How to Navigate Various Maps to Leadership & Find Inspiration throughout your Career

Women in STEM - Ask Me Anything PanelIt’s not uncommon to meet people at Emerson that have been with the company 10, 20 and even 30 years! We are a company that seeks to retain great employees and help them carve out a lifelong careers. As the Austin office continues to expand, it can be difficult to find opportunities to meet experienced leaders and ask them candid questions. To help address that challenge, Emerson’s Women in STEM group recently held its second annual Ask-Me-Anything panel featuring seasoned directors and vice presidents, all of whom have been with the company for at least 25 years. Here’s a recap of some key topics from that event.

       Q: Has anyone changed career paths and, if so, how have they navigated that change? Conversely, if you’ve stayed on the same path, how do you continue to be motivated?

: I’ve had seven major career transitions, all within Emerson. What inspired me to do that was the challenge. The opportunity to try something new and to [challenge myself] -- it fit into my personality. I wanted to keep growing and have opportunities to talk to people, teach, and mentor others. It was important for me to get in to the front of the business to do that, and I also enjoy getting to solve problems. So, I always look - and am still looking! - to find opportunities that fit that.

Terry Treadway: ‘How do I stay motivated to work in IT all of these years?’ [laughter] I’ve been in a variety of assignments and in different divisions at different levels: group, world area, corporate. The technology, the work, and the project changes – that’s motivating for me, to learn something and to also give back. Through all of that, you can travel the world. If you ever have the opportunity to do an international assignment, I encourage you to do it. Immersing yourself in a different culture is different than visiting for travel. You get to meet people that you would’ve never met. Right when you think you know everything, you meet a whole group of people for a whole new experience.

: It’s a great space to be as an expert, but it’s all about the challenge and getting new breadth of experience both in personal development and career. Ultimately, it was fulfilling for me to get those new experiences.

Terry: The breadth of the company here in Austin gives you visibility and broadens your horizons. It was an opportunity for me to learn a lot, get a risk, take a big chair and lead a business for the first time. One more thing to add: we all have a role to serve. Each function and section of the business unit has role to serve. When you jump in, it gives you a new perspective on how it plays into the company.

       Q: How do you pick which jobs to take and which ones to avoid? What factors go into those decisions?

Tim Prickett: I’ve boiled it down to the three Ts: Team, Technology, and Trust. When I was first looking at making a change, I want to feel good about the team that I was joining. I want a good chance of being successful, so if that feeling for the team wasn’t there, that was already going to be a red flag. Even for an individual contributor role, there’s always people you need to depend on. If you don’t have people like that around you, that should be a red flag. Second: technology – this is more about learning. Whether its new technology, new processes, or new culture, this will all challenge you to think about your motivator to get out of bed to go to work. Trust: trusting your hiring manager, trusting the business and rest of the organization to support you.

: (quoting Lal Kharsanbai): Don’t choose a job description, choose a boss.

     Q: What are some tips and advice for someone to apply for a stretch role?

Debi: First, if you are invited to apply for a stretch role and you don’t feel like you’re quite ready for it, apply for it. It’s often that someone in the organization will see something in you and will be more confident in helping you go for that role. Someone might be pulling you, and they’re wanting you to see that in yourself as well. But let’s say the stretch role is something that you want to do. Too often, we wait too long to wait to apply for the perfect opportunity, where we’re 100% qualitied. If you check most of the boxes [for the job description], give it a try; don’t eliminate yourself from consideration. Let it be known that you’re interested in taking in that role. People can help you navigate the other opportunities that you haven’t seen. In Emerson, there are some policies that help set realistic expectations of how fast you can move to get a certain role. Otherwise, absolutely, go for it!

    Q: Every job has its own high and low points. What are some flags you look for to know that the high points justify the low points? In other words, how do you know when to ride the wave vs jump ship? Complacency vs challenge?

Sarah: I’ve noticed a couple of flags when my boss wasn’t the right fit. Because of the management process, I knew that the manager was going to be here for about four years, and I had to ask myself, “Can I live with this? Can I try and work and effect change with this, or do I have to make a change?” Luckily, I had enough highs to work through the lows.

