As my family and friends tell it, when I was growing up, the only time I wasn’t asking questions, learning something new, or organizing a group to do something was when I was sleeping. I grew into a person who loved learning, had a lot of positive energy and was intent on doing something important.
Throughout my career across two different industries, I’ve had many opportunities to learn and make a difference. I spent my first 26 years in the aerospace business a demanding environment, full of bright and capable colleagues. There was a high standard of business and technical performance required. We operated with an understanding that commercial aviation safety and our country’s security was at stake. Those responsibilities brought out the best in me as a leader and made it possible for teams to accomplish what many would assume was impossible.
But it was also an extremely intense culture that could dish up some real dilemmas for an up and-coming executive. At times, I thought it important to challenge the way things had been done. This required pressing on the culture and leading complex change in a way that was aggressive yet productive. These situations tested what I stood for as a leader.
A mentor once offered me some great advice that I have kept front and center ever since. He said, “Lots of people will come and go in your professional life. Take care of what’s constant–that’s you.” I believe you live and lead by your values, deliver on your commitments and the rest will take care of itself. When all is said and done, you will be proud of the leader you are, the results you produced and the difference you made in the lives of others.
I came to realize that while adaptability is important, you must never lose sight of what keeps you grounded. A successful business leader must possess strong business acumen, deep experience and tested management skills. However, what’s most important is being a leader who is clear on what really matters and committed to helping the team to achieve that outcome. As I transitioned from aerospace to the HR services industry, the culture changed, but the sense of mission did not. We understand that our work contributes to the health and financial well-being of millions of people. My commitment to staying centered has helped define the leader I am today.