Ep. 49: Why You Should Run to Criticism

with Renee DeSilva

October 6, 2021


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Renee DeSilva
CEO, The Health Management Academy

Renee DeSilva serves as CEO of The Health Management Academy, partnering with top executives from the nation’s 150 largest and most innovative healthcare companies to shape the future of the industry. Under Renee’s leadership, The Academy has launched a broad array of new research programs, strategic partnerships and leadership initiatives.  

With more than two decades of experience in the healthcare industry, Renee is a sought-after speaker, moderator, panelist and host. Informed by The Academy’s more than 65 annual events featuring c-suite healthcare decision-makers and innovators, she has unique insight into the challenges and opportunities facing the industry. She is frequently asked to speak on health system transformation catalyzed by COVID-19 and issues of race and representation in healthcare leadership.


Life is short, but it's also long. Don't put undue pressure for speed and urgency. Take a breath.



Sanjula Jain  0:03  

Women make up 70% of the healthcare workforce but only 20% of its leadership. On Her Story, we’ll explore the careers of bold and influential women from Silicon Valley to Capitol Hill and learn how they’ve overcome the odds. I’m your host, Sanjula Jain and this is Her Story, a program where we explore what’s beyond the glass ceiling.


It’s my pleasure to welcome Renee DeSilva, CEO of The Health Management Academy, to Her Story. Renee, it’s so wonderful to have you with us today. Thanks for spending some time.


Renee DeSilva  0:36  

Happy to be here. Good to be back with you again.


Sanjula Jain  0:39  

I should preface for the audience that you either have the fortune or misfortune of spending time with me today because we have a long history. Renee is a former boss and mentor and sponsor of mine, so I’m really looking forward to spending some time talking about your story. I’ve learned a lot of lessons from you about leadership and management along the way, so I’m really grateful for what you bring to the table.


Renee DeSilva  1:03  

Thank you. I consider it to be a good fortune, so I look forward to it.


Sanjula Jain  1:08  

For those in our audience who may be less familiar with The Health Management Academy, could you just share a little bit about what the mission of The Academy is?


Renee DeSilva  1:14  

The mission is really guided by a single principle, which is “member at the center.” That comes to life for us through the power of peer networks. We believe that when you have the right people around the table, you can drive conversations and insights that that really can drive the industry forward. That’s the mission of The Academy. That core foundation of bringing together leaders from healthcare systems and from industry companies then creates a flywheel around providing insights that can be scaled across the industry.


Sanjula Jain  1:47  

Your background is really unique from studying and public administration to leading sales and marketing for the country and I guess global leader in healthcare research and consulting to now leading The Health Management Academy. Do you consider your foray into leadership to be healthcare leadership specifically to be accidental or intentional?


Renee DeSilva  2:07  

A few months ago, I probably would have said a bit on the accidental path, but I was reminded recently, I had a high school friend whose mom digitized three years of our high school experience. She uploaded a YouTube link and that really captured that. And what I noticed about myself, which I don’t really remember now, many, many years later, is I naturally gravitated to moments to be in front of my class to find ways to lead. And so I do think that that core principle was in my DNA. And then my first job and my job throughout all of high school was working at Rhode Island hospital. Now this was in the main kitchen serving food to patients. But I do remember then being struck by what a great job it was, at that time, I feel like I made a lot of money for a 16-year-old and just being struck by the operational 24, seven drumbeat of hospitals. In hindsight, it was probably more intentional than I truly appreciate it.


Sanjula Jain  3:05  

I didn’t know that. One of your first jobs was actually in a hospital. It’s fun to see that come full circle. What was life growing up in Rhode Island? How do you think that shaped your career ambitions at that time when you were in high school, but even earlier than that?


Renee DeSilva  3:19  

Rhode Island’s smallest state in the nation, very tight community, how that plays out when you’re growing up, and especially with my dad, who was a UPS truck driver, so literally, quite literally trafficked across the entire state. As I felt like everywhere I went, I was being watched, and somebody knew me. That sort of does shapes a really tight-knit community, feeling like you have people rooting for you along the way. I also went to a small Catholic school from kindergarten through 12th grade, that was pretty fundamental and sort of how I was raised. It was this very small, uber-connected community where I always felt like—whether I liked it or not—there was always somebody around watching and aware of me and my family.


Sanjula Jain  4:06  

Then you went off to Syracuse to study public administration. After graduating, what were you wanting to do?


