Name: Sondra Imperati
Title: Vice President, Brand Strategy & Marketing
Organisation: Blue Cross Blue Shield Association
Sondra Imperati is vice president of brand strategy for the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA), a national federation of independent, community-based and locally operated Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) companies.
Imperati is an award-winning and respected marketer with 20 years of experience leading marketing and brand management. In her current role, she manages the BCBS brands worldwide, provides leadership on research and data analysis to deliver brand and business insights, creates impactful marketing, positioning and customer experience strategy to support the overall strategy of the BCBS System and the Association and aligns with executives across the Blues to facilitate go-to-market strategies that amplify the BCBS brand.
Prior to joining the Association in 2022, Imperati served as director of brand strategy and integrated marketing at Excellus BCBS where she spearheaded brand strategy and directed marketing and business strategy development to improve customer experience and member loyalty. Her previous experience includes marketing leadership and customer experience at Superior Plus Energy, as well as leading global brand, marketing, product and business strategy at Carestream Health, formally known as Eastman Kodak’s Health Group.
In addition, Imperati is a board member and fundraiser master of ceremonies for Spiritus Christi Prison Outreach, a residential re-entry program for individuals that are homeless and or recently incarcerated, and served as board chair for Grace of God Recovery House, a safe home for men recovering from alcoholism and drug addictions. She is also the founder of Starfish Sister Project, a community card-writing campaign for recently incarcerated or homeless women.
Imperati holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications and journalism from Saint John Fisher University in Rochester, N.Y.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Sondra's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
I believe as leaders we must be congruent. I show up as my authentic self both in and out of the office. My values serve as my north star. I lead with heart and vulnerability.
As leaders do, I make difficult decisions ever day. I can make the hard call.
When my heart and head aren't aligned on business decisions, that's very challenging for me as a leader.
In these ever-changing times, this has happened quite a bit lately and has given me cause for introspection and reflection.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
I don't believe we become leaders. To me, leadership is answering the call to serve which can take many forms throughout our lives. This means everyone can aspire to leadership which is very important and sometimes not acknowledged.
I've always been naturally curious and committed to learning and growth. As a child, I'd raise my hand to find new ways to stretch myself. This continues today.
From this desire to learn, stems a deep-rooted passion to serve others and to share those learnings. I have a life-long commitment to community service that was instilled by my parents. This offered my first opportunities for leadership by assembling and guiding teams for mission fundraising, teaching religious education at church and serving in student government.
In my career, learning, growth and service have allowed me to take on many new and exciting challenges.
While I started as an individual contributor focused on large scale marketing program management, this very quickly led me to having my own teams overseeing lines of business and strategy.
As my knowledge and commitment to courageous servant leadership grew, so did my responsibilities in size and scope as did my teams.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I start my day with gratitude. Each day is a new opportunity and not everyone gets to experience this. I'm very mindful of that.
Journaling and writing serves as a way for me to center before starting my day. I try to get some form of exercise in too--be it walking on my treadmill or outside in nature.
I check my calendar for the day to ensure nothing's changed from the night before. No two days are ever the same. I'm in a lot of meetings and try to block my calendar for "think time" and work particularly on Friday's where possible.
Spending time with my husband Michael is very important to me. When I'm not working out of our Chicago office, I'm working from home. Taking the time to talk about our day and enjoying time to connect keeps us grounded.
Michael usually makes dinner. While he does that I usually continue working until we have our meal. I clean up and do the dishes.
We enjoy spending our evening together and love when we talk to our kids via Facetime or on the phone.
I'll watch some TV, check my e-mail and calendar for the next day.
Before going to sleep, I like to read.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
I started a new role in a new organization almost a year ago. My leadership lesson is that teams aren't built the same. They have different wants and needs. Not all organizations are the same, nor are the dynamics. Therefore, the methods I've used for successful leadership in the past, don't necessarily apply now. That was a very hard learning--but one I'm very happy to have realized.
As a result, I'm having to listen much more and be extra thoughtful, taking the time to respond even saying, "I need to think about that."
I usually try to move barriers out of the way for my team quickly. Slowing myself down is giving me the space to think differently and is leading to better solutions and decision-making overall. Leadership and life is a journey, not a sprint.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I love the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It's a classic and a short read but so powerful. I'm not going to share the details of the story because I encourage others to read it!
The book taught me you have to stretch your own wings and help others stretch theirs. If your team depends on you too much for every decision or you're doing the work, you're not leading. The beauty of leadership is recognizing the potential in others and giving them the tools to succeed and that includes ownership.
Let's be honest, we all have some form of control issues personally and/or in our careers. This book reminds me to let go and to lean into service for others.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Never forget where you came from. Titles and jobs are fleeting. At the end of the day, you have to remain true to yourself and your values. Remembering your beginnings keeps you humble and grounded.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
A friend and colleague of mine had pancreatic cancer. Her dream was to join my team. We had an open role that was perfect for her.
The leader of that particular team and I posted the position. We had many qualified candidates. While legally we knew that our colleague's illness could not be a factor, we worried about the team and its impact on them.
After a series of thoughtful discussions we hired her. Unfortunately, soon after, her health began to seriously decline. She taught us about persistent courage and always kept a positive attitude and a smile on her face.
At the age of 53, she passed away. Her husband told us that she loved being on our team and was so grateful that we saw "her" beyond her illness to hire her. She never expected us to do that.
This story is an example of when "heart and head" in leadership aligned for me. It was an honor to make my friend and colleague's career dream come true.
She is the hero of this story. I learned more about leadership in the ultimate clutch, gratitude, life and resilience through her. I carry her and her example with me always.