Ep. 21 – “Mayor, Healthcare COO and Adjunct Professor” w/ Eric Alegria

by | Apr 20, 2021 | Podcasts, The Virtuous Heros

YouTube video

About our Guest

 eric alegria

 

Eric Alegria is the Chief of Affiliate Operations at Providence Healthcare and the Chief Operating Officer at Providence Health Network. He is also a Mayor of Rancho Palos Verdes in California, an Adjunct Instructor at University of Southern California in Public Policy, and is currently working towards his PhD. Finally, and most importantly, he is the father of four children and has been married to his wife, Christine for 12 years.

Alegria goes into detail about his journey to where he is today; a process of trying to figure out what God has called him to do and the best way to serve the community around him. In healthcare, he was inspired by the opportunity to provide and improve access to healthcare for communities in need

“I have to remind myself to take pressure off [myself] and say, ‘I need to have faith in God. It is not all of these complicated actions I need to take, but I just need to demonstrate love in everything I do.”     – Eric Alegria 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

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Chris: Welcome back to the Leading Virtuously Podcast. So excited. This is a momentous moment for us in that this is the first mayor that we have on the show. So excited to have our guests today. Eric, who are you? 

Eric: Thank you so much for having me. Chris love your podcast. I’m Eric Alegria. I work for Providence Health Care as the chief affiliate operator.

And also the chief operating officer over the Providence health network, as you mentioned I happened to be a mayor in my own city of the Rancho Palos Verdes in California. And I also am an instructor at the University of Southern California in public policy and in an aspiring PhD, who’s in the process of concluding his dissertation.

More importantly than any of that. A father of four kids, eight and below 8, 6, 4, 2. And been married for 12 years to my wife, Christine. 

Chris: That is awesome. And I love the way that you’ve finished that as well. And I don’t even know how one finds time for sleep and all the things that you just done most of their so 

Eric: Delicate balancing act.

Chris: Very good. Eric, can you tell our listeners how you got to the leadership position that you’re in today? 

Eric: Yes. I, I’m going to share a little bit about my journey. But I think the most important message to share ultimately is that my journey, like anyone really has been just a process of trying to figure out what God’s called me to do and how I can best serve the community around me.

And that has translated of course, to my work in healthcare. I’ve been in healthcare now for 14 years, although trained in sort of public administration and thinking that I ended up in that room. I was drawn into healthcare a series of years ago and inspired by the opportunity to provide and improve access to care for communities in need.

And that’s a big part of the work that I do in terms of working with physicians and networks and all of that. And here in Southern California in terms of my role with the city of Rancho Palos Verdes, Long ago, I felt this draw to contribute to my community on a voluntary basis in a more meaningful way, which led to me running for city council and ultimately having the opportunity to be the leader of our city, actually at a very important time.

Of course, as we look to begin to conclude the pandemic and begin that very important recovery process. It’s really been a, just a day-to-day journey of responding to God’s tug and call for me to feel that the work I’m doing is contributing to the betterment of the community around me.

And and that’s really what’s led me through the healthcare experience as well as experience in local governments as volunteer and as a as a commissioner and in various sort of capacities or. And I guess I would extend the same commentary to my passion and enjoyment of teaching and coaching the youth and side, although it’s certainly not been a focus in terms of my overall time.

When I do have time to work with students, as I do through the University of Southern California, I get great joy seeinglike individuals just like yourself, Chris, who are just kindred spirits, who are. Feeling that desire to make the world around us a little bit better. 

Chris: Awesome. Thank you for sharing.

I have two follow-up questions on that. So the first is around scope of your current role. Can you speak to the, I know you mentioned like the chief affiliate officer and COO, can you speak to like the breadth of either operating budget or staff that are under you, just so that people can get a sense of The command that you have in your leadership role or 

Eric: The easy explanation I like to provide is the chief of affiliate operations in particular.

Here in Southern California, Providence has 12 hospitals scattered throughout three different counties down here and amongst those and around those, we have. Around 400 PCPs, primary care physicians. And over a couple of thousand specialists who are contracted, not employed providers to Providence, but contracted with and in support of the patients and populations in those community.

And I’m in charge of the operations for those providers. And I lend my support to them. I make sure that The ambulatory services that we’re providing through those contracted partnerships is optimal. And that the quality of care that we’re providing to the populations throughout these three counties.

So Los Angeles county orange county, San Bernardino county are the three is optimal as possible. And in that journey, I take great pride in ensuring that the networks and the providers were contracted with are increasingly embedded in the communities of need. And so that’s really what inspires my work.

