Championing a diversity of voices and perspectives
Dr. Manika Turnbull’s first lesson in psychology was watching her own parents bicker and battle their way through an unpleasant divorce. She was just a little girl in pigtails, watching—and learning.
She learned to watch body language. She learned which types of communication succeeded, and which ones failed. She developed a stronger sense of empathy. And she learned that behind every conflict, there is hope for compromise.
Today, Dr. Turnbull’s master’s degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology have catapulted her to the top at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois (BCBSIL) doing exactly what she did as a child—listening to people and helping to foster empathy in the corporate workspace.
After serving as Chief of Staff of BCBSIL, Dr. Turnbull was promoted in 2015 to Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC), BCBSIL’s parent company. She also joined the TCSPP board of trustees and serves as an advocate for the school that helped her turn a life’s passion for helping people into a fulfilling career.
“I’ve always tried to grow and develop myself so that I could help others grow and develop as well,” says Dr. Turnbull, explaining how as a Division 1 basketball player for James Madison University, she built on her early interest in psychology by observing the complex emotional and psychological dynamics of leadership.
Finding her niche
That experience as an undergraduate student fueled a passion for helping corporations infuse confidence into complicated group dynamics, and it was that passion that led her to The Chicago School’s Industrial and Organizational Psychology master’s program.
“I learned how to listen,” she says of the TCSPP program, adding that she was immediately impressed by the school’s diverse student base and its commitment to implementing complex psychological theories into real world business environments. “It sounds simple, but the importance of knowing when not to talk, of knowing when to take a moment to absorb what is going on around you—and really empathize with where your boss or co-worker is coming from—can’t be overstated.”
After graduating, she quickly rose up through the ranks at BCBSIL, blending her interest in behavioral research with a keen understanding of group psychology, continuing to “listen” along the way.
“The Chicago School prepared me to step into the workforce and add value, because of this knowledge and how I approach relationships, conflicts, and my overall development both personally and professionally. The Chicago School was the right institution at the right time (both times) for me and I’m proud to call myself an alumna.”
First, she improved efficiency and customer-service protocol in the company’s coding division and then moved on to human resources, helping enrich BCBSIL’s corporate culture, both inside and outside the organization.
Meanwhile, she entered TCSPP’s Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership program, tapping her growing insight to pen a dissertation on the importance of servant leadership and emotional intelligence in leadership positions.
“There seems to be a misconception that psychology is the “soft stuff” and thus the soft stuff is easy, so it doesn’t require as much time, effort or resources within organizations. What The Chicago School taught me was that the hard stuff is the soft stuff,” Dr. Turnbull explains. “The Chicago School prepared me to step into the workforce and add value, because of this knowledge and how I approach relationships, conflicts, and my overall development both personally and professionally. The Chicago School was the right institution at the right time (both times) for me and I’m proud to call myself an alumna.”
Leading the way
The thought leadership she cultivated at TCSPP continues to play out in her daily life and growing list of accolades and service.
In 2013, Dr. Turnbull was named to Diversity MBA Magazine’s Top 100 Under 50 Diverse Executives & Emerging Leaders List. In 2015, she became a Leadership Greater Chicago Fellow. Meanwhile, Dr. Turnbull continues to serve as a member of the United Way Women’s Leadership Council, and in addition to her new role as a TCSPP trustee, sits on the boards for Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that teaches children about racism and prejudice, and Playworks Illinois, which aims to improve the health and well-being of children through physical activity.
The little girl who watched and listened has come a long way. And yet, the former TCSPP adjunct professor remains humble.
“We all grow together,” says Dr. Turnbull of her teaching and mentoring work. “I get the most joy out of helping other people fulfill their own destinies.”