Skip to Main Content Skip to bottom Skip to Chat, Email, Text

Wayland Williams leads from the heart

As director of guest services for Banner – University Medical Center in Phoenix, Wayland Williams (MHA, 2016) is used to juggling responsibilities and managing several hundred people.

Just nine years ago, he was in a very different place. Divorced and laid off from his full-time job, he was a single dad of three who had big goals and a long way to go. Here’s how he did it.

“I encourage everyone to find their why”

“I feel like my calling is inspiring and leading others,” Williams says.

His background explains this to some extent. Raised in Southern California primarily by his maternal grandparents, he was an athletic, sociable kid who dreamed of playing in the NFL after college. While pro football wasn’t in the cards, a lot of the lessons inherent to good sportsmanship stuck.


Sharon L. Lind

Sharon L. Lind
CEO of Lind & Associates Executive Coaching

“Wayland’s athletic background plays out in the disciplined focus, faithfulness and dedication he brings to leading teams to achieve the best possible outcomes, while teaching others along the way,” observes Sharon L. Lind.

Lind would know. Now the founder and CEO of Lind & Associates Executive Coaching, she previously worked with Williams for nearly eight years when she was CEO at multiple Banner Health campuses in Phoenix.

In her view, Williams has all the makings of a good leader. He is good at identifying and cultivating talent, she says, but “teaching others to be their best selves is [most] gratifying” to him.

Perhaps this is because he’s had to nurture this in himself. When he started college in California, he followed the advice of his high school coaches and studied elementary education. Student teaching cured him of that career path, but then life intervened. He got engaged to his first wife and planned to join the police department in Glendale, California. During his bachelor party in Las Vegas, however, those career plans fell apart.

He and eight of his best friends were on a boat in the marina where Williams, who’d caught his first fish at 2 and had grown up on boats, was attempting to start it. There was a noise that gave Williams pause, but none of the signs of danger he was taught to look for, like oil in the water, were present.

Still, something wasn’t right. Then Williams got what he views as divine guidance.

“There was this really quiet, small voice that said, ‘Tell everybody to get off the boat,’” he says.

With everyone but him back on the dock, Williams tried to start it again. “It just went boom,” he recalls. “It blew up. It blew me into the water, and on my swim to the dock I was counting my friends.”

All eight friends were safe. Williams, on the other hand, suffered burns to half of his body. He recovered, but working as a police officer was off the table. Instead, he took a position as a project manager with a geotechnical engineering company, which led to his relocating to Arizona. He and his then wife started a family. Williams started fitness coaching on the side. Things were good — but change was on the horizon.

Charting a new course

In some ways, Williams might’ve known he wasn’t done growing and influencing those around him. After the boating accident, he says, he recognized he owed something more to himself and to others.

“I was saved and here on Earth to inspire others,” he says. “We only have one shot at it to be happy. I felt like that’s where I needed to be in healthcare.”

Williams didn’t intuit his path immediately. It took time. For a while, he focused on coaching and fitness. Then he went through a divorce and took a role as an enrollment advisor at University of Phoenix. There, he discovered the importance of not just having a goal but figuring outhow to achieve it. Prospective students would have a lofty ambition, he says, and he’d research how they could realistically achieve it.

After doing this enough times for others, he realized he needed to follow his own advice. He’d already completed his bachelor’s degree through a state university in Arizona, so he enrolled in the Master of Health Administration program at University of Phoenix.

He also started making connections. He knew he wanted to work in leadership, and he knew he was interested in healthcare, so he volunteered at Banner Health every morning before his day job.

As on the day of his boating accident, his time at Banner felt guided by God. “I just feel like God always speaks to me in the number seven,” Williams explains. “So, whenever there’s something important in my life that I have to decide on or am wondering about, sevens show up in some kind of way.”

At Banner he was assigned a login number. The three-digit number was randomized and computer generated. Williams’ number? 777.

“[The technician] did it again, and it came back 777 again,” Williams says. “He was like, ‘I guess this is supposed to be your number.’ So that that point, I was like, ‘This is where I’m supposed to be.’”

Fulfilling his destiny

This was truer than Williams realized. When he was laid off from his full-time job, it was his advisor at Banner who not only spearheaded his job search but who found him a role as an associate administrator with two of Banner’s C-level executives.

From there, Williams began working his way up. Armed with his MHA, he moved into the role of supply chain coordinator; then he took on the role of associate director for post-acute discharge patients at several hospital campuses. Next, he was the director of environmental services and then director for Banner Hospice.  

“Now, I’m the guest services director at Banner – University, so I oversee environmental services [and] spiritual care … so it’s full circle,” he says.

What’s not full circle? Williams’ growth, which has followed more of an upward-and-onward trajectory.

“Wayland leads with heart and intention in everything he does,” Lind says. “While working a demanding leadership role in healthcare, Wayland consistently finds time to support family events, coach his son’s football team, volunteer in the community [and get involved in] church.”

Part of what has driven Williams’ success has been his education. He learned during his master’s program, for example, how to communicate in a way that is both effective and resonant.

Going to school online especially honed those skills. Just as he had to learn how to convey his thoughts to his classmates and instructors, he has to be able to manage employees who may be in a different wing or on a different campus.

The other part of his success? His relentless focus on the end goal. This is part of his athletic upbringing, he says. And even though he notes that his second wife of 10 years frequently encourages him to enjoy the journey, he’s often more focused on what he wants.

“I’m always working to get better,” he explains. “The goal at hand hasn’t been reached yet, so I will continue to do what I need to do to better myself, to prepare myself, to get to that goal.”

Find out if your employer is one of the more than 1,500 organizations University of Phoenix works with to offer education benefits.

Meet Phoenixes like Wayland. Make connections, build relationships and be part of a growing community. Join a chapter.

Portrait of Elizabeth Exline


Elizabeth Exline has been telling stories ever since she won a writing contest in third grade. She's covered design and architecture, travel, lifestyle content and a host of other topics for national, regional, local and brand publications. Additionally, she's worked in content development for Marriott International and manuscript development for a variety of authors.


This article has been vetted by University of Phoenix's editorial advisory committee. 
Read more about our editorial process.

Read more articles like this:

Committed to Saving Black Millennial Men
Alumni Chronicles

February 07, 2023 • 6 minutes

Finding the Good in the Bad With Alumna Barbara Smith
Alumni Chronicles

January 30, 2023 • 5 minutes

The Thinker: Why Alumna Juana Lang Risked It All
Alumni Chronicles

October 30, 2023 • 7 minutes