A tribute to lifelong learning – And to the people who pay it forward
Today I was asked to describe what I bring to the SAP team I am part of with one word. I chose optimism because I believe that attitude changes everything. Optimism is a requirement for positive change and it is key to all the leadership principles I believe in. I´m lucky to have the opportunity to lead, to drive change and to have an impact. I know others have to fight harder to get their voices heard, to be accepted, to bring their diverse talent, perspective and value to tables where decisions are made.
As we are celebrating international women’s day, I feel especially privileged about the situation I grew up in and the chances I´ve had, but mostly I feel a deep gratitude towards people who have been part of my journey. People who have supported and challenged me when I needed it the most. I´d like to take this moment to share a few lessons that had a lasting impact on me and thank the people who influenced my life by letting me learn from them:
- Don´t make choices based on fear
Early in life my father gave me a kick in the you-know-where when I tried to take the easy way out of a challenging situation that was also an opportunity. He didn´t just kick me though, he also made it very clear with his actions, not just words, that he was there to support me if the push would make me stumble or even fall. That combination of challenging and helping people be successful was one of my first leadership lessons. Unfortunately, my father is no longer around to see where his advice took me, but I still strive to make him proud of the values he taught me.
- Leadership isn´t a one-size-fits-all
Carmen O´Shea was one of my first managers and she shaped my career more than anyone else. She showed me that leaders come in different shapes. Preparing for this interview years ago made me realize that I would never have chosen a management career without her, simply because I thought the alpha male stereotype was the only “template” for a leader. She showed me that I have qualities to lead that are far more powerful than if I try to be someone I´m not. I know she has inspired many women to lead, and I am eternally grateful for role models like her.
- Values are not negotiable
Denise Broady is an amazing success story herself and one of the most important lessons she taught me is to always do the right thing, even if it does not pay off short term. In a corporate environment, it can be tempting to compromise on values to get ahead. Or to be discouraged if doing the right thing is not rewarded, thinking it was a mistake to do it. Denise showed me the importance of only winning with class.
- People will do what you expect them to
Maggie Fox opened my eyes to the power of assuming the best intentions. She said it more eloquently but her message was: If you go into a situation with your fists up, don´t be surprised if you get a punch on the nose. You can´t win alone and you have to trust to be trusted. If you expect a conflict, that´s what you´re getting.
- Paying it forward
One of the best learning environments I have ever experienced is the SAP community. I have found some of the smartest people I know here. But what impressed me even more is their generosity and passion for sharing their knowledge. They demonstrate the power of helping others without expecting anything in return. The more you give the more you get, and the lesson is that it comes back to you in ways you can´t predict.
- Learning for life
Working for a C-level executive is a unique learning opportunity, and I got to spend two years with one of the best. SAP CMO, now Chief Digital Officer, Jonathan Becher showed me what you can achieve if you never stop learning. It´s easy to assume that people who seem to know everything are just really smart. But brain power is only the foundation, curiosity and a commitment to lifelong learning is what makes the difference. Jonathan showed me what it means to lead by example, he helped me discover my passion for writing, an interest in social media that became my next career opportunity and he taught me the Russian alphabet (the latter with a little less success but not for the lack of effort!)
I believe that leadership is a mindset, not a position. Having the opportunity to lead, to be a part of positive change, impacting the success of people around you is a gift. I´ve received that gift from more people than I can mention in a blog post and I measure success in my ability to pay it forward, especially to people who are not invited to the table by default. On this international women’s day I feel more passionate than ever about the opportunity the world has to benefit from diversity and inclusion. In spite of the challenges I feel truly optimistic about our chances to take advantage of the talents and contributions of those who are not yet in a position to shine as brightly as they could. #BeBoldForChange