Terry: It’s a good and honest question. There was a point in my career where I felt like I wasn’t getting recognized for my work and was getting buried in the organization. When we got our first CIO ever, he went around and asked everyone what they did. Through that, I then wrote down the list of projects that I worked on, and I got noticed. That gave me the opportunity to do bigger projects, which allowed me to stay with Emerson for so long. Some other factors to consider are projects, teams, and family.

    Q: What does it take to become a vice president at Emerson?

Sarah: There are some leadership competencies that Emerson communicates that are based on Korn Ferry competences. Personally, there are varied experiences. You can stay in one location/business and get to be a VP, but for marketing, it was beneficial for me to leave that particular business. Emerson needs that level of flexibility. You can get a faster path if you can raise your hand to get to other experiences.

Terry: We are a company that generally likes to promote from within. Part of the answer is time and then the varied experience.

     Q: Failure is inevitable, but there must be things we can do to minimize the damage. Do you have any tips for failing gracefully?

Debi: In the past, the brewing industry was wanting to use DeltaV. The opportunity kept calling, but the organization wasn’t ready to say yes. I raised my hand to say yes, but I couldn’t get the team behind me. Nothing was ever “quite right.” I did my best and tried every trick to make it to work. I diagnosed and communicated to the organization what changes needed to happen in order to make it successful. Ultimately, the project didn’t work out, but I stayed in contact with my network and was provided another job opportunity soon after.

Terry: Sometimes, if there is no possible way to make it better and there was nothing you would do differently, that means [the work] will never get better. But there needs to be an honest reflection on the challenges and how you faced them, and it’s okay [to fail] because we all make mistakes.

Tim: Looking back, I spent an early part of my career fearing failure. This was probably because of the schooling for engineering, where the answer is very black and white, right or wrong. When I got into the business world, I put myself through the same standards, but they aren’t realistic. I may have hesitated on taking some opportunities because I wasn’t sure if I could be successful. It didn’t hurt my career, but it definitely changed the path of my career. There was another point in time where I had made a costly project configuration mistake for the customer. We ended up solving the situation, but during the “post-mortem” process, I had to step up, admit my mistake, and accept the blame. To my surprise, I ended up getting credit for admitting fault because it meant significantly less time in investigating what had gone wrong with the process or the machines. This is just one scenario of the trust within a good team -- you can still be seen as part of the team and won’t necessarily be reprimanded for a mistake.

        Q: One of the reasons that some of people are not taking leadership position is because of the overtime work that is associated with these higher positions (working longer, i.e. weeknights and on call for weekends), basically a                       constant battle between work and life/family. What is the advice for those faced with this situation, and is this a valid concern? (more hours expected for higher level positions)

Sarah: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten better at defining what my boundaries are. My work hours haven’t changed my whole career at Emerson. Working overtime isn’t necessary, but it may be about how you behave, like learning tricks and tools for better time management. It depends on your style.

Terry: For me, I can’t separate myself and my thoughts based on the hours. It’s part of my style and personality. You do work a lot, but not necessarily more. You have to enjoy what you do because we spend more time at work in our waking hours than with family, especially if they are further away.

        Q: What is the best career or personal development advice you’ve ever received?

Tim: I’ve learned from a Ted Talk to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You can’t reserve the “success highs” for only those big, tough occasions. If you find the little moments in your daily routine to be uncomfortable, you’ll be more prepared on days where there are actually uncomfortable situations.

Debi: Early on in my career, one of my managers told me that the only thing you have is your integrity. Don’t ever sacrifice that. Do the right thing and advocate for people.

Sarah: Take criticisms and negative input as a gift. You can’t just be defensive and shut it down, but you have to learn from the feedback.

Terry: The best thing you can do for you and your company is to invest in yourself.

Has someone helped you navigate your career journey? Have you received valuable career advice? Share it with others by replying to this blog post.