Allina Health President and COO Lisa Shannon's advice to female leaders: Be authentic

Lisa Shannon has served as COO of Minneapolis-based Allina Health since 2017, and she added president to her title on Sept. 24.

Before joining Allina, Ms. Shannon was COO of Louisville-based KentuckyOne Health and, before that, COO of Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Mich. She also served as vice president of ambulatory services at OhioHealth in Columbus.

Here, she answers Becker's questions for women in healthcare leadership: 

Editor's note: Responses have been edited lightly for length and clarity.

Question: Who had the biggest influence on your decision to go into healthcare?  

Lisa Shannon: Throughout my high school years, nutrition and health became increasingly important to me. Going to college, I witnessed a lot of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors impacting people's mental health and well-being. It was not until a little over halfway through college that I made the decision to switch to nutrition and dietetics, and really went into healthcare because of a personal interest in health, well-being and nutrition. That really caused my early career.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being in the industry?

LS: Early in the career, I would say the impact on patient lives, from counseling eating disorder patients to working with burn patients in critical recovery and the importance of nutrition to their healing. Quickly I learned my ability to influence more patients and the lives of more patients and communities would be shifting to supporting and serving clinicians and leaders and helping to shape what we do and how we do it for patients. What I really enjoy most is the ability to serve and partner with our clinical colleagues in driving safe, reliable care that is equitable for all patients.

Q: What is the greatest challenge you face as a female leader?

LS: For female leaders, it's important to be your authentic self and look for role models that support you and your leadership practice and style that allows you connection. There are wonderful male leaders who have shaped my career, and there are wonderful female leaders who have shaped my career. Sometimes their approaches are different, and when I witness women trying to lead with an approach that may not be their authentic self, I think there are challenges from that. There's no reason for you to try to be something you aren't, and authentical leadership is critical for results.

Q: How do you relax outside of the C-suite?  

LS: Family and fitness are the most important to me as a mother and wife. I make sure I take care of myself first and start my day with some movement of some kind — whatever activity or exercise it is. Time with family and private time for reflection has been important to me.

Q: How do you stay inspired on hard days?  

The work we do is inspiring and a blessing by itself, and remembering the patients we're serving and my own family that have been touched and impacted through healthcare journeys keeps me inspired for what I'm doing and why. There are leaders working in industries creating products or services they never use. That's not the case in healthcare. The inspiration for our work is all around us, and to be able to lead in an industry that I and people I care about use, is a tremendous privilege and energizing.

Q: What is your daily mantra?

LS: I am always the first awake in the house. Up early, some sort of physical activity, then I can begin my day. I always try to be up first and have the quiet of the home, have time for activity and then begin my day.

Q: What do you consider your greatest career success? 

LS: It's other people who succeeded. I started my career as a dietitian and quickly moved to leadership.  I transitioned from clinical dietetics into education and specifically leader development, then went through a series of roles at a number of organizations. My ability to provide caring and candid feedback to people, to help them become better or do things they didn't imagine possible will always be what I feel most proud of. Pride from supporting other people or teams succeed is the joy of leadership.


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