doctor. So I tell my mother all the time, look I've got the degree, but I really can't use the title very much because it's very misleading in this environment.
Now definitely the international business administration degree helped me. I have my master's in the same area because it was a passion of mine. I've lived and worked outside the United States, had that responsibility, but I will tell you I apply it an awful lot living in this mosaic city, understanding the businesses that are there.
We have about 1,200 international businesses that call south Florida home, either for their corporate headquarters or their regional headquarters. And so that international business background, I think, makes it easier for me to have a dialogue and understand a bit better. So I think it's been important for me.
As it relates to in general what I think is important about education is that it's a never ending journey in my view. Whether or not you go after a specific degree at a specific time in your career really should be guided by what's expected of you in terms of credentials for the next level you're looking at. For the next few levels you're looking at.
I've talked to some people who said, I'm going to go get a nursing degree. And I said, well do you plan to spend time with patients. Oh no, no, I don't want to touch people. OK, so can we talk about what's guiding you to go get that nursing degree. Well, I really want to be in health care.
You know a lot of schools, and many of them in South Florida, offer a master's degree with a focus on health sector management. Might that be more appropriate for what you're looking for than specifically a nursing degree, or whatever those may be.
And so the key is to talk to the people who are your future hiring managers, and make sure that you've closed the gap between your credentials, and what they're looking for to make you a good candidate for the job. And people are quite happy to talk to you about it.
Now it's a little tougher these days because it used to be that you could get to the hiring manager and have that conversation outside of the cycle of hiring. That's the best time to have it really. It's getting tougher and tougher because online applications go through an HR recruiter screener, and you really have a hard time getting to the right person to have the conversation about how do I prepare for that job.
And when that becomes the case, I send people back to their Alma mater and talk to the placement offices there, because they are seeing these kinds of jobs open up every day. They know what people are looking for in terms of key credentials, and capabilities, and key skill sets.
The other thing I think it's important is when you see a job ad that's out there, look for the key words in the ad, and look for how your experience matches those key words. Whether it's a job title, or whether maybe it's nonprofit experience. Maybe you've led other organizations but you never actually had the manager title. Look for those key words, and look for where your experience matches those. Because recruiters are not only looking for the title, they're looking for the experience.
Absolutely. So you went for your masters. You've got your doctoral degree. How is it that you balanced the demands of your professional career with your schoolwork and all of your outside interests? That's something that I think a lot of people would struggle with, realizing that it might make sense for them to go back for that graduate degree but just don't know how they would manage it within their life?
Sure. I cheated. No, on balance. Only on balance. I had started a master's program, weekend master's program, and found that with the work that I was doing at that time, traveling a lot, I wasn't doing justice to the study, or to the work it didn't feel like to me. And I got the opportunity to apply to Fortem's International MBA program, but that meant taking leaves of absence.
So I actually got the opportunity to spend two consecutive years, big blocks of time in study, not at work. Of course, one of the scariest moments of my career happened during that. I finished my first summer of study, was intended to go back to work, major project in the five months back at work, and then go back to finish the second half of the MBA abroad on a leave of absence.
And AT&T announced just days before my first I'll call it semester ended the most historic 25,000 person layoff in the history of the company, and I was sitting there with half an MBA, and on a leave of absence. It was a scary moment, and in a foreign country at the moment. So it was a little bit on the scary side.
But what I will say is that you do have to look at your life, your family, your social circle, and understand how best to implement this. I've had three members of my direct report team who've completed MBAs while working at Florida Blue.
Two of them because of their life stage, their family stages, we're able to go to a program that was one weekend a month, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Intensive. The third one, that really wasn't going to work for his family, and for his social network, and for the things he was trying to do. We found a different program that he went every Saturday. Small children. Kind of got into a different routine for him.
So the key is to really look at what's going to work best for you such that you're able to maintain. But without a doubt, if you're studying, you're going to say goodbye to some of your social relationships for a certain period of time. If they're good friends, if they really are committed to your success, they'll understand and be ready to greet you back to weekend dinners when you're ready to emerge.
That sounds good. Well it strikes me, too, that clearly you just said that you've consulted with four of your management team directly in helping them find these programs, or work through what might work best for them. It seems to me another bit of advice that you would give them is talk to your management.
