Be yourself and be supportive of others being themselves. I’ve been so lucky that I have been able to be myself throughout my entire career and I attribute that as one of the many reasons why I’ve thrived. Your team wants and needs to see a real human leader, with all of our faults and craziness. They need to see your passion and your love for the job — if you don’t love what you do, it shows. Have compassion for them, help them be the best people they can be — let them leave early to attend the school play, encourage Dress for Your Day, find little ways to celebrate individualism, and hold them up — especially in tough times, which you can only do if you get to know your people and what matters most to them.
As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa M. Buckingham. Lisa is executive vice president and chief people, place and brand officer at Lincoln Financial Group. She has more than 30 years of experience in human resources management and has received prestigious recognition for leadership in her field. Lisa was elected a Fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources in 2018, named HR Executive of the Year by HR Executive Magazine in 2017, and named one of the top 10 CHROs in a list published by Forbes in 2015. At Lincoln, Lisa is responsible for all human resources practices and policies. She also oversees brand and advertising, enterprise communications, consumer insights and corporate social responsibility activities; as well as facilities, aviation and corporate strategic real estate areas. Lisa serves on many boards including the HR Policy Association, American Health Policy Institute, Peer Round Table for CHROs, Eagles Charitable Foundation and Chairs the Lincoln Foundation.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I’ve been so fortunate… don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked hard every step of the way, but I am also grateful for the many mentors and friends I’ve had along the way to help guide me. In terms of my HR beginnings, there’s no other way to describe it than that the pieces just began to fall into place. I started on a much different path — my initial dream was to become a TV newscaster and I started out studying broadcasting. Thanks to a cosmetic sales job I started when I was barely 16, I stumbled into a paid internship in personnel — yes, it was actually called “Personnel” back then — and little did I know at the time where that would lead. Really, for me, it is serendipity and taking chances, and sometimes the path defines you — it’s not always that you’re defining your path. Fortunately, for me, early on in my career I had people see my potential, champion for my success and help steer my course for the better. I was very, very lucky to have the “HR bug bite me” and the minute I went into it, there was no going back. And I’ve been even luckier that, as I grew my career in HR, I was also able to transfer those business skills into areas such as technology, innovation and even Brand, which I lead now for Lincoln. The biggest lesson I learned from the start of my career is that you must lean on guidance from those you admire, and ultimately do what is right for you — it may not be what you initially envisioned, but you will always know where you are meant to be.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Yes, there’s a great story here! When I came to Lincoln Financial, I was hired as the CHRO in late 2008. For those who may have forgotten, that was also the onset of the financial crisis that gripped my industry for years to come… but that’s another story entirely! Soon after joining Lincoln, our CEO Dennis Glass asked me to lead our growing Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Lincoln. Lincoln always recognized that good corporate citizenship is intrinsic to its success. And the Foundation has always been focused on local philanthropic giving to our communities. But at the time, there was no formal area for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) — not at Lincoln and really not anywhere that I was keenly aware of. I knew this was an area that had the potential to be something huge — an opportunity to commit resources to the function so that we could truly understand the needs of the world and act upon those needs. To this day, I still remember Nancy Rodgers, then Head of Talent and now President of Lincoln Financial Foundation and head of CSR, standing in my office discussing the possibility of this idea and the excitement that poured from her. CSR was a new area for me, but an area that was always a passion — so we partnered to try and make this goal come to fruition. Remember, this was a time of save, save, save. It wasn’t necessarily the time you’d think to propose a “start-up” within the organization. But Nancy and I were passionate, built an excellent business case and you know what, our CEO and leadership supported it. To this day, building the CSR area is one of my favorite accomplishments at Lincoln. We can help change this wonderful world!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Lincoln, we are always looking to push beyond the boundaries and elevate all of our efforts old and new. A great example is our naming rights partnership with the Philadelphia Eagles, which started in 2002. It is so much more than just putting our name on the building.We see it as a way to deeply connect with the community and the fans, and even more so, it helps us open doors to conversations with people — the fans — who we might not otherwise have the chance to talk to. It gives us the opportunity to educate and demystify financial services products, elevate financial literacy and give back to those in need. For example, our employees get engaged through the Eagles Charitable Foundation — and let me tell you they get stoked about it. Whether it is helping at-risk kids get vision care with the Eye Mobile or participating in the Autism challenge, which we are sponsoring again this year, it is a beneficial experience for all involved. And the right thing to do.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive? / What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
My top two pieces of advice to give to other female leaders on helping their teams thrive would be:
- Be yourself and be supportive of others being themselves. I’ve been so lucky that I have been able to be myself throughout my entire career and I attribute that as one of the many reasons why I’ve thrived. Your team wants and needs to see a real human leader, with all of our faults and craziness. They need to see your passion and your love for the job — if you don’t love what you do, it shows. Have compassion for them, help them be the best people they can be — let them leave early to attend the school play, encourage Dress for Your Day, find little ways to celebrate individualism, and hold them up — especially in tough times, which you can only do if you get to know your people and what matters most to them.