Renee DeSilva  4:13  

The university did a great job bringing employers to us. And so I landed at Accenture and I landed that role well before I graduated, and what I was struck by at the time was this notion of a large company that invested significantly and teaching and training, maybe people who were good fingers, but really didn’t have much tech technical acumen at the time. I loved the process. I loved figuring out puzzle pieces and how they came together. My first job at Accenture was— and this is before they could even build me to the client because I really didn’t have much by way of skill set wise, just mapping process flows for a large Consumer Products Company, and just seeing how all that fit together. I loved the nature of that work. I still draw on that in terms of thinking thematically and really figuring out how to bring things to life, and that that served me really well, I ended up becoming more technical than I had imagined. And I was spending a lot of time in heads-down roles. I’m pretty extroverted. I get energy from being in front of people and talking to people. And so I randomly on a whim said, I need a new job, let me try sales, because I felt like in my 22-year-old head at the time, that was a good example of places where you’d have to spend a lot of time talking to people. And so I quite randomly settled at a company called the advisory board. That was my sort of first commercial role. Then I spent 18 years at that same company and largely different roles. But that’s sort of how I landed and healthcare as a chosen career path and profession.


Sanjula Jain  5:48  

At that point, when you were thinking about the different roles, was it more about the function or was it about this desire to go and healthcare? I’m sure there are probably elements of both. But how were you thinking about that?


Renee DeSilva  5:57  

At the time, it was two forces. One was just the function of trying something that was a bit scary, like leaning into something that I felt like I was not prepared for. And the nature I wouldn’t have, I don’t think I would have taken a sales role on any function. The job that I had in my early to mid-20s was meeting hospital executives across the country, sharing with them our broad portfolio, and trying to engage with them. There was less consolidation than there is now in the industry, but it was very much a masterclass in learning healthcare from the lens of individual providers in local markets. I met with providers from Texas to Maryland, so very different geographies. It was fascinating how much you could tell from what the local environment dictated from the style of the leader. The mission really motivated the work. It was those two factors that led me to stay committed to a healthcare career path. And then I had the good fortune of landing with a company that invested in my growth. I grew as it grew and that afforded me opportunities that I would have otherwise missed.


Sanjula Jain  7:07  

As part of that, you’re too humble to say this, but you are by far the finest sales and marketing talent out there. I’ve learned a lot of skills for you along the way, you rose up the ranks at the advisory board, and had a phenomenal career there. That was a little over 15 years you spent there. You’ve had your pick of the choosing of different roles along the way. What’s rare in today’s society is you almost don’t hear of people staying with one organization for more than a handful of years. How did you think about why you decided to stay there for as long as you did and then when it was time to ultimately leave?


Renee DeSilva  7:45  

For me, sales is a platform for growth. I talked a lot about that with our team here today. I don’t want to sell unless it brings impact to an organization, in terms of the member or the client, but it also creates opportunities for internal talent. I stayed that long because there was always an emphasis on growth as a platform in terms of career trajectory and impact on the industry. And so it felt back to the mission, it felt very mission-focused. And then I will say, I landed, they’re very young in my career. So that part of it just may have been, you end up saying, Gallup says, What’s the number one predictor of somebody staying in their company? It’s if they have a best friend at work. I had several of them. I had several people who, to this day, I meet with monthly for our women supper club, so it was a combination of the work that the people that I consider to be friends, and then I had managers who always gave me more than I could handle. I didn’t get bored. That’s a really good combination for spending 15+ years in any one place.


Sanjula Jain  8:51  

After that, you decided to go on to EAB. What prompted that decision?


Renee DeSilva  8:57  

It was a hard pivot for someone who grew up in commercial-oriented roles. I went to the education company as a chief talent officer. So HR and governance, and how do you think about recruitment, all the things that aren’t necessarily part of a traditional commercial path, but that’s a little bit of my point of overtime, I really began to note where I got energy and where I might be able to make an impact. I tried to be quite direct with the teams that I worked with, and my upward managers around that. When EAB was carved out of the advisory board, it was taken private while the advisory board healthcare division went to Optim. And so it was this really interesting opportunity to build a company a little bit from scratch because you had to stand it up as an independent, fully functioning high performing unit and in a function that I had dabbled in through a broader commercially oriented path, but I wouldn’t say I have a traditional HR And what a gift for someone to trust me with that opportunity of leading talent organization for 1400 people. And it just was work that I really love. If you would have caught me, even three and a half years ago, I would have told you I would have been doing that work even today, but life happens and you end up making other changes.