Let them know that you're considering this, and ask perhaps both for their input, and for their support. Whether it's in maybe shuffling the duties that you might have, or you even went as far as taking leave of absence because that was right for you. So maybe it's not taking everything on at the same time. Perhaps there's a way to work with your management to kind of re-prioritize what your focus is so that you can go for the degree.
I think that there's a lot more flexibility than we ever assume there's going to be. When we think we're planning this in isolation, and there's absolutely more flexibility if we give our leadership time to work towards it, plan for it. The financial aspect of it. The workload aspect of it. Potentially the timing of it.
I believe work is more of a verb than a noun, and so the team that needed Friday, Saturday, Sunday, I recognized that that Friday was in class, but I also recognized that they would make sure that nothing fell through the crack as long as we all were committed to doing it. And so it was more of a verb. Let's get the work done as opposed to punching a clock and being at work.
So tell me, too, it seems like you've really been able to draw in your own life on a personal support network that might have included some of your professional management, but how is it that you've cultivated that support network, and what role has that played in where you are today?
An amazing role. Well as I mentioned earlier I've got an 86-year-old mother who was the one who was whispering in my ear all the time about get that Ph.D., get that Ph.D., get their Ph.D. She's still my biggest cheerleader and I'm lucky to have her. She's vital, and active, and smart, and a cyber granny.
When the Greater Miami Chamber gave me my gift as the outgoing chair of an iPad-3 and I sat down on my seat next to my mother, and she pulled on my sleeve and I thought she was going to say congratulations, or I love you and am really proud of you, she said you've got the 3, I get your 2. So if there was any moment to think that I could slow down in my learning forget it. The 86-year-old is still at it. So that's one.
The other is I was very, very fortunate to find good, strong friends in college. We shared the same values, our families shared the same values, and they're still a part of my life today and there to make sure that if you need that extra push or the kick, whichever it might be, or pull occasionally. So I'm very lucky.
I believe that you are the average of the five people you spend time with. And so, you know, it's my duty to try and get into a group where I'm bringing the average down, and everybody around me is bringing me up. If you want to be better at something you should go seek out people who are better at it then you are. And so I am very fortunate that I have those kind of people in my professional life and my personal life.
Well I love that you have advocate stretch yourself. Really, don't get comfortable. As nice and warm as that might feel it's hard to grow if you're not surrounded by people who might challenge you the way yours have.
I've got a niece who's heading off to college and we're very fortunate that she's been accepted at Wellesley. And she's said, you know I'm debating about getting in this group or that group. And I said, you know it's your first year of college. You've got a whole lot of new norms to learn, but make sure that you are getting with a group that's going to hold you to a higher standard. So hopefully that'll work for her as well.
I love that advice. Well, Penny, I know that you are very committed to the community. You've already mentioned several boards that you've participated in. Can you tell us a little bit more about what your community involvement has been, and maybe even just tell us what your favorite, if you're allowed to, what your favorite community project might be at this time?
You know the interesting thing is I told some not too long ago, my first day at work for years ago they handed me my W-4, and all kinds of enrollment forms, and things for benefits and everything else, and among that was a United Way enrollment card. And back then they called it a fair share giver. It was a percentage of your base, and they really loved it when you said you'd be an automatic fair share giver, which meant if you had an increase in pay that percentage hailed all the way through.
So I've had an association with United Way my entire adult life, and I am very committed and continue to be very committed to the United Way. So I guess you could say I have sort of a favorite. But the truth about it is moving all over the world being aligned to just one organization is not an easy thing to do either. And so while you can give to the United Way, day to day involvement has been all kinds of things around the world. I've helped build Habitat houses all over the world. I've helped the Ninos de la Caja in Mexico. I've had a great good fortune to interact with lots of organizations.
So when I retired from AT&T I was out for about a year and a half before I came to Florida Blue, and I spent every Tuesday at Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic recording textbooks basically. I spent Wednesdays at Habitat. I still feel a strong affinity for Habitat. Thursdays were the Take Stock in Children, mentoring high school students, and Fridays was at the Commonwealth Institute mentoring business owners of small businesses on some things.
