This Wednesdays for Women is another article in the “Lessons from Leaders” series featuring ideas from JDA leaders on topics of interest to anyone seeking insights and experiences that can help them grow their own leadership skills. In today’s blog, Sangeeta Bajaj, senior director, strategic partner marketing and member of the JDA Winning Leadership program, shares what she learned about realizing your leadership potential. 

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sharon Mills, JDA’s Chief Customer Officer about her career journey and the valuable lessons she learned along the way that ultimately led to her current role at JDA. Sharon shared with me the steps she took throughout her career that helped her realize her leadership potential.

  1. Embrace adversity: Encouraged by her father, Sharon majored in Engineering at a small college but faced various challenges including discrimination and harassment. She endured those obstacles and learned to embrace adversity throughout those four years. Her enduring rule: “Treat adversity like your very best friend because that is your ticket to growth.”
  2. Believe in yourself: Sharon moved to Arizona and ended up working with Pam Del Duca who owned a chain of retail stores. Sharon started as a buyer and worked her way up the ladder and eventually became the General Merchandise Manager. Another of Sharon’s guiding principles: “When you know you can do something, believe in yourself and everyone else will believe in you as well.”
  3. Seize opportunity: Although Sharon had a great position at the retail corporation, she could not pass up the chance to join JDA when the opportunity came to her.
  4. Always have a succession plan: Having a succession plan is not only for the benefit of the yourself but also the company. When positions become available and the leadership is discussing the possibilities in the board room, you want to ensure that no one says, “she cannot take that role because no one else can do her current job.” Sharon decided to leave JDA. At the time, Sharon told the company’s Chief HR Officer why she had to leave the company and what would bring her back. That candid conversation proved to be key to her future career with JDA.
  5. Create relationships: After Sharon left JDA, she went to work with Pam Del Duca again, but this time as a Partner due to the strong relationships and network she had created throughout her career. They opened 16 stores which grew to 34 and had a solid management team in place to manage those stores.
  6. Be bold, be willing to take the risk, be willing to fail: JDA called Sharon when what she was looking for became available and she was able to leave the retail stores because of the strong management team she had put in place. Sharon started as an analyst which was a lower position than when she left JDA but knew her path and knew this role would end up taking her there. One other key thing that Sharon told me is that in her previous role, before she became Chief Customer Officer, she would always raise her hand to take on new groups. She may not have known anything about those departments, but she worked hard to learn and make them successful. It isn’t always easy to take that chance, but it also provides an opportunity to grow.

Sharon has unwavering principles and stands behind her personal brand. Any person she meets knows they can count on her for these three values: honesty, integrity and excellence.

Leadership Fundamentals

Sharon also shared some key fundamentals that all leaders should embrace. I think all of these behaviors should be inherent regardless if you manage a team of 1 or 100.

Keep your promises: Whether it is a small promise or a big one, if you follow through on your commitments, it is much more likely your team will follow through for you.

Be present: Learn how to listen and communicate effectively and always be there 100%.

Stand up for your people: To maintain trust with your team, you should always have their back. In addition, by delegating and empowering them, you are enabling them to grow.

Live your expectations: Ultimately, you as the leader should set the tone, standards and work ethic for those you lead.

You be you, all the time: As a leader, you are “on stage” all the time. Whether you are talking to the Uber driver when he gets lost or the hotel receptionist when your room isn’t ready, the way you treat everyone, especially those that don’t have influence on your career is who you really are.

Believe in a higher power: Every talent you have has been given to you and it is up to you to cultivate and grow it. Whatever you don’t have, the universe has your back.

Nurture your creativity: Make an effort to bring out your creative side – which everyone has. With creativity, you can solve problems in creative and innovative ways that you would never have thought of before.

As Sharon and I were wrapping up our conversation, I asked her if she had any other last thoughts for the readers and she said: “Believe in yourself.”

With those words in mind, what’s the next bold decision you will make for yourself and your career?