Lan Nguyen 0:01
Herstory is an interactive audio and video series developed by women for women to share stories that expand their vision of what is possible as healthcare leaders. Each month we’ll feature a new host interviewing one or more guests each week.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 0:17
This is the inaugural launch of her story, which has women leaders exchanging their leadership stories with other women. I’m joined by Ceci Connelly who’s President Ceo, The Alliance of Community Health Plans, Dr. Julie Gerberding, Chief Patient Officer, Merck and former director of the CDC, and Lynne Chow O’Keefe, Founder and Managing Director, Defined Ventures and formerly a partner with John Doerr at Kleiner Perkins, and all of them have fascinating leadership stories that we are really enthusiastic about sharing with all of you today. So let me start with the first question. I’m Joanne Conroy, by the way, CEO and President of Dartmouth Hitchcock, Dartmouth Hitchcock health. Let’s first start about your leadership career. So Ceci, were you an accidental or intentional leader?
Ceci Connolly 1:10
Well, my poor parents who knew me from day one would probably say that I was a little bit of an insufferable, bossy first child, but since most of my career track and aspiration was to be a journalist, no, it wasn’t necessarily leadership.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 1:27
How about you Lynn, accidental or intentional?
Lynne Chow O’Keefe 1:30
Well, I have to say, so Ceci was the only child and I had a mom who was a corporate executive. So I’ve seen kind of women in leadership throughout my childhood into life and balancing work in life. And so you know, did I have aspirations to be like my mother? Absolutely. Did I think it would formulate itself exactly in founding and managing my own venture capital firm? Not necessarily. I’ve always wanted to be part of building an enduring organization. And so happy to do it in the way that I’m doing it today.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 2:04
Julie, how about you, accidental or intentional?
Dr. Julie Gerberding 2:06
Yeah, I came from a long lineage of matriarchs, for sure, but my dream was to be a doctor. I didn’t think about leadership, I just thought about taking care of patients from the time I was about four years old. So for me, everything that followed, that was completely accidental.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 2:24
Wow, you know, all of us have different paths to leadership. And I’ve always thought that we’re kind of a patchwork quilt of all of our experiences, your leadership successes and leadership failures actually make you and probably your failures make you a better leader than your successes. But when did you get the first taste of leadership? It’s both the, I’d say the agony and the ecstasy, you know, ecstasy, when you actually lead effectively, but agony is you could get a lot of bruises along the way. How about you Julie? Start with you.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 2:58
I think my first leadership experiences actually came from Girl Scouts. I was technically never a Girl Scout, because we didn’t have a troop in my community, but my grandmother was the executive director of the council in our state. So I spent my summers camping. And as I got a little bit older, I became a junior counselor, and then a senior counselor, and then the waterfront director, and then the song leader known as “tweet”. So I think those experiences being around girls of all ages really helped me understand what it takes to incite people to have fun, but also come together and really get some stuff done.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 3:37
Yeah. How about Ceci? I mean, stepping into leadership is kind of an active activity, you actually have to make that commitment, especially as a more experienced leader. How about your first leadership success?
Ceci Connolly 3:51
Well, the first was one that I probably wasn’t even focusing on it being leadership to tell you the truth. It was when I was the executive editor of The Heights, the Boston College independent weekly newspaper. And at the time, it was kind of like, well, I’ve been doing this for years. And I love it, and so yeah, I should get to be in charge of it now. And so you can imagine that’s a pretty interesting role, because we were truly independent, but we didn’t always agree with the Jesuits at Boston College. So navigating some of those relationships between the students and the Jesuits and faculty and donors, and everybody else, I guess, probably prepared me a little bit for advocacy work.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 4:36
Oh, yeah. Student newspapers are really a great training ground for managing conflict. That’s for sure. You Lynn, what was your first leadership success?
