How Do You Define Leadership? DMEC Emerging Leader Award Winners Share Insights

Tasha Patterson@Work

How Do You Define Leadership? DMEC Emerging Leader Award Winners Share Insights

The 2022 DMEC Emerging Leader Award winners have a refreshing perspective on leadership that focuses on service, the way managers who act as guides build confidence and encourage independence, and the importance of showing up for others.

Their stories offer a glimpse into work that prompted their nominations for the annual award that celebrates a passion for the advancement of absence and disability management and community engagement among other criteria. The two winners have great potential to influence the industry through their commitment to improving processes and enhancing experiences.

The Power of Recognition

In addition to their passion for the meaningful work that absence management professionals do, a common theme in the award winners’ stories is an appreciation for how this award elevates awareness of absence management and has influenced them personally.

“Being nominated by my leadership team was a boost for my confidence,” says Stefanie Shuey, client service manager for Workpartners UPMC, who shared characteristics of effective leaders that she strives to emulate with her own team of absence management specialists.

“The DMEC Emerging Leadership Award means a lot to me,” says award winner William Frystak, manager of the Medical and Family Leave Specialist Team for GSK. “I see it as a recognition that the work I’ve done has been valued and had an impact on other people.” As people have congratulated him for the award, they “share how much they appreciate the work that we do as disability and absence management professionals,” he adds, “so it’s not limited to me, but it’s a recognition that there’s value within this community.”


Left to right: Lindsay Schreiber, Stefanie Shuey, and Linda Croushore

“The leaders I have thrived with are people who let you have independence and are there to guide you, encourage you, and challenge you to take on stretch projects,” Shuey explained. “They help you get through challenges but let you lead so you can learn.”

Shuey worked as a human resources generalist prior to focusing on the absence management world and says some of the solutions she implemented (including creating leave workflows, developing training materials for clients, and introducing a reconciliation process) were pulled from that experience that gave her a holistic view. She reviewed and worked through the steps with an eye toward tweaking processes to make things easier for absence management specialists, and says solutions were devised by pinpointing common challenges and repeat questions and developing more specific guidance.

A key question she asked herself was, how will the changes or solutions we implement influence every department?

One example of Shuey’s retooled process: Making VISIO workflows more detailed. The specific workflows have helped ensure that employers are prepared for common scenarios that arise once Workpartners assumes absence management responsibilities and provides the team’s specialists with steps to follow when and if questions arise while they are managing an employee’s case.

This solution — one of eight noted by Lindsay Schreiber, director of absence, Workpartners UPMC, in the award nomination — illustrates a commitment to process improvement and an ability to recognize and act on opportunities.

“Stephanie is a true leader,” Schreiber said. “She’s a thought leader in her field and a problem-solver, who is respected and admired. I can’t wait to see where she goes in the future.”

The Role of Coaches

Terri L. Rhodes and William Frysak

For Frystak, effective leadership has a coaching component that helps people unlock their unique skills, abilities, and embrace their potential. A certified life coach, Frystak has managed a team that was scaled down in size during a global reorganization and continues to support more than 1,500 people.

He talks about the importance of leaders trusting and believing in their teams, and his intent to emulate the positive experience he has had with some managers, who helped him reframe difficult situations or mistakes, and “try on different perspectives so that each mistake could become an opportunity to learn.”

Frystak describes people who embody his definition of a leader in his personal life (his wife Diane, an influential football coach, and his supportive parents) as well as his professional life, and believes there is power in listening to and acknowledging others.

“For me, leadership is all about becoming a better version of yourself and being of service to others,” said Frystak, who is most impressed with leaders who are curious about other peoples’ goals, work to remove barriers to achieving them, and help them connect with others so they can be most successful.

As a manager, Frystak meets with his team monthly to discuss issues and identify and address the root cause, and says, “I think of every person I’m working with as the future CEO.”

He’s passionate about encouraging people to embrace their authentic selves and to feel like they belong by acknowledging and validating them during interactions. “One of the things that’s been really important to me is to actually allow people to really be heard so they can feel safe. They can feel like they’re able to belong in whatever organization that they’re in because there’s trust and they feel valued.”

Creating Solutions

Frystak was described in his nomination form as a community-oriented team member with a thirst for ongoing education, who seeks ways to improve experiences for colleagues.

His work to streamline the leave administration process for COVID-related issues included communication about employee options as well as expectations that dispelled confusion and uncertainty. He listens carefully for what he calls the voice of the customer (internal and external) when devising solutions that range from streamlining processes to manage cases, software reconfiguration to encourage self-service among employees, and capitalizing on untapped vendor capabilities to improve efficiencies.

“He is greatly valued and admired for his promotion of resilience, perseverance, and inclusion,” wrote Jeff Nelson, Jr., a medical and family leave specialist with GSK, in the nomination form. And added, during the conference: “We’re incredibly proud of you!”