Joni Wheeler began her career solving problems.

After studying English and prelaw at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Wheeler joined West Corporation as an editor.

“They put me in an area that was all technology people,” Wheeler said. “I saw my colleagues were busy all the time. I would finish my work really fast and say, ‘hey, is there anything I can do to help?’ Over a few weeks, they started teaching me programming.”

Wheeler changed roles, becoming a programmer and sharing her ideas on how the company could streamline its development process. Eventually, she “fell into” a leadership role where she continued to focus on improvements.

“I remembered all the anxiety of my programming colleagues, so when I started leading people, I really tried to help them balance that and find purpose in their work,” Wheeler said. “That transferred over when I started working at First Data.”

Wheeler worked at First Data for 18 years and held a variety of roles. She wasn’t always sure her broad range of experience was a good thing, though.

“I was one of those jack of all trades, master of none,” Wheeler said. “It turns out, it was good, and I became somebody that people could count on to take a problem and strategically drive it forward and make it better.”

Now, as chief talent and strategy officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska (BCBSNE), Wheeler said she wants to spend the rest of her career helping people enhance their problem-solving skills.

“I talk to people all the time, and they’ll say, ‘oh, I wish we could do this better,’” Wheeler said. “I’ll say, ‘why don’t you come up with a plan? You know it better than anyone else.’”

Solving problems is one way employees can lead from where they are – or contribute to the bigger picture by reaching beyond their perceived potential, Wheeler said.

“A lot of folks think they need to be a manager or director to lead people or lead something,” Wheeler said. “I believe everybody has the power to lead. They just have to take it in a healthy way.”

In addition to leading from where they are, Wheeler encourages employees to embrace who they are.

“Always be you. Sometimes when people say to me, ‘oh, well I’m authentic. I’m just me,’ I say, ‘but that’s what’s powerful is the authentic you,” Wheeler said. “That’s what speaks to people. We all have superpowers, so be proud and own them, and you can’t lose.”

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