- Communicate, communicate, and communicate more. Transparency and authenticity are two of the most important traits for success. As a leader, you should feel confident in having salient discussions with every member of your team and your team needs to know it is a two-way street and that they can come to you. Always respond! It is so lame if you don’t.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Yes! Early on in my career, I was preparing for a Collective Bargaining meeting in my office and my CEO was there — let me first remind you, this was the era before cell phones. My assistant came into the office to tell me that a family member was on the phone. I said very abruptly and almost embarrassed, “I will call them back.” At that moment, the CEO said, “You know, Lisa, sometimes you need to wear your job like a jacket. Take that jacket off once in a while, and remember, you can replace your job, but you can’t replace your family. Take the call!” From that day forward, I remembered that advice and it really has helped drive my family-first philosophy. But, my advice to others, take the call, even if it’s three-seconds to say, “I can’t talk right now, everything OK?” It is worth it.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Let me just say, Lincoln is a very special company in many ways. Although we’re a public company, I can say with much conviction that our 11,000-plus employees and 59,000 partners come to work every day because we know were making a difference in the lives of tens of millions of Americans. We offer some of the best available life insurance, long-term care, retirement planning, investments and workplace benefits solutions. And we’re laser focused on our customers. We have a 115-year-plus legacy of living up to the values held by our namesake Abraham Lincoln. And my partners in our four businesses will tell you that we have one of the most unique and effective distribution models in the industry.
But what really makes Lincoln stand out is our PEOPLE. They’re smart, they’re committed, they’re hard working. They care about each other and they really care about our customers. And I’m proud of Lincoln’s commitment to them so they can continue to thrive and grow in their careers. We never lose sight of our employees — there is not one change to policy that we make without a thorough examination of how it will impact every single employee, no matter where they fall in the organization.
When I first met CEO Dennis Glass at the outset of the market crisis, we were looking under what seemed like every rock to find efficiencies that would allow us to weather turbulent markets. But one thing that was never on the table was reducing our commitment to developing our people. In fact, Dennis insisted that we spend MORE on development to make sure all of our key leaders were fully up to speed with the latest and greatest financial, regulatory, legal and other knowledge that we knew they would need to not just survive the volatility but to come out of it stronger than ever. And we have. It really worked and its why I came to Lincoln Financial.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Oh my, yes there is a person that completely changed my career trajectory — for the better. I met this individual by chance at a party, and through being myself, hit it off with him. What I didn’t know at the time was that this man was the CEO of the company whose party I was attending and the creator of many technology start-ups — remember I told you, serendipity. He admired my tenacity and knew I would be a smart choice to hire for his next company. However, he also learned that I had not completed my degree at the time. So, he hired me under the condition that I finish my degree within the first year or I would be let go. I decided to attend Georgetown University, despite the program requiring additional credits, and completed my degree in two years (with his gracious extension of the deadline), dedicating my nights and weekends to academics and keeping my job. This was one of those defining moments in my life — a push towards that right path. And again, it would have never have happened without friends, family and college.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I truly believe that the keys to success are to do good work, be yourself, give back and have fun while you do it all. I’ve made giving back a large part of who I am and how I spend my time. Mentorship and relationships have been instrumental to my success, so I’m dedicated to paying that forward through mentoring and advising as many as I can — whether it is our employees at Lincoln, my peers in the industry or others I meet along the way. I also was instrumental in building out Lincoln’s CSR area, where we’re committed to improving the lives of our communities. And, currently, I serve on the board of the Eagles Charitable Foundation where we have reached more than one million children in the Philadelphia region through health and education programs.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why.
Lesson 1 — You don’t have to be an expert on everything.
Hire smart people and let them do their work. I oversee HR, brand, advertising, communications, facilities, aviation, and at one time digital. While I have learned a lot and can hold my own at any of those tables, I have made sure to put strong, expert leaders at the tops of those organizations to ensure success.
Lesson 2 — Build diverse teams and then listen. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to contribute.
Take time to listen, not only to your leaders, but to people across your team and at all levels to fully understand where things are going wonderfully and where there are opportunities for enhancement. Don’t assume you know what’s best; figure out the true needs from a people perspective.
Lesson 3 — Be true to yourself and your family.
Always be your genuine self. The team wants and needs to see a real human leader, with all of our faults and craziness.
Also, some of the best personal advice I’ve received in my career was “Sometimes you need to wear your job like a jacket. Take that jacket off once in a while, and remember, you can replace your job, but you can’t replace your family.”
Lesson 4 — Be rooted in the business.
The best advice I got was this: make sure you’re spending more time out in the businesses than you are in your corporate seat.
Make sure you know the business inside and out and take opportunities to teach your team about it. Whether you’re in HR, Marketing or the mailroom, understanding the business is the only way you will know if you’re adding value, and it’s critical that everyone on the team, admin or functional leader, can connect what he or she does every day back to the business.
Lesson 5 — Be open to trying new things.
If you only stick to what’s comfortable, you’re never going to escape from the pack. Go out on a limb, say yes to something you’re not sure how to do, run toward the fire when everyone else is running away. Be vulnerable when appropriate. Sometimes we shine best when we’re learning, making mistakes and growing and give others the chance to see us as human.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The movement I would love to inspire is to be yourself fearlessly. Authenticity is something so important and often so lost today’s society. To be yourself is to have the courage to define your version of a successful life. It is not the same for everyone — some thrive in stressful jobs, some like laid-back lifestyles, some desire to expand their families, and so on… and you need to know what is right for you despite what others may define as success. As famously stated, diversity is the one true thing we all have in common — celebrate it every day. At Lincoln, I’ve been a champion for Diversity and Inclusion and our “dress-for-your-day” policy. The policy enables our employees to determine how they want to dress to come to work and what makes them feel most comfortable for that day. Even something that may feel simple, such as the option to work in casual clothes, can unleash someone’s creativity. I cannot even imagine how beautiful of a place the world would be if we could all just always be ourselves and be celebrated for it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”?
“Be yourself, be badass, bring people along, be humble, be present. None of us are perfect, but we are right for our people. And always do a bit more for others than expected.”
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
My response may surprise you… I would pick Curtis Jackson, known professionally as 50 Cent. He fascinates me! In addition to his music and television career, 50 Cent is a highly successful businessman, who is financially invested in highly diverse industries ranging from mobile apps to health drinks to film production. I would love the opportunity to have a private meal and pick his brain!