Ep 34: The Value of ‘Unlearning’

June 2, 2021


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Esther Farkas
SVP Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer, Unite Us

Esther Farkas is the Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Unite Us, a Veteran-led health technology company that connects healthcare with social care. After graduating from law school from the University of Michigan, Esther spent more than seven years at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, a leading New York and international law firm. Armed with the knowledge that only about 20% of women make equity partner, she left her male-dominated firm and founded her own business law firm, Farkas & Neurman, in 2013. She represented venture funds and assisted small and emerging growth companies from formation through their life cycles.

Geeta Nayyar, M.D., MBA
General Manager of Healthcare and Life Sciences, and Executive Medical Director, Salesforce

Dr. Geeta Nayyar, M.D., M.B.A., is a nationally recognized leader in healthcare information technology, a physician executive, a frequently sought-after public speaker, and an author with unique perspectives that bridge clinical medicine, business, communications, and digital health. Dr. Nayyar currently serves as Executive Medical Director for Salesforce.

As a specialist in rheumatology, Dr. Nayyar maintains active practice and faculty affiliation with the University of Miami and serves on the University of Miami Medical School Alumni Association Board. She also has held several positions in media and with professional societies, including as the host of “Topline MD TV,” and as a member of the Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) board of directors.

In her free time, she enjoys volunteering and helping train medical students at the University of Miami Mitchell Wolfson Sr. Department of Community Service (DOCS). Dr. Nayyar also enjoys playing tennis and spending time with her daughter and family.

Vivian Lee, M.D., Ph.D., MBA
President of Health Platforms, Verily Life Sciences

 Vivian S. Lee, MD, PhD, MBA, works closely with Verily’s clinical and engineering teams to develop products and platforms that support health system improvement and advance population health. She oversees all healthcare platforms, including Onduo, Healthy at Work and Verily’s Value Suite, among others. Dr. Lee is the author of The Long Fix: Solving America’s Health Care Crisis with Strategies that Work for Everyone (Norton, 2020). As a healthcare executive, she formerly served as the medical school dean, SVP, and CEO of the University of Utah Health, a $3.5 billion integrated health system and health plan that ranked first among university hospitals in quality and safety. A Rhodes Scholar, she is a graduate of Harvard College, Oxford University, Harvard Medical School and NYU Stern School of Business.

Miriam Paramore
President and CSO, OptimizeRx

Miriam Paramore is President and CSO of OptimizeRx, a digital health platform focused on
medication affordability and adherence. Paramore has 30+ years of experience in healthcare with deep expertise in health information technology. She also currently serves as Director at Medsphere Systems and an Advisor at NueCura Partners, a Nashville-based healthcare angel investment company. Previously, Paramore was Executive Vice President of Care RxTM for PDX where she focused on consumer-centric wellness. While working as the Executive Vice President of Strategy and Product Management at Emdeon (Change Healthcare), she helped lead the company to over $1.2 billion in revenues and an IPO.

"One of the leaders—who was very distinguished and senior to me—pulled me aside and said, 'Vivian, that's not how you lead. You can't ask everybody what they think. You need to just tell them. That's what a strong leader does.' I remember thinking, 'Hmm, I don't think so.'" - Dr. Vivian Lee



Sanjula Jain  0:04  

Leadership requires constant reflection and adaptation, often requiring one to unlearn old processes and relearn new ones. Many women leaders have expressed the need to ‘unlearn’ certain mindsets and practices at different stages of their careers. In this special edition of Her Story, we asked a few of our guests across different sectors of healthcare to share one thing they believed early on in the career that they no longer believe.

First, we hear from Esther Farkas, the SVP Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer of Unite Us, a technology company focused on building health and social care networks.

