Two traits that have stood out as a constant in my career journey are a strong work ethic and the ability to leverage team talent. To me, tenacity and talent are the two great levelers.
I was schooled in grit and determination at a very young age. My family moved from a Boston suburb to a Minnesota farm when I was 10. Life on a farm meant chores—before or after school, on weekends, and in the summer. Minnesota’s extra cold winters and hot, buggy summers taught me to adapt and function in all conditions. My work ethic comes from this time in my life—I learned what it is like to tough it out, to feel grateful. Today, I am thankful for each day of my ‘work’ involving keyboard and a headset!
That said, IT is often about problem solving, diving into details, and responding to requests in a very dynamic and rapidly evolving discipline. Being a leader, persistence and patience are absolutely required, along with tapping into the strengths of your team. As no one person can be on top of all the tech advancements and changes coming at us daily, my mantra at the start of each day is, how do we tap into the diverse strengths, experiences, and backgrounds of the team to create an environment where 1+1=3 (and maybe even 5!).
The seeds of becoming a team-focused leader were sown early on in my life. Soon after completing my undergrad degree, I was commissioned as a Naval Officer. At the age of 21, I was put in charge of a team. Work, in the military, can be a 24x7 thing. If one of my sailors got in trouble after hours, they (or the base police) would call me. Fortunately, that didn’t happen too often, but it did imprint in me what accountability to each other and caring for teammates can mean.
My sojourn in the Navy also taught me the value of an Ally, though at the time the term was hardly prevalent. My second posting was to be the executive officer (XO) of an Oceanography Survey Unit. An OCUNIT is a small command of about 45 sailors on a 500-ft ship, tasked with mapping the ocean bed. As the XO, I would be second in command of the ship’s crew. Being out at sea for month-long surveying stretches can be isolating compared to work at a large base. My relationship with the Commanding officer (CO) would be crucial. My current boss happened to know this CO to be less than open-minded about diversity; therefore, he had me re-assigned to an alternate ship with a more progressive CO. While I will never know how bad (or good) my experience would have been with the first CO, I was certainly thankful that I had an Ally looking out for me.
This good fortune continued through my two decades at HP! I had several allies, three of whom stand out. At various stages in my career, these three male leaders were my managers and they actively challenged me to stretch and take on progressive, high-impact strategic roles. They each valued diversity and truly believed in nurturing talent at the company. I recall a three-year stretch, working for one of these managers. It was the best of times and the worst of times, as they say. My growth at this time was exponential, fueled by daily (sometimes hourly) feedback on how I needed to deliver better and up my game. Surely enough, this highly challenging period positively impacted the next 15 years of my career.
From surveying the ocean bed to now enabling data and system innovations in the cloud, it’s been a journey of continuous learning and personal growth. My biggest lesson is this: whatever role you are in today, ace it! Stellar work always opens doors and creates opportunities.
Whether as a leader of a small crew of sailors or a large IT and Procurement organization, I truly believe in leading with your strengths. For me, this includes observing the strengths and passions of each team member and identifying how to maximize our collective contribution.
As I think about the workplace of the future and the world that I like my children to live in, what I aspire for is reflected in a Sheryl Sandberg quote: “In the future there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders.” And this future is not a destination but a journey, undertaken through an abiding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). At Teradata we believe that DEI is not just the right thing to do but essential to driving greater results for the business!