Sanjula Jain  10:16  

You were just getting started at EAB and really enjoying that when you were approached to come on as president and CEO of The Academy. Tell us a little bit about that decision-making process and how you reconcile that.


Renee DeSilva  10:30  

When I first received the call from the executive search firm, I said, Thank you, but I’m really happy doing what I’m doing. And it’s just not a good time. And I hung up that phone call. And in the back of my mind, I sort of thought to myself, “Why would I not explore the CEO role? How many times does a CEO role across your desk?” My real reason for not being willing to explore that was I just was so loving what I was doing. Was there some fear? Was there some imposter syndrome? Perhaps underpinning my desire to just not even look at it, so I sat on that for a few days. She called me back and said, “Renee, can you at least take a single phone call?” So I took the phone call. After that call, I was like, “Man, I now know I really, really want this to happen.” There was something unique to The Academy opportunity that I felt like I was uniquely suited for, I had spent all of my career in healthcare at a membership-based organization. I knew the market really well. I had a perspective on convening and eventually growing more insights out of that. And so I felt like, if not this opportunity, what would prompt me to move and I think I would have been really disappointed in myself if I didn’t take a little bit of a leap of faith and try something that felt like I was ill-prepared for in some ways but, hindsight being 20/20, it was one of the best decisions that I’ve made.


Sanjula Jain  11:53  

In those early days, you and I had a conversation before you even came on full time. One of the things you had shared was you consulted your family. When you talk about timing, you have three kids (and I’ll come back to that in a minute), but what was that conversation like with them knowing that this role would have a lot of travel and taking on a CEO role is pretty intense? What was the inside baseball conversation?


Renee DeSilva  12:16  

I spent a lot of time dwelling on that because at the time my kids were tweens, which a lot of times you feel like when you’re raising kids at the early toddler years are like you are the hardest to mess with. In some ways. I feel like the stakes get a lot higher as they get older. I was fully aware that if I made this decision, I would have to lean all the way in, and that that would require a different level of energy and focus and rigor than then my current role did not that I wasn’t working hard, but it’s just a different energy. My husband was number one, yes, you should absolutely do it. If he had any reservations, that would have made it hard, because he does like me. One of the best decisions you can make is to pick the right partner. He is all in on my career path. And I would not have been able to make it happen if he was not willing to do the day-to-day stuff that sometimes I just don’t get to. I have an adult daughter who was at the time in her mid-20s and she was so proud of even the opportunity. That helped, feeling like you had a cheerleader. They were saying, “Mom, why would you not do that? That’s really cool.” My son was maybe nine at the time and didn’t really care. My middle daughter also thought it would be something I should absolutely consider. So full support of the family. And that did make a big difference in terms of just knowing what it would take and can still continue to take to just continue to stay active and really engaged in the work. That’s fascinating. There is a lot that needs to get done.


Sanjula Jain  13:40  

Absolutely. Going into the role before you even started, take us back to that time. What was Renee thinking about? “This is what I want to achieve as CEO.”


Renee DeSilva  13:52  

Interestingly, as I got to know the organization from the lens of the founders and the folks that were there (the employees, even members that I knew in a different context), my first thought was first to do no harm because it was an is a very special place in terms of privileged access, and relationship depth hearts and minds of people in healthcare that are just doing the work. That is what I believe will transform the industry. I really wanted to approach this more as it was already a thriving community of engaged executives. It had a great team of talent. It had a membership base that really loved The Academy and the first thing I was like, “Man, I just don’t mess it up.” Like go in and listen and learn and then come up with a series of observations. That’s really what I did for probably the first 12 months of my role. I hope that has served well.


Sanjula Jain  14:48  

Absolutely. I was there and I think you did a beautiful job of that. You met with every single employee and you sat down and did reflections and listening and you did that with many of the members, too. I think that served you very well. You went from Accenture to an advisory board to EAP, those are pretty large, established organizations. There are pros and cons to each of those. What was it like transitioning to not only a new role, but an environment that was much smaller and was more of a growth-stage company that probably didn’t have all the processes and infrastructure? We joked that the offices were very different, too.