Esther Farkas  0:35  

When I was coming up in the law firm environment, every piece of advice you gave was seen as having to be essentially perfect. Basically, before you write an email or ever advise a client, if you haven’t done five to 10 hours of work checking into it, then you haven’t done it right. It took me almost a decade to unlearn that and to say, one, you can make mistakes. You have to own the mistakes but, if you own those mistakes, people understand. Two, at some point you have the experience and knowledge to be able to advise without doing hours and hours of work. You should always do your research. You should always do work, but this idea that everything you say and everything you write down has to be absolutely perfect and unimpeachable can paralyze people. I think that is the biggest thing. Obviously, I do my best and I try to not make huge mistakes, but I see that not everything I say is unimpeachable. Something I said might be wrong and someone may come back to me and say, “Look, think about this differently,” and I’ll learn from that and think about it differently. I don’t have to feel bad about not getting it completely right. Particularly for women, I found that can be paralyzing. I think women have this idea that they have to always be perfect at all times. When you reinforce that with that kind of work environment, people won’t take risks. They won’t innovate and they won’t go past their point of comfort, which is what you need to move the needle.


Sanjula Jain  2:15

Dr. Geeta Nayyar is the General Manager of Healthcare and Life Sciences and Executive Medical Director of Salesforce, a cloud-based software company that provides CRM capabilities.

Geeta Nayyar  2:26

As a doc and as someone in the medical world, a lot of us are perfectionists and a lot of us are alphas. Alpha women, alpha men. I certainly fall into that category. One of my mentors said to me, “If you try to make everything perfect, you’ll never get anything done.” Don’t be so afraid to just move forward, particularly in software where they often release things and then evolve them as they go. It’s very different in medicine where we like to nail it on the first go because there are lives at stake, so just learning through that process that making progress includes failures, mistakes, and learning as you go and that that is also the natural course of business and of life. That’s probably one of the biggest learnings I’ve had.

Sanjula Jain  3:10

Next is Dr. Vivian Lee, President of Health Platforms at Verily Life Sciences, a life sciences research organization affiliated with Alphabet.

Vivian Lee  3:19

I remember when I had a leadership role early on in my career, I was charged with building this program and developing a strategy for doing it. My approach was to bring a number of people to the table and have a discussion and get their input about it. I remember afterward, one of the leaders—who was very distinguished and senior to me—pulled me aside and said, “Vivian, that’s not how you lead. You can’t ask everybody what they think. You need to just tell them. That’s what a strong leader does.” I remember thinking, “Hmm, I don’t think so.” For me, I want to hear the input. It doesn’t mean I have to do what you’ve told me, but the input is incredibly invaluable. Yes, there definitely have been times when I felt like it’s important to stick to what works for you. What works for me has worked out okay.


Sanjula Jain  4:15

Wrapping us up is Miriam Paramore, President and CSO of OptimizeRx, a digital communications platform focused on improving medication access and adherence at the point of care.


Miriam Paramore  4:26  

We all deal with the imposter syndrome, but if you put the female expectation and then—in my case—the additional southeastern, Bible Belt cultural expectation on top of that, it becomes ingrained in your psyche. It feels like the truth so you measure yourself against your ability to meet those standards of ultimate truth. I’ve learned that there’s probably no such thing as an “ultimate truth” and we’re all sort of determining our own paths. We can be influenced. We’re heavily influenced by our culture, our families, our DNA, our heritage, but we get to define what success means for ourselves, and that can be holistic. For me, it needs to be about my personal life and my professional life. It needs to be mind-body-spirit, so I need to take care of myself physically, mentally, emotionally, take care of the ones I love, and then also allow myself to express myself creatively in the world. Business is a creative process for me. I’ve come to believe that we get to design that for ourselves. I didn’t believe that early on. I tried to force myself into doing all of these things. I was very ashamed and embarrassed. I still have a little bit of discomfort being a single woman. I feel looked at like, “Oh, well, yeah. She’s just another divorced business executive.” I think we have a lot of those judgments. I have to accept that those things are out there but let go of my own sort of belief system.


Sanjula Jain  6:17

Thank you, ladies, for sharing your reflections. It’s a great reminder that leadership requires moments of unlearning.


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