Good Leadership Breakfast Speaker - Rita Johnson-Mills

Rita Johnson-Mills is the speaker at the Good Leadership Breakfast – she’s a fire ball of contagious energy.

Passion, positive energy and the spirit of abundance radiate from Rita Johnson-Mills – she’s the President and CEO of United Healthcare Community Plan of Tennessee. “I grew up in poverty in Missouri, with eleven siblings, raised by a single mother,”  she shared with a smile. “I’m someone who grew up on Medicaid, and now I am someone who has administered Medicaid at the local, state and federal level. I’m living proof goodness pays!”

Meet Rita for breakfast

Rita Johnson-Mills is the speaker at the Good Leadership Breakfast on Friday, October 21. If you want to meet her, please join us – but you will have to show up early, or move quickly afterward. She will be dashing off to fly home to see her son play high school football. In the uber-intense corporate world of healthcare, Rita is a shining example of the “blending the Seven Fs” concept we celebrate at the breakfast. “One of the things I’ve learned as a senior executive woman leader is that I have to protect time to be present with my husband and son,” she said emphatically. “If your ‘breakfast’ was a ‘luncheon’ instead, you’d have to find another speaker, because this mom has to get home to watch football!”

Promoting fairness is the message

Rita Johnson-Mills childhood photo she carries with her

Rita carries this picture of herself and two siblings, growing up in Missouri, as a reminder that God had a plan for her.

The theme for the October Good Leadership Breakfast is promoting fairness, something Rita role models with authentic ethos. “The Rita I know is not shy about speaking her mind, and she earnestly lives out what she believes,” says her United Healthcare colleague David Sparkman. “We have a cultural aspiration of ‘walking in the shoes of the people we work with, and those we serve.’ For her, it’s not corporate speak – she really does that!

Over lunch last month, she summarized her story for me:

Rita with her son at a football game

Rita and Tavion, her son, at the Ravenwood Raptors football game, where the Raptors became 2015 State Champions.

My story is an unlikely story of destiny – if I were a professional athlete, they would be telling my story on TV,” she forecasted. From the most humble beginnings, she excelled at school – finishing in the top 10% of her high school class. “When I asked the school counselor about college, she said to me: ‘You people don’t go to college – you work in the factory and have babies’,” she recalled with steely resolve.  “So I went to the factory, but lucky for me, I didn’t have any babies. So, when I couldn’t make my production quota on the factory line I got fired! That’s when I started my journey to who I am today.

Now we know she completed undergraduate studies Summa Cum Laude, then earned two Masters degrees from Ohio State University. At one point in her career she administered Medicaid at the Federal level before landing at United Healthcare.

Goodness pays

Women of Influence honorees by Nashville Business Journal

Rita’s journey includes being one of the 2016 Women of Influence honorees by Nashville Business Journal.

As the world turns, Rita was invited back to be the first African American to speak at her high school’s graduation. She was surprised to see the counselor was still there. “I told the kids my story with this message: by the grace of God there was a plan for me. I overcame the discouragement and you can too! Do not allow anyone to control your destiny.”

Doesn’t that make you want to meet her?  Join us for breakfast!

Rita and her husband, Eric Mills, at the Nashville Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award banquet

Rita and her husband, Eric Mills, at the Nashville Business Journal’s Women of Influence Award banquet.

Good leaders accept the obstacles as fuel for growth along the journey.  And they choose to become a role model for promoting fairness.

Please share with me: What obstacles along your journey helped you promote fairness as a leader?