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Into the Light: Discovering Our Own True Potential
Episode 646

Simmi Singh, Senior Partner and Global Practice Leader at Egon Zehnder

Into the Light: Discovering Our Own True Potential

Today’s special guest is Simmi Singh. Simmi is the Senior Partner and Global Practice Leader at Egon Zehnder, a privately held global leadership management consulting and executive search firm. Simmi shares how her company’s focus on cultivating inspired leadership empowers health leaders to be effective in leading organizations, taking calculated risks, and easily recognizing patterns that improve company culture. She discusses the importance of understanding oneself, developing intersectional thinking, and emphasizes that though technology is an amazing adjunct to individuals, it doesn’t replace individual judgment. She uses illustrative description to drive her point, and you can hear the passion in her voice. If you’re looking to be inspired and optimized, you’ll definitely find our conversation with Simmi fascinating.

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Into the Light: Discovering Our Own True Potential

Episode 646

About Simmi Singh

Simmi is a Senior Partner at Global Talent Advisory firm Egon Zehnder. And in her 12 years at the firm, she’s played a founding and leadership role in the firm’s digital and health work across North America. Simmi also helped create and shape the firm’s work with founder-led companies and played a founding role in shaping the firm’s presence in Washington, D.C. She’s an expert on governance and leadership development globally, counseling investors, founders, and boards on governance matters, board appointments, leadership development and CEO successions. She has a talent for helping companies to rapidly scale and maximize their potential as they transform and has worked in and with some of the most game-changing companies of the past two decades. She served as a Senior Advisor on Health Innovation to the US Secretary of Health and Human Services during 2011 and 2012. And she’s a frequent speaker and convener at industry events and has lectured at Yale and MIT.

Into the Light: Discovering Our Own True Potential with Simmi Singh, Senior Partner and Global Practice Leader at Egon Zehnder transcript powered by Sonix—easily convert your audio to text with Sonix.

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Saul Marquez:
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Saul Marquez:
Welcome back to the Outcomes Rocket, Saul Marquez here. Today, I have the privilege of hosting Simmi Singh. She is a Senior Partner at Global Talent Advisory firm Egon Zehnder. And in her 12 years at the firm, she’s played a founding and leadership role in the firm’s digital and health work across North America. Simmi also helped create and shape the firm’s work with founder-led companies and played a founding role in shaping the firm’s presence in Washington, D.C. She’s an expert on governance and leadership development globally, counseling investors, founders, and boards on governance matters, board appointments, leadership development and CEO successions. She has a talent for helping companies to rapidly scale and maximize their potential as they transform and has worked in and with some of the most game-changing companies of the past two decades. She served as a Senior Advisor on Health Innovation to the US Secretary of Health and Human Services during 2011 and 2012. And she’s a frequent speaker and convener at industry events and has lectured at Yale and MIT. So with that outstanding intro, I want to welcome you to the podcast Simmi. Thanks so much for joining us.

Simmi Singh:
Saul thank you so much for having me. I look forward to our discussion.

Saul Marquez:
Likewise. And so, Simmi, you know, the work that you do is so fascinating and you’re making quite an impact. Tell us a little bit about what inspires your work in health care.

Simmi Singh:
Put simply, it’s I can’t imagine a purpose that is higher and more inspiring and more humbling than somehow helping nurse people back to health and helping keep them healthy. In so many ways, this purpose-driven life that I have in health care wasn’t evident to me growing up. As a kid, I first thought I wanted to join the military. My dad was in the military and I really looked up to him. I then thought I was going to be a history teacher in the mold of my mother. But I remember my impressions of health care were always one of reverence. My grandfather was a renowned surgeon in the Western tradition. My great grandfather had been a renowned Eastern medicine healer. And yes, when I went to college, I majored in the sciences, but I spent every waking moment outside of school and in pursuit of the arts. So safe to say that by the time I hit grad school, I was truly intellectually homeless. And then two amazing things happened. I happened to take a class in health care finance at Case in Cleveland from Professor J.B. Silver on Health Economics. And I took another class in health technology with Professor Dowling. And what I found in both those classes was this industry where every problem had layers and where the problems defied easy answers.

