Board Member, Telespine
CEO & President, PayFlex
Head of Strategy and Business Development, Aetna International
Erin Hatzikostas is an exponential learner, which has driven most of her career moves thus far. Throughout her 22 years of experience in healthcare, one factor that was constant was her search for positions that would stretch her abilities and teach her new skills. As a CEO, Erin led a storybook corporate turnaround, tripling earnings and significantly improving employee culture and engagement scores in just three years. Often times seen as a coveted position, Erin left this role to help others write their own playbook and provide them with tools and solutions they can use to rise up in their careers – without compromising everything else. Erin never planned to become an entrepreneur but has leveraged her natural strengths to inspire and help others define their success.
How has leadership changed over the years? Are leaders born or shaped into leaders?
I believe leaders can be shaped. I founded b Authentic inc because I truly want to revolutionize the corporate workplace and create a platform that radically improves the corporate workplace. We are often simply a collection of the models we have been exposed too. Unfortunately, we can easily be shaped in the wrong direction. But with the right environment and coaching, everyone has the potential to become a better leader. For me, authentic leadership is where my passion lies, and I work every day to advance and inspire others to lead more authentically. Whether that’s leading a team of 10 or a team of 300, authentic leaders have a core set of characteristics that I call the HUMANS ingredients to authentic leadership (humble, unique, model, adapt, narrate, and spark.) I sincerely believe that leading authentically has the power to solve two of our largest workplace issues – the lack of employee engagement (i.e. people don’t give a hoot about their job) and our gender diversity issue. In addition, leading authentically doesn’t only propel incredible business results, it also allows people to live a more balanced and fulfilling life.
Talk about a challenging time through which you had to lead – was there a defining moment? Looking back, is there anything you would do differently?
I’ve of course had many challenges in my career. An example is when I was appointed interim CEO for PayFlex, an Aetna company. One of my first jobs as CEO was to convince executive leadership that the company was still an asset to be kept and invested in. On the day of my presentation, I was told that things would not likely go in my favor. However, on a Friday afternoon in September, 35-minutes later, I walked out of the board room with the investment we needed and a commitment to the company. A few years later, after we executed on what we promised and things were going well, it felt like I might be at the peak of my career. Instead I found myself desiring more and asking myself ‘what’s next?’ It was when I was talking to a woman on a flight that I got my signal. She had left her corporate job several years ago to start her own company. After talking to her and peppering her with questions, I confessed that I was considering doing the same. But I also professed that I thought I was probably crazy – my career reputation was at an all-time high. How could I possibly leave now? She looked at me and said, so quickly, succinctly, and matter-of-factly, “Who says this is the top?” This one statement changed my life forever. I realized then that I had a whole new mountain to climb.
What is your advice to women and what actionable steps can they take as leaders or aspiring entrepreneurs in the health & tech industries?
Do things your own way! Too often we are taught these “formulas” for success – network, speak up, have executive presence, etc. You don’t have to change for the job, you can actually change the job. I believe the biggest reason we have a gender diversity gap is actually because the best talent is opting out of the big jobs. They’re doing this because they fear they’re going to have to compromise – their family, their health, or even who they are. My goal at b Authentic inc is to give people the tools, permission and inspiration to become more authentic leaders – of themselves first, and then others. Ultimately my goal is to create a full-on authenticity movement. Every change starts with a series of small experiments. It can be as simple as creating a more authentic out of office message, opening a meeting with a story instead of boring agenda, or being vulnerable with your team and sharing openly about a time you were feeling unsure or uninspired. Watch how people respond and continue to experiment. People respect authority, but they follow authenticity.
Authenticity is about having the confidence to stay true to oneself. It takes courage to be authentic especially given that so many feel pressured to be something or someone other than themselves. We are all influenced by our thoughts, our past and experiences, which may or may not reflect who we really are. The starting point is taking the time to reconnect to ‘who we are.’ Authenticity is truly a freeing experience.
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