Patience: The world is changing, and organizations have big goals. Sometimes people overestimate what we can do in the short-term and long-term. It is a day-by-day, step-by-step process. If you have patience, you may be surprised at the success you see in your rear-view mirror.

We are living in the Renaissance of Work. Just like great artists know that an empty canvas can become anything, great leaders know that an entire organization — and the people inside it — can become anything, too. Master Artists and Mastering the Art of Leadership draw from the same source: creation. In this series, we’ll meet masters who are creating the future of work and painting a portrait of lasting leadership. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Don Antonucci Chief Executive Officer, Providence Health Plan.

Don Antonucci joined Providence in September of 2021 and leads Providence Health Plan as Chief Executive Officer. Don brings over 25 years of health care-related experience, including vast knowledge in the health insurance industry. Sharing in the organizational view of health care as a fundamental human right, he is passionate about leading the Health Plan’s efforts in promoting health equity and moving toward the shared vision of Health for a Better World.

Throughout his career, Don has applied deep insights in research, market analytics, strategy, and sales, growing membership and driving strong financial results for health insurers. In his most recent role as the Senior Vice President of Growth at Blue Shield of California, he led membership growth and held P&L accountability for every line of business.

Thank you for joining us. Our readers would enjoy discovering something interesting about you. What are you in the middle of right now that you’re excited about personally or professionally?

Growth is top of mind at Providence Health Plan right now — both in our team and our footprint. What’s exciting for me as a leader is watching our teams nurture that growth in an intentional, thoughtful way while staying true to our Providence Promise, which is to know, care for and ease the way for members. We want every encounter with Providence Health Plan to feel easy, accessible, and compassionate — it’s at the core of who we are as an organization. As we prepare to expand into new markets this year, we will keep investing time in being brilliant at the basics of our core operations to ensure we’re meeting the needs of each community and providing access to the high-quality care they deserve.

On a more personal note, I love to travel, and after two years of staying put, I’m preparing for a second tour of Italy. I’m even taking Italian language classes so I can more deeply immerse myself in the culture — I have a great streak going on Duolingo.

We all get by with a little help from our friends. Who is the leader that has influenced you the most, and how?

I love continued learning — especially when it comes to leadership and entrepreneurship. I’m not sure I can single out just one greatest influence, but I’ve incorporated and experimented with a variety of leadership styles over the years, which has led me to my passion for servant leadership.

I also consume a lot of leadership philosophy from books and podcasts, especially Tom Peters’ two books “In Search of Excellence” and “The Little Big Things.” Other influential sources that have helped inform my leadership style are the books “Start with Why” by Simon Sinek and “Atomic Habits” by James Clear, as well as podcasts hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk and Andy Frisella.

What I’ve learned from all these sources and my own experience is that the secret to good leadership is to know who you are and what you stand for. People will follow you if they buy into your “why,” not necessarily what you do or how you do it. It’s about how you embody your mission and purpose. It’s how you show up and stay present with your people — showing empathy, being transparent and self-aware, and bringing others alongside you. I learn how to be a better and more effective leader every day. As a leader, my job is never done — I am a constant work in progress.

Sometimes our biggest mistakes lead to our biggest discoveries. What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, and what did you discover as a result?

As I reflect on leadership roles throughout my career, one of the most important things I learned is to start with the “why” behind your business and your goals. As a leader, one of your main roles is to inspire fellow leaders and caregivers in your organization. Starting with the “why,” and consistently coming back to it will motivate your team to create the outcomes you want to see. If I could turn back time, I would take in these words of well-respected and influential leaders sooner. This learning would have been a real unlock or “Aha” moment for me earlier in my career. I don’t view this as a mistake but rather my biggest discovery, and what’s exciting is I now can impart these learnings to everyone at Providence Health Plan and set the stage for future leaders.

A recent example of this — we’ve launched big strategy work this year at Providence Health Plan. Strategy work can feel convoluted or far away for some caregivers since it’s forward-thinking and may not align to current daily work or tasks. We now start every meeting on this topic, whether it’s with leaders or frontline caregivers, with a single slide that outlines our Providence Promise — our “why” — to keep that North Star in bright focus for the discussion ahead. It’s a simple solution to keeping the “why” front and center every step of the way.

How has your definition of leadership changed or evolved over time? What does it mean to be a leader now?

Some of the best leaders I’ve ever worked with consistently did three things that have become the center of my leadership style — they cared about the organizations they’ve served, they communicated effectively, and they were curious about others. I call it the three “Cs”–caring, communication, and curiosity.

This thinking aligns with Providence Health Plan’s Promise, “Know me, care for me, easy my way.” When I reflect on my interactions with others each day, I ask myself what I could have done better, how I could have shown up differently, or asked different questions. This is important for all leaders, regardless of title or industry: checking yourself each day to see how you can improve the next by caring about others, communicating effectively, and being thoughtful and curious.

Seeking new experiences and being intentional about the evolution of your leadership style is also important for leadership growth. Doing so has helped me look at challenging situations with different perspectives, pushing me out of my comfort zone to see all the potential solutions and creative avenues to reach a solution. By actively evolving your leadership style and trying new things, you’ll have a wealth of knowledge and experiences from others that can positively influence your next business decision or employee interaction.

Success is as often as much about what we stop as what we start. What is one legacy leadership behavior you stopped because you discovered it was no longer valuable or relevant?

This is an extremely valuable question and something every leader should think about. For me, I’ve learned to sacrifice the quick win and take a step back. This has allowed me to be more thoughtful and intentional in my decisions. In my experience, I’ve seen smart leaders be reactionary or respond without taking a breath and thinking more deeply about the issue or potential long-term consequences. This behavior can have a negative effect on teams and organizations — alienating others, shutting down creativity and communication, and impacting good business practices and decisions.