So When I joined Florida Blue, not knowing the full scope that they were expecting out of the local presence team, I said well what am I going to do. Now I'm back into work. I'm not going to be able to do this every day. And so I decided to grow my hair for Locks for Love because that was going to be easy and passive. It wouldn't take that much time. Well it didn't turn out to be easy, and it didn't seem to turn out to be very passive. But I successfully grew 11 inches of hair, had it cut on my best friend who's a cancer survivor's birthday, and vowed to never do it again. So you only know me in this short hair from here on out.
I had no idea. 11 inches. That's amazing.
It was tough.
So hands on is much better for you than passive.
Yeah, put me on a roof. I think that's a better place for me.
A hammer is definitely your preference.
I love it. So with all these external, I mean my gosh all of that, your retirement was anything but obviously. Tell me how that recharges you? What is it that these outside involvements, these passions that you have helps to bring you to work with a better perspective, maybe a springier step because you just feel happier for the work that you do?
Well you just said it pretty much. It is the case to those whom much is given much is expected, and I was raised in a faith, and I continue to abide by that faith, and believe that in many ways we are our brothers' keepers. And so the things that we can do to truly help our community feel safer, feel nourished spiritually and physically, the things that we can do that will make this a better community are the right things to do with our time.
That's why it's so easy to be a part of Florida Blue because I do believe it's not just the words on the page, that people do truly believe that if we can make this a better community, a healthier community, it encompasses all of those things.
You know, Penny, listening to you it makes me consider. I mean, you're a very nurturing individual. That's clearly something that resonates with you. You like to nurture. Do you think of that as a typically feminine trait? Do you see that coming through more in your leadership qualities? Maybe you compare to other leaders that you've reported in to. Do you sense that that nurturing is something that just kind of comes through more because you are a women, or do you see it equally in men as well?
You know it's a good question. I think that the thing to focus on is to invest in becoming a nurturer whether you're a male or female. Because I've certainly worked with some women who were not nurturers at all perhaps because of timing.
If you think about the women that went before me they were joining companies in the '60s, and particularly in the telecom industry the majority of telecom executives had come out of the military, because the only place you could get communications training was the military. So those women had gone through some pretty tough times and they weren't nurtured themselves in the professional life. So I'm not sure how much nurturing they were doing.
So I really wouldn't make it a male female thing. What I would say is if you want to add to your leadership toolbox understand how to be a better nurturer. I'm sure I could do it more often. My team will tell you I could do it more often. We know people who could do it more often.
But we know some amazing leaders right here in Florida Blue that are male and female, that when you look at the characteristics that's one of those key characteristics. Real nurturing people who care about not only the work life, but the balance of life of the employees and those we serve. And so I think that's just a characteristic I would look towards developing, male or female.
That's a good response. I think really you're going to be finding your team more motivated to work for someone who truly cares for them at the end of the day, not just by what their output is at work, but how they are as a person, too.
I think they also understand that when you ask for something that's an extenuating request that you didn't do it lightly, that you've given it a lot of thought, and tried to think of every way. They know you'd be open as well to their suggestion if there is another way that they see through it, but it changes the dialogue if people believe that you have their best interest at your heart as well.
I agree. Well one thing we haven't touched on, but I have heard from many people who know you well, is you have a legendary sense of humor.
Oh my goodness. That's what's going to get me in trouble at parties.
You know, so you've mentioned being nurturing. You've mentioned being a frequent communicator, trusting. How is it that humor might play a role in being a leader, and how do you know when it's appropriate to bring humor versus when it's best to perhaps be a little bit more straitlaced?
Sure. Well most people will tell you I'm not very straitlaced. Most of the time the humor part shows up too often probably. The truth of the matter is I think humor helps people relax. Let's be honest. It can be a great ice breaker. It can go wrong if you haven't read your audience well. And so the key is to be very careful about it.
Having a sense of humor or being a humorist is not about telling jokes. It's really again, if you go back to it, its about emphasizing with people. It's about that notion that I understand you. I've listened to you. If your humor falls flat it's because you weren't listening most likely. And so I use it, generally speaking, to make my audience feel a little more comfortable, hopefully to break the ice a little bit, and then occasionally it makes your points a little more memorable if you've embedded it in a little bit of humor.