Simmi Singh:
It’s such an affair of head and heart, isn’t it, when it comes to health care? I mean, I remember the futurists CN Morrison used to say that when it comes to health care, half of us are Republican and the other half of us are Canadian. And I think that as we struggle so much with how to really come at effective compromises on health care, there’s always the true north, which is that we have the ability to heal people. As I started into a career in health care another game-changing thing happened that kept me tethered to this industry for life. And that is that my beloved father, who was an incredible feminist and a mentor of mine, had his life inadvertently, grievously hurt by a preventable medical error. And it was in that moment that I thought everything that we all do comes down to that the ability to heal the wisdom and the humility to know what we do right and wrong. And I think that when you’re looking for passion and purpose, I find it hard to tear myself away from health care. I’ve tried often, but I always come back.

Saul Marquez:
Wow, that’s quite the journey and really appreciate you sharing it with us to me. And I could hear your passion. I could feel it. And so we’re all faced with health challenges with our family, our community. It’s a very real thing. And leaders that are in the industry need to make a difference. And having the empathy that you have is key. Tell us a little bit about Egon Zehnder and some of the work that you guys are doing to help improve outcomes and help innovate on those business models.

Simmi Singh:
Thank you for that. You know, in no year, more than 2020 in recent history, have we been reminded of how important leadership is when it comes to health care. When it comes to this incredible good bit, some of us consider a privilege and we all know is a right as well. What’s interesting about Egon Zehnder is that it’s a founder-created firm, we’ve got a history of nearly 55 years. And when our founder created us, he really did so as a student of people knowing that making inspired leadership decisions makes all of the difference in the world. There are many Harvard case studies about our firm, we have incredible culture, but our goal remains true to the goals that our founders had, which is to be a student of people to help catalyze the ability of those leaders to be deeply effective in everything that they do. So our goal very much is to come at our business as advisors on critical leadership and succession matters, but also as students and as coaches. And I think that we see the fact that leadership is more complex than ever before. You have to lead with your heart, with your mind. You have to create cultures that create a sense of belonging. And everyone who works in your organization and all of the different stakeholders you touch. And so our work is wide-ranging and very quiet in many ways because we work with leaders on grappling both with their dreams and their demons. We work with businesses to make sure that the people at the helm are worthy of followership because, you know, there’s a lot of discussion of leadership, but there is no leader without people wanting to follow them. Right? And followership requires personal security. It requires a real understanding of yourself, of your identity, and your motivation. And so we’re students of people first and foremost, and I’m privileged to be part of our family.

Saul Marquez:
Now, that is so interesting. And, you know, we’re going through a lot of change right now. And you talk about leadership and feeling like you’re worthy of leading an organization. Do you have the confidence to make it through this challenging time? I mean, time has never been like a greater test. And so I love to hear more about what you guys are doing to help leaders in this respect and how is it different than what’s available?

Simmi Singh:
You know, it’s a really good point, right. I mean, I think there are so many wonderful approaches to leadership development and to talent problems that I would hesitate to say that there’s something that we do that’s uniquely better. I do, however, believe with all my heart that our approach is deeply distinctive and it’s distinctive because we have learned that it’s really important to approach the world of talent, not as brokers of talent, not as leaders who are connected, who are connecting the influential and the connected to their next best opportunity. Those things are really important, but what’s really important is to see patterns that are not obvious to others patterns and leaders about what holds them back, patterns in organizations about how they might improve their culture and to help both leaders and organizations take calculated risks and make calculated bets on each other’s potential. Right. because for too long you can always, you know, effectively poach somebody from one legendary organization to go to the other to do the same job. And essentially that mobility, God bless it, is the fabric of US capitalism, and I heartily endorse it. But what’s really important is that you know, growing the redwoods right. if you look at the California redwoods, where’s the secret? It’s in the soil that you don’t see. And tilling the soil in order to plant fertile crops in it is what’s really important. And so I believe that our approach and leadership is all about where are you rooted

