Nov 3, 2021
Cigna Global CIO Noelle Eder on Leadership, Building Great Teams and Finding Work-Life Balance

For Cigna Chief Information Officer Noelle Eder, great leaders are only as good as the teams they build.

Eder started her career programming telephony systems for the University of Chicago hospital system, and has since then held leadership positions at top brands like Intuit, Capital One and Hilton. She joined Cigna just over a year ago.

“One of the reasons I love Cigna is that you can see the direct impact that solving a problem has on someone’s life,” she explained. 

Eder recently sat down with Cigna EVP and general counsel, Nicole Jones, to chat about the leadership qualities she feels are most important in today’s market, the types of people she is looking to hire and promote, as well as how the tech industry has changed over the course of her 30 year career. Some of the highlights are below.

On Leadership and Hiring ‘Multi-Dimensional Field Athletes’

According to Eder, one of the most important characteristics of great leaders is their ability to understand both their strengths and their weaknesses. Leaders who then hire others on their team who excel at those weaknesses create balance and high performing teams. Great leaders, she added, also have the emotional intelligence to understand where their people are in their career journeys, and why they approach things the way that they do. That depth of understanding enables a leader to coach and develop their people with greater precision.

“That balance and the decision-making that happens as a result of that understanding is very powerful from a leadership perspective,” Eder said.

Behind every great leader is an amazing team, and when making hiring and promotion decisions, Eder often finds herself looking for people who are what she calls “multidimensional field athletes.” According to Eder, these are people who are capable of constantly modifying the scope of their work and their field of vision on problem sets and those who can “entertain an increasingly diverse set of variables.” They are people who have great flexibility, who obsess over the outcome not ownership, who are resilient and thrive in the face of change, and who can fail fast, learn from it, and move on. Watch the video below to hear Eder speak to multidimensional field athletes.

On Finding Work-Life and Digital Balance

It’s no secret that women in particular have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many lost or were forced to leave their jobs, and others continued to work while also being the primary caregiver to family members. Maintaining work-life balance became increasingly challenging for many women.

Eder says there is no one way to ensure work-life balance. “To me, work-life balance is a series of discreet decisions that you make every day,” Eder said. “It’s balancing how much time and energy you’ve spent on yourself, and all of the things that are important to you. That includes your professional circumstances, but it also includes your personal care, your family, your friends, and your extended family.  I try to watch the pattern and make sure that I tune my time allocation on a particular day or week to whichever part of my life has received less time.  I try not to wait until that particular portion is suffering before I act.”

The Secret to Great Business

According to Eder, over the course of her career she has found that there are businesses that lean toward, or are dominant in, high IQ – or intellectual quotient.  There are other businesses that lean towards EQ – or emotional intelligence.  Truly great businesses, she said, have achieved the right balance of the two for the business they are in.  Those businesses have advanced decision-making and great balance between short and long, but are also driven by purpose. It is a difficult balance to optimize.

And it makes sense. On one hand, large enterprises have to have a dedicated and focused commitment to shareholders. But they also need to be sensitive to the needs of their employees, customers and the communities they serve, Eder explained. “I’d say that Cigna is an example of a company that has achieved this balance; it’s pretty extraordinary” she noted.

Her advice for organizations that have also achieved this perfect balance: “Protect it, preserve it, and build on it.”  Success in business is as much about the intellect as it is about the heart.

Rebranding Information Technology

Shortly after joining Cigna, Eder rebranded the IT department as the Technology team to signal the greater impact and scope of her team’s work. IT is a term that was coined in the 1950s by Harvard Business School, and it denoted a fairly simplistic request-response capability, she explained.

“IT was all about requesting something and getting something back,” Eder said. “The problem with that model is, it’s not as sophisticated as what technology now represents – which in my mind is creativity, the elimination of constraints and an alternative generation. IT now makes an exponentially greater impact on the business.” 

She added that Cigna's technology model today is service and data-based. That means the company is both technology and data focused. “And so the sophistication and maturity of our technology is paramount to our success, not just as a company, but on behalf of all of the stakeholders that we serve.” Cigna is committed to making health care more affordable, predictable, and simple for those stakeholders – and technology is a key pathway to achieving that.

“What is really unique about Cigna is its culture – committed to excellence in the work we do, unbelievably driven by the purpose we serve and the mission we’re after, behaving in a way that is forward-leaning while still being collaborative,” Eder said. “I’m energized by our technology team because the team really wants to have an impact through the software they develop and the services that they make available to customers. The more modern we can be, in terms of the tools and technology in our digital operating model, the greater ability this team has to positively impact the lives of those we serve, and the more we can move things forward strategically.” 

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