Last week, the Partnership for Public Service held an event on Diversity and Inclusion Leadership in the 21st Century. One of the most memorable moments of the discussion was meeting the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Sally Jewell, who’s recently transitioned to her government role from the private sector.
Before President Obama nominated her to become the interior secretary succeeding Ken Salazar, Jewell was CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI). The secretary took office earlier this year in April and is now approaching the three-month mark. I previously wrote a bit about Secretary Jewell’s comments on the topic of diversity and inclusion in the federal workplace. While I enjoyed her talk, I also really enjoyed the Secretary’s introduction by Tina Sung, Vice President of Government Transformation and Agency at the Partnership.
Sung introduced Secretary Jewell by telling a story. Sung had attended an annual conference where various vendors, including REI, hosted booths. Curious about what the new secretary would be like in government, Sung asked the female REI employee manning the booth on her thoughts on the company’s then-CEO. Sung was expecting an answer typical in describing the limited level of interaction between regular employees and executive leadership at a large organization – “I don’t know. I’ve never interacted with her.” “We’ve never crossed paths.” “It’s a large company, so I haven’t spoken to her.”
Instead, the REI employee lit up in response, exclaiming that Jewell is an exemplary leader and a compassionate individual, who will be greatly missed at the company. The booth woman also emphasized that Jewell is the type of leader who made a strong effort to get to know employees working in all levels of the company. Though REI employs over 10,000 individuals, the booth woman said that Jewell knew her by name. Sung’s story about her conversation with an REI employee spoke a great deal about Jewell’s character and leadership style.
Sure, there are lots of heartening and admirable leadership stories out there. But what got me thinking upon hearing Sung’s introduction story for Secretary Jewell, was the renewed realization to consider the bigger picture of my attitude, approach and contributions in the workplace. Especially in public service, the stories about personal motivations, workplace relationships and professional empathy intimately reveal an employee/manager’s leadership capacity. Jewell’s introduction story made me think a bit harder on my attitudes and its impact on others.
In particular, Secretary Jewell’s story made me reflect on:
- What standout qualities am I conveying through my work/professional personality?
- What would my introduction story be if a coworker had to introduce me to an audience? And how would I want a coworker to introduce me?
- How can I work towards making a memorable, positive impact in my organization and its people?
I think asking these types of questions can serve as a constructive exercise to reflect on one's workplace outlook and create goals in improving soft skills and relationships. What do you think? Do you ever wonder how a colleague would introduce you?