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What Swim Team Taught Me About Leadership

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I attribute much of my leadership style to lessons learned from the pool. These lessons included the importance of perseverance, discipline and teamwork. All of these lessons I apply to my business and personal life today.

I love to swim and swam competitively from age eight through college at Indiana State University (ISU). Swimming provided me a sense of purpose and opportunity to constantly improve an important part of my life.

Swimming is a very goal-oriented sport and I was constantly changing my goals. When I was eight, I wanted to be an Olympian and have the national anthem play as I won a gold medal. In my teens, as other opportunities outside the pool began to attract my interests, I changed my goal to attaining a swimming scholarship to college. As my parents were the first generation of my family to go to college, a college degree was a requirement from them.

My high school swimming career was filled with moments of great athletic success, such as being named a two-time All American and the team ranking no. 3 in the country. Yet, I also had many disappointments along the way. The disappointments were always followed by moments of self-reflection about the strategies to improve my strokes, improve my fitness or improve my mental approach. Along with the focus on constant improvement, the need for perseverance and discipline were critical drivers of mine to answer the alarm at 5:30 to jump in a cold pool.

I left my hometown of Akron, Ohio, with a swimming scholarship to ISU and had success at the college level as well, including being on a team of 20 that set a Guinness World Record for the 100-mile swim.

As I prepare to lead Premier into its next chapter, I’ve been reflecting more on how my years as a swimmer continue to shape me as a family man, mentor and business leader.

Here are three things that swim team taught me about leadership.

1. Don’t be afraid to think differently.

The key difference between a kid with a dream and an innovator is execution: the ability to translate an idea or a goal into a success. I began swimming when I was young because I knew a swim scholarship would be key to my collegiate success. For me to make that a reality, I had to set a goal, stick to it and train hard.

Premier’s customers look to us to be their catalysts: to co-create innovations alongside them or sometimes to solve problems for them that they didn’t know they had. In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, our members turned to us to help source critical supplies. But alongside that pivotal work, we also quickly enhanced our technology capabilities to roll out syndromic surveillance, an innovative tech that leverages the EHR to help health systems monitor for upticks in COVID-19 plan for supplies and resources accordingly.

I encourage all of the teams at Premier to think differently about how we approach problems for our members as well as the industry. We’ve built a culture that encourages creativity and ideas because a fresh look is usually better than the status quo. I’m also fond of garnering insights from my peers about industry challenges and how we fix them, something I regularly enjoy diving into on the InsideOut podcast.

2. Your ambitions are defined by your perseverance.

When my coach laid out my workouts and set a standard for expectations, I knew it was up to me to deliver. But part of my ability to reach my own goals hinged on how well I worked with a team to keep them energized and motivated toward a common objective - as my swim team did when we broke a long-distance world record. This taught me that once we set our minds to something – whether it’s me as a leader, a team at Premier or a customer for whom we’re committed to solve a problem – we must stick to our convictions to turn our aspirations into reality.

At Premier, we set ambitious goals because our team is passionate about enabling improvements, value and standardization for our members. And, we’re committed to our follow through. At times, that means not taking no for an answer or figuring out a creative way to overcome a challenge.

We’ve talked for years about the risks of overreliance on one region of the world for supplies such as pharmaceuticals and medical goods. That led us to create ProvideGx, our program that brings shortage drugs back to market and creates more competition in critical categories. As another example, rather than simply talking the talk about the importance of diversifying manufacturing during the pandemic, over the last year Premier and our members have jointly invested in two stateside producers of masks and gowns.

It’s important to me to be a man of my word and demonstrate the outcomes of determination. Planting the seeds of aspiration is a futile activity if we do not water them.

3. Lead with your heart.

A good leader will always put the needs of others first. Regardless of background or upbringing, I believe everyone deserves an equal shot at opportunity and success. For me, that means constantly considering what, in my power, I have the ability to extend to entrepreneurial students or vulnerable populations, whether that’s my time or access to technology, education and opportunities for betterment.

In healthcare, this theme holds especially true for rural or underserved communities that have traditionally lacked resources. There is no doubt that value-based models must be the future of care delivery; however, coordinated care requires data, technology solutions and analytics that some communities may not have today. As a leader, I’m thinking about how we expand technology and enable providers to enhance care delivery in a way that does not leave any behind.

I’m always inclined to root for the underdog, who is often scrappier, overlooked and propelled by an invisible calling, much like I was in my early swim days. Those who don’t have connections and opportunities deserve the most outspoken advocates.

Swimming for me was the ticket for much of the growth in my life and established a foundation for my past success and the future goals I have in mind for Premier – and it remains core to who I am.

It instilled in me the principles, commitment and innovative attitude that I’ll be putting to good use as I lead Premier, our members and the industry forward into the next echelon of technology-driven healthcare.

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