I was fortunate from the start to have parents—both immigrants and neither of whom had an opportunity even to attend high school—who expected that I as well as my four brothers needed to excel academically, work hard, care about others, stay healthy, tackle life with resilience, and not be afraid to change course. I’ve changed course more than once, beginning with a plan to teach in elementary school, discovering in college that I enjoyed managing and teaching older students more, working in higher education for four years, and finally moving on to pursue a law degree. In the legal profession, I started out as a litigator and eventually moved into management. I pursued each new direction based on what I most enjoyed doing.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few important lessons. First, integrity in legal analysis and interactions with people is critical for an attorney. There is also no substitute for excellent legal analysis and writing. Nevertheless, we must always remember that there is the law, and then there are the people who create the legal issues. Success depends on understanding and working effectively with both.
Success as a manager also depends on knowing when to delegate and when to be involved personally in a decision. Know your own limits in terms of time, knowledge and influence. Finally, developing a strong, committed, knowledgeable staff is one of the most important things a manager can do—successful staff need challenging work and high expectations, information and training, honest performance feedback, recognition, and a supportive, cooperative work environment.
Personally, remember that opportunity does not always knock at the most convenient time. I was just returning to work after adopting an infant when I was asked to be the General Counsel of the second largest employer in the United States, and my husband and I adopted a second small child a few years later. Knowing my limits, having a supportive boss—and the Postmaster General is absolutely the best in terms of family/work balance—using my time efficiently, keeping a good home/work balance, and having a terrific staff (and husband) have been crucial to my success.