As a servant leader, I’m always thinking about others and how I can bring them alongside me in decision making. Earlier in my career, I might have moved too quickly with a process I knew would work without bringing others along in the journey. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned how hungry people are to learn the “how” and not just the “what.” I know I was. As I continue to build my leadership team, I empower them to come to conclusions, ask questions, and see a decision through from start to finish. Sometimes it takes a little longer and may not be the quickest win, but providing space for other leaders to actively participate, gain confidence in their decision making, and know their voice matters is the biggest win.

What is one lasting leadership behavior you started or are cultivating because you believe it is valuable or relevant?

Good leadership begins with self-awareness. Knowing my strengths and areas for growth or improvement and recognizing where my energy is and where I’m most needed is imperative in making the right decisions. There is no one singular style or playbook that works from a leadership practice, so what I’ve learned is to trust my intuition. It can be uncomfortable at times, but it allows me to make thoughtful decisions, and seek guidance from others when needed before making any big decisions.

What advice would you offer to other leaders who are stuck in past playbooks and patterns and may be having a hard time letting go of what made them successful in the past?

I don’t believe there is one right way to lead. What may have worked in one situation isn’t necessarily going to work in the next. As I mentioned earlier, I have tried and experimented with different leadership philosophies or behaviors until I found what worked for me. And even today, I’m constantly learning from others and adjusting. For any leader, I would tell them to consider incorporating the three “Cs”: continue to be curious and have an open mind when it comes to different leadership styles, be transparent in your communication, and show your people you care in a genuine, authentic way. You’re not going to get it right 100% of the time — but that is how you learn and evolve.

Many of our readers can relate to the challenge of leading people for the first time. What advice would you offer to new and emerging leaders?

First, think about your values and the organization’s values. Do they align? If they don’t, you can’t authentically lead. I deeply believe in the values at Providence Health Plan and share them often with others. Saying the words isn’t enough if you don’t believe them. You must walk the walk.

Second, know that wins and losses will come and go. Celebrate when the organization has a win, but don’t become complacent. Things can change in a second. When there’s a loss, always find learnings from it but keep looking forward and know success is just around the corner.

Finally, never stop learning. Be curious, listen, pay attention, and ask for feedback from others. Do not be afraid to try new things and don’t be too hard on yourself when something doesn’t work out–the only way to grow is to learn when you stumble and fall. In trying new strategies and ideas, you’ll learn what feels authentic to you. Have patience and take advantage of opportunities that seem beyond your current scope. I didn’t wait until I was a manager or leader to step up to the plate and raise my hand. Putting yourself in the game gives others the opportunity to see you as a leader, no matter your title.

Based on your experience or research, what are the top five traits effective leaders exemplify now? Please share a story or an example for each.

The top five traits today’s effective leaders exemplify are: caring, communication, curiosity, patience, and perspective.

  1. Caring: People can tell whether you genuinely care about them and your business. Caring about your people and organization shows up in every interaction and decision a leader makes. Whether it be through an email communication, a conversation, or even a business decision, showing you care creates loyalty and trust, which is ultimately good for business.
  2. Communication: Think about how, when, and what you communicate. Whether it’s showing transparency or modeling healthy behavior such as not emailing over the weekend or on PTO, communicating clearly and effectively and setting boundaries is important in creating a healthy work culture.
  3. Curiosity: I am not the smartest person in every room. I can learn from each person around me. Asking questions and being open to questions from others are how you grow both as a leader and an organization.
  4. Patience: The world is changing, and organizations have big goals. Sometimes people overestimate what we can do in the short-term and long-term. It is a day-by-day, step-by-step process. If you have patience, you may be surprised at the success you see in your rear-view mirror.
  5. Perspective: Find ways as a leader to unearth new viewpoints. In Tom Peters’ book, “The Little Big Things,” he discusses the importance of surrounding yourself with people who think differently or have different strengths. For example, if you’re a numbers person, get to know people who are interested in the arts. By putting yourself in others’ shoes, being exposed to different perspectives, and learning from their experiences, you’re allowing for new ways of thinking, which will help you grow as a leader.

American Basketball Coach John Wooden said, “Make each day your masterpiece.” How do you embody that quote? We welcome a story or example.

This quote makes me think about how I can be the best version of myself and what that looks like each day. For me, starting my days with positive energy and thinking helps me feel motivated and ready to serve others. I do this by taking time each morning to center myself through meditation, a nutritious meal, and exercise. Prioritizing both my mental and physical health keeps me sharp and ready to take on the day. It’s these moments of prioritizing my mental health — and providing space for my team to do the same — that makes each day a masterpiece.

What is the legacy you aspire to leave as a leader?

I want to leave a legacy of growth and success, but not just from a financial or business perspective. I aspire to make a lasting positive impact on my colleagues and community. As a servant leader, I work hard to create a healthy workplace, by leading with empathy, listening to my people, and cultivating trust. I want our people to want to come to work each day to a place where they feel heard and cared for, empowered and curious about their work, and excited to serve Providence Health Plan members. This is where business growth happens–if your people are happy and healthy, your business will be too.

How can our readers connect with you to continue the conversation?

I believe in the power of social media and am active on LinkedIn and Twitter, often posting about recent leadership and healthcare trends that inspire me. I would be honored to connect with readers on these platforms to learn what motivates them in their day-to-day.

Twitter: Don Antonucci (@DonAntonucci) / Twitter


Thank you for giving us the opportunity to experience a leadership master at work. We wish you continued success and good health!