Three Career Lessons That Helped Me Become a Better Leader

Lula Richards, Chief Compliance Officer, Versant Health

This blog post is part of Versant Health’s series of profiles of Black leaders in our organization. We believe in uplifting the diverse voices of our community, and we are taking space to honor their experiences.

As both a female and a Black leader, throughout my career, I have often felt that I had to fit into a box not meant for me. However, after spending many years in the military and corporate America I have learned valuable lessons that have allowed me to formulate concrete advice for the next generation of Black professionals.

I can now say with absolute certainty that my advice for this group is this: be authentic and true to yourself. In addition, do not be afraid to turn rejection into opportunity. During the early stages of my career, I recall applying for a business analyst position.  I was told that I was not qualified for the position because I did not have a college degree. This was a defining moment for me. “No one will ever say this to me again,” I told myself.

I since went on to obtain a college degree, a master’s degree and now serve as the Chief Compliance Officer for Versant Health. Below are three lessons I learned along the way, all of which helped me become a better leader:

Lesson 1: The Importance of Integrity

My passion for integrity-driven compliance shaped my career journey to become Versant Health’s Chief Compliance Officer.

One day in 1979 while at work, my mother found a very expensive bracelet.  Most people would have chosen to keep the bracelet; however, my mom chose to turn it in. Because of her honesty, she received a $100 reward. This story was covered by the local newspaper.  I remember how proud my mom was for being recognized for doing the right thing. It was second nature to her because it was foundational. After four decades, we still have the article, and it is a powerful moment each time I come across it. This was the kind of environment I was raised in – one where integrity is valued above all else.

Integrity has been a guiding principle for me throughout my entire career. To this day, when I come across a great leader in the audit and compliance world who mirrors both my mother’s and my values, I enjoy the opportunity to pick their brains and continue to learn from them.

Lesson 2: The Importance of Support

I believe in the power of instilling strong values in others around you through career mentorship. I have had several good mentors throughout my career.  One mentor, in particular, helped me broaden my audit and compliance skills and realize why compliance is an important field worth learning more about. After coming to this realization, I wanted to fully immerse myself in it. My preferred weekend reading now is a compliance, audit, risk management, or privacy book – perhaps something that would have shocked my younger self.

Lesson 3: The Importance of Diversity

As a leader, I enjoy guiding a diverse group of people towards a common goal. This value to prioritize diversity in leadership was instilled in me at the age of 17 – the year I joined the military. Here, I had no choice but to grow up quickly while away from home.

There were only two females in my patrol. I thought about leaving, but the words of my dad stuck with me: “Once you sign up for something, you don’t come home and say you didn’t make it.”

I stood out from my other military counterparts and was treated differently. Females, unlike males, weren’t offered housing, so I had to find a place to live. For three years, I lived with a German family who became my family away from home. They had a daughter my age and even though my German was in progress and her English was too, we didn’t need to speak each other’s language to bond. We communicated without words until our language skills developed further. I eventually taught her some English and she taught me some German. We were a team in that way, filling in for each other what we didn’t know and supporting each other although our journeys were so different.

Ultimately, it was a privilege to live with people from different nationalities and cultures. Being in the military taught me that all people are the same when it comes to their hopes and aspirations. This way of thinking has also enhanced my leadership abilities. Working in diverse groups helps me listen to each person individually because their needs may be different than mine and from those we serve.

Closing Thoughts

Throughout my career, I strive to be the best at what I’m doing. I stay competitive.

I enjoy working to keep my skill set relevant and credible to my clients and customers.  My membership in organizations like the ISACA, IIA, HCCA, SCCE, and others is a testament to my desire to keep learning about new trends and current events in risk management insurance, healthcare compliance, and beyond. This is a quality I inherited from my mother, who is 97 and still reads the paper every day (without readers). I need to keep up with her, after all.

I will leave you all with this: When you desire to grow, stretch, and learn, a deep sense of purpose will follow. May we all strive to achieve this in our careers, using relentless authenticity, integrity-focused decisions, support-based relationships and diversity-built teams to drive us onwards.

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