Simmi Singh:
It’s not just what you have done, but it’s your identity. Who are you? How are you wired? Do you really, really listen? Are you capable of self-growth? Why do you do what you do and what motivates you? Because I think if we are not avid students of ourselves and incredibly introspective and humbled by the opportunity handed to us to lead others, then in today’s world we are not the leaders for our time. And so what we tried very hard to do and we work out constantly, is that we like to really look at leaders most in their fullest sense for who they are, why they are, who they are, what motivates them. And we’re pretty fanatical in that sense about.

Simmi Singh:
But we also believe that while talent and executive search is a crown jewel in our offering, we are not there to just lift leaders out of organizations and drop them off at the door. We are there to accompany them in their success to help them be rooted in organizations. So we think a lot, not just about potential, but how it will land. We think not just about the reality in the head of the organizations’ leaders or in the head of the new incoming candidates, but how they’ll fit with each other. And so really being involved across the continuum of development, of search, of governance. But how it will land and what impact it will have is what keeps us honest every day and what keeps us motivated.

Saul Marquez:
That’s really thoughtful. And Simmi you’re a leader. You’re a technologist. And so what you’re doing at Egon Zehnder is also very interesting. You know, in health care, we’re looking at the digital transformation of our system and it’s happening quite quickly, especially with the circumstances that we’re in. How are you guys using digital transformation and things like that to evolve your business and add more value?

Simmi Singh:
You know that is such a good question. And I think I’ll provide sort of an outside answer about how this is informing how we work outside. And then I’ll talk about our firm as well. The way that it’s informing how we work on the outside in many ways. I thought like an intersectional thinker long before I had coined that term or used it to describe what was going on in my head because in so many ways the truth is that so many of us grew up on an island and others of us live on the bridges between them. And I think that it is so important in healthcare and in digital transformation to realize that those of us who are board-certified bridge dwellers have an enormous amount to add, because, look, health care is 20 percent of the US economy and growing. But there are so many leaders in health care that have grown up in one silo and yet digital transformation and indeed that the age we are in requires people who have spent time in so many different sectors who can see beyond the boundaries of their own experience, who can connect the dots and visualize a very different future, and who can bring together technology to do so. And I realized a long time ago that the answers are not just in the heads of health care experts and not just in the heads of technologists, but there are also buried in policy at a national, federal, local, state and local level. They’re hugely buried in the consumer sector where people really understand engagement. Right. I’ve learned so much from social media and engagement. I’ve learned a tremendous amount from the consumer sector, a lot from health care and how it defies simple answers and the scientific beauty of what happens, but also the art form that physicians and clinicians use every day to diagnose patients who are distinctive and different from each other.

Simmi Singh:
And so to me, what we’re really doing when it comes to digital transformation is to work really closely at the intersection of all those elements and to be very focused, but to be highly intentional in looking for problems that are not necessarily in one box or the other, but in the brain diagram between those. What helps us with the firm and that translates back into who we are, is that we have one global PNL. We have no individual metrics that we use to really study each other. And that’s a lot of what’s behind the case studies about us. And the reason is that we believe hugely in our collective wisdom as a firm. And so that means that it’s very common for one of us to say, hey, we’re doing something for the IMF or the World Bank or the Gates Foundation or for Pfizer or for Blue Cross Blue Shield. But what is it that our peers serving different industry groups, our community of experts outside the firm, have to teach us about how we can solve a problem? And so part of it is collective wisdom. And what’s really interesting is that I think technology is an amazing adjunct to individuals, but it doesn’t replace individual judgment. So we have all kinds of ways in which we connect with each other, in which we exchange data, in which we preserve privacy above all measure.

