Pathways to Leadership in Corporate Optometry

May 8, 2019
6 min read

Some of the biggest names in corporate optometry from Walmart to National Vision sat down with our team to discuss their role as leaders in the industry.

Becoming a leader in the eyecare industry extends well beyond clinical expertise, and taking the leap from clinician to practice CEO and beyond is something you have to actively work toward. We sat down with some of the biggest names in optometry including Denise Mogil, OD, Carl Spear, OD, Artis Beatty, OD, Matt Geller, OD, Alexander Smith, OD, and Chris Cordero, OD, led in conversation by Jim Muniz from Digital Optometrics, as they shared their experiences navigating the path to leadership and what it means to be a leader.

“When are you at your personal best?” For many leaders, the answer to that question is when they are confronting a challenge. As a leader, it is your responsibility to identify challenges that you and your team are facing and press through them. The Leadership Challenge by Barry Posner and James Kouzes identifies five key leadership practices:

  1. Model the way
  2. Inspire a shared vision
  3. Challenge the process
  4. Enable others to act
  5. Encourage the heart

Reading these practices on a page is one thing, but how can you implement them directly into your leadership style, and what exactly do they all mean? Let’s listen to what our experts had to say!

Model the way

Modeling the way is simply another way of saying “lead by example.” As a leader, you are responsible for clarifying the company’s values, and you need to fully understand the path that your business is taking. This doesn’t just mean financial growth or product updates. Modeling the way for your business means knowing what the business stands for, what it believes in. What aspirations, values, and principles do you and your team use to guide the business?

Alex Smith, VP of Professional Services at National Vision, says that he depends on his credibility as a healthcare professional to properly lead. “I have to be able to step into a lane and do it myself.” Because of this, he recommends that even as you rise through the ranks to “keep your licenses active, get into the lane whenever you can, and go to CEs.” Finding what you’re passionate about and aligning how you work and operate your team changes everything.

Once you have that idea, that passion, focused in your mind think about this: if you were to leave your practice behind, if you were to go on a sabbatical, and all you could leave was a single note, what would you write? What advice would you leave for your team to tell them how to properly run your business?

Chris Cordero, Optometry Professional Relations at Walmart, says that his go-to advice would be the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. He says that a good practice must lead with empathy and sympathy in order to follow through on complete treatment. During his time as a healthcare professional and as a soldier in the US military, he came to learn the importance of recognizing the value of each member of your team.

No matter the size of the team, whether it’s you and one other person or thousands of employees, everyone serves a vital role in the organization’s success, and it’s important to celebrate that value.

Inspire a shared vision

Envision the future; enlist others in a common vision. Building a shared vision of your practice stems, in part, from modeling the way, but you can’t be there at every fork in the road. As important as it is to walk the walk, it’s equally as important to teach your team and let them handle the business when you aren’t right there with them.

Matthew Geller, CEO and Founder of CovalentCareers, understood that as the company grew from a few people in his spare bedroom that he wouldn’t be able to be present for every decision made on a daily basis. Communicating a vision and sharing information is easy when the entire company is in line of sight, but sharing that a team of thirteen or twenty or one hundred people becomes unruly.

He knew that establishing guiding principles for the company would be a necessity and after reading Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It...and Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish, he had a better sense of how to establish the CovalentCareers brand book. The book serves as a reference for each member of the team that can help guide their decisions and align their daily work with the mission of the company. CovalentCareers’ purpose is “to empower new healthcare professionals to create happy and successful careers.” What’s your company’s purpose?

Challenge the process

Great leaders take time to search for opportunities, experiment, and take risks. With this attitude, they are able to ask “what if” question into a reality. The difference between a good leader and a great one is often their ability to listen to others on their team. Artis Beatty, CMO of MyEyeDr, chimed in about a point early in his career where he learned this lesson. “I started with ‘If you’re not doing it my way, you’re probably doing it the wrong way.’ But as [MyEyeDr] has grown, we realized that we are partnering with practices that have something special.”

Understanding the value in MyEyeDr.’s partnerships, he was able to challenge himself to solve problems using someone else’s methods. “We were able to take what we know, take what they know, and learn to better solve that problem next time.” You can’t control the problems that you’ll encounter, but as you challenge the process, you can take control of how you handle the solution.

Enable others to act

You've set strong examples for your team and built a fantastic foundation for them to stand on, but another mark of a good leader is to allow your own members to step up and lead as well. By strengthening your team to act, even if they don’t think they’re capable, you can prepare them for success.

Encourage the heart

Make your team part of the process! Once they understand the mission they are striving for and the direction they should go in, it’s essential that they own part of the process with you. Obviously, there will differences between the duties of a CEO and the duties of an entry-level staff member, but from the bottom to the top, every team member must feel like they own part of the company's responsibility.

When you own something, you know that you have to care for it. So treat your team, even those that may be less engaged, as the person that you would like for them to become. When you hold your team to high standards or set audacious goals for them, they will rise to the occasion for you and build that passion, love, and heart along the way.

About Dyllan Thweatt

Dyllan is a UC San Diego graduate and the Associate Editor for NewGradOptometry and CovalentCareers. In his time out of the office he is also a full-time Dungeon Master, pet dad, and an avid tea drinker.