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Reflections on Leading in IT

The first time someone referred to me as a “woman leader in IT,” I was honestly caught by surprise.  I had never stopped and thought about the idea that I was any different than any other leader, any other woman or any other person in IT.  That single comment made me pause and reflect on where I was in my career, what had brought me to that point and if there was really anything that made me that unique or different from anyone else I worked with every day.  As I reflected, I began to think about some core experiences and traits that I believe have played a part in getting me where I am today.

First, I was never once talked to about what I could or couldn’t do because I was a girl.  I never thought twice about taking every math and science class I could in high school, going to college to get a degree in Engineering, and then starting my career in IT.  I really enjoyed science and math, and I was good at those subjects.  I wasn’t fazed by the fact that there were mostly males around me.  It was my passion, I enjoyed it, and I followed it.  Never once did I think it wasn’t the normal path of a female; nobody ever told me I should.

Second, I am competitive.  That competitive spirit may be more important in the business world in general, than specific to IT, but to learn to lead teams to success and to learn to continue to push boundaries, you need to be willing to compete and push, even when it’s hard.  That competitive drive has helped me to be successful in an industry that is constantly changing.  It has helped me step up to some tough conversations and challenges and work really hard to find a win.  It has helped me pick myself up when I’ve wanted to give up.  That competitiveness has pushed me to constantly get better.

I’ve failed, a lot of times, but I’ve never been afraid to get back up and try again.  The willingness to give something new a try, even when you aren’t quite sure how it is going to work, or if it is going to work at all, is key to being successful in IT.  Dealing with the ambiguity that often comes with the field can be unsettling.  Working with something you can’t see, or something that hasn’t been developed yet, is tough.  However, being willing to give it a try and learn from mistakes as they happen is key to future successes.

Maybe most important, I’ve learned to surround myself with incredible people and teams, and to follow my instincts by treating those team members like family.  I often tell my team that I treat them like my kids.  That doesn’t mean I view them as immature, inexperienced, or a group of people I need to constantly watch.  What that means is that I truly care about every one of them and their growth and my instincts show in how I lead my team every single day, the same way they show in how I raise my children.  There are four principles I rely on for every interaction to demonstrate that: respect, candor, accountability and compassion.

  • Respect -- Respect each and every one of them for the humans and the professionals they are and what that unique combination brings.
  • Candor -- Realize that even if the news isn’t great, they will respect the feedback and the fact that they can always expect an honest and sincere perspective from me.
  • Accountability – Always hold people accountable for their commitments and their actions.  Teach them to take ownership for their work, their relationships and their integrity.
  • Compassion –Always remember they are people: mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, wives, husbands, sisters, brothers and friends first.  Remember that, in general, most things are done with good intentions, and when things don’t go well, treat those situations as learning opportunities.   Nurture and promote growth whenever possible.

Finally, I have worked with members on my team to develop and leverage key relationships with partners like Cisco and others.  This has allowed us to align the appropriate technology strategies to the overall corporate goals, helping enable Johnsonville, my team and myself to reach our overall goals.  Read more on our story with Cisco in this new case study.

Again, I’ve never viewed myself any different than any other leader, any other woman or any other person in IT.  I’ve gotten to where I have in my career because I followed my passion; used my competitive nature to embrace change; used respect, candor, accountability and compassion to surrounded myself with incredible teams; and leveraged strong partnerships along the way.

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