Community//

Lisa M. Buckingham: “You’ll never regret doing good”

Optimism is a virtue I learned from my dad at an early age and one of those grounding principles of our culture at Lincoln. So, if I look at what gives me hope, it’s the goodness in people. I’ve seen it in everyday heroes, like the ones featured on the news, and especially in our […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!

Optimism is a virtue I learned from my dad at an early age and one of those grounding principles of our culture at Lincoln. So, if I look at what gives me hope, it’s the goodness in people. I’ve seen it in everyday heroes, like the ones featured on the news, and especially in our people at Lincoln. Our people are smart, committed, and hardworking. They care about each other and they really care about our customers. Right now, they’re facing their own challenges yet still putting others first. For example, we have people using their ironing board as a standing desk in their dining room as their toddlers run around behind them, still giving their attention and compassion to a customer on the phone. And because of the nature of our business — things like life insurance, disability insurance — our employees are often talking to our customers during the most difficult and emotional times in their lives. It’s not just customer service — it’s empathy. All while going through their own challenges. It’s truly heroic; our people amaze me.


As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID-19 pandemic, 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. In addition to her usual role of leading Lincoln’s human resources, diversity and inclusion, culture and engagement, brand, advertising, strategy, real estate, and corporate responsibility endeavors (and more!), Lisa has been at the forefront of ensuring the health and safety of nearly 12,000 employees and an extensive network of financial advisor partners as they transitioned to work-from-home, deploying 2 million dollars to food organizations in Lincoln’s local communities and working with three fellow CHROs to turn a passion-fueled idea into People + Work Connect, an online platform that connects companies that are hiring with a talented and available workforce and organizations who have talent supply at no cost. Lisa is driven to make sure that the company continues to honor its namesake by stepping up to support its employees, communities, and America during the COVID-19 crisis. Lisa’s goal is to always ground everything in compassion, helping and doing the right thing for everyone, no matter what.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Lisa! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

The short answer is that I grew up as a military brat. My dad was in the Army for 32 years — he was a full colonel, Green Beret, and in Black Ops. So, as you can imagine, we moved around a lot. I was born in White Plains, New York. Then we moved to Germany for several years before coming back to the States. We bumped around — spending time in Kentucky and finally settling some in Virginia. Constantly being the new kid, sometimes even mid-year, seemed tough at the time but it taught me a lot of valuable lessons. I learned how to formulate relationships quickly, the importance of being direct and fair, and always acting with high integrity and trust. Honestly, I am so blessed to be a military brat. And quite frankly, I met my dearest friend of more than 40 years in one of those fateful moves. She too is a military brat.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Let me start by saying life is filled with many moments that matter, some tougher than others, and people remember who shows up during the tough times to help them through. Lincoln Financial has shown up through this crisis and I am so proud to be a part of this organization and to have the support of our CEO, Dennis Glass, to do so much of the work we’ve started to help our employees, customers, and communities through this.

At Lincoln, the life and accomplishments of Abraham Lincoln are at the center of everything we do. We ground ourselves in strength, courage, integrity, dependability, optimism, and respect. It goes a long way in how we operate and permeates every level of the organization. The foundation of our amazing culture is also what made it easy for us to define three clear objectives to help us lead through this crisis: 1.) protect the health and wellbeing of our dedicated employees; 2.) operate the business so we can continue to serve our customers, policyholders, and partners; and 3.) do what we can to help our communities and America get through this crisis.

For our employees, we quickly prioritized their health, safety, and wellbeing. First by implementing early protective measures — such as travel restrictions and isolation protocols, and then by transitioning to a nearly enterprise-wide work-from-home arrangement in mid-March. But it didn’t stop there. We’ve continued to support our employees with every aspect of their well being — physical, financial, and mental — through added benefits and resources, connection tools, and highly transparent communications. We’re constantly looking for their feedback and acting on that feedback. Putting our employees first is our top priority. The transition to virtual work has really been a success thanks to the amazing resilience of our PEOPLE and their willingness to tell us what they need!

In our local communities, Lincoln has always been committed to positively enhancing the quality of life through philanthropic giving. As unemployment and poverty increase due to COVID-19, food and housing security remain significant issues for the most vulnerable in our communities. That’s why through the Lincoln Financial Foundation we’ve committed 2 million dollars to more than 60 food, housing, and related service providers across 11 cities so far this year. And we’re just getting started.