Lynne Chow O’Keefe 4:47
Yeah, this is kind of eerie. Mine is I was an undergrad at Stanford, and we had this thing called Stanford student enterprises. So a little different than the school newspaper, but we were all entrepreneurs running our own businesses. Mine happened to be what we call flicks and flicks at Stanford was the weekend movies. So I ran a movie for the graduate schools and the undergrads and we had this funny tradition of everyone bringing paper and kind of letting loose and having paper wars, and quite frankly, was running the movie theater in one of my earliest degrees. So a lot of fun and something completely different than healthcare that is for sure – entertainment, but it gave me my first chops of really running a P&L and having employees and kind of being that General Manager.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 5:29
Yeah. Let’s talk about the worst advice you’ve received as a leader, because, you know, it’s amazing how many people want to give you advice, and how many people want to say after you’ve become successful that they mentored you. So a lot of that mentorship comes with some very helpful, but some not so helpful advice. So Lynn, start with you. What is the worst piece of advice you ever received?
Lynne Chow O’Keefe 5:54
Yeah, I think as I was going in my career, I think some of the advice came from “Well Lynn, this is kind of the path here, and this is the way it’s always been done, in a sense. And yes, you are kind of young and up and coming. But there’s kind of a well trodden path of people who have been here a long time, etc.” And you know, quite frankly, it came down to even people I would manage who had been longer tenured than me when and let’s then talk about salary differential, which we won’t get into fixing. But this is the way it’s been done Lynn, and so even though I was kind of high performing, kind of being told that this was the system, rather than really looking at the merits of my work, and not looking at time as a predicator of success,
Dr. Joanne Conroy 6:49
Yeah, it’s kind of swim in your lane. Don’t anybody else’s. Julie, how about you?
Dr. Julie Gerberding 6:54
You know, there was a point in my academic career when you had to go in for your midpoint evaluation to see if you were on track for tenure. And the person who was responsible for that review, for me was someone who came from a very traditional academic background, very lab based. And at the time, although I was on track, I had lots of publications, great grant funding and lots of fellows and was really excited about the direction my career was taking. He really thought that successful people at the university needed to be in the lab. And although I’d spent time in the lab, that wasn’t my priority, and he suggested I find a new mentor, get back to the lab, buckle down and restart my career. I was horrified and cried in his office, which was even more horrifying, and then I got mad, and then I got very busy. And I just said about the prospect of making sure that my academic credentials were impeccable, and ultimately, I did get tenure. But it was really a wake up call that that emotion had to be channeled into something good because otherwise I was really gonna fall apart.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 8:05
I bet he tells all of his friends that he mentored you.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 8:09
I hope he does.
Ceci Connolly 8:13
Well, mine are two similar situations, not fully advice category. But first, a man who announced to me one time completely unsolicited and unsought that he was going to be my coach. And among other things, the rationale for this was that he had coached his kids sports teams. And so this was going to be really terrific for me that he had decided that he was now my coach. And it similarly, and I’m going to be honest, I still encounter versions of this is men who give you some version of don’t you wear your pretty little head about this will take care of it for you. I’ll take care of it for you. And Gosh, those just have never really quite worked out.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 9:01
Yeah, I would say, believe it or not, I was told and still get told, don’t get very involved in women’s issues. You don’t want to be branded as one of those women. And I’m like, Yay, I’m so glad that I stood up for the things that we thought were important and actually didn’t shy away from saying, No, this is unfair. This is inequitable, and I’m thrilled that I didn’t take that advice, and I still get it from people. So, let’s shift a little bit and talk about a time when you were discouraged. Let’s not call it a failure, because I don’t think when we have challenges in our career, they’re failures, but they do make us rethink and reset, just like you said, Julie, about that bad advice you got from a mentor. You give a great story about what you did when you were discouraged in order to turn that around. What kept you going, Julie, when some people would just curl up In a fetal position and reevaluate their career.
Dr. Julie Gerberding 10:04
Yeah, you know, I think for me, of course, I was lucky to have lots of positive mentors. So I was surrounded by people who had me under their wing and, you know, gave me support. And that really matters and my friends in particular, but also some of my academic colleagues and people who are a little more senior than I was. But I think the other thing is kind of stubbornness. You know, like, if you want something bad enough, and this probably has to do with my South Dakota roots and my Germanic background, but you know, if you want something bad enough, you can have it if you work hard enough. And really, if it’s worth it, you’ll work hard enough, and you can earn it. And that’s just that kind of intrinsic belief, I’ve always had that it can do anything if I work hard enough at it. And if something really matters, you just keep trying.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 10:53
Yeah, that’s kind of the definition of grit. How about you Lynn?