Renee DeSilva  15:25  

The beauty of that is the decision-making is clean, there is not a ton of bureaucracy, you can be truly guided by the right answer and not have to think through your stakeholders in terms of like if you’re a publicly-traded company might view that. So the beauty of it was the long view growing but growing in a principled and thoughtful way. And so there was a lot that was good with that. The biggest challenge— and I know you’ve certainly felt this is our ambitions, and the pace at which we want to move sometimes outstrips our resources. So in a small company, there isn’t redundancy. There aren’t established processes, we didn’t even have a customer relationship management platform. And so it feels like you have so much energy and enthusiasm for the work, but things just take a little bit longer because the infrastructure is not there. Now going back to my eccentric days, I do love the process. And so in some ways, that wasn’t a negative for me. But I do have a reflection on that one reflection on that it wasn’t a negative for me, but it did feel like it made things slower. That being said, what wasn’t a negative one of the biggest learnings in my CEO role is to be careful that the things that you’re good at are that you don’t only spend time on those things, when really where your energy should be might be indifferent, might be in different places. And so I would say that that was an early reckoning that I think I had to have.


Sanjula Jain  16:49  

That’s really good advice. On the flip side of that,—and you’re kind of alluding to some of that, but I’m just curious—what were some of the biggest challenges for you just personally, whether it was the mindset or the energy, or just strategically of those first few months as CEO?


Renee DeSilva  17:04  

A big one was finding my place and my voice among our members. Because of the nature of the size, it had been founder-led for 20+ years. It was, in many ways, having to think through how I could earn the trust that had been engendered by the founders with our members and feel like they trust me in my direction, but also recognizing that I need to do it in a way that’s authentic to me. And that’s going to look different like it’s going to physically look different, it’s going to feel different, it’s going to be different. And that is okay. But it did take me some time to really settle into that rhythm. And I would say that was probably one of the places that I had to be just the most thoughtful about continuing the legacy and tradition, but doing in a way that felt like I could only be me, I’d be a poor version of anybody else. And so it just took me a little bit of time to settle that in my own head.


Sanjula Jain  17:58  

I didn’t tell you I was gonna bring this up, but I was just thinking as you were talking: there was one Academy meeting we were at a couple of months in. You had fully taken over the reins and a member came to you and said, “Can you point me in the direction of the CEO?” You were like, “That would be me.” Do you remember that?


Renee DeSilva  18:19  

I introduced myself and I think someone said, “Oh, what do you do here?” “I do whatever needs to be done.” I wasn’t intentional or aspirational. I don’t think I was necessarily ever striving for a CEO title, per se. You sort of take those moments in stride, but at the same time, you want to be intentional around making sure your team members and the members and clients that you serve have confidence in the direction. It took a little time to get that right.


Sanjula Jain  18:48  

You mentioned you were basically the second CEO after the founders who had been there for a long time. That’s pretty tough, and also comes with opportunities: wearing your internal hat, HR and talent and culture. That’s really important to you. How did you think about influencing and managing that dynamic where you have a whole host of employees who had been there many since the founding, that you were also growing and bringing on new talent and people that you knew what was that like?


Renee DeSilva  19:20  

There are different ways that you can do a founder transition, I think we handled ours nicely, and that there was a significant period of overlap. And so I did, I did benefit from that and that I didn’t have to worry about Miss like balls dropping because there was someone who had a longitudinal view. And I at least initially, just seeded some of that work and didn’t feel like I had to do everything. There’s a lesson in that, too: pick your spots and be intentional around what you think you can uniquely contribute to. Sometimes that means leaving some things for others. For the first 12 or 18 months, I just seated pieces of the business that I knew that I wanted to get more involved in but it didn’t have to be day one. That was the first piece I felt like a big part of my inflection could be on talent and culture in Oregon infrastructure. And in a company that we don’t produce products. Like it’s all individual IP, if you don’t have a strong engaged team member community, you’re in pretty big trouble. And so I felt like I could uniquely contribute to that. And then just being willing over time to re-evaluate where I could be of highest and best use and just being willing to make those changes over time.


Sanjula Jain  20:25  

Looking back, is there as a first-time CEO, what would you advise to other first-time CEOs, maybe something that you wish you were made aware of, or advice that you have been given? Any thoughts there?


