Lois Paynter, Saint Mary’s Health Plans, VP of Operations


Lois has created a work environment that has her employees wanting to come to the office every day––or not. For those days that her employees prefer to do something else and not come to work, well that’s OK too. Thanks to programs like flextime, Lois encourages her employees to spend time away from work with friends and family. She believes in work/life balance and she helps her employees achieve that balance by supporting and encouraging flextime.

Lois recognizes her employees have dynamic lives outside of their 8-to-5 shifts. Every week, Lois dedicates an hour to each member of her team. Her team members know they have the freedom to bring any topics to their one-on-one weekly meetings with Lois, even if the conversation goes beyond the parameters of work. These meetings help Lois better understand who her team members are outside of work, which helps her be more accommodating in achieving the work/life balance company-wide.

With Lois being responsible for 56 employees, she says open communication and scheduling are the secret ingredients. While employees are encouraged to take advantage of flextime by leaving work early, coming in late, or not coming at all; the program could crumble without proper scheduling.

“We don’t have an attendance problem here,” said Lois. “Employees can take time off as needed, everything is captured on the calendar.” Because of the emphasis on healthy work/life balance, employees show up and give their all during work shifts. Everyone appreciates the flexibility and works as a team to complete the work demands.

The team approach is productive and helps employees spend more time with their families and, in turn, helps create a work culture that resembles that of a big family––all members are eager to help one another. It’s a dynamic that many companies strive to instill in their cultures, but it takes a lot of trust and communication to achieve.

Creating that warm family feeling in a work environment also requires the right people. During my interview with Lois, she was constantly referring to the incredible people within her organization. She mentioned instances where employees have left because of tempting new titles or pay increases elsewhere, but they’ve come back. One returning employee even said to her, “I didn’t realize how important the people I worked with were, until I didn’t have them anymore.”

Witnessing a family-like environment in a workplace is always impressive to me. It takes such a high level of mutual respect, understanding and trust. At the end of my discussion with Lois, she said something that demonstrated to me just how much faith she has in her employees: “It’s important for me to be compassionate, be honest and listen to my employees––they’re smarter than we are!”

Lisa Stirgus, Wells Fargo, District Manager/ VP

When Lisa Stirgus first became a district manager for Wells Fargo six years ago, she thought the transition would be simple. “I had it in my sleep,” she said. “I was always a top-performing manager.” But, as her boss had warned, going from managing individual contributors to managing managers presented a new scope of challenges.

Lisa soon realized that with her district being spread out over eight towns and cities across Northern Nevada, she could not be everywhere at once. She had to rely on her managers and the best way to get the results she needed was to mentor her managers in a way that would inspire everyone who worked for them to excel as well. This required an individualized approach, and with 10 managers on her team, Lisa had to learn how to teach to 10 different personalities, adjusting her leadership to fit each one separately and together as a whole. She believes that this is what created the team she has now, a team that has just completed its third straight year with the highest engagement scores in the state!

I have known Lisa for eight years and have heard firsthand from her team how much they admire, respect, and love her. Setting a meeting with her was my opportunity to find out from Lisa’s perspective what makes her a leader that people love.

Lisa started out by telling me of her reputation as a “pit-bull with a smile.” After a chuckle, she said the analogy was something she had taken to heart, and was even proud of. She’s created an environment where she can give honest and sometimes tough feedback—this works because she cares and because her team knows that she genuinely wants them to succeed in life and at work. Giving honest feedback means a combination of positive reinforcement as well as developmental feedback.

“My job is to build, grow and develop talent,” she said. Lisa knows that building confidence together with helping her team identify ways to grow and stretch is the key to breakthrough performance and engagement. Building confidence is an important aspect of a successful team; it changes the game. When a team member has a sense of purpose and confidence, they are going to do a great job no matter who is watching. Once this is achieved, a leader can then focus on providing direction and guidance.

We sat and talked for about three hours and as our meeting drew to an end I had a sense that what Lisa truly loved about being a leader was helping people achieve what they never thought was possible. She has a passion for what she does and believes that if you focus on cultivating talent and invest in developing your team, you’ll not only achieve your goals, but you’ll exceed your goals. It also creates a ripple effect; an engaged team leads to an engaged customer base. Love your team the way that you want them to love your customers. I call it contagious leadership. Setting the bar high and modeling the way every day sets the tone for everyone in the workplace. Lisa is constantly asking herself, “Am I living and breathing what I expect from my team?” It’s a top-down approach and it is truly inspirational.

Jim Annis, The Applied Companies

As Jim waved me into his office, I quickly noticed it was meticulously decorated. It was clean, to-the-point and adorned with right angles—this was his orderly side. As I went to set my water glass on his desk, he handed me a cracked CD to use as a coaster—this was his unorthodox side. I’d been in his office for 90 seconds and I had already witnessed both sides of Jim Annis.

His desk and bookshelves were practically wallpapered with every leadership book printed in the past century, and while Jim embodies the textbook characteristics of a great leader, this is not what sets him apart. When I asked Jim to describe himself, he took me back to his childhood to share with me stories of neighborhood girls and his dreams of growing up to wear a tie. Jim’s early experiences (and one stern lecture from his dad about humility) shaped his philosophy on leadership: stay true to yourself and know when to change.

Knowing more about Jim’s past allowed me to see how he became a leader that people love today. Jim stands out because of his deep understanding and appreciation of people; he values taking the time to make people laugh and ensuring they have a voice in the company. Simple practices such as avoiding phrases like “they work for me” and instead emphasizing “we work together” put Jim’s philosophy into action as opposed to being another stagnate mission statement hanging in the hallway.

The culture at The Applied Companies is more like a community than a business. Jim refers to the staff and himself as a tribe. Together, they share stories, successes and failures as part of their progressive culture. Jim’s leadership style facilitates open communication and learning opportunities; it fosters a learning culture that looks at problems from all angles and always emphasizes doing the right thing.

Wrapping up our interview, I realized what gave Jim his competitive edge: his enthusiasm to serve, not to lead.