Pass it on: Cigna CEO says leadership evolves as you advance

David Cordani became CEO of one of the nation’s largest health insurers at age 43 and remembers clearly that no one gave him a textbook explaining the role.

The now 52-year-old executive has helped his company, Cigna Corp., grow and diversify as the health care sector grapples with perpetually rising costs. Revenue at Cigna has more than doubled since Cordani took over in late 2009, and the company recently closed a $52-billion acquisition of the pharmacy benefits manager Express Scripts.

Cordani recently shared some of the insights he has gained with The Associated Press.

Q: What have you learned from your mistakes? What do you wish you knew when you were younger about managing people or running a business?

A: The more senior you become in many ways the less traditional authority you have and the more your responsibility to be an influential leader as opposed to a hierarchical leader. And secondly, the more senior you become, especially at the CEO level, truly the less decisions you should be making and the more you should be in an intense support role to those closer to the point of decision making.

Q: You run a public company, and you’ve run marathons and done triathlons. How do you manage work-life balance?

A: It requires a lot of discipline. It forces you really quickly to figure out what’s important ... and then tests you. When the alarm goes off in another country at 4:30 in the morning, and I decide whether or not I’m going to work out for an hour, it’s my decision. But if I’m committed to the goal and objective, you fulfill that. You’re dynamically juggling it each and every day. I kind of like, in an odd way, that puzzle.

Q: What advice do you have for a small business owner struggling with rising health insurance costs for their employees?

A: Redefine expectations with your co-workers and their families that you’re in it together. It’s not a matter of somebody writing a check for sick care when it transpires. Having a thriving business requires them to have a healthy, vibrant, highly engaged workforce. If the employer, co-workers and families do it better, they win. If they don’t, it’s gonna be a very difficult item for the employer and the individual to balance. You’re trying to improve health and create more sustainability.