Lynne Chow O’Keefe 10:58
I would think one of the biggest lessons I learned is, as I was rising in my career in a particular organization, my former managers as I was becoming their peers, if not kind of rising behind that started to try to undermine me a bit. And it was very sad, because these are people I had reported to worked for, and you would think that they would Herald me as, hey, look at my management skill and development and this kind of rising leader in the organization, and that wasn’t the case. And also just realizing sometimes when you’re changing things, either you’re progressing fast, or you’re changing things fundamentally, that not everyone’s going to be on board. And there are going to be feathers you ruffle or otherwise. And I think sometimes as women, we like to be well liked, and to understand that that can’t always be the case. I think we try to set direction we execute to that, and we are diplomatic and trying to bring people along. But sometimes you can’t do that in all the cases. And creating change creates waves, and that’s just sometimes how it happens, and to be comfortable with that.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 12:04
Yeah, it is discouraging when you think you’ve got people in your court, and they’re your linebackers and your quarterback getting the ball down the field, and they disappear. They get weak knees, and they don’t stand up for what’s right. And it’s a very sobering lesson. Not necessarily specific to women, but I think we observe a lot more of it. How about you Ceci?
Ceci Connolly 12:26
Yeah. Joanne, it’s interesting that you mentioned that because I certainly feel like that’s where disappointment tends to land on me. And it reminds me a little bit of Dr. Tom Lee now at New England Journal, Press Ganey and Catalyst, a terrific guy and the true mentor to many women. And he likes to recount a story in his leadership career when he gave this amazing, terrific, inspiring speech about a big change. And everyone applauded and cheered and everything else. And the next day, they were like, what are you talking about, it was a great speech, but you know, we’re not going to go down that path. And I sometimes feel like, I tend to kind of latch on to an idea, want to go very quickly, and then you encounter sort of that cold feet phenomenon. And so it is, as Julie mentioned, you’ve got to have the persistence or the stubbornness to dust yourself off and regroup and come up with the next plan and that sort of thing. But I’d say at this point, I can be kind of a dog with a bone.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 13:28
Yeah. But you know, it is reflective of the kind of swim in your own lane type attitude about, you can make waves in your own lane, but don’t change my smooth sailing. So let’s talk a little bit about personal and professional balance. A lot of people that will listen to this actually are between the ages of 18 and 35. And I would say that we have a generation of emerging young leaders that also want to have some work life balance. And all three of you have had incredibly demanding, exciting, really fulfilling, but exhausting careers. So talk a little bit about how you maintain that balance. I’ll start with You Ceci.
Ceci Connolly 14:15
What balance right? Oh, goodness. I mean, look, if you have some high aspirations, there is going to be sacrifice along the way. And I learned that sometimes through painful experiences and lessons. Some of the years that I was out on the presidential campaign for 18 months, I lost important connections that are hard to get back. I think as time went on, I learned a few of those lessons. And so when my father was diagnosed at a young age with Alzheimer’s, the time with him became the priority because I knew that I never wanted to have the regret of later saying, Why did I go do that stupid campaign rally instead of having this quality time with my father. And so I’d like to think I learned some of those along the way. I think it’s really hard now in this period that I call house arrest to draw the lines between work and family and play. I have tried to, you know, have a couple of hobbies, frankly, cooking, some yoga, some golf now and then get out walk, reading some good books, and I have terrific women’s networks, of which Joanne is the founder of a really important one. “Women of Impact for Health Care” And its that female network that keeps me grounded a lot of the time.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 15:42
Yeah, we get a lot of energy from it, too. Julie, how about you?
