Tracey DeSilva, vice president of learning and development at Bayer, has accumulated years of experience that have helped her become the trailblazing leader she is today. She credits being intentional in her earlier professional years as one of the main factors in her leadership success.
Focus on Job Skills, Not Job Title
DeSilva says she was intentional about lining up her personal and professional life, while focusing on learning new job skills rather than the job title. While the title may look very appealing to people who aspire to leadership positions, the skills, knowledge, and connections necessary to carry out the responsibilities are more important. Failing to master the necessary skills early in one’s career could potentially delay promotions or lead to failures later as a leader.
Be Visionary—Don’t Micromanage
As her roles became more challenging, DeSilva admits that she found the effort to be visionary to be a worthy one. As a leader, she was responsible for
- creating the vision for her team,
- managing other people’s careers,
- understanding team members’ goals, and
- creating an environment that supports their development.
She describes her leadership style as one that lacks micromanagement. Having a leader that allows team independence is critical for fostering individual professional growth. A leader that inspires the team and provides them with the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them ultimately allows team members the range to develop their own working styles and advance within their careers.
Seek Executive Coaching and Mentorship
Although DeSilva embraces the challenges that come with leadership positions, like many other leaders, she too experiences the inevitable pressure and burnout that comes over time. Investing in mental well-being is critical to coping with burnout, pressures from having to meet wider company goals, and market instability.
DeSilva stresses the importance of mentorship and formal executive coaching. Although leaders can become overwhelmed, they must ensure that they are not placing that burden on their teams. Finding a mentor or coach who is completely objective is key to managing stress and helping leaders effectively deal with workplace pressures.
Thankfully, Bayer agrees with this sentiment and, through its leadership development programs, provided six months of formal coaching and specialized programs to create an environment that encourages health and wellness. Leaders not only encourage their team members to use these programs, but also serve as mentors to colleagues.
Lead Authentic Meetings to Increase Engagement
Leaders such as DeSilva watched themselves and their colleagues undergo changes during the COVID-19 pandemic. In times like this, a leader’s ability to adapt and respond to changes while remaining empathetic is critical.
While companies have ensured that employees have the necessities to work from home, it is up to the leaders to cultivate an authentic feeling of connectedness virtually while increasing engagement.
DeSilva explained that she established new ground rules to create a more authentic feeling for her teammates working virtually. She understands that working from home has meant a shift in priorities for her team members, especially primary caregivers. Although Zoom happy hours started out fun, they often felt too manufactured. Instead, she has made it a priority to regularly reach out for a more personal discussion with each team member. These emotional check-ins not only allow leaders to build relationships, but also understand how their team members are managing ever-changing professional and personal demands.
According to Princeton HR Insight’s 2022 HR Marketing Report, “Senior-level initiatives have an increased focus on leading during times of rapid change and empowering vs. directing to increase the engagement of their teams.”
Final Message to Future Leaders
Be intentional. Focus less on job titles and more on the skills that you will learn in each role. Speak routinely to the people who can influence your career trajectory while actively growing your network. Lean into discomfort and growth, and do not wait to feel fully confident to show up for a new challenge.
Editor’s note: A version of this post was first published by Princeton HR Insight, whose principal consultant Rebecca Feder is a member of the Hogan Coaching Network. Hogan extends special thanks to Shea Clarke of Princeton HR Insight, who authored the original spotlight, and Tracey DeSilva of Bayer for her exemplary leadership.