Top 10 Traits of Outstanding Wellness Leaders

If you review the wellness literature, conference speaker lists, and industry award winners from a few years ago you’ll find many of these program leaders and vendors aren’t around anymore, or their function has diminished considerably. Some of this reduction was unavoidable with downsizing, mergers/acquisitions, and cutbacks for various other business reasons. Some was caused by flawed business models and poor execution.

Wellness leaders we know who have survived and flourished exhibit most or all of these attributes:

  1. They own the promotion function. The most successful health promoters know the “health” in health promotion is pretty simple. But motivating people to take action is the biggest challenge. So they keep marketing and promoting at the top of their to-do list — week in and week out. That doesn’t mean they ignore evaluation, return on investment, or support, but they know these important management tasks follow outstanding participation, which is the result of exceptional marketing and promoting.
  2. They keep the wellness function flat. Long reporting lines and hierarchical management slow decision making and limit productivity. The best managers hire and/or contract for top talent, then roll up their sleeves and get down to business, without convening multiple committees, writing lengthy proposals, or seeking permission at every level. They do their homework enough to know if a program or idea will work, then implement.
  3. They get out of their office and face to face with participants. Top managers have a deep connection with the people they serve, and they keep that feeling by rubbing elbows with participants often. They know what people want and care about because they walk up to them and ask — regularly.
  4. They use data cautiously. Risk, claim, and cost data isn’t overemphasized because top managers know day-to-day lifestyle choices aren’t driven by sterile reams of spreadsheet statistics. They’re based on how people feel about themselves, their jobs, their family, their community. They know if they concentrate too much on the “need” of individuals and the organization, they’ll miss what people want and are actually prepared to do.
  5. They hire, train, and reward passionate wellness professionals. The best managers recognize health promotion is a people business that requires a passion for helping people improve their health — without regard to a job candidate’s advanced degree, flawless resume, or impeccable grade point average.
  6. They care for and respect their participants. They acknowledge people aren’t perfect, and even when participants don’t take advantage of resources that could improve their health and quality of life, the best health promoters don’t get cynical or throw in the towel. They understand participants have competing priorities, are at different stages of readiness… and look forward to helping them when the time is right.
  7. They strive for a sense of community. An outstanding wellness program is a source of pride in many organizations. Despite the pressures to do more with less, the best health promoters excel at getting people involved in group activities, celebrating individual and group success, and nurturing a sense of belonging to something that not only enhances personal health, but contributes to a healthier, stronger organization.
  8. They aren’t limited by convention. “That’s the way we’ve always done it” or “That’s the way others do it” is a good enough reason for the best wellness managers to do something different. They’re not satisfied with the status quo and are constantly tinkering with promotion strategies and education techniques that will produce a better result. When it doesn’t, they’re not deterred — they learn from the experience and apply what they’ve learned in their next attempt at improving the program.
  9. They celebrate uncommon success. Outstanding health promoters know this reinforces commitment and helps build loyalty to the program. So not only are the 10K runners recognized, but so is the first-time participant who won the low-fat baking contest, and the previously sedentary factory worker who completed the walking incentive program, and the meeting planner who served fruits and vegetables for the weekly staff meeting. No movement toward better health is too trivial to celebrate.
  10. They’re true to the cause. The top health promoters we know love what they’re doing and prefer it to any other occupation. They volunteer to serve on community health projects and in trade associations. They appear on conference agendas, write articles for trade publications, and advocate legislation to improve health. They commit to not only helping individuals, but also supporting the industries of wellness, health education, and preventive healthcare.


Dean WitherspoonDean Witherspoon
Chief collaborator, nudger, tinkerer; leads the most inventive team creating well-being and sustainable living programs. Reach out if you’d like to talk about employee well-being, emotional fitness, or eco-friendly living.

1 Comment. Leave new

  • Beverly White-Yates
    August 28, 2013 2:04 pm

    Thank you for this article,I am the Wellness Chair for HR at The Cleveland Public Library and have been feeling at bit at a loss for helping our employees reach thier wellness goals. You have reminded me of acheivements they make that some may feel are small but in actuality are huge and should be acknowledged. sometimes we get so caught up in putting on the biggest and greatest that we forget about the milestones to change.


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