And in terms of the breadth of, our business, it’s over a hundred billion dollar portion of the business just from a PNL perspective. But and then the department that I have covers that Southern California region and is about 30 industries. 

Chris: Awesome. Thank you.

That that is outstanding. And, beyond just the work that you’re doing in the public government, that, just so important based off of this span that you covered do so thank you for sharing in that regard. So I’m just really excited about the episode. Overall Eric, and then the other question I had, I know that in looking at your background, that I believe you had gone to seminary at one point in your in your own journey.

And so are forgive me in studying theology and just curious about. I know you mentioned that oftentimes it’s been pursuing God and whatever he’s been calling you to do is the short summary to your career. But just curious if you’ve been a lifelong believer or what that journey has looked like.

Eric:

Yeah. Great question, Chris. And thank you for bringing that up. So I did pursue and receive a master’s in pastoral theology from Loyola Marymount University. It’s been 10 years since I concluded that three-year three-year journey, and I would say always been a believer. I’ve always been a questionnaire as well.

And that’s been an important part of, I think my own sort of theological journey. Simply put, I believe I am a Catholic, but I, I would say, I believe in faith and action. And that critical aspect of us having faith leaving space for God in our lives to operate function and for us to perceive his constant presence.

But it’s certainly also a believer and as humanity that we should be taking steps to assert ourselves and provide actions and do all those little meaningful things that. That make a difference in impact in the world around us. And I think in my sort of lifelong journey so far there’s been difficult moments because you, at times in that process start to think about specific roles that you think you need to have or titles or things that really are unimportant in this whole process.

His and my life, I think has led me to a very simple conclusion, which is, it’s the simple things in life. That, that and the simple actions that we can take that can be so incredibly powerful. And so the way that God, the holy spirit acts through us is of tremendous significance. And I think sometimes just given my own personality, I have to remind myself to take a little pressure off and say, you know what?

I need to have faith in God. It’s not necessarily. All these complicated actions that I need to take, but I just need to demonstrate love and never everything that I do and the words I express and act in that fashion. And so I’m a big believer that it’s the embraces with people. It’s the asking how you are and being sincere about it.

It’s the understanding of other people’s journey and the empathy to relate to others. That really matters the most. So regardless of what sort of roles we play or professionally or otherwise what matters most, I think is we all assert and th that are, that we are interconnected and that the way we treat each other matters, a great deal, and that we need to take great care and and do that.

My theological studies I love and enjoyed, and I hope through my professional life, I think over time, I’ll have more of an opportunity to utilize some of those skills and experiences but it does translate to the work that I do. So Providence is a Catholic based healthcare system, very mission oriented.

And so for example, through that, and through my work in this city, I feel. God has given me this for a unique opportunity to care for a community around me. And and frankly that gives my life great purpose and great meaning. And that’s what matters most. 

Chris: Thank you for sharing. Yeah, that was one part you were saying that I get this masters and then, recognizing that you’re not necessarily going right into like full time ministry.

That in essence, the work that you’re doing from a business standpoint and being able to love everyone around us and to be able to bring the gospel and taking action in that way is in essence doing ministry. And so maybe originally, when you went into your masters, you might’ve had a different lens to what that was going to play itself out as to compare to where you’ve been through this.

Eric: I think that’s exactly right, Chris. You, your comment brings me back. I went to Gonzaga university for undergraduate. Jesuit institution had great experience in an influenced heavily by the Jesuits. And certainly the sisters and nuns that I took courses with. And there was one in particular name was sister Mary.

She led a ministry, a program that I was part of, and I talked her into, I thought at the time and to allow me to coach football as a practicum of ministry. And I remember at the time, I thought I was coy, but, she commented to me with great understanding that.

Yes, indeed. Anytime you’re trying to share God’s word and connect others to God through the work that you do. Certainly indeed coaching or teaching other things that I’m passionate about that is ministry. I think about her a lot and in that comment has certainly informed my life and I get given me a lot of freedom and acceptance to say, maybe it wasn’t God’s intent for me to necessarily be in a traditional ministry, if you will, as part of the, more closely connected with the church.

But also to live out my own sort of charisms and my ministry in my own way through the business community and through my work and my, my small city. 

Chris: It’s interesting how God weaves these various themes. Last night, I was talking to my nephew, who’s in the Marine Corps and he’s in August going to be shipped out for his first deployment.

And he said that he’s going through this training right now. And he said there’s times where like he ultimately, because it’s so rigorous and getting up at three in the morning and working until 11 o’clock at night, that he almost passes out from time to time. And and he just said there’s just this massive amount of suffering that he’s not comfortable where he just never experienced anything like this at all.