Renee DeSilva  20:40  

There are probably two things I would distill it down to: (1) really take the time to understand the business because even though I felt like the diligence process that I went through, I felt like I was in a mutual evaluation. The founders and that our strategic partner did a beautiful job making everything as plain as possible, but you still have to learn. So really just no job is too small, really getting deep understanding, just understand the nuances that you only know over time, would be the first thing. The second thing would be thinking through the team that you put in place and suspending ego. In some ways, figure out if you’re grounded by “member at the center.” Make sure that dictates how you spend your time. That is a big part of it. And maybe there’s a way to short circuit it, but it does come down to just being comfortable in your own shoes. And being unabashedly in your willingness to just do what you think is his right answer, because that’s ultimately what you were hired for. You have to learn the business, you have to have the right team, you have to get input, but you have to be comfortable in being in those shoes. Sometimes there can be a little bit of a self-talk track in your head that can undermine that if you’re not careful, or at least that’s true for me. And I would say anyone that I’ve ever worked with would not say that I suffer from confidence or that but there’s something to the role and the title that can that you just need to be mindful of as you settle in and you don’t you just sort of continue to be you. Because that’s what you That’s why you were hired. That’s why I was picked for the role.


Sanjula Jain  22:16  

To unpack something said earlier, I may be biased because I’ve had the honor of working with you, but you have this incredible ability to suspend your ego and your words, right, like you are good about saying these are my strengths. This is something that I do want to spend time on, this is something that I feel good about or this, or I need input like you’re really good about that self-awareness. And you’re very intentional about thinking about these are the roles and habits that I want to play at different points in time, to your point about where to focus. One of the decisions you made early on, which I thought was really incredible, is you decided to carve out a piece of your original role and title and bring in someone else to take on the president role. Talk a little bit about that process and why you did that.


Renee DeSilva  22:58  

That was probably more guided by my belief that the very best thing that I can do is attract talent to this organization. And I am really uniquely positioned in my ability to do that for the organization. I learned along the way that you always hire folks that could do your job. Don’t be afraid about that, like don’t have any reservations around that. There’s a Patrick who I’ve worked within the past. We have some overlapping skills, but we are very different in terms of how we see the world and how we approach problem-solving. I knew that while The Academy had a really thriving community that’s purely based on our focus, we want to grow right any company that can have an impact has to grow. And he was Matt, he’s so smart on thinking about thoughtful ways to expand and launch new products. And so I could already see fast forward a couple of years where we would have to go and so if you can get talent and be opportunistic about that, and be willing to make things like a title are not an issue. It serves me well, it serves our members well, and hopefully it serves our team members well. That was guided by just being relentlessly focused on building the best talent and not letting a title change for me be the thing that held that back.


Sanjula Jain  24:19  

Well said. You just celebrated your three-year anniversary as CEO. Congratulations. You’ve been talking a lot about trying new things, learning as you go. I’m sure the things that you were thinking about and those early months and years are different from what they are today. Talk a little about the evolution of where you’re spending your time today versus those early days. What’s something that’s your new learning curve today?


Renee DeSilva  24:45  

This has been a big transition for me. Let’s back up a little bit. About 18 months into my tenure for a company that does 65 live events a year. It’s often how people know us and where the affection comes from COVID half We have to completely halt that part of our business, which is a major driver for us. That transitioned me in terms of time spent was around pivoting and figuring out how we continue to serve members well in a different unkind way. And so what I’ve seen happen to my role over time, and I don’t know that I anticipated this, what I took this position as I am far more externally-facing and outwardly focused than I am internal. And that again, I love chief talent officer background, I would be very happy if I never left this building and just did the work on the team. But the role that I can uniquely play is with our members and being out front and leading a lot of our content development with our CEOs and trustees in particular in that that is the core foundation. And so that is where I have for the last 18 months been really focused. And that did take back to this, I’ve heard our member CEOs talk about this a lot. There is the trap of reinforcing where you get your energy from and continuing to spend time on it, and maybe under developing other skills. And so I’ve really worked on content stewardship, being the voice at our senior executive table with our members. And in support. I’m like, “Oh, I’m actually pretty good at this, and I like it, too!” If you’d have asked me that 18 months ago, I would not have been so sure. So that I would say would be the biggest shift for me in terms of time spent, and one that I didn’t anticipate, but one that I’m really enjoying, and that we have a great team. And so in terms of operations and managing pipelines and running new product evaluations, I spend less time on that, which is fine by me.


Sanjula Jain  26:42  

Underlying the law of that too is this approach you have that you’re willing to try different things and embrace new kinds of things that might be uncomfortable to start. I think you’re doing a beautiful job at that. During COVID, you also started hosting a podcast too, so you’re doing a lot of fun new initiatives.