So that, I think, is a big element. But the other that I would say purely from a policy perspective is that you know, people talk about how a crisis is a difficult thing to waste. COVID has provided an opportunity for us to leapfrog the development or the adoption of technology in ways that would have taken us years that happened in a matter of months. Right. telemedicine has always been this hugely important aspect of health care but was confined to a niche until it became massively mainstream. When we look at the FDA for years and years and years, clinical trials have been the only place where a lot of data has come from in order for us to develop therapies. And yet today we have gone through efforts of the office of the National Coordinator, through the efforts of the government, both in the Republican administration and the Democratic administration before through the groundbreaking work that people like Amy Abernethy and others are doing at the FDA, we are really transforming how real-world evidence comes together and how these stories of the humans that come into health care can be translated into data that’s actually cleansed and worthy of being able to be used in a therapeutic fashion at lightning speed compared to what was possible before. So I think everywhere that we look in health care, the importance of intersectional thinking is, I think, a true guide to what is the art of the possible. We have to bring in the machine learning people and the people and the medical ethicists and the geneticists and the entrepreneurs together in a room to solve problems that are too big for each of us but that are truly can be inspired and informed by us as a collective.

Saul Marquez:
Oh, wow, you’ve certainly given this a lot of thought to me. And I love that, you know, and your expression of it, the illustrative islands and the bridges really brings it home. Thank you so much for that response is very thoughtful.

Simmi Singh:
Thank you. I’m honored to just, you know, the joy that I get every day from being able to have conversations with people who think differently. It reminds me of that amazing Mack commercial Right. I think it was when the market first come to bear, when they talked about it was called the crazy ones. But I had pictures of Einstein and Gandhi the others. And I think that the best thinkers in the world are seen as crazy before their time. Lister, who invented antiseptic. He was put in jail because people thought he was nuts. And yet modern-day surgery is rooted in the amazing work of Lyster. So I think I think we have to listen to the crazy one.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. Great message. And when you think about I mean, you’ve had such an interesting career. You’ve done a lot of fascinating work, led various organizations. What would you say is one of the biggest setbacks you’ve experienced and a key learning that’s come out of that to make you even wiser?

Simmi Singh:
Oh, my goodness. I have a long list there. I said, but I’ll try to pick one. I think it’s such a good question. Right. Because our failures teach us even more than our successes do. And then when you think about how we develop muscles when we’re in the gym, it’s by creating tiny pairs and then through the stresses that they gain increased strength. And so scar tissue is the root of all human awakening in many ways. When I think of my setbacks, I would say that probably the first big one that I can think about was when I launched my own firm for the very first time. I’ve been a serial entrepreneur. I failed miserably the first time around. I was sort of a tepid success the second time around and the third time around had found an amazing team to build an incredible company with. And we were really successful. But I think perhaps the most instructive was that first dramatic failure. And in many ways, what I do today is rooted in my incompetence. At that time, I went into it with all the right intentions, you know, partnered with someone that I had worked with for a long time. We actually had a really good business model. The money was rolling in, but we had never done was really understand who we were and how we were wired at our core right. We knew that our skills and our experiences and our competencies fit together. But when you’re employed by a top-notch firm, you don’t really get into big details of identity. And I realized when we got into business together, we wanted completely different things. We wanted to build different kinds of companies. We wanted to solve problems in different ways. We had different philosophies on integrity, on so many different things, and not to fix the flaws of anyone, but what I realized at that time when we decided to come apart was that I had to do a lot more work to study who I was, how I was wired, and what drove me to do things. So the learning that came out of that, I became an obsessive student of fit because I think that we hire people for what they have done in many cases and because they impress us, but we fire them or we separate with them because of who they are and who they are not and whether or not we have the ability to connect with them. So I think looking for self-awareness, looking for connections between people and not just impressions, looking to figure out whether or not there’s a true fit between someone’s passion and someone’s purpose in addition to all of their experience, was the biggest lesson that I learned coming out of that both about myself and others.

