BOLD Leaders Know When to Improve and When to Disrupt: An Interview with Jodi Prohofsky

jodi prohofskyI’ve found that bold leaders are drawn to organizations under some kind of negative or positive stress.  Jodi Prohofsky was drawn to a company grappling with both, simultaneously. Jodi’s team, responsible for billions in provider and supplier contracts, is part of a massive effort at WalMart to make healthcare more accessible and affordable. Imagine: the massive machinery of big box retail, the shifting sands of the health care market space, and millions upon millions of us who need better and more affordable options for health care. The negative stress of turning a big ship. The positive stress of new opportunity.


For Jodi, this is an opportunity to be part of a big and far reaching change for good. Her sense of bold leadership as a force for good revealed itself for me in several lessons during our conversation:

Stay curious, and learn from others. Jodi remembers this lesson, delivered (probably unknowingly) by her 7th grade social studies teacher. A gal in her class – who Jodi didn’t perceive as being the brightest bulb in the class, asked a lot of questions. “I remember my teacher stopping one day and praising her curiosity. I thought: It’s ok to have questions! I don’t have to have all the answers!” To thrive yourself, and help your team thrive, be a learner.

It doesn’t have to be your legacy. At WalMart it was Sam Walton who picked Walmart’s first change fight about health care. He came to one of his infamous Saturday meetings full of frustration, telling his story of needing an MRI and finding it impossible to find out how much it would cost. Sam’s ire was the birth of Walmart’s drive to fill gaps for care in rural areas or simply provide services that cost more elsewhere. So Jodi wasn’t first. She didn’t declare this fight for change, but she was more attracted to the outcome than she was to feeling the cause was hers. The cause was righteous and she happily picked up the flag.

Some days the day has to be saved. Jodi’s orientation, and her view of bold leadership is “creative, determined, systemically oriented, and in many cases, disruptive.” Yet she has always cherished leaders who focus on keeping the lights on and the trains running on time. Certainly these are the leaders who make the short term goals that give the organization fuel for the marathons that are often required for a legacy change. Jodi noted that when something blows up, the organization needs a hero more than it needs someone trying to change the day. “Heroes are looking to save the day. Disruptors are out to change it.” While bold leaders are more disruptors than they are heroes, they are keenly aware when each kind of leader is needed.

Bold leaders set the table for others to be great. Jodi wasn’t talking about herself when this lesson popped in our conversation. When I asked what makes her clock tick to its particular beat, Jodi reached back easily. She was raised in a female dominant household and told to be whatever she wanted to be. She earned her PhD before she was 30 and perceived no barriers in the road ahead. She feels blessed by the bold leaders above her who challenged her greatly. This is something Jodi has in common with many other bold leaders I’ve met: a natural mindfulness and gratefulness for the roles a few rare others have played in making it possible for her to be great.

Be open to unexpected roles, but consistent in your passion.  How did a woman with a masters in Counseling and a PhD in Human Systems wind up responsible for billions of dollars of services at WalMart? Jodi started her career as a clinician. She joined a practice, and soon found out it was owned by an insurance company. “Eeww!” she originally thought. But she grew to love the business part of the work and has taken successive opportunities to build efforts to improve or disrupt healthcare. Unphased at the job titles, she has been doggedly determined to pursue roles where she could be a positive force to change healthcare.


Are you disrupting the day or saving the day today? Are you setting the table for an emerging bold leader in your organization?  I’d love to hear your story.