Dr. Julie Gerberding 15:47
Well, I am not perfect. In this regard. I think my husband would be the first to acknowledge that. And ironically, I think this period of solitary confinement that Ceci’s referencing is probably been the healthiest time in my life for a long time. Because I’m not traveling into crazy time zones. And I’m on a very regular schedule, I’m doing polaties three times a week, I’m in the garden, you know, I’m actually doing more self care than I ever remember, probably from the time that I was a little girl. But I do think that sort of my mantra is always been you can do everything, but you can’t do it all at once. So if you’re really going to immerse yourself in a big work world, do that. And don’t punish yourself for not being able to do every single other thing in your life well, but then the time comes when you kind of let that be less important. And you concentrate on the other things. The really great thing about this time right now is that I’m reconnecting with friends that I haven’t interacted with since college, but really meaningful people and my family, we’re Zooming, we’re doing things that we wouldn’t normally make time to do. So it is teaching me again, that balance doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does take thought and commitment.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 17:07
Yeah, hasn’t it impressed everybody how much time we’ve had liberated since we’re not on the road traveling? And I hope we actually don’t lose all of that. There probably is a limit to how much we really need to be on the road. Lynn, how about you?
Lynne Chow O’Keefe 17:25
Yeah, so I have a three and a half year old and a two year old. So for the young women listening to this, I have to agree with everyone balances a misnomer. I think there are times where I’m closer to my work and then closer to my family. And I think just to add to what Julie and Ceci said is, truly, I’ve had to create villages on both sides of the fence when I’m closer to one or the other. So on the homefront, I would I could not do this without my husband. I mean, it is just so critical, how he has taken a hold post Covid with the kids and everything. So I can be on a regular call schedule in the morning till, you know, early evening, and it is because of him. And then on the other side on the work side, you know, to your point, the women’s networks and the village that I’ve had of mentorship, etc, to continue to accelerate in that direction. And so it just takes a village on both sides of that fence and releasing myself. I think someone said this of there is no balance where I’m just going to be closer to one or the other over time and it will fluctuate. And so that you’re not constantly putting yourself in a mental state where you feel like you are beating yourself up for that.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 18:40
Yeah, don’t layer guilt on top of situations that there’s no perfect solution to it. That’s right. So we just have a few minutes left. So I wanted to end up with a question that is a little bit more fun, less about leadership and more about you. So one talent or unique skill that you have that few people are aware of? Ceci.
Ceci Connolly 19:08
Oh, goodness, I feel talent free here. How about very few people know that I drove a school bus for a story early in my journalism career.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 19:22
Oh, wow. Did you like do Undercover Boss like you actually drove it?
Ceci Connolly 19:28
You know, they wanted me to do the back to school story which seemed kind of boring to me. So I thought I’d give that a try, and it was a lot of fun,
Dr. Joanne Conroy 19:35
How about you Julie?
Dr. Julie Gerberding 19:37
Well, most people don’t know that. I’m kind of a secret biologist. Right now, for example, we have a few dozen hatching Monarch caterpillars in our house. I have a Frog Pond just so I can sit out there and watch the frogs and so forth. I have a little chemistry biology lab in the basement where I piddle around. So I love this science in all forms, but I think natural sciences are just something that is part of my DNA. And I kind of really miss being a college student for that reason.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 20:10
Wow, I can see you and high waiters out in an estuary. Exactly. All right, Lynne, how about you?
Lynne Chow O’Keefe 20:19
I guess early on, I think something that doesn’t usually come up is I was a really avid horseback rider. And so I have had my hard knocks of getting bucked off thrown off in every other version. But getting back up on that horse. So I guess that has something to do with the viewpoint of life and what we’ve been talking about, but that that taught me some hard lessons too.
Dr. Joanne Conroy 20:45
Wow, I’ll finish off. My secret skill as I play golf, but I hit from the whites, because that’s where all the important conversations happen. And I outdrive many men, they talk a good game, but they don’t always play a good game. And as long as your second shot is 150 yards and straight, you know you’re actually ahead of the game. I think I’ll end this first session zero with all of our hosts, by asking all of our participants and our listeners to think about hitting from the whites in your career, and your life. And join us for more episodes of her story. So thank you everybody, for your time today.
Lan Nguyen 21:31
For more stories, tune into Her Story every Wednesday on YouTube, your favorite podcast platform or by visiting thinkmedium.com/herstory