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Honor Who You Are, Not Who Others Think You Should Be

An Interview with Christina Syzmanski, Business Consultant

As part of our commitment to the WeInspireWe community, we believe passionately in featuring powerful leaders that are making a difference. We ask all of our Inspirational Leaders to nominate someone who has also inspired them. Christina Szymanski was nominated by Tara Shepard because of her strength, courage, wisdom and heart. And once you meet Christina, we believe you’ll feel the same way too.

WeInspireWe: Hi Christina, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Christina Syzmanski: My name is Christina Szymanski and I work professionally as a business improvement leader for Humana with my focus being on case management for our members who have chronic conditions. We are focused on preventative care and providing members with access to resources such as transportation, food and medications that they may not otherwise be able to afford. I also focus on optimizing processes to offer the best possible care to these members. Personally, I love being active and being involved, which includes exercise and being on the go. I love to travel and experience new places and am passionate about spending time with my wonderful son and husband too. Friendships are extremely important to me and I really care about being a good, genuine friend. I have a desire for continued personal growth and strive every day to be the best version of myself. I love to give back to the communities that I live in and volunteer with the junior league.

WIW: So wonderful. If you could summarize yourself across all of those roles – professional, mother, wife, friend, learner, volunteer – how would you describe yourself?

CS: I am an optimistic, driven, caring woman who believes in the importance of giving back and helping others. I thrive on being challenged both personally and professionally; I am continually growing and evolving, striving to be the best version of myself. I whole heartedly believe that ‘we rise by lifting others’ and I practice that concept both in my personal and professional life.

WIW: So powerful – a committed focus on betterment through and through. Tell us how that has translated into your leadership today?

CS: I started out working in cardiac rehab and while I wasn’t in a leadership role then, I recognized that I would like to be. I saw the ways that leadership had opportunity and realized that I could be a leader and do better for my associates. With that realization, I started focusing on my personal development. When I took the role with Humana – which is something I had never envisioned for myself – I recognized this as my opportunity to work on my leadership skills. I took on assignments that were out of my comfort zone, I read more personal development books geared toward leadership, I lead a networking resource group within the company – and as all of that came together, my leadership recognized my efforts and offered me a leadership position at the company.

In the midst of this I joined the junior league. Being surrounded by strong, driven women who were leaders in the office and the community helped me grow and develop my skills as well. Others in the organization recognized my potential and I was promoted to leading a team there too, which is really where I grew into the strong leader that I am today. It was certainly a learning curve, but I tried to always remember to be the type of leader I would wish to have. Someone invested in my success, that was supportive and knowledgeable and I wanted to pay that forward too.

WIW: Describe for us how you approach leadership and what your personal style is like.

CS: I would describe myself as a servant leader. I am invested in others succeeding and work to understand my team’s strengths, passions and encourage them to take on assignments which align to their core values and help them grow. I am focused on their development and empower my associates to make decisions, but let them know that I am always available for guidance and support. I have cultivated a culture of open communication, which is important for any leader to truly be effective.

WIW: As you’ve grown and developed as a leader, how would you say that your style has evolved and what lessons have you learned along the way?

CS: I would say that I still have the same leadership style but that I have become a stronger, more confident leader – both in my decision-making abilities and in having difficult conversations too. The longer I am in leadership, the more I am able to recognize others strengths and am able to help them focus on and grow those strengths.

As I was growing professionally, I tried to emulate styles of other leaders in the organization and it did not feel genuine or comfortable. At the end of the day, I found myself second guessing myself and the decisions I had made and I wasn’t leading in a way that was true to myself but in a fashion I thought ‘was the right way’. Once I understood that and I was able to find my own style, I was much more confident and effective as a leader.

WIW: What has been your biggest learning lesson as you’ve established your leadership presence?

CS: Being a great leader is an ongoing journey. The biggest lesson I have learned on that journey is that ‘it is not about me.’ When I first started out as a leader, I took it personally if others did not do well and they needed to be put on improvement plans. When I say took it personally, I mean actually losing sleep over it. I wanted everyone on my team to ‘like’ me and to thrive. I learned that not everyone is going to like me, but they have to respect me (and candidly I still struggle with this. I also learned that your role as a leader is to guide, support and empower, but you cannot make someone care or want to succeed. That has to come from within them.

As I continue on this journey, I would like to see my leadership style continue to be genuine. I would like to continue to work on gaining confidence and be a leader that makes an impact, one that lasts even after the individual has left the organization.

WIW: Can you give us an example of a particularly difficult leadership situation and how you handled it?

CS: In my organization, we faced several reductions in force over the last two years. I had to rate and then notify associates that they were going to be let go on 3 different occasions in less than a year and a half time span. This was by far the most challenging time I have ever had as a leader. I was in a position where I knew the reductions were coming, yet I was unable to say anything to my associates, even when they point-blank asked. In the first round of layoffs, I found myself evading and redirecting the conversation, but this did not feel right to me. After that, I would indirectly answer their questions to give them some insights into what was coming. I was personally invested in my associates and with each one that was let go I struggled with, losing sleep, worrying about their families, how they would pay their bills, etc. My lesson learned was that I need to care about my associates and the difficult times they go through and help them in anyway I can, but also have to remember to be careful to not become personally invested in the situation. I am still writing recommendations for those who reach out, 2 years later even if they were only under my leadership for a few months.

WIW: When you think about female leadership, what does that mean to you?

CS: To me female leadership is collaborative, working with the collective to help the organization or community succeed. To me, female leadership tends to be transformational with effective communication and strong support networks. Great female leadership also means women helping other women to rise up by inspiring them to do more and be better. Women leaders and women in general need to support one another, serve as mentors whenever the opportunity arises and encourage one another to strive for more.

WIW: What do you believe are the biggest challenges that female leaders face today and how should they approach solving it?

CS: I think one of the biggest challenges women face today is gaining the support of other women. As I mentioned, I believe strongly that women should support and empower one another. They need to be not only invested in their own success but in the success of other females in their workplace and personal lives.

WIW: Do you have a role model(s) and/or anyone that you emulate your style after?

CS: I read a book by Lee Cockerell called Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Strategies From a Life at Disney. After reading this book, I felt that Lee Cockerell was a role model. I loved the approach he took both with his employees and his customers. At the heart of both was making them feel valued and appreciated. I make it a point to always celebrate my associate’s accomplishments, even if they seem small so that they feel seen and appreciated. I have learned that someone who feels valued and appreciated will always work harder than someone who doesn’t; it will also instill a sense of pride in their work.

WIW: What advice would you like to give to a young female employee beginning to develop her leadership style.

CS: Stay true to yourself. If you are honest and genuine in your approach others will recognize this and respect you which is the building block to being a great leader. Also, surround yourself with women who motivate and challenge you, women who make you think and inspire you to want to be a stronger, more effective leader.

Thank you Christina for sharing your story and allowing us to experience some of your leadership. Your heart for others, for growth and for betterment is inspirational. We wish you the very best as you continue on your path of building more leaders and helping other women to #riseup.

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