Happiest of summer days to you all. There have been a whole lot of exciting developments with my business in the past few weeks. And, I cannot wait to share the updates with you all in a short while. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you some of my interview with Kelly Jo MacArthur, Intellectual Property Strategist at Amazon.com. Take a read and let us know what you think. Enjoy!
Katie: Kelly Jo, can you tell the readers about your particular philosophy for achieving success?
Kelly Jo: My goal is to often get off the interstate and take the back roads in life. Even though I attended a large and renowned undergraduate school, went on to Harvard Law School and right into working for a very large law firm, my intention in joining those particular ‘large’ communities was primarily to learn from a broad set of diverse and smart viewpoints, not necessarily to mechanically plot my way up the career ladder.
I also wanted to optimize for choices at every juncture, which means being comfortable taking chances. I have always and hope that I still am putting myself in scenarios where I have a lot to learn and am willing to do take on roles that are outside my comfort zone. I don’t mind being underestimated.
When I’m considering which direction to go in my career or business planning, I ask myself what would be most interesting at the given time, given what I know and what I still have to learn. I have always liked to use my leadership qualities, but my goal was never to simply be the boss for its own sake.
Katie: I am so glad that you are sharing this part about yourself as I know a lot of the readers will identify with this type of leadership, not being the star of the show, but rather more of the supporting lead.
Can you tell us a bit about your formative life experiences that inform your leadership today?
Kelly Jo: My Dad was a school principal, and I distinctly recall visiting him at this school where he introduced me to all of the staff right down to the cooks and the janitors. What I was most struck by as my Dad sat down with some of the cooks was the ease with which they engaged and the level of detail my Dad knew about their families, how he understood they were as important as anyone else in the building and how he made them feel that too. This experience stayed with me, and I use it as a benchmark for my relationships with the people I work with.
My takeaway was to put less emphasis on where I sit in a hierarchy. Even though I am often hired to be a boss, my approach is to always try to hire people who are more experienced and smarter, even if it can be harder to earn their respect (in some cases because I am a woman or have been younger or may just have less perceived expertise than they would expect).
Katie: How do you lead?
Kelly Jo: I know I am leading well if people throughout our organization, not just on my team, come to me to problem solve with complete trust that I will honor their and the organization’s needs above my own. As an example, a boss once asked me to manage a very senior level employee, whom I will call Steven, and with whom he did not get along because he felt he was one of the smarter people in the building, but not performing to his potential. I agreed to take on this ‘problem employee’ if my boss would give the credit to him for his accomplishments, and only address me if there was blame to be assigned. That’s my philosophy with anyone I manage, and it allows me to help them perform to their fullest potential. I believe leadership sometimes involves helping your own manager be a better manager. Something as simple as giving them positive feedback can go a long way, as can having the courage to offer a different perspective.
In order for me to better access Steven’s potential, I worked to understand what really motivated him and then looked for opportunities for him to explore those realms in which he could demonstrably and publicly succeed, even though they were very narrow areas at first. This helped him feel valuable and successful and over time rebuilt his credibility throughout the organization.
Katie: When you are seated at the executive table, what differences do you note between your male and female counterparts?
Kelly Jo: Unfortunately, there usually aren’t many other women alongside me at executive tables. Generally speaking, often women are misperceived as not “strategic enough” for certain senior level roles. And many women take themselves out of the game before they get the opportunities they may desire. When I have worked at or with more hierarchical companies, I observed women not wanting to rock the boat or differentiate themselves. Sometimes those environments may not allow them to be holistically who they are so I understand why they are less comfortable just being themselves. But this inward focus can cause women to hesitate to stick their neck out, raise their hand, express a different opinion, which men do more naturally.
One advantage women have is that our friendships and relationships are different, and we should use that more in our work. Women often connect around more personal topics, and eventually we are more inclined to share common challenges at work and home, and problem solve together. I really appreciate it when a woman at work calls me to talk through a problem she’s having dealing with her all-male teammates, and we can remind ourselves of the power of being her own self, vs. behaving like the men may, to thrive and add unique benefit to the team.
Thank you ever so much Kelly Jo, you are a shining example for us all.
Kelly Jo and I would love to know what you are taking away from this interview.
For example, do you identify with Kelly Jo’s style of leading? If so, how exactly?
What do you think of the way that she motivates her employees?
Do you identify with her experience with working with women vs. men at your place of business?
What is your biggest take away from this interview?