Renee DeSilva  26:56  

I did. I do. I will say though, I prefer being on this side of the mic though.


Sanjula Jain  27:01  

You’re very versatile, you can play both host and guest. There’s a lot I want to dig into on the coprime because I think it really is worth highlighting that the core product, so to speak of The Academy really was that convening, and I might have to have you back for a part to unpack that more. For our audience’s benefit. I think just noting that how you have rallied the team internally and innovated and figured out ways to do hybrid models and a bunch of different ways to learn and provide content, basically, to the industry at this time of crisis was no easy feat. So kudos to you on through that. So maybe shifting gears a little bit, you see this all day, every day and think a lot about this and working with number CEOs, it’s no secret that very few women, particularly women of color, are in CEO type roles. I’m sure you have numerous stories on this in terms of how some of your experiences have been different because of the fact that you are a woman of color. But I’m curious about the CEO hat. How have you encountered receptivity towards you because of your gender and ethnicity? How has that come into play?


Renee DeSilva  28:08  

It’s an interesting journey. My reflection on it would be that I am always aware that even today, most of the time, maybe not the only but I’m one of few women in the room. And I’m often the only person of color. And I guess my choice is that I can let that drive a narrative in my head, or I can use my lived experience to try to use my voice and platform to move conversations around it. And I would say back to you how my time has shifted and changed over the years. I think there was probably a point in time where you were so heads-down trying to focus on your own career that maybe you’re not doing enough to really be a voice and really drive conversations. And I’ve tried to push myself on this through some of the writing that I’ve done, my own storytelling, or my own family’s encounters around. In this case, it was my brother’s death at the hands of a police officer. This was on the heels of George Floyd. I’ve tried to talk about how we need to do more as individuals to not be colorblind, but really be more aware of how somebody’s lived experience impacts, how the world sees them, and maybe sometimes how they see themselves. And so I think to those of us who, for whatever, whatever it means to make it but if you are now in the room, and you’re now at the table, how am I creating more space for others at that same table. That’s sort of where my current thinking is on it. Maybe over time, I have been more comfortable leading from the front on that. That to me feels like I’m pretty proud of the ability for me through my own personal voice and platform, but also to some of the things that The Academy is doing to really drive that forward.


Sanjula Jain  29:52  

You’ve been phenomenal by leading by example in that and elevating your voice to draw awareness to a lot of those issues, so thank you for doing that. You were actually the first person to teach me about the difference between mentorship and sponsorship and I’m interested in what those roles have played in your journey and what type of feedback you get along the way to prepare you for what you do today.


Renee DeSilva  30:17  

I was fortunate to land under a manager in the middle of my career who really played both. He did two things for me, and if you find yourself with a manager who’s not doing these things for you, it could be career-limiting. I tell friends in my circle this all the time. He did two things for me. One was he helped me to see my gifts that were not always playing to me. And he would note things that I did that just might be reflective by or like part of my own reflex, not reflective, but part of my own reflex that didn’t know that that was anything special. So he allowed me to understand what my what and how I contributed in a way that was really helpful to an organization. And that could be a little bit of a sort of a power alley in terms of other places that I could go. So that was the first thing he did. We also had this culture, and it was one of the cultural tenants that were run to criticism. And so how that played out was, when your work product or how you did in the meeting was about to get totally torched, they would say, in the spirit of running to criticism, let me give you some feedback on how that presentation went. And he was also ruthless about doing that, for me, like really telling me what my blind spots were. And I do think to your question on mentorship and sponsorship, I think part of the issue sometimes can be that for whatever reason, women do not get enough feedback on both the gifts, and, hey, here’s something that may or may not be true, but here’s how people are receiving you are perceiving you and things that are going to be rate-limiting if you don’t work on it. And Adam did both of those things. For me, it was with empathy. And he’s very funny. And so he did it with a lot of humor, too. And so I would, I would say he comes to mind is that the best example of that, and then there were others along the way. But when I really needed it, he did both for me, and I thank him to this day because I think I probably would have gotten in my own way without that.


Sanjula Jain  32:10  

As you would say, feedback is a gift and I couldn’t agree more. With that, to your point on running to criticism, what’s been one of the most difficult pieces of feedback you’ve received, and how did you overcome it?


