#LeadLikeAWoman with Joan Budden

President and CEO of Priority Health

My philosophy has always been to think big, start small, adjust fast and grow to scale and that’s the approach I’ve tried to encourage in my team.

What does leadership mean to you?

Strong leaders have a clear vision and the ability to inspire and motivate others to believe in that vision. Inclusive leadership is critical to an organization’s success and I hope my team views me as a leader open to new ideas from anyone at Priority Health.

I’ve always tried to encourage a culture of collaboration and innovation. Over the past year, I held several listening tours across Priority Health’s multiple campuses throughout the state to receive feedback from all employees. Giving every employee the opportunity to have a voice and provide insight has led to ideas that influence improvements in how we operate now as well as future innovations.

My philosophy has always been to think big, start small, adjust fast and grow to scale and that’s the approach I’ve tried to encourage in my team.

Who has influenced your idea of leadership?

I personally benefitted from having some incredible mentors during my career. Terry Merritt, Group Vice President at Walbridge and Bill Smith, CIO of BCBSM are two people who helped me become the leader I am today. There are two important components to the growth in female leaders. The first is men who are supportive and even advocates for gender equity. Bill Smith was one of those early in my career and Bob Roth, CEO of Roman Manufacturing, is one of the leaders I see doing that today.  

Second, it’s important to have female mentors and leaders to confide in, get advice from and who you can emulate. Their willingness to share their experience and knowledge helped develop my passion to serve as a mentor for other young women.

One of the most valuable things that I learned was how to find my voice and say no when necessary. It’s one of the most challenging lessons for a leader to learn, but also one of the most important. Learning from others, including colleagues, mentors and thought partners, is a great way to determine how to be successful.

A leader needs to ensure that projects and initiatives remain focused and on the right track, without stemming innovation or discouraging active participation. I was blessed to find leaders who knew how to do this well and learn from their example.

Why do we need more women in leadership roles? What do they add to the table?

It’s important to have more women in leadership roles because they have perspective on the challenges that other women face in the workplace. Gender bias, harassment, and the pressures of juggling professional and family responsibilities are some of the challenges that women may experience on a personal level that men aren’t able to relate to in the same way. Research has proven that gender equality in leadership leads to a happier workforce, lower levels of turnover and attrition, and higher rates of satisfaction and productivity. I’m proud that the executive leadership team at Priority Health includes several women.  

Early in my career, men dominated leadership positions and women were constantly fighting for the limited opportunities that did exist. But the world has changed significantly in recent years as leadership opportunities for women have expanded and more women have started embracing a mentorship role. I believe that strong women aren’t afraid to support other women, and it has been encouraging to see other women leaders embrace that mentality.    

How are you leading in your career/community?

Strong leaders lead by example. At Priority Health we are committed to helping improve the communities we serve across Michigan and we encourage all of our team members to look for ways to do that every day. That’s why I feel a responsibility to give back and support organizations that help us accomplish that goal. It’s been my privilege to be involved with a variety of wonderful organizations across the state over the course of my career.

I’m proud to currently serve as the Chairwoman of the Board of Directors for the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce and am on the Board of Directors of the Detroit and Grand Rapids Economic Clubs and the Van Andel Institute. In addition, I’m a mentor in the JEM program, have multiple young professionals that I mentor and am a past board member of the Children’s Center in Detroit, Frederik Meijer Gardens and the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids. I’m honored to have the opportunity to represent Michigan as a member of the Board of Directors for the Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), a national leadership organization focused on advocating for better health care nationwide.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I truly believe that one of the greatest keys to being a successful leader is to always keep the focus on doing what’s right for your customers. Here at Priority Health that means keeping the member at the heart of everything we do. One of my favorite things about this job is hearing the stories of people that we were able to help when they were struggling or losing hope. It’s what motivates me every day.

None of that would be possible without my team. I believe that having an exceptional team is what makes it all work. I’m very proud of the team that we’ve built at Priority Health, and I am appreciative every single day for what they do to make our success possible.

What is the best way for someone to contact you?

You can contact me on LinkedIn


Michigan ATHENA is a program dedicated to developing, supporting, and honoring women leaders throughout Michigan. This program is part of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Foundation initiatives. To find out more about this program please visit us at www.michamber.com/ATHENA

If you have any questions or would like to nominate someone to be featured in our #LeadLikeAWoman series please email me at akeimach@michamber.com