Practicing Servant Leadership

My story is one of resilience. As an African American, an immigrant, and a gay woman, I have faced challenges related to being identified as a member of these underrepresented groups. When you think of the discourse around diversity, society is still wrestling with the conversation. The general belief is that if you are African American or a woman, career advancement is hindered; if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, you must conceal your identity to be successful. I chose not to accept that, and rose to positions of senior leadership in a global health care organization.

I’ve practiced medicine and worked in health care in Europe, Africa, and North and South America. I’ve served on the faculty at St. Louis University Medical School, worked as a physician in a rural Nigerian clinic and built an evidence-based clinical-care management model in Brazil. As I reflect on my career, one common theme arises: Impacting individual lives and contributing to a national health care system is my life’s mission. It knows no color, no gender, and no sexual orientation.

I attribute my success to servant leadership—staying focused on what I can do for others and raising my hand whenever I see opportunities for change. At UnitedHealthcare, this approach has allowed me to take on increasing levels of responsibility—from a frontline clinical role, to various regional and national medical roles, to a senior leadership role. Currently, I have responsibility for clinical governance of a high-performing, high-reliability health care benefits and clinical care delivery business in an organization with 65,000 employees, and more than 7 million individual medical members worldwide.

One way I practice servant leadership is through mentoring. Seeing the achievements of my mentees are my proudest moments. For example, a UnitedHealthcare nurse with visible diversity completed her doctorate in nursing. A colleague became the chief medical officer for clinical services at UnitedHealthcare’s health benefits and medical delivery company in Brazil. And an immigrant intern from Zambia completed an advanced gastroenterology fellowship at Harvard.

My advice to other leaders is to invest in those around you. Give them the gift of your time and put service first. I have found this approach to be the most effective way to develop teams, achieve results, drive change, and make a difference.