Play your own game! Veteran corporate executive, Penny Shaffer, on leadership.
One of healthcare’s top leaders shares insight on leading under pressure, collaboration and women in leadership.
With the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, enormous pressure is on the leaders of health care companies to skillfully lead their organizations through uncertain times.
One leader who embraces the challenge is Penny S. Shaffer, Ph.D., the Florida Blue market president for South Florida. Shaffer’s region covers an 8 county territory for the BlueCross BlueShield company, with approximately four million health care members statewide.
“Florida Blue is going to go through some major changes, of course,” says this leader of over 500 employees. “But for many members of our team, this isn’t the only place we’ve worked. Many of us have been through other significant changes. The best thing we can do is leverage the resources in the room. If we don’t tap into those ideas – what worked, what didn’t — then shame on us.”
During her many years of demonstrating outstanding leadership, Dr. Shaffer has used a “collaborative” style to run a successful organization.
“If knowledge is power then shared information is extremely vital to any organization,” she points out. “The more that team members understand, the more details they have, the more likely your team is to have a shared vision. Being candid with each other and talking about challenges and what changes need to be made brings a shared vision for what needs to be done.”
Best of all, a shared vision results in independent execution of that vision as the organization moves forward, Dr. Shaffer points out.
This dynamic leader, named as one of the 2014 South Florida Journal’s “People to Watch,” joined Florida Blue in 2006. Dr. Shaffer had a 26-year career at AT&T, with various executive positions in sales, service, quality management and global operations, most recently as vice president of Global Services for the Americas.
Dr. Shaffer has consistently been active in community and professional organizations, including serving as past chair and board member of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. She is an adjunct professor at the University of Miami School of Business and serves on the school’s Health Sector Management and Policy Advisory Board.
She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Frostburg University, an International Executive Master of Business Administration from Fordham University, and a Ph.D. in International Business Administration from Kennedy-Western University.
Since her long career began in an era when women had few leadership opportunities, Dr. Shaffer is an excellent person to comment on March as Women’s History Month, paying tribute to the generations of women who have made valuable contributions.
“Women my age have lived through the biggest time of change,” says Dr. Shaffer who turns 58 this year.
She says “playing her own game” got her through challenging times when women were blocked from opportunities. “When you try to play somebody else’s game, you might be okay for awhile but you can’t act against types forever,” she says. “It’ll wear you out. You need to be yourself, play your own game by charting your own course.”
The development of a leader
She admits there were times and places in her own career that it was difficult to play her own game. “For instance, I remember when guys were used to meeting and having casual but important conversations over a guy’s game of golf or in the locker room,” she says. “My solution? I would tell them, ‘I know you’re playing golf but I took the liberty of setting up a social room for refreshments after golf.’ Then I was in on the conversations.”
Dr. Shaffer says she asked herself a question then – the same question women should ask now: What is the need to be fulfilled and do I have the means to do it?
“Then you can play your own game,” she says.
We asked Dr. Shaffer: are there “born leaders”?
“My brother would say I was born telling others what to do, but that’s not what you mean,” she says with a laugh.
“Being born with innate ability to lead isn’t enough,” she cautions. “I think there are three components of being a good leader.”
- Aspiration. “You have to want to be developed into a good leader and not have it thrust upon you.”
- Education. “Every leader needs development. What you may be born with are indications of leadership potential but to be a true leader you have to develop that capability. Leadership development is an ongoing process. I have been at this for awhile and I still benefit from learning new information about how to lead most effectively. Leadership development courses are the most valuable when they correct you about the guided missile path you’re on. Good self-awareness as a leader is that check-in we all need. We say, ‘I think I am this and have this type of style.’ But what would others say about my style? Am I truly being the type of leader I should be?
- Experience. “Experiences are much more important than titles. As you’re developing, seek out opportunities that allow you to truly develop leadership skills.”