So context is everything really.
I think so.
I would like to pivot a little bit. You had talked before about developing a personal brand. Someone had mentioned you had given a talk around that. What is it that you would describe as your own personal brand, and then how would you tell someone who's maybe still developing themselves as a leader, how do you go about deciding what makes sense for you as a personal brand?
You know I think part of it is you have to slow down, and think through, and take the moment to think through what do I want people to think about me? What are the top three or four words that I want to come to mind when people think about working with me and spending time with me?
I think for myself I want people to feel like I was present in the moment. I cared enough to listen and be present in the moment. That I have high level of integrity. That they can trust that if I said it it's because it came from a place of integrity. That I do want to, genuinely want to be with other people, and part of a team, and collaborative. And so you think about those few words that you hope that you're living your life by. And then you examine your behaviors, and make sure that those behaviors tend to follow those.
Where I have found that I wasn't genuine around those things is usually in a moment when I'm under stress, and I think that the other person needs me to be something else. And I've always regretted it when I went there because you've got to play your own game. You've got to be yourself, and you've got to deal with other people in the best way you can through your own framework, not as much through their framework.
And so you can listen, and be empathetic and collaborative, and at the same time be yourself. And so whatever your brand is be that brand as often as you can. I'd like to say all the time but I don't think anybody can. We try not to but when you get into stress take a moment, take a breath, as they used to tell me hold your paw.
It's amazing what happens if you hold somebody's hand. They stop immediately whatever they were doing. If you hold a dog's paw, if you just grab a dog's paw when they're barking they stop barking. They may resume it eventually, but immediately they stop barking because there's a new stimulus. Teach yourself to hold your own paw in the pressure moments, and make sure that you're true to yourself. You'll have less regrets.
I think I have a new needlepoint. I love that.
Grab your paw.
Grab your paw. I've never heard that but it makes a lot of sense.
Try it with crying child.
I hopefully will not be coming across one anytime soon.
There you go. OK.
I want to say looking back at your younger self, you've had a very storied career and lived all over the world, if there were two things that you could tell your younger self what would those two things be?
Wow. OK, so the first one I think would be listen more. I learned it in my sales career well along the way. And now I repeat it to my sales folks all the time. But it really applies anywhere. God gave us two ears and one mouth. Use them in proportion. So I wish I'd listened a little bit more and talked a little bit less. Probably a little insecurity that made me want to prove how much I knew. So I probably would have listened more and talked a little less.
And I think the other one is, not that it ever got me in trouble, but when I think about it and I've had this question asked with other groups, as a woman and especially now with social media, if I had it to do over again I would never have an alcoholic beverage at a business function. And even more now with social media. You don't have to get into any trouble for people to wonder. Not to say that there's anything wrong with having a glass of wine or a cocktail, but if I had it to do over, in a business setting I just wouldn't do it.
Interesting. Interesting, and I don't know if there's a story that goes along with it.
There isn't. There really isn't. I have seen other people who were judged harshly for the rest, and particularly women, for sort of the rest of their career for those moments when you trust your judgment most, and it's the most impaired. Even if it's after just one glass of wine. But you just don't need it.
There is still a double standard about cocktails and women and men, and especially with social media. It used to be what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Now it's what happens in Vegas is all over Facebook. And so if I was giving any advice, and again clearly it didn't hurt my career in any way, but if I was giving any advice I would just say just don't do it.
Really I think that's sound advice for anybody wherever you are in your career. It really does go back to your personal brand and what is it that you want people to think of you. It's not some silly snapshot that they might have seen at an event two months ago. It's who you are today.
Well, Penny Shaffer, thank you so much. This has been a delightful time with you, and I hope that we get to talk with you next time you're in Jacksonville but enjoyed speaking with you so much again today.
Thank you. It's been my pleasure.
My pleasure, too.
You've been listening to Florida Blue radio recorded at our Jacksonville headquarters. For notes from today's program visit our blog at floridablue.com. Be sure to leave us a comment there with your ideas, or suggestions for future programs. Until next time here's to you in your pursuit of health.