Saul Marquez:
Yeah, it’s hard enough to hire the right people in your company, but when you’re filling the main role, know the CEO of a firm. Gosh, I mean, it just even more challenging and this idea fit. You know, they hire you for what you could do, but then you let go somebody for a bad fit. I mean, there’s a lot to think about there, folks. So Simmi, I mean, what are you most excited about today?

Simmi Singh:
You know, it’s a strange time to be an optimist, but I actually am incredibly optimistic about the future. And I think it’s not because there aren’t storm clouds right. We have huge challenges ahead of us that we have to find solutions for. What’s going on with the climate, what’s happening with inclusion, how do we create an enormous sense of belonging in the room? It’s one thing to talk about inclusion. It’s another thing to actually make sure that the people that you invite into the room feel like they belong and I only think of this, which is that because so much seems dark in the world of health care and in the world in general, that sometimes we forget to see the sources of our optimism. Look at our country. So many of us who are white-collar workers have had the ability to shut ourselves down in our houses with our air conditioning. But you know what? The power comes in, the water comes in, the country works. This amazing set of big workers, God bless them, who have kept us alive and kept our trucks driven and kept our grocery stores stocked. And the health care workers who have kept us well. We have no business being pessimists when so much of humanity has kept this planet going during this year.

And I think about the Roaring Twenties that came on the heels of the Spanish flu and I think about the renaissance that followed the Dark Ages and the plague. And I think what times of darkness are followed by periods of extraordinary creativity. And I’m humbled and feel like if we’re put on earth, then we have to do something to be worthy of what is given to us. Right. Mark Twain once said that there are two of the days in our life of the most important, the day that we were born and the day that we figure out why. And I think that we have to lean into our purpose. We come from so much privilege here in this beautiful country that we have to lean into purpose and we have to believe being a pessimist is something that you can do during easy times. These times are too difficult to be anything but an optimist, but we have to follow optimism with action. So I think I’ll leap out of bed every day and tell my naysayers to shut up and get on with trying to make a difference in the world.

Saul Marquez:
I love it. Beautiful message to me and I’m right there with you. There is so much opportunity ahead and just definitely giving credit to a lot of folks listening that are on the front lines to Simmi’s point. You know, you’ve gotten us through this time, whether you’re leading the organization or at the front line taking care of patients. Thank you. Or if you’re a technology company enabling that. Thank you too. And there’s a lot to be excited ahead. And the context that Simmi provided is certainly inspiring. And so with that semi, I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful approach and for sharing the insights you have today. We’re here at the end. Why don’t you go ahead and leave us with the closing thought and the best place for the listeners could get in touch with you and engage with the firm for whatever opportunities may lie ahead?

Simmi Singh:
Well, thank you so much. My closing thoughts is honestly to send an enormous amount of love and care out into the world. I think that every day we can draw great inspiration, not by what we can take from the world, but what we can give to it. And I really think, you know, you go back to that gun because for so many years, but that never loses its resonance for me, which is that we should be the change that we wish to see in the world. And I live every day to try to be worthy of that. I don’t succeed always, but I try really hard to be inspired by that.

Saul Marquez:
That’s a great one to close with Simmi and listeners, be sure to check out the full transcript of today’s discussion on the website OutcomesRocket.Health. Type in Simmi in the search bar SIMMI Or check out Egon Zehnder. That’s EgonZehnder.com and you’ll be able to find out even more about the great things that they do. So with that Simmi, I want to thank you so much for spending time with us and definitely looking forward to staying in touch.

Simmi Singh:
Indeed Saul, for a little bit of privilege. Thank you so much for having me. Take care.

Saul Marquez:
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Things You’ll Learn

  • Inspired leadership decisions make all of the difference in the world
  • Lead with your heart and your mind.
  • Our failures teach us even more than our successes do.
  • Look for self-awareness. Look for the connection between people and not just impressions.
  • Times of darkness are followed by periods of extraordinary creativity. 

 

Resources

https://www.egonzehnder.com/

https://www.linkedin.com/in/simmi-singh-7967652/