If I had written this essay 10 years ago, I probably would have focused on all the things I’ve learned as a woman working in the male-dominated electric utility business. Now that I’m further along in my career, my perspective has changed.

The part of my job I value the most are the people I am privileged to work with. Let’s face it, we spend more time at work than we do with our families, and after 22 years many of my co-workers feel like family. Being part of a team and helping others reach their full potential is as rewarding as closing the biggest deal.

I get teased about protecting my employees as if they were my children. I could get offended, but it really is an accurate description of my management philosophy. Parents want the best for their children and help them by setting the proper example, providing quality education, and teaching them to make good decisions and act independently. Parents support their children when they fail, correct bad behavior with fair discipline and praise successes no matter how small. Why should our employees deserve less?

Done right, managing people takes time and a commitment to the success of others. I had always been an individual contributor. When I became a good manager, my career took off. Becoming a leader took more. Leadership doesn’t come from a promotion or a title, and it is both an honor and a burden.

I remember the exact moment when the enormity of the responsibility sunk in. Reliant was caught in the industry energy crisis, and our stock had dropped to 99 cents. Bankruptcy was a daily risk. As a result, I lost my life savings in our 401(k), and I was shaken. One of my employees came to my office, closed the door and let me have it. Her message was simple: “Everyone trusts you, and they watch you to see if they should be worried. Don’t come out of this office until you respect that.” I was overwhelmed and stayed in my office all day. Somewhere in my career, I had gone from manager to leader. Over time, I became comfortable in the role and more thoughtful about my actions.

Being a woman clearly influenced my career evolution. Embracing leadership and putting Reliant, our employees and our customers ahead of myself helped me find my personal reward.