Ballad's Deaton speaks on servant leadership

Matthew Lane • Feb 10, 2019 at 2:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Eric Deaton, the senior vice president of market operations at Ballad Health, had some advice about change for United Way officials and member agencies last week.

“When going through change, you’ve got two choices. You can be bitter or you can be better,” Deaton said. “We can rise above things and make it better for our community, or we could be bitter about it. Personally, I choose to be better.”

Deaton gave the keynote speech during the United Way of Greater Kingsport’s annual meeting held Thursday at the V.O. Dobbins Community Center. More than 100 people from the United Way, its member agencies and its board of directors were on hand to discuss the latest financial report, present awards to volunteers and recognize the board’s new president.

The theme of Deaton’s speech was servant leadership and improving community outcomes.

“I’ve been in health care about 35 years, moved 10 times in my career, and in every community I’ve lived in, the United Way has been leaders in making things happen,” Deaton said.


Feb. 1 marked the one year anniversary of the creation of Ballad Health, a merger Deaton said was necessary to solidify health care and focus on its improvement in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Ballad has a great responsibility, and it’s something the health organization doesn’t take lightly, Deaton said.

“What is our responsibility as leaders moving forward? That leadership should be focused on serving as well as leading,” Deaton said. “We have a great responsibility to leave our community and region better than the way we found it.”

Servant leadership is an important aspect of how we should lead, Deaton said, noting that servant leaders aren’t weak or distrusting, self-promoting or self-absorbed, but rather they assume the best intentions of people.

Servant leaders stay in the moment with conversations, support one another and assume trust. Honest support and feedback are crucial, and when you appreciate your fellow team members, then success comes next, he said.


Deaton shared a story from 2006 when he worked with a chamber of commerce in South Carolina. A Marine Corps general from Parris Island had invited him to be the review officer at a graduation ceremony. Little did he know there were going to be 5,000 people in attendance when he gave the order to pass and review for 500 Marine graduates.

“I was pretty nervous about the whole process, but the general just told me not to worry,” Deaton said. “Whatever you say, (the Marines) are going to do what they’re supposed to do.”

Leaders have to think what it’s really all about, he said. It’s about the people you serve in the community and work with on a day to day basis, he added.

“I really think leaders should be vulnerable at times. It’s important for us to make sure we see we are allowed to make mistakes ... because you learn from those mistakes,” Deaton said.