Read the full interview here
Q. What were important early influences for you that shaped who you are as a leader today?
A. I grew up in a really small town, and I played a lot of sports. I love track and field. It’s about winning for me. Another experience that shaped me was working for many summers in a local steelworks. There were very few women who worked there.
The equipment was so heavy that nobody could lift it, so there was a kind of built-in equality to the work. I loved that atmosphere. It was a good early job, and I learned that I can thrive in any kind of environment.
Q. There is so much disruption in the world today. What is it about your background that makes you feel that you can thrive in this kind of environment?
A. I like a challenge. I’ve always volunteered for different kinds of projects, and I really would like to win in whatever I do. And I’ve learned over the years that it’s not only about winning — it’s also about enjoying the work. I really thrive when things are messy and hard.
Q. What are key leadership lessons you’ve learned?
A. The most important lesson is that I trust that everybody wants to do a good job. And if they are not doing a good job, it’s probably because I didn’t provide the right guidance. But if I have done that and it doesn’t work, then I try to find another opportunity where that person can thrive. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become much faster to say to colleagues, “Maybe you are not in the right position. Let’s find the right position for you.”
Q. What is the hardest part of leadership?
A. It’s understanding where you should put your focus. In more senior roles, you have problems everywhere. A mentor once advised me about the importance of deciding where to focus your energy, and that in larger jobs, you need to maintain focus longer on certain areas. I am always asking myself, where can I make a difference? You don’t want to spread yourself too thinly.
Q. Have you encountered headwinds in your career because you’re a woman?
A. Very early in my career, I was working in a procurement department, and I was buying casting products for trucks. I had to call a supplier in Germany. I also speak German, and I thought it was a great conversation.
Then my manager came over to me and said, “This German partner said, ‘There’s something really strange. A young female called us, and she’s speaking German almost fluently. She also seems to know something about casting. What is going on?” You can take that in different ways. I was lucky that time, because I had a very supportive manager.
Q. Have you had that common experience when somebody will take credit for your idea or talk over you?
A. Yes, that has happened. I was super-frustrated with one colleague and I tried not to show it in the meeting. I called him after and I shared my perception of what happened and how I felt. I said to him, “This will never happen again. You will never step over me.”
My advice to younger women is that you need to act on moments like this and describe how you feel. You can’t accept it. For me, that has really helped. And I always say to myself, “Maybe the other person didn’t understand. Maybe they didn’t intend to do this.” That has worked out well every time.
Q. Other mentoring advice that you typically share with women?
A. You always have to be thinking about how the next role you take on will help you with the second or third job you want down the road. Sometimes people take jobs for the good of the company, but it will not necessarily help them in developing the skills they want. That’s why you need mentors and sponsors who can help guide you in such moments.
Q. Was there a moment in your career that you feel like you made the jump from manager to leader?
A. I was in a manager role, but everybody on the team was so much more skilled than me. There were Ph.Ds., and they were all specialists in their areas. Then I really reflected on how I could contribute in my role as a leader, not just a manager, because I will never be as good in their areas.
Q. When you’re giving advice to other women, what would you say to somebody who might be a little reluctant to reach for a stretch role?
A. I often nudge people to apply for those roles. And I will ask them, “How can I support you?” My feeling is that females need more nudging and support than men. So when they are not applying for certain roles, I try to find more candidates and ask them to apply.
And often when I ask them, they say, “I didn’t even think of myself in that role or consider applying for it.” The more that women help nudge each other, the more likely we will have much better candidates for all positions.