Renee DeSilva  32:22  

I usually say feedback is a gift, even when it’s hard to receive. My best example of this would be I was taken through a leadership development program. And as part of that process, we have a 360. But it was like not a normal 360 it was the normal parts your upward, your sort of direct reports, your manager might also include it, my cousin who was basically a sister, a roommate, we’d gone through elementary through college together, she was in my 360, an older cousin who was a mentor to me, and at the time, my 10-year-old daughter. So in the spirit of getting a lot of feedback and difficult feedback that and they and this company that did these 360s knew that they were going to push on pain points. The delivery of that was in a corporate apartment in New York City so that you could emote in any way that you would actually email it when this feedback was shared. There are two things that still remain to this day that I remember from that conversation. So the first was a really large gap in terms of how my team viewed me. And this category of others, right. The others would be people who were in your orbit, who are peers, but not direct reports, my team felt that I cared for them, we had a good connection, they felt like I advocated for them. The others as they were like they were grouped as others on the report felt like I was transactional, that I had my own agenda and nothing else mattered. And so I knew that if I ever wanted to have a role with a larger scope of influence, you need the others, the people in your orbit to be your biggest fans. That was a pretty big piece of feedback for me that I had to adjust. And the second one that I remember was, this might be driven by I had my first daughter in college. And so I entered the workforce with a three-year-old. So I’ve always had to be uber-efficient. And the flip side of efficiency is transactional, and maybe callous, right? Because you’re just trying to get through things and keep moving and so that those two strings of feedback of the others aren’t quite feeling you, Renee, they’re not. You have some work to do there. And it’s because you’re coming across as transactional was whether or not I agreed or not, which I didn’t push back on because I could see the truth in that. I had to work on it. I remember that to this day, that long afternoon in New York.


Sanjula Jain  34:45  

I think that efficiency pieces are really fascinating and something that probably a lot of folks have not drawn attention to so I appreciate you calling that out as someone who did enter the workforce as a mom and it’s still raising children today. What advice would you have for other women who are juggling these demanding careers and a family?


Renee DeSilva  35:05  

The thing we sometimes forget to tell people is that it does get easier the more senior you become. My first advice to people that I’ve worked with is like just don’t opt out too soon. Because there is a period of time where it is really hard. And you feel like you could be at a breaking point. But if you have a good friend network or good childcare around you, I always urge people to try to get through the hardest parts, because it does get easier over time. It gets easier over time, in part because you learn how to really pick your spots and to find a way to get things done and to still have the type of family life that you want to have. And then the more senior you get, as you have greater earning potential, you can also outsource things like I don’t think we talked about this enough as busy professionals like you don’t have to do all the things right, you can find ways to get things done that are good for your time. Don’t opt out too soon. It does get easier. And I do think the more meaning you find in your work, the more you can balance and maybe bounce like a bad word in my mind. Yeah. The more you can integrate, right, because if you find meaning and purpose in what you’re doing, and you also find meaning and purpose in your life outside of work, it feels like your cup may be full, but you don’t feel necessarily cracked. That’s the piece that I always try to go back to with folks who were on the earlier sides of that journey.


Sanjula Jain  36:32  

Related to that, you are really good both internally with teammates and employees and staff and then externally, even with members and clients who have been setting boundaries between personal and professional and you’re very encouraging of others to do the same. What kind of advice do you have for others who know that they want to do that, but struggle to draw some of those lines?


Renee DeSilva  36:52  

Thank you for that, because to me it doesn’t always feel like I do that. Well, sometimes I feel like there are moments where I feel completely, maybe taxed or tapped from a professional side. And then there are others where I feel like home is getting in the way of me bringing everything I need to bring to work. So I’m glad at least it looks like on the surface that that’s happening. It comes down to giving yourself a little bit of grace, I did. One reflection I do have on that would be this notion of on and off-ramps. And so I have thought about this throughout my career. And I have at Times noted when I needed to be a bit of a like on an off ramp. And sometimes that’s had to do with kids. Sometimes it had to do with parents, sometimes it had to do with my own self, like where I was mentally and energy-wise. These on and off ramps, don’t underestimate those. For those to work means like sometimes you’re really leaning all the way in and sometimes you just need a minute, if you end up with the right company and with the right manager, you can act. I’ve had those conversations live with my managers in the past. Sometimes that means you know what unfortunate I can’t take anything else on because there’s just too much going on personally. Other times I’ve said like, hey, it’s a good moment for me like what else can I do to be helpful? So there’s power in the on and off-ramps, that would be that would be one thing I would note. On the boundaries piece of that, that does come with some, some practice. And so like highest and best use, what can I do uniquely and this is not just from having the CEO role. I’ve had to do this my entire career. But what can I uniquely do and then something else we don’t talk about is not everything needs to be done at an A standard, like some things can be A, B, and or C like some things can be deprioritized. The danger is if you’re only doing this in your head, and you’re not managing expectations around it. So if I’m sort of saying this is gonna be done to a B, and my, my, my manager thinks it should be done to an A, then we have a problem. But noting that and being really explicit around how like What does good look like and sometimes not letting perfect be the enemy of good. If it appears as if I’m managing that. Those are some of the things that I’ve thought about over time.


