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Leadership Insights: Listening to understand and seek clarity

Podcast - January 5, 2023

Leadership Development

Patient Access

Patient Care Technology

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In this episode of the Insights podcast Carrie Kozlowski shares her perspective on empathic leadership.

Kozlowski is the CEO and co-founder of Upfront Healthcare, a healthcare technology company that helps influence patients to receive care by using psychographics to understand individual patient motivations. Kozlowski began her healthcare journey as an occupational therapist and later served on MGMA’s board of directors. In this interview, she discusses her career, leading with empathy, and the importance of grace when managing teams.   

Editor’s note: The following Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How do you define great leadership?

A: Great leaders start by finding the right people, and then investing the time to get to know them and understand them. So it's being able to understand your team, and your teammates in a way that allows you to kind of personalize your approach to leadership, coaching, managing, mentoring to their unique styles. And then I think from there, you ultimately measure great leadership by the success of that team. And so, I look at things like goal achievement, or culture engagement as the basis for that definition of success.

Q: Did you have any mentors that helped you along the way?

A: I did earlier in my career. So I worked with, as a very early careerist, a wonderful director of rehabilitation at Mercy Hospital in Chicago, Marilyn Leverson. And she was the first person who really gave me the coaching on how to have tough conversations, how to give and receive feedback, and the importance of grace in conversations - like seeking to understand where someone's coming from not taking things personally. … I think when I switched courses into the startup and technology space, it was a little harder to come by mentors. I was a working mom and a woman in that space, and there weren't a lot of people that had shared experiences that I had. And so what I found, in that time coming up in that next stage of my career, was really building a strong group of women leaders that might be in lots of different industries and different roles, but using each other as that kind of collaboration and sounding board and mentoring peer to peer more than more than anything else.

Q: What is your leadership style?

A: So my leadership style might shift from that empathetic leader that we were talking about. Other times, it might be the servant leader. Ultimately, where I try to settle in is in that kind of authoritative leadership approach -- engaging our team, making quick decisions, and focusing on goals. 

Q: Do you have a key concept or quote, philosophy, or idea – anything that you embrace as a leader?

A: I think the word that I gravitate to about leadership is grace. I think that is the one that most embodies the feeling that I think about when I think about leading people, or helping people be successful in leadership roles. And if we give a little bit of grace, and we calmly engage in conversations, we're going to achieve our goals together. So that's always my word. When I get into these conversations with our team, we go back to that word grace a lot.

Q: Give us an idea about what Upfront is. 

A: The mission, specifically at Upfront, is to help every patient get the care they need. So what we do is we marry the kind of healthcare behavioral science and consumer psychographics. And we can deliver hyper personalized communications to patients that activate them to complete their necessary care. So we do that with a scalable engagement platform. And our clients are everything from health systems and provider groups, medical groups, as well as life sciences enterprises and health plans alike.

Q: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned from a psychographic standpoint about a patient population?

A: When I think about access, what was most insightful is that we can help distribute demand across different service lines by understanding who prefers which service line. So at a very simplified level, you might say, ‘Hey, all the patients have ear infections, they don't need to see their primary care doctor, they can just go to urgent care.’ The challenge with that is some of those patients are going to be offended by the transition to urgent care. And some of those patients are going to think that's great. And the doctors on the other hand, if we move all of the day to day, queue patients off their load, they can have a pretty intense caseload during the day with chronic care management and very sick patients. And so we can actually understand at the patient level, who might be more likely or would actually find it to be a benefit to switch to which service line so that everyone gets care. And we can think about using psychographic segmentation to unlock access at a much larger level, so that more people get the care they need.

Books Mentioned by Kozlowski:


We'd love to hear from you. Tell us what you think. Let us know if there's a topic you want us to cover or an expert you would like us to interview. Email us at

The MGMA Insights podcasts are produced by Daniel Williams, Rob Ketcham, Camille Burch and Decklan McGee. 

Sponsor: This episode is brought to you by the Medical Practice Excellence: Financial and Operations Conference 2023. During our premiere spring event, attendees will gain key insights from both disciplines and learn about topics that shape the future success of medical practice organizations. Go to MGMA Events to learn more and to register today.

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