Wednesday, October 28, 2015

New Jersey seventh graders get a jump on a healthy school year

If we want our kids to grow into healthy adults, it’s a good idea to start helping them form healthy habits when they’re young.

In fact, studies show that seventh grade is a key time in children’s development when they start to begin making decisions about their fitness and nutrition routines that often last well into adulthood.

That’s why the Westfield YMCA began its 7th Grade Initiative. The program aims to help adolescents develop positive attitudes and behaviors about nutrition, exercise, body image and self esteem. In 2009, UnitedHealthcare partnered with the YMCA to support the 7th Grade Initiative by introducing the UnitedHealthcare Health Bee. The UnitedHealthcare Health Bee is a fun, Jeopardy-style competition that tests students on what they’ve learned about physical fitness, nutrition, science and health throughout the year.

On Wednesday, October 27 the Westfield YMCA and UnitedHealthcare kicked off the 7th Grade Initiative with a healthy celebration. Students enjoyed a fun evening of fitness activities and games, a climbing wall, advice from health experts and healthy snacks.

The YMCA's 7th Grade Initiative will teach kids about getting good nutrition, including helping them understand how much sugar is in many everyday foods and beverages
Kids had the chance to test their strength and climbing skill's on the Westfield YMCA's rock climbing wall
John Verga, vice president, UnitedHealthcare of New Jersey, joined in the fun fitness activities at the Westfield YMCA’s 7th Grade Initiative Kickoff.

In spring 2016, UnitedHealthcare will host Health Bees not only at the Westfield YMCA, but at several YMCAs throughout New Jersey. For information on last year’s UnitedHealthcare Health Bee competitions, check out my blog post from earlier this year.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Good leadership starts with listening

If the boss is the one doing all the talking at the weekly group meeting, there’s a good chance that the employees aren’t feeling engaged in their jobs.

It’s the kind of mistake that every business leader might make without realizing until someone else points it out to them. That’s why it’s so important for business leaders to step back from time to time and analyze how they could improve their leadership style to help their businesses grow. 

On September 17, I attended the 2015 Best Practices Conference, hosted by COMMERCE Magazine and the Commercial and Industry Association of New Jersey. The conference gathered more than 150 CEOs and other business leaders from New Jersey to discuss best practices in business leadership. I was honored to be among the 35 CEOs recognized for our insights in leadership.

COMMERCE Magazine asked each of the award recipients to offer some of our best advice on leadership in our industries. Here’s what I said:  One of the biggest challenges of leadership is developing an understanding how your personality affects the sentiment and productivity of the group. Many leaders have strong personalities and emotions, which can be both positive and negative.

When a leader brings positive energy and encouragement to the group, many employees are inspired to work at their peak capacity and achieve beyond their expectations. But when employees view a leader as a source of negativity, they may feel stifled and disengaged from the organization’s goals. In some cases, the leader may not even be aware that employees think of them negatively. Many leaders don’t realize how an off-the-cuff remark or comment made under stress can affect the entire atmosphere of the workplace.

All leaders should regularly take the time to assess the feelings in their groups. Leaders should ask employees to speak candidly about their concerns, voice their ideas and discuss what they think is going well. Frequently, employees will offer angles that the leader may not have considered before. By taking the time to view challenges from multiple angles and incorporate employee input, leaders can most effectively address the business challenges at hand and lead a strong team.

My fellow CEOs at the conference were full of other tips and best practices to help businesses grow. You can check out the full “Best Practices” guide at