Sanjula Jain  39:02  

I love that. That’s a great analogy. As part of that, everyone has their personal outlets and hobbies and things that they do for them. I know that from dancing, karaoke, working out, you have a whole host of them, but what’s the one ritual that you have for yourself to decompress and find your me time?


Renee DeSilva  39:20  

I’m working on finding a real hobby. It’s hard, right? I don’t know, karaoke counts as a hobby. I’m very bad at it. So I’m working on a hobby. But I would say that the thing that I do when I feel like I’m in my flow, and this may be achieved because at some point we’ll end is I love sports, more. I’m not athletic. I love observing sports. And so I have a basketball player and two volleyball players and like Time stands still for me when I’m just engaging in that I just get so much energy around it. And I love that. And so that’s a big part of where I spend my time outside of work. And then, increasingly, I’m loving to entertain. And so we’ve been hosting through the pandemic these things called soul Sunday. is at my house, which is basically watching a football game with a pot of chili. And everybody brings them aside. I find having that on a Sunday makes my weekends feel better, so I’m looking forward to soul Sunday now that football season is back.


Sanjula Jain  40:15  

Who’s your football team?


Renee DeSilva  40:17  

I’m from Rhode Island, so I’m a Patriots fan, which usually people boo at that moment, but I was a Patriots fan long before Tom Brady and I still root for the Pats.


Sanjula Jain  40:26  

Okay, well, we’re borrowing Tom Brady down in Tampa these days.


Renee DeSilva  40:29  

Yes, yes. I’m still rooting for him. Anytime you can be 44 and still competing at that level, you have to give him some respect for that.


Sanjula Jain  40:37  

Fair enough. Rennee, this has been phenomenal, so I’ll wrap this up with two final questions. One is coming full circle, what advice would you give your younger self?


Renee DeSilva  40:46  

Well, she wouldn’t listen. That part I do know. I guess I would say to my younger self, just to take a breath. I feel like sometimes life is long. Life is short, but life is also long. Throughout my life and career, I have sometimes put undue pressure on speed. And urgency, like I’ve always lived very urgently. I would probably say, “Just take a breath. It’s gonna be okay. It’s going to work out.” That would probably be the biggest thing. When you are an achiever— you know you’re an achiever when you feel like you have to do everything in a linear way in getting things done. Take a breath. It will be fine. That’s probably what I what probably what I needed to hear 20 years ago,


Sanjula Jain  41:39  

That’s a good reminder for all leaders, and I don’t know how you feel about this, but in healthcare, in particular, just the nature of the work in the industry, and I know even just during COVID, right, that that sense of that urgency, that’s a tough thing to reconcile with that. That’s good advice. So then the final question. You mentioned you’re doing some writing now and you’re just undertaking a lot of really impressive initiatives. As you think about the autobiography that’s going to be written about you one day, what would be the title of your book?


Renee DeSilva  42:08  

This is a hard question. I need a good editor that might want to change this title, but the immediate thing I think about when you ask that question is, Make It Happen. By that I mean we all underestimate our own sort of personal influence platform, abilities, power BI power, like that power over, but power with the ability for one individual to inflect something is not small. So I would say Make It Happen.


Sanjula Jain  42:47  

Love it. That’s a perfect book title. You don’t need an editor for that.


Renee DeSilva  42:51  

Okay, good. I just need a ghostwriter if I’m ever going to write something, but that’s for another day.


Sanjula Jain  42:56  

Maybe you’ll do it in audio format on your podcast, who knows? Renee, thanks again for spending so much time with us. We really appreciate it.


Renee DeSilva  43:04  

Thank you. This was fun.


Sanjula Jain  43:06  

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