Living, growing up in a bubble that we have here in Hinsdale, Illinois. And so his comment on that was, one of the things that keeps resonating to me is hearing grandma cookie, my mom’s voice, as she’s saying, like never miss out on the opportunity to offer your suffering up. So my wife and I would tie in laughing about that, like how my mom has got like her grandma pants on and you got a hardcore rosary, prayer warrior.

And. Like she, she just like impacting her 22 grandkids and have like little thing that, it’s like, basically as Jesus said that like some seed falls on that fertile ground and starts to take shape. So like that non probably if she would recollect back to that conversation with you having no idea the impact that would probably have on you at this point in your life.

But it’s just so interesting how the holy spirit works in that. 

Eric: Those the seeds get planted, Chris and they have a lasting effect. Absolutely. 

Chris: So Eric, before we dive into the virtue side of leadership, I wanted to speak a little bit about some of your own journey. And so specifically, can you speak to some of the vices that you’ve had to overcome in order to amass the leadership capability that you have today.

Eric: Yeah, I love the question, Chris. I, it’s interesting. I think you’ll find a, I’m going to try to connect here, my advice and my virtue because I think they are related. So for me, one of one of the things I struggled with, like early in my leadership journey was I certainly strive to be very kind and understanding.

And there is an edge to that I think by which you can go perhaps too far, especially when you’re in leadership. And, you’re coloring your commentary to the team around you so much that perhaps the constructive feedback that you’re trying to provide, isn’t really penetrating them in the way that you’d like.

And so one of the I’d say one of the key biases that I experienced early on was just struggling to have real direct, strong. Communication about things that they could, my, the team around me, the people around me, what they could improve, which of course is an integral part of being an effective leader.

And I, I had to force myself through the discomfort of having to have more challenging discussions and giving people more direct feedback. But that sort of led me to where I feel like I’m. I have a stronger virtue now, which is, integrity. And I think an aspect of integrity is being honest with people.

And I think you’re doing people a great early on. I think I was doing some people around me, a great disservice by struggling to convey to them things that they really needed to understand perceive digest within themselves, do some self reflection and some self-awareness around. In order to come out a stronger, more effective and better on the other end.

And that was a real struggle for me. I recall for several years early in my career and it’s never perfection, but it’s always in that relentless pursuit of so I don’t know that I would say I’ve arrived, but I’d say I take now I take very seriously the role that I have to empower.

Give great culture to the people around me, but a part of that is really being able to be very honest about your feedback for the people around you and the ways that they can think about improving it. And I think I’ve certainly found that I can maintain who I am and those exchanges by coming off and delivering my messages, certainly from a loving place.

And I think when you have trust and the team around you has trust, and they know that you’re trying to make them better, that they’re more willing to receive those messages. And I, my metric for professionals or non-professional success is is really not necessarily been specific projects or business development efforts or different things.

But my real metrics of success is how many people around me got better because of the leadership that I provided to them. And I’d say, I feel very proud of the fact that I think that number has gotten bigger over the years and certainly in recent years. And I feel that I’ve certainly deepened my sense of confidence in delivering those deeper difficult messages, because they can be difficult to be the recipient of.

Of really someone pulling a mirror in front of you and saying, here are all your bad qualities, but here are the things you really have to. Here’s your limitations. Here are your barriers to being an effective leader. Long-term you have to take these things seriously, if you really want to strive to be this very effectively or again, within an organization part of the community, or frankly, just part of the family.

So with the young family, I’m now trying out these skills on my kids to some degree of success and failure. But but I think being able to have that sense of trust and love and honesty, and again, indeed, that what I’m calling as a virtue integrity in those exchanges is absolutely essential to, to really being an effective leader and any effective leader to me is somebody that’s going to build

An enduring organization something’s going to last well beyond their time. It’s going to continue on well beyond your time. And I don’t know that I’ve reached that point in my career yet. I think if I were to leave soon, it, things may not take too long to get back to where they were, but I’m certainly aspiring to have that kind of an impact in the various roles that I feel so fortunate to play.

Chris: It takes a lot of courage to be able to communicate that publicly. So I appreciate your candor in that regard and shows, your self-awareness as to where your, your own strengths and opportunities for growth in your own leadership journey, to curious Eric as to why do you think that you’ve had some adversion to conflict management?

Where do you think that stems from? 

Eric: Oh, that’s a good question, Chris. Almost an existential question. I I would say, one of the things that pops on me, if I’ve done any of those strengths finders or those sorts of assessments is harmony. So I am a big believer and I’m certainly big on team. So I, I would say it certainly stems from a.

