Veteran Voices is a series that gives our veteran-employees a chance to discuss their time in the military and how it prepared them for their careers with Highmark Health companies. In this post, Highmark’s Vice President of Member and Provider Experience Eric Lisle discusses how his military experience shaped his view of the world, and continues to help him today.

Italy, Germany, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Egypt and the United States (including Alaska)….

When Eric Lisle says he “grew up all over the world,” he’s not exaggerating. Altogether, Highmark’s new Vice President of Member and Provider Experience has lived in eight countries during his life, and he’s never stayed in one place for more than four years.

From a childhood spent following his engineer father around the world to his own travels in the military, Eric says that traveling has given him a valuable sense of perspective. “Traveling the world taught me how to embrace different cultures and ways of thinking,” he explains. He says that the desire to understand and integrate diverse points of view helped shape both his time in the military and his current career in health care.

Military Service: A Family Legacy

“Military service tends to run in families, and my experience is no different,” Eric says, pointing out that his extended family’s legacy of service includes a grandfather and several uncles who were in the Army, and several other family members who served in the Navy.

Eric continued that legacy by becoming the first person in his immediate family to join the Air Force. He served for 20 years, including 15 years as a Medical Service Corps Officer. He started out working in the medical supply field, and continued to work in military hospitals throughout his career. He earned numerous distinctions along the way, including prestigious recognition as Outstanding Airman of the Year. He was directly commissioned to become a hospital administrator, a role that involved overseeing hospitals and clinics for servicemen and women. During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005 and 2006, he was the administrator for the only Air Force Trauma Center in Iraq.

That experience reinforced the value of maintaining a strong work ethic even when dealing with highly stressful situations. “In Iraq, I was working 16 hours a day for 6 months, while rockets literally rained down on our heads daily,” he explains.

Eric LisleTaking on New Challenges: From Humana to Highmark

During his 20 years of military service, Eric also earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in economics. In the 7 years since then he has attended law school, obtained a Master of Science degree in National Resource Strategy, and completed Harvard’s HealthCare 2020 Leader program.

Professionally, his return to civilian life began to take shape when a friend asked him to consider working for Humana, one of the country’s largest health insurers, in San Antonio, Texas. There, he fell in love with his work in TRICARE, a part of Humana’s Government Division that provides health benefits and related services to military families. Over a six-year period, he advanced from a regional manager position up to Chief Operating Officer for the Government Division.

Since joining Highmark, Eric’s new mission is to lead in creating a differentiated member experience through outstanding service and innovations across the various customer touchpoints. He was drawn to the position because, “I wanted to see what my talents and experiences from the military and Humana could bring outside of the military environment,” he says.

“The military taught me to take on new challenges and step out of my comfort zone, which is what I’ve done by coming to Highmark.”

He explains that a big part of being Vice President of Member and Provider Experience is exploring how Highmark can connect with members in more meaningful, engaging ways. “We want to be there to support our customers — if they get in touch, we need to be able to answer their direct needs,” he says. He adds that, “We want to move the needle on the Highmark Experience of the Future — we believe our customers don’t want to wait for that experience and we should be striving to deliver it today.” (Highmark Experience of the Future is a long-term, internal initiative to enhance all aspects of customers’ interactions with the company — and “customer” includes not only the health plan policyholder but also other family members on a Highmark plan, patients, and caregivers.)

One of his team’s approaches involves enhancing technology platforms to connect with members in more impactful ways — which includes everything from incorporating avatars to add a personal touch to communications to offering a two-way platform for customer suggestions.

“We want our customers to feel like Highmark cares about them, because we know them and listen to their needs,” he says. “Customer suggestions are like hidden gems — when they take the time to enlighten us about their experience, we need to take that seriously, do something with that information, and then let them know that we did.”

Diversity, Leadership, Teamwork and Courage

Eric says several principles from his military service continue to have a strong influence in his civilian and professional life. In leading his Highmark team toward creating a better member experience, for example, he says one of the most important principles is to seek out and encourage diversity.

“I want to ensure that my team has a diversity of thought, both in terms of background and experience,” he explains. “For many people joining the military, basic training was the first time they truly experienced individuals and cultures outside of their home culture. The military taught me that it is the differences of the team, not the similarities, that make that team stronger — and as a result, I place a high value on diversity today.”

He also credits the military with shaping his approach to leadership. “Most of the skills we typically associate with leadership are not innately bestowed on an individual at birth,” he points out. “Some people have a greater propensity to be leaders than others, but leadership skills are learned and taught throughout the course of our lives and experiences.” At the heart of what he’s learned about leadership is another important quality: teamwork.

In the military, Eric says, it is critical, and sometimes even a matter of life or death, to put individual goals aside in order to accomplish the greater mission. He believes that teamwork is vitally important in corporate America as well, but too often takes a backseat to personal achievement. As a result, individuals or specific groups sometimes excel while the organization as a whole struggles and fails to achieve the best long-term results. Conversely, Eric says he does all he can to create a sense of identification with the larger team. “My military experiences helped me understand the value of ensuring that everyone feels like they’re valued,” he says. “I’m building a team that strives to work with the rest of the organization in supporting our customers, rather than working in a silo.”

Another quality that Eric has valued is courage. “The kind of courage I’m referring to is not just the kind where an individual joins the military to put their life on the line in service to the country, but the courage that is required to do the right things,” he emphasizes. “In my opinion, courage is the prerequisite quality to greatness. It is what causes an individual to step out and try something risky and new when others are stepping back or even pulling that individual back.” That type of courage can make a big difference in day-to-day decisions as well as bigger life decisions. Eric says such courage is rare in risk-averse cultures, but it tends to open up opportunities for the organization to make significant progress toward even those goals which are most difficult to achieve.

Ongoing Work to Help Other Veterans

Eric also remains committed to doing what he can to help other veterans, both at Highmark and beyond. “I’m fortunate to have been designated and given the opportunity to be an executive sponsor for the brand-new Veteran’s Business Resource Group here at Highmark,” he says. He explains that the creation of the Veteran’s BRG is an important step in Highmark’s recognition of a group of individuals with a very unique skill-set focused on leadership, integrity, service and teamwork.

Eric also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for the National Defense University Foundation in Washington, D.C., the leading university for senior military officer and senior executive civilians across the entire federal government. “We foster ways to improve academic understandings of our students and support the lives of veterans post-graduation and retirement,” Eric says.

“There is no greater calling than to support the men and women (and in particular their families) who have given so much of their lives for this country. Anything I or Highmark can do to give back to this incredible group of patriots is just scratching the surface of what they deserve.”