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7 Traits of Great Wellness Program Leaders


We’re fortunate at Health Enhancement Systems to have the chance to meet and talk with hundreds of successful wellness leaders in the course of a year. As we do, we find some traits emerge repeatedly in the most accomplished of the group:


  • Resilience. Some of the top wellness leaders we know have endured numerous restructurings, new reporting lines, and endless justification exercises. Through it all they’ve maintained a sense of mission — an unfailing belief in their purpose. Deep down they know what they do is right for the people they serve and the organization, even when others around them question it.
  • Assertiveness. Being in the helping profession, it seems to go against our grain to push for the things we need to do our jobs right. As a result, wellness often becomes a second-class function. But the most successful internal programs and wellness service providers almost always have a leader who’s an unflinching champion for the cause — pushing forward against heavy odds and building on each success.
  • Ego drive.The desire to persuade — whether it’s helping a client change a behavior, mentoring a new wellness graduate, or influencing a VP’s decision about expanding a program to include families — is universal among top leaders.

  • Risk taking. We don’t know anyone who has made significant breakthroughs without trying things that haven’t been done before. Not to be confused with gamblers, successful risk takers look for calculated chances, based on their own experience/ knowledge as well as that of other colleagues in wellness and other businesses.
  • Innovation. Top leaders scour the health management field and parallel service industries for good ideas, then modify and build on them for even greater success. Instead of thinking “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” they’re asking “How can this be different, better, more efficient and effective?”
  • Urgency. The difference between great leaders and good managers is often the sense of urgency leaders express and instill in their team. Outstanding wellness leaders know they may not launch the perfect service if they’re squeezing more interventions into each quarter. But they also are aware that sitting on the sidelines won’t help anyone, and they need to be learning by doing.
  • Empathy. The first 6 traits could describe a great leader in almost any field. What separates exceptional, career-minded wellness professionals from others is their ability to feel for others. Whether it’s a client, staff member, or boss, they care about people as people, not just challenges, tools, or a means to an end.

Traits aren’t something you can acquire as readily as skills — they develop over time. But you can begin to build these great leadership characteristics by making a conscious decision to seek individuals with these qualities. Spend time with them, study their methods, emulate their strategies, and learn from their successes.