Desire to have harmony, but what I’ve quickly learned is you really can’t have true lasting harmony and less. You really do encounter those more difficult realizations, those difficult reflections whether it’s you as an individual again, or as I’m describing as part of a team like you really can’t get their fully.

And realize that full potential unless you’re doing that, many of us, I would say I’m one of those people that loves to live just in harmony. And I think that was my real struggle early on was just not wanting to step outside that what I was perceiving at the time was that harmony to, to deal with real conflict or to again, deliver very direct and Substantive feedback to individuals on how they could improve.

So I think it really came from that, but I, again, as I said, I learned that real harmony lasting harmony and lasting teamwork and great collaboration doesn’t really result without, come out of as an outcome without, real deep, meaningful exchanges. It was the acceptance that, okay.

I think that I have harmony, but I really don’t, it’s avoidance. And if I really do want that, I do have to develop this skill and work through it and provide in and represent and integrity in the organization. 

Chris: You’re not alone. I would imagine. That’s probably one of the major precursors to leadership because it’s so much easier just to be like, ah, I don’t want to have that conversation.

And then I, this person might be rubbing me the wrong way, but I’d rather just let it go versus having to deal with it. And and especially as we look at the way that the pandemic has shifted, the way organizations are showing up and people being remote, et cetera, it makes it that much even harder for different leaders to be able to manage their people, et cetera.

And so conflict management is even that much more imperative and critical. So just curious as to, I know you mentioned, you gave us a little bit about this, but intentionally, how did you focus to be able to. Start to grow in this area of conflict management and being able to have these come to like being more comfortable with these crucial conversations.

Eric: A lot of those experience a lot of was experienced both for me personally and my own business, the business endeavors with the experience came confidence. And I have certainly had thanks to the, the, just the diversity of things. That I’ve been compelled to pursue and contribute to a vast array of life experiences.

And as time went on, and I think that, as you said, there’s an intentionality to it. You have to have that self-awareness and you have to push through. But the real driver for me was just knowing deeply within myself that I wanted to be a very strong leader. And knowing that that is, you said conflict management skills are a true differentiating factor.

If I actually, I would say it’s a big part of my assessment process with those around me now that the directors and others that I work with I really do take time for the interview process and through my mentor and have them to. Help them work through that same journey that I went through.

Chris: Awesome. Thank you for sharing in that regard. And I looking forward to hearing the ways that, that blesses other people and people listening to this episode too. So we’ve had you go through the harder thing, which is opening up about vices and, things that have precluded you from being able to reach it leadership the tops of your own leadership journey.

So now I just wanted to hear, what do you feel like have been thinking. I have been, gifts from God to you personally, within your own leadership that have maybe been more virtues that have come more naturally or things that have allowed you to be able to excel to your leadership. 

Eric: That’s a great question as well, Chris. I’ve certainly through I was played different sports for years, as I expressed earlier, enjoyed coaching. So this idea of team. Always been essential to me. And I’ve been fortunate in my career to be part of some great organizations who all valued collaboration and that really strong sense of team.

And I feel like I’ve been fortunate enough to E=excel. In spite of the vices that we just talked through I feel like I’ve been largely able to excel because my mission orientation to just almost insatiable appetite to live out our mission. And in this case, of course of healthcare provide, really quality care to the community or in the work that I do in my city.

Make sure that all our residents needs and wants are being understood and that the direction of this city is as positive. And I think I’ve been able to do a lot of that because of my ability to bring people together and I take great pride in being an active listener. I’d say that’s a skill even I struggle with, but I’d say it’s been lost in modern age is what you’re doing right now.

But that ability to just really active listen to other people and understand where they’re coming from. That real deep sense of empathy and trying to understand what, even though I can’t put myself in Chris’s shoes. What has your life journey really been like, and just really that shared humanity through that active listening is something, I guess I’ve just always taken great pride in, and I’d say got it from my family, my sense of family.

I certainly had a very active and loving mother and parents and brothers and in Although far from perfect. I do take great pride and trying to understand what other people’s perspectives of the worlds are. And in this time in our world, especially as we’ve talked about, my experience in local government, I’d say my observation of what’s playing out politically at a national level, certainly speaks to this in my mind.

Just an opportunity for people to slow down and really try to understand each other. Express great empathy through that empathy. I think we’re going to find ourselves in a better place. 

Chris: Awesome. So I was actually going to ask you this, cause you had mentioned that previously as one of the skills that’s helped you to grow previously when you were answering a different question, but what was coming to mind was just like, Okay.

