Leading with Well-Being

A Candid Conversation with Melanie Cumbee,
Associate Well-Being Administrative Director


Min Read

By Shelly Trumbo
April 29, 2021

When Adventist Health established the Well-Being Division to expand beyond community well-being and include individual and organizational well-being, I knew we needed a fearless leader with proven expertise who truly lived our mission of inspiring health, wholeness and hope. We were thrilled to have Melanie Cumbee join our team, a leader who truly lives our calling to empower everyone, everywhere to live longer better both professionally and personally. 

I’m excited to continue our leadership series through a candid conversation with Melanie, our Administrative Director of Associate Well-Being, and explore how prioritizing our personal well-being is imperative for successful leadership.

Melanie Cumbee, Associate Well-Being Administrative Director 

“The most important thing we can do as leaders is to model prioritizing our own well-being. You can have an incredible, innovative well-being strategy and it will not be effective if leaders don’t lead the way.” 

Before we dive into why and how Adventist Health is prioritizing well-being, tell us a little bit about yourself: When did the importance of well-being start for you? Was it a particular experience or a natural progression in your life purpose and journey?

Growing up in the South with lakes, rivers, and mountains, I’ve always loved being outdoors and being active. Later when I started my undergraduate degree in kinesiology, I absolutely fell in love with the incredible design of the human body. A pivotal career moment for me was when I was working with individuals who were recovering from an adverse health event like a stroke. I knew at that moment I wanted to be on the prevention side of the equation. As I’ve led well-being programs over the years in a variety of settings from churches to large companies, it’s been my personal mission to help others thrive in every aspect of their well-being so that they can live out their purpose. Understanding motivation theory, behavioral economics, and the fundamentals of positive psychology are passion projects for me that I believe inform how we can leverage the evidence-based practices of well-being.  

Knowing your unique background and expertise in this space, why is this emphasis on well-being so important for Adventist Health?

In the last several years, it’s become apparent that a biomedical, know your numbers wellness program model doesn’t make much of a difference. The research is clear that when we focus on the whole person and every aspect of well-being in the right environment, we create a space where everyone is empowered to thrive. This creates such beautiful synergy with our mission “to live God’s love by inspiring health, wholeness, and hope.” It enables us to continue to provide excellent and compassionate care when there is so much disruption in healthcare and energizes us to operationalize our mission in the communities we serve in new ways. 

The new associate well-being program just launched on April 1—Blue Zones at Adventist Health! A tagline that stuck with me from the launch was “Are you ready to live your best life?” I love that! What does living your best life look like? What does it look like for you?

Living your best life first and foremost is grounded in purpose. It’s understanding your “why” or in Blue Zones language, it’s knowing our “ikigai.” When we lead and live our lives out of purpose, we create a solid foundation to flourish in our lives. For me, that purpose is grounded in faith, and it’s about leveraging my strengths to optimize my health so that I can continue to serve others.  

Besides living your best life, what does Blue Zones at Adventist Health offer? Are there key features we should be checking out in the app?

Blue Zones at Adventist Health is our entire associate well-being experience. It includes our Blue Zones Campus Certification and other well-being resources and tools such as SyncTalk and our new well-being digital platform with Sharecare. I’m enjoying using the new app. There are many exciting features, such as Dave Ramsey’s Smart Dollar program, lifestyle coaching, and the ability to find out about your RealAge based on a number of factors. Consider it your personal scorecard in creating a plan to live longer and better. 

I just took the RealAge test myself and found out I’m 7 years younger than my biological age! Knowing my real age empowers me to prioritize my well-being, keeping me on top of my game as a leader. Why do you think it’s important for leaders to prioritize their well-being?

The most important thing we can do as leaders is to model prioritizing our own well-being. You can have an incredible, innovative well-being strategy and it will not be effective if leaders don’t lead the way. Gallup has some really interesting research about how much leaders impact the well-being of their teams. When a leader is thriving in all aspects of well-being, their direct reports are 15% more likely to be thriving six months later, just from an authentic display of personal commitment to well-being. We’re also responsible for proactively fostering a culture that gives our team members permission to participate and empowers them to engage in well-being opportunities and activities. It starts with us.

What is the return on investment (ROI) or value of investment in a well-being program like Blue Zones at Adventist Health? Can you share what impact these types of programs have?

Understanding the value proposition of a whole-person centered approach that’s integrated into an environmental strategy like Blue Zones is important. Research by HERO (Health Enhancement Research Organization) and others show this comprehensive approach can drive healthy habits for sustainable behavior change and positively impact engagement, productivity, performance and health outcomes.  Ultimately, it leads to healthier and happier employees with higher well-being.

Bringing us full circle, how do you think associate and organizational well-being compliments community well-being? Why do you think we need these three components working together to complete the big picture?

The beauty of Blue Zones is that it brings all three of these together, and when that happens, it’s a powerful force for good. As individuals, we’re empowered to take personal ownership of our own well-being journey within an organization that is committed to creating an environment where it’s easy to experience joy at work, stay connected to our purpose, and have positive relationships. The often missed critical element is living in a community that is designed to support well-being by shaping the policies and places around us. These three components create a rising tide that lifts all boats—an immersive well-being experience that has the potential to transform not only our lives, but the lives of those we serve in our communities as well. 

It is our own personal path to well-being that becomes a roadmap for others to follow. When we invest in our relationships, discover our purpose, and improve our environment, we’re able to lead in ways that can transform our workplaces and communities. I am so excited to to be a part of this well-being movement as we work together across our organizations in partnership with our associates, organizations and communities. Thank you, Melanie, for your time and candid conversation. We are so blessed to have you on our team!

This is part of a year-long Well-Being leadership conversation.
Click below to read the overview and format for the discussion.