Another way we’re helping Americans is through our role as one of the founding companies of People + Work Connect. This initiative started as an idea from a passion-fueled brainstorm with three of my peers from Accenture, ServiceNow and Verizon. Just 14 business days after we came up with the idea — which we call a “compassion project” — it was a full-fledged employer-to-employer platform that brings together companies laying off or furloughing people with those companies in urgent need of workers. The goal is to keep people employed during this crisis. I can dive into the initiative in more detail later in our conversation. But just let me say, this initiative is way more than giving a reference, it’s giving people hope.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

As a 115-year-old life insurance company, being risk-oriented is in our DNA. It also means, we’ve been through significant crises before… from the influenza pandemic of 1918 to the Great Depression to the market crisis of 2008. We’re constantly preparing for what may come, through extensive business continuity and crisis management planning — two areas I lead with the help of some phenomenal people — and tracking to make sure we’re ready. But wow — COVID-19 has been a test. I’m so grateful that we were able to act so quickly because of our extensive planning and preparation. Business continuity and crisis management aren’t just areas of our organization that we “stand up” when we need to — they are crucial areas of our business, monitoring and prepping for the unexpected, 24/7, 365 days a year.

In late January, we started to get a sense that the coronavirus may come to the States. So, we started putting a number of safety protocols in place such as travel guidelines, and we activated an official coronavirus response task force. Then in mid-March, we made the call to pivot to an enterprise-wide work-from-home arrangement except for a few essential workers. This meant taking our work-from-home workforce from roughly 1,500 to 11,000+. Thanks to our forward-thinking digital contribution over the last several years and extensive business continuity planning, this transition happened quickly and smoothly. I’m so proud of how fast we acted to protect our people and even more proud of our people reacted. I can’t say this enough — their resilience and willingness to make this work is just outstanding.

For People + Work Connect, it was in early April on a Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO) forum hosted by Accenture where we were discussing the rising unemployment rate that I knew I wanted to do more to help. At Lincoln, we have been fortunate. Our industry has not been impacted by COVID-19 the way others have — like hospitality and retail. But I wanted to be a part of the solution. Following the forum, I met with the CHROs from Accenture, ServiceNow, and Verizon — and you know what, it turns out all four of us felt the same way. We put our compassion and passion together to try to come up with a way to help keep people employed. After landing on a solid idea, we all went back to our companies for buy-in so we could turn the idea into a reality. My CEO, Dennis Glass, is so committed to doing what’s right for our employees, customers, and America, that when I brought our idea to him, it took him all of maybe ten seconds to agree that Lincoln would be a founding member. With Accenture agreeing to build the platform, and ServiceNow and Verizon on board, we had a beta platform built and running in just 48 hours with over 1,000 people signed up to learn more. Now, we have close to 200 companies onboarded and nearly 400,000 roles in the platform. This platform is making a meaningful impact on those who need it most.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero? In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero?

Heroes come in very different forms, but I think they all have the same underlying fundamentals. Having the strength and courage to put others’ needs first. I’ve always turned to my learnings from my dad’s military leadership and a phrase from him that stands out clearly in my mind is, “do the right thing; do the best you can, and you’re always doing it for other people, not for yourself.” To me, these are the core characteristics of a hero. I’d also add in authenticity.

Authenticity is something so important and often lost in today’s society. Heroes know to always be their genuine selves and encourage others to be themselves. This is where the true good comes from — when passion drives action. Doing the right thing is a longstanding driving principle for Lincoln and one that I live by. As a company, we’re constantly measuring every decision against whether it’s the right thing to do for our employees and our customers. I also encourage our people to do the best they can for that day — that best may change from day-to-day. We’re all real people, with real families, real challenges, and real stress in our lives but we’re all in this together. Heroes have the courage to lean on those around them. And finally, I said it earlier, people remember who shows up for them in the tough times and those people, the ones putting others’ needs first and doing it for the good, not the accolades, are heroes.

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My lifelong heroes are my parents. As I shared, my dad was a highly-decorated Army veteran. His military leadership and values propel me all the time. He taught me to be tough, direct, and fair. He also drove home the importance of doing the right thing and working as hard as you can to get the job done. My mom was a Ford model turned founder of a trucking company — starting in the 1960s through the 1980s! — so talk about paving the way. She taught me the value of determination, finding your own path, and the importance of education.