So what if someone’s listening to this and they’re like, all right I understand that I need to be good in active listening, because I remember like being a novice in sales and everyone was just like, shut up, just shut up and just listen to people try to get all the thoughts out of your head and just be present with people.

And that, that wasn’t as easy as said than done. So just curious as to how you’ve practiced mindfulness, to be able to be present with people that are around you. 

Eric: Oh, that’s a great question, Chris. It’s a challenge and it’s a daily challenge. And actually what I’ve learned about myself, especially given just different commitments and responsibilities that I’ve been very challenged even in recent years because my attention span has been more limited.

And actually the answer to that for me, has been to not give up on and to actually actively prioritize my own mind. Prayer of course is essential. Lord knows I don’t do enough. At the end of each day, I, right now I’m reading Thomas burdens, seeds of contemplation. Great read, but just even if it’s five or 10 minutes each day, carving out that time.

And luckily I’m in an organization that prioritizes this, given its heritage and legacy, but Businesses, perhaps just aren’t as focused on this. So I’d say the answer for me has been to make sure I’m practicing my own. Self-awareness my own self-reflection and my own mindfulness, because when I’ve done that work, then I have the capacity when I filled that cup.

I have the adequate capacity to actually contribute to another. But what I have at the network, as you were describing, I’ve noticed certainly for me, My mind is a flutter. There’s lots of things going on. I’m distracted and demonstrating and being present is incredibly difficult to do in a real effective way.

So it’s really self care from a perspective of mindfulness that I think is actually rather essential to being a, an effective app, active listener. And that’s, that is a big challenge from daily. But just like exercise for the body that mindfulness for the spirit is critical to, to ourself condition and I, and it needs to be prioritized on a day-to-day basis as much as possible, even if that looks like five or 10 minutes, it needs to be prioritized and whatever way makes sense to people.

I think that can maybe prayer, I think that could be music. That moment of, I like to just describe it as simply as just stopping and allowing that space for God to surround you and be actively a part of your life. You have to do that. You can’t do that. If you’re always acting and moving and in constant motion, you have to stop long enough to let it come in.

Chris: Firstly first seek the kingdom and all these things shall be given unto you. So yes, I love that. And it reminds me of, I don’t know where I heard this, but. I think one of my friends would tell me in ministry that there was a guy that got inspired by monks. And so he he told his his mom that he was going to go off into the mountains to become a monk.

And then by the early afternoon he was back what happens. You are going to be spending your days fully in prayer all day. And he’s yeah, I just, so I think that it’s, a silly story, but I think the message holds true is don’t try to, turn yourself into mother Teresa overnight.

But if you could just spend, just take one more little action into the positive to be able to, going from no praying to just one minute of prayer a day. To then, just building over time that, that you’ll see tons of fruit from being able to slow yourself down and be more contemplative.

Eric: That’s well said. And hopefully that message gets to all those busy parents, mothers, and fathers out there. Cause I’m with you and I know what that experience is like. So it is a lot of self-forgiveness. And really just dealing with what you have from day to day.

Some people legitimately only have very limited time to practice that mindfulness, but I think my message is you have to do it or really, frankly, you’re not going to be good to other people and you’re not going to be able to demonstrate or interact with people and express empathy in such a way as to really.

With the humanity around us, with others around us and recognize that we’re all interconnected. 

Chris: Awesome. Before I ask how people can be connected with you, Eric curious prior to putting you on the spot here, if you’d be open to praying for our listeners, that they would be gifted by God, in the same ways that you’ve received your gifts.

Eric: Absolutely. Absolutely. I’d love to. So a father, son, holy spirit. I pray to all of Chris’s listeners that they may find and embrace God in their daily lives that they may seek God and all their activities and actions, and that God may speak through all of them and Jesus thing. Amen. 

Chris: Amen.

Awesome. Love it, Eric. Yeah, really inspired by you. And thank you for all that you were able to share with our listeners. How can people get ahold of the work that you’re doing? 

Eric: Sure. And people can reach out to me at my personal email. [email protected] anytime. And Chris love your show.

Love what you’re doing. I think it’s really special. So appreciate your time. 

Chris: Awesome. Thank you very much. And thank you for being a guest and look forward to continuing the dialogue with you as well. 

Eric: Thank you. 

Chris: Hey, Chris here.

Hope you enjoyed the episode where we discussed all things going bald, just joking, the Leading Virtuously Podcast. If you enjoyed the episode and the podcast, will you please subscribe on YouTube or apple podcasts or Spotify, or you can also share it with a friend that would be tubular. I hope you have an awesome day.

 

 

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