Winsor's 'open,' 'inclusive' style breeds success at UnitedHealthcare

BY Wendy Pierman Mitzel
Special to the Hartford Business Journal

Photo | Steve Laschever
Photo | Steve Laschever

Elizabeth Winsor

National Accounts CEO


At UnitedHealthcare, there is a management belief that "all styles get results."

The company's national accounts CEO Elizabeth Winsor doesn't just follow it, she fosters it by example — prompting discussions about diversity in her recently launched company blog.

"It's important to have diversity of thought, different opinions," Winsor said. "It's about many voices, not just the loudest voices. It's important to have the 'thinkers' — the people who pause and reflect in meetings — and recognize them and get their opinions. You have to draw those people out. It enables better business decisions."

Winsor heads UnitedHealthcare's $4 billion national accounts division, which has 700 employees. Under her leadership, the division has achieved unprecedented and industry-leading growth in client satisfaction, revenue and retention, and differentiating client and member experiences. In the five years Winsor has been CEO, the national accounts net promoter score success indicator has increased each year for a total of 15 percent improvement in that time.

Alison Richards, UnitedHealthcare's senior vice president of strategic initiatives, said Winsor's leadership style is indeed "open and inclusive" and "engaging and embracing."

Winsor has been her mentor and friend for nearly 10 years now. "She is a person you want to be around because she is fun to be around," she said.

Winsor joined UnitedHealthcare in 2008 and has become known as an innovative leader; she and her team play a key role when it comes to developing solutions for complex problems for clients, and working to establish business processes that increase efficiency and effectiveness within the company.

According to Richards, part of Winsor's positive style includes lifting team members up and developing new talent.

"She cultivates mentorships across the company," said Richards. "In a way that makes you think, 'who are you taking on as a mentor?' "

"Women need to get their voices heard early and often," Winsor said.

She said techniques leaders can use to create an inclusive environment include restating what women say in a meeting so their thoughts don't get lost in the conversation, and acknowledging their ideas as valuable.

"Women in business do have a support structure, but they need to access it," she added. "Network internally at work. Find a coach or someone to give you advice before a meeting and solicit support for your ideas in that meeting."

These things are learned and modeled by other leaders, she said. But in the end, it just comes down to letting your guard down and practicing these techniques. Winsor recommends not being afraid to ask for help.

"Sometimes, as women, we think we have to be lifelong friends before we can ask for a favor but when you ask for it people are like 'sure,' " she explained. "In asking for help, the worst thing that can happen is someone says," no, "but put yourself out there anyway."

Winsor said women often suffer from something called "imposter syndrome" a concept whereby highly-successful people fight against the fear of being exposed as a "fraud." Winsor, herself, has struggled with the feeling.

"But we need to knock it down," she said. "You need to take a leap when you are ready. When you take your first job you are learning and educating yourself. But over time the work will develop into a leadership position."

As CEO, Winsor is tasked with constant traveling to visit national accounts employees all across the continental United States.

"It can be lonely, and I'm travelling primarily with men, but because of the way I approach things I never feel like the odd person out. I try to be very friendly, shake hands with a smile and put people at ease. I want to be my authentic self and that person is a heartwarming individual more likely to offer a hug than a handshake."

It's been a big year for Winsor personally as well. Her 24-year-old son, David, is off into adulthood, and her daughter, Katherine, just graduated from college. In addition, Winsor is celebrating a 30th wedding anniversary with husband Jeff. "He's my high school sweetheart," she said. "I feel very blessed in my life."

As for what's next for the empty-nester?

"I'm going to honor my commitment that I made 24 years ago. I said when the kids were finished with school I would learn to play golf and we could spend some time together," she said. "So I'm going to do that."

What legacy do you want to leave after your career is over?

I had never quite thought of my career in terms of 'leaving a legacy,' but I would hope that my co-workers would say that 'she really cared about her people' — taking the time to get to know them and helping them achieve their goals. So much of what we do and achieve at work is guided by things outside of the office, like family, faith, community. Not only is this understanding important to creating strong teams and supporting your employees but these are the things that make people interesting — and fun to work with.

I also would hope that they would say 'she was open minded.' Creating a safe environment where all voices — not just the loudest ones — are heard can be time-consuming but is critical to getting to the best answers. I have an 'open-door' policy to invite differing opinions and styles — and have more than once been convinced to take a different approach — to our team's benefit.

And in the end, I hope that my staff would say she laughed freely, gave praise openly and created an environment where we had a good time and enjoyed one another's company, while achieving pretty good success.

What are your keys to maintaining business success?

To be successful, particularly in health care today, you must be able to embrace change but this of course cannot be done in a vacuum. I learned a long time ago that networking and reading cannot be seen as extracurricular activities — or 'nice to dos.' They should be part of your day-to-day business life — the positive benefits of treating them as "must dos" cannot be overstated. Not only has this helped me make more informed decisions, but I have met more wonderful people whose opinions I truly respect and whom I look forward to catching up with.

What are your keys to maintaining work/life balance?

I used to pride myself on being a great multi-tasker however I frequently asked myself 'what am I missing by doing too many things at once?' I committed myself to 'be present' in my business and personal life — focusing on what is important at the moment. It has not only helped me, but by encouraging my staff to 'be here now' in their own lives, we have been more successful. While there are always trade-offs, I want to be sure I was present for the right things at the right time so when I look back, I have no regrets.