Pam Kehaly

President and General Manager, California Health Plan
WellPoint, Inc.

Without goals and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination. My advice is to steer your career in the direction you want it to go. I wish someone had given me this advice when I started out. I began working for a small health insurer in 1986, before the many mergers and acquisitions that have made WellPoint what it is today – the nation’s largest health insurer by membership.

Working in an environment that’s in a constant state of flux can be very exciting, especially when you’re young and eager to take charge. But, it can be challenging to chart a course and stick to it. With 20 plus managers in 26 years, I frequently had to fight the current to keep my career headed in the right direction. Add to that the frequent changes in the health insurance industry, and one could say that change has been my norm.

I definitely made a few mistakes along the way. Early in my career, I remember my boss asking me why I did not meet my claims inventory targets. My response was, “The system has been down more than usual and my team has experienced a lot of absences.” That was followed by a long, painful pause as my boss waited for more. I stood there frozen, not knowing what she wanted.

I replayed this scenario in my head many times over the years. I should have taken personal responsibility and found a way to achieve the results. I should have said, “We had some system downtime and unplanned absences that impacted our productivity this week, but we will be back on plan by Tuesday as I have pulled in extra resources.” Always anticipate that something will go wrong, then create a contingency plan and take responsibility for achieving results despite the obstacles.

It all goes back to how you captain your ship. You can be a captain and not take control of the wheel, instead letting the current carry the ship downstream, rudderless. Or, you can accept personal responsibility, take the wheel and steer the ship where you want to go. Sometimes you’ll need to go against the current to stay on course. I have seen both kinds of leaders and the most successful ones are steering the ship, not floating aimlessly downstream.

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