Carlos Sotero on Knowing Your Why

Carlos Sotero reflects on the leadership lessons he's learned between the military and the yoga studio. Now, he brings those lessons to his role at Tivity Health.

Carlos Sotero, VP, IT Infrastructure & Operation, Tivity Health (Photo Courtesy of Tivity Health)

In 2017, Carlos Sotero was looking for a job, but only out of habit. Early in his tech career, a mentor told him that professionals need to interview twice a year to stay marketable. Interviewing is a skill, and it responds to regular practice, he said.

Sotero was already seated in a prestigious leadership role at a major tech manufacturer, yet he found himself working his way through eight rounds of interviews with Tivity Health, the last of which was with CEO Donato Tramuto. In that conversation, Tramuto asked Sotero, “What’s your why?”

“That was the first time anyone had asked me in quite a while,” he says. “For me, my family feeds my soul.” Sotero’s position at Motorola was challenging and lucrative. But it was seriously demanding, too. He spent about half of his time traveling, which had costs for his family life as well as his physical health.

“Flying 100,000 miles a year sounds great until you’re actually doing it,” he recalls. “It’s hard to keep a disciplined approach. Your work/life balance skews because you go back to the hotel and just continue to work.”

The Tivity Health position was an opportunity to bring himself back into balance. More than that, he would be contributing to a meaningful wellness mission across the country: Tivity Health Inc. provides fitness and health improvement solutions by partnering with providers, employers, and government agencies. Its flagship program, SilverSneakers, offers free fitness training and advisement to more than fifteen million American seniors.

One of Sotero’s major projects is to transform the organization’s data capabilities to differentiate Tivity Health as a business partner and further improve the application of data to enhance the member experience. In today’s customer-centric digital world, real-time data—which is available at any time and from any location and any device—is essential to success. To keep his team effective and forward-looking as they collaborate to make these enhancements, Sotero makes himself an understanding leader who always listens first. That’s part of a greater effort to build what he calls a high-trust culture.

“It’s important to empower your team and make sure they’re coming forward with problems, opportunities, and ideas. You should be encouraging those things,” he says. “A lot of people talk about empowerment, but I see managers and leaders that are trying to get people to adhere to their leadership model. I make sure I’m adapting.”

Sotero spent six years in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He continues to apply some of the leadership principles he learned in his time there: on a mission, the objective comes first; in peacetime, the troops come first; and leaders always eat last.

Of course, not every motivational tactic in the military is effective or appropriate in the private sector. His transition into healthcare technology has provided opportunities to expand his approach.

“At Tivity Health, our leadership model for workplace dignity and inclusion is trust, tenacity, and tenderness,” he says. “It’s about having that balance—and it doesn’t mean that you’re ‘soft’ if you’re tender. You can deliver a pretty tough message and still do it thoughtfully.”

In keeping with those tenets, Tivity Health is also making strides to enable healthy work/life balance for its entire workforce. Sotero makes sure his team members own their evenings and weekends—not a cheap promise for an IT leader whose business services need to operate around-the-clock. When necessary, that means that he fields calls and gives level-one support himself. Leaders still eat last.

Again, his understanding of strong family supports his definition of good business. The kind of leader he wants to be, he says, is the same kind of leader he’d like his sons to work for. That means putting people in positions of challenge, not of struggle, and eventually identifying a great successor and working yourself out of a job.

He hasn’t found himself in that position just yet at Tivity Health yet. He’s still building up the team as the organization moves toward new data-forward products and services. Today’s connectivity will mean that the company can engage more directly with members, providing motivation and balance across the process. Looking forward, it’s all about bringing more focus to the members. But that’s an ongoing practice, not a singular destination—something he’s learned in yoga.

“Yoga has also had an influence on my style because it’s made me more patient,” Sotero says. He was on the CrossFit bandwagon for a while, but repeated injuries became too frustrating. Yoga, he found, challenged both his body and his state of mind in ways that supported his working life.

Like leadership, yoga is about discovering comfort and balance inside uncomfortable positions. Each practice supports the other, and opportunities for growth are more important than the competitive instinct. Sotero’s next goal is the unsupported handstand. It’s demanding and elusive, but he’s seeing increments of growth.

“The longest hold I’ve had is five seconds,” he says with a laugh. “My goal is that, by the end of the year, I’ll have a thirty-second hold. We’ll see if I get there.”

And the attitude he brings to yoga shines through in his leadership at Tivity Health.

“When it comes to things you’re good at, that’s the easy part,” he says. “For things you’re still trying to get, it’s a matter of patience and developing a plan to get there.”

Photos courtesy of Tivity Health