Kristine Sullivan, IT Operations Manager, ExxonMobil

Read the full interview here

  • Kristine Sullivan

    Q. Where did you grow up, and what were important early influences that really shaped who you are as a leader today?

    A. My father was in the military, so we moved ten times before I was in sixth grade. We also lived internationally for a bit. Many times he was aboard ship, and he would be deployed for six months at a time, maybe more. So we celebrated Thanksgiving as many times not on Thanksgiving as we did on the actual day, depending on his schedule.

    With that as a backdrop, there were a number of life lessons that influence who I am today. One is that the concept of home became a bit of a fluid concept. Wherever we were, that was home. My immediate family became the one constant as everything else changed. You learn to be really flexible.

    Another piece that factors a fair amount into who I am today is that traditional gender roles were not part of our family. My father would sometimes be deployed for 18 months at a time, so my mother handled everything when he was gone. I also got used to always being the new kid, and always walking into a new situation. As an introvert, that was a tough lesson to learn.

  • Kristine Sullivan

    Q. Was there a moment in your career when you feel like you made the jump from manager to leader, not in terms of title but in terms of mindset?

    A. When I first became a manager, I struggled mightily with delegation. And many times I can remember being frustrated, thinking that I could do the work better or faster myself than having somebody else do it.

    After a few years, I realized two things. One is that many times the work they did was better than what I would have done. Or if we collaborated, it would be even better. The other one was that, because of the power of the team working in parallel, work got done faster to drive to a better solution. The combination of those two things allowed me to flip over to this concept that I need to lead the team rather than micromanage.

  • Kristine Sullivan

    Q. Have you encountered headwinds in your career because you’re a woman?

    A. Yes, but because of my earlier years moving around so much, somewhere along the way I taught myself to just put my head down and muscle through. I was always the new kid, I was always the outsider, and there were always going to be people saying that she’s not part of the team. I had two choices growing up. I could either figure out a way to stick my nose in the tent and be part of the team, or I would always be alone.

  • Kristine Sullivan

    Q. Have you ever encountered those moments that so many women do, like someone taking credit for your idea or mansplaining?

    A. It happened a few times early in my career. It makes you very grumpy when it happens. You get frustrated, and I learned to just say, “That’s a great build on sort of something I just said,” or, “That aligns really well with what I said.” Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t.

    What I have tried to do more as I’ve gotten more senior is to recognize when it’s happening with other women. I assume good intent, and then bring them gently back to the idea that we are better together. But it can be frustrating, and I can remember more than once driving home and screaming at the steering wheel when I wasn’t getting credit for what I was saying.

    Mansplaining’s a little different. I find to be quite demeaning, so I’m a little less tolerant of that when it happens.

  • Kristine Sullivan

    Q. I’m sure you’ve heard the expression that there are workhorses and show ponies in organizations. What is your advice to the workhorses of the world, who sometimes don’t get the credit they deserve?

    A. I will take a workhorse every day of the week because, at the end of the day, they make the world go round. They’re the ones I’m going to call when we have an issue. But you have to be a bit of your own advocate. So while I don’t necessarily want everybody to be running around waving their arms and telling people what they do, I do think you need to be able to articulate what you’ve done and why it matters.

    One of the things I always try and push my team to do is to understand how what they’re doing makes a difference for the company. As people articulate that, then it becomes much easier for a workhorse to say to somebody, “This is what I’m doing, and this is why it matters.” I also think that we get more satisfaction when we understand how our work makes a difference.