In the current environment, I see heroes everywhere. The nurses and doctors risking their lives to serve us, the people grocery shopping on behalf of those at-risk, the game-changing innovators from technology companies keeping us connected, and the family, friends, and trusted colleagues serving as lifelines to get us through. Even our pets (for me, it’s my two beloved goldens, Maggie and Millie, who think they’ve hit the lottery with me home 24/7) are giving the comfort and support many of us need in one of the most emotional and trying times of our lives.

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic? Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

Optimism is a virtue I learned from my dad at an early age and one of those grounding principles of our culture at Lincoln. So, if I look at what gives me hope, it’s the goodness in people. I’ve seen it in everyday heroes, like the ones featured on the news, and especially in our people at Lincoln. Our people are smart, committed, and hardworking. They care about each other and they really care about our customers. Right now, they’re facing their own challenges yet still putting others first. For example, we have people using their ironing board as a standing desk in their dining room as their toddlers run around behind them, still giving their attention and compassion to a customer on the phone. And because of the nature of our business — things like life insurance, disability insurance — our employees are often talking to our customers during the most difficult and emotional times in their lives. It’s not just customer service — it’s empathy. All while going through their own challenges. It’s truly heroic; our people amaze me.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic?

This experience has been new and different for many of us, and often challenging. But it’s also been tremendously impressive. The resilience and adaptability of people have inspired me. People are coming together like never before to help each other. Businesses are completely shifting their ways of operating to continue to meet needs. People are evolving into new ways of work in a virtual environment. Multiple generations are connecting through virtual meeting tools. And so much more.

At Lincoln, we launched an internal social media app last year that allows us to foster connectivity among employees. While we saw early adoption success throughout 2019, this skyrocketed with the recent transition to work-from-home. Employees are engaging with their leaders and with each other so much more. We’ve created a variety of campaigns and contests — encouraging employees to post pictures, work-from-home wellness ideas, etc. And they’re sharing tons of great stuff! Our senior leaders are sharing personal videos from their iPhones where they talk openly about the issues facing us and share their home spaces. For example, I put out a weekly check-in video often filmed in my backyard or living room, with Maggie or Millie running around in the background. We even recently held a virtual “Lincoln’s Got Talent” competition where employees across the country shared videos singing, dancing, painting, crafting, and more. The engagement was tremendous and so great to see our people really embrace these different approaches to connecting. Right now, connecting to the human in each other is so important.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

Dynamics have completely shifted and will continue to do so. And there is a lot happening in our country beyond COVID-19 that I hope will bring positive change.

The racial injustice crisis in our country is changing the ways we all work and interact — and hopefully the ways we all think. The recent events across our country have made plain that systemic racism remains pervasive in our nation and cannot be ignored. It is clear that as a society, we have a long way to go. At Lincoln, we commit to do all we can to be part of the change. Our ultimate goal is to always foster a culture where every employee comes to work — either virtually or in an office — feeling safe, respected, and valued. While I’m so proud of the strides we have made, there is still more we can do, and we will strive for that every single day. In the wise words of our Chief Diversity Officer, my dear friend Allison Green Johnson, “it’s not just the “right thing to do,” it’s a must-do for our company and the well-being of our nation.” We can all be part of the conversation and the changes ahead.

As a result of COVID-19, the next two years will be all about driving massive change in the corporate sector when it comes to the ways we work — the “where” and the “how.” People are also getting to that human side more in their work, and I want to see that continue. We have to keep this focus on fostering connections. Continue amped up, transparent communication. Continue our emphasis on helping our employees with all aspects of their lives. Continue to think about the unique circumstances of each individual. And more. We’re all going to be on a new learning curve. And we need to be open and supportive of one another. I hope to see the resilience and adaptability continue. The most important thing is that we keep the emphasis on the human and that we’re all in this together.

If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

You’ll never regret doing good. The key to success in this world is to do good work, be yourself, give back, and have fun while you do it all. And always do a bit more for others than expected.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Make it a priority.” With Beau Henderson & Garry Spence

by Beau Henderson
Community//

Lincoln Financial EVP Lisa M. Buckingham: “Be yourself and be supportive of others being themselves” with Marco Derhy

by Marco Derhy
Community//

5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Founded my Company with Sonny Patel and Chaya Weiner

by Yitzi Weiner at Authority Magazine

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.