How to Clarify What’s Important

It's about the problem and not the person.

Ron Williams is the former chairman and CEO of health insurance giant Aetna. When he joined Aetna in 2001, its loss from continuing operations was $292 million, with earnings per share at a loss of $0.46. In 2011, the year he stepped down as Chairman, Aetna’s full-year operating earnings were $2 billion, with operating earnings per share of $5.17.

In this week’s episode, Ron shares wisdom from his book, Learning to Lead: The Journey to Leading Yourself, Leading Others, and Leading an Organization*. Ron discusses his own leadership journey and how he asked the right questions to inspire a successful turn-around. He also shares the reason for avoiding “why” questions and the value that knowledge maps provided at Aetna.

Here are the most useful links from this episode:

  • Full audio and show notes
  • My reading highlights from Ron’s book (PDF download)
  • Learning to Lead: The Journey to Leading Yourself, Leading Others, and Leading an Organization* by Ron Williams

If this episode helped, these will be useful too:

  • The Way to Grow Your Leadership Career, with Ron Wallace
  • Executive Presence with Your Elevator Speech, with Tom Henschel
  • How to Create an Unstoppable Culture, with Ginger Hardage

Recommended Reading

6 Words You Need To Eliminate From Your Professional Vocabulary: Yes to all of these. Let’s also add “frankly” to the list.

The Undiscussables Are Always Discussed: More on a key point made by recent guest Oscar Trimboli.

Aetna’s Former CEO Explains How He ‘Elbowed’ His Way to the C-Suite: A few more insights from Ron Williams’ career that he shared with Fortune.

End the Plague of Secret Parenting: Easier said than done in some workplace cultures — and individual managers can do a lot to lead on this.

Useful Books

Permission to Screw Up*: This book by past guest Kristen Hadeed gives us permission to make mistakes. Student Maid, the organization she founded, recently celebrated their 10th anniversary.

Video Picks

What I Learned From Going Blind in Space: Critical distinction between fear and danger from past guest Chris Hadfield. Super helpful if fear is holding you back.

How to Help Your Team Get Smarter: Past guest Michael Bungay Stanier on how to help people learn. A great follow-up to last week’s message from Gallup on the importance of people development.

Dave’s Corner

How to Drive Visibility of Your Work: Good work doesn’t speak for itself. It’s up to you to teach people the value of your work.

Next Week’s Episode

Bonni and I return for the monthly question and answer show. Submit your question for consideration next week or for the question and answer show the first Monday of every month at

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