Dr. Shar Najafi-Piper of Copa Health

    We Spoke to Dr. Shar Najafi-Piper of Copa Health on Being an Effective Leader During Turbulent Times

    As part of my series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Shar Najafi-Piper, CEO of Copa Health.

    Dr. Najafi-Piper has distinguished herself as a licensed psychologist and clinical executive over the past 17 years. Over the course of her career, she has served as a behavioral health technician, outpatient counselor, team lead clinician, program/executive director of outpatient clinics, vice president of outpatient services, and president of quality care centers and behavioral services.

    Dr. Najafi-Piper has expertise in fully integrated continuums of care to meet the highly complex needs of behavioral health members and their families and experience in the provision of housing specific to meet the needs of developmentally disabled individuals.

    During the past nine years of her career, she has also demonstrated notable talent and skill on the business side of the health and human services industry. This ranges from the implementation of quality assurance functions, peer review, utilization review, as well as service and clinical protocols. In addition, Dr. Najafi-Piper has demonstrated success in the areas of program development, contract development/negotiations, public relations, media development, and business growth through revenue diversification including both traditional and non-traditional sources.

    Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

    One of the funniest moments in my career had to do with inadvertently sitting in the CEO’s chair for my first ever board meeting as an executive. No one corrected me when I sat where he usually sat and when the meeting started, my CEO came into the board room, didn’t say a word and picked another seat. We had a two hour board meeting and he never asked me to move. It wasn’t until the meeting was over that a board members whispered in my ear I sat in the CEOs chair. With full embarrassment, I apologized to my CEO and let him know I didn’t have ill intent. He heard me out, smiled and stated no one had ever had the courage to take his seat and he felt proud that I was the first. It was a teachable moment for me as leader. Often in management, we rely on titles, dedicated seats at the table, influence. Building that relationship and connection with staff is much more influential than exerting power over someone. Human kindness and respect goes a long way in managing people.

    None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

    My former CEO who I respected, admired and learned from allowed me the opportunity to see my fullest potential. He was strength-based and didn’t let me get discouraged about failures. He taught me a lot about being humble, kind, and consistent with people you manage.

    Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?

    Our company was in the middle of merging two very diverse companies when I was appointed to the CEO position. Our mission has remained the same for over 60 years — to provide high quality care to the complex and vulnerable population. Our purpose is to inspire hope, health and happiness by delivering world-class solutions to individuals, families and communities. Our core values: people first, compassion, innovation, perseverance, accountability, and integrity. These values guide our actions.

    Thank you for all that. Let’s now turn to the main focus of our discussion. Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?

    COVID is a perfect example of coming together in a time of crisis to meet the demands of the market. We were a decisive and agile group of managers who rolled up our sleeves, took action and pivoted when appropriate. These principles are what’s needed to remain viable during such trying times.

    Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?

    I can say with 100% certainty that giving up is not in my nature nor is it what I contemplate. Changing the course of action or being agile is part of the success we have had at Copa.

    What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?

    Being decisive, leading with purpose and being flexible with set plans are keys to keeping morale high during challenging times. People want a sensitive, but decisive leader. There’s nothing worse than waiting for management to make a decision on a very serious matter.

    Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?


    Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?


    1. Being indecisive and not taking action when needed

    2. Lack of communication and transparency

    3. Being fear-based when approached with a scenario.

    Business leaders who embrace change and times of uncertainty use their relationships as a way to not only connect to their employees and customer base but also utilize various communication channels to keep everyone updated on developments. During a crisis, people want leadership, guidance and comfort. As a business leader, it is incumbent upon us to help create a trusting, open, transparent environment. Businesses who will succeed during a crisis will see the value in the human connection (albeit virtually in this case) and find innovative creative ways of meeting their business needs/demands.

    Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

    Having a growth mindset and having a ‘yes we can’ mentality.

    Here is the primary question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times? Please share a story or an example for each.

    1. Humility — it’s okay to not be the smartest person in the room, and own making a mistake

    2. Lead with kindness — identify a person’s strengths to help drive performance

    3. Be a good role model — walk the talk and ensure you are following your own rules you set

    4. Don’t be afraid to have the awkward, tough discussions and make the tough decisions

    5. Roll up your sleeves and work hard if not harder than your employees. You gain credibility and your team will trust your intentions if you get into the trenches with them from time-to-time.

    Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

    ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff.’