There's no one-size-fits-all approach to effective leadership, and there's no single roadmap to career success. Every leader carves their own path, building on their unique experiences and influences to develop and grow. In this four-part series, I'm proud to share the inspiring stories of four of my female colleagues who are featured in the recently published book, The Collective Wisdom of High-Performing Women: Leadership Lessons from The Judy Project.
Below is the second story in the series on leadership by Lindsay Sacknoff, Senior Vice President & Head of U.S. Contact Centers.
– Ellen Patterson, Group Head, General Counsel and Chair of Women In Leadership, TD Bank Group
Senior Vice President & Head of U.S. Contact Centers
“So, Lindsay,” my mom asked again. “What are you going to do for a living?” I was only half-joking when I replied, “I don’t know … drive a Zamboni?” When we had this conversation, I was in my last year at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where I majored in economics and psychology.
My parents and friends had taken to asking me what I wanted to do with my life, and it drove them nuts that I just didn’t know yet. But I’d never been the type to take a set path toward a predetermined goal. I liked to enjoy the journey. That fact—that I want to like the people I work with and be inspired by what I am doing—accidentally became clear soon after. I didn't know it at the time, but my career course was about to become clear.
A close girlfriend of mine wanted to be an investment banker, and there was a recruiting event coming up. She said she didn’t like going to these things alone and asked if I’d go with her. I said sure; I had no desire to be an investment banker, but consulting companies would also be attending, so I could talk with them. However, the way it works is that you put your name forward first and then you’re picked by particular companies.
A senior partner and investment banker asked to interview me. She seemed great, although I was nervous. It was going well, but at one point she said, “Lindsay, why do you want to be an investment banker?” The first thing that came out of my 21-year-old mouth was, “I don’t know if I want to be an investment banker.” She looked surprised, but we kept going with the interview.
I did get a call back the next morning. Typically, the calls come from the recruiter, but it was the senior partner herself on the other end of the phone. “I wanted you to know that we’re not going to take this to the next level,” she said, “but you really impressed me with your honesty in answering that question. And I wanted to tell you that if you don’t want to be an investment banker, you shouldn’t be one. If you do something you enjoy, I know you’ll do really well.”
The leadership advice I still follow
I’ll always remember this senior woman’s kindness and willingness to share her honesty and advice. From that moment onward I decided to follow her lead in being authentic and honest in order to connect with people better.
Here’s a recent example of how being authentic is good for the whole team.
When I was a couple of months into my current job—part of which is running our call centres in the U.S.—we’d just gone through a major change in the technology that supports our online banking. Whenever customers experience a change in what they’re accustomed to using, we get a higher than usual number of people contacting us for help. We expected that to be the case for two to three days but by the time we were two or three weeks in, the call centre teams were in crisis-management mode trying to keep up. I felt I needed to get out to the different sites—Maine, South Carolina, and New Jersey—and hear what this kind of workload felt like to the person answering the phone.
Each call centre has a couple of hundred people working the phones, and at each one I pulled together teams of 10 to 15 and explained I wanted their feedback. I heard things like "it's hard on our families because we’re working long hours, and it’s tough to shut off and be there for them when we get home late.” Just making those direct connections helped build morale. Some said, “Wow, you came to visit us, you really care,” but we had to follow this up by doing something for them.
So, we helped people get off the phones more. We gave them more breaks to do other types of work, we hired more people, and we gave them thank-you bonuses for all the extra time. We had TD executives go see them. In one call centre, our head of distribution went from desk to desk handing out soft pretzels with mustard smiley faces on them. Little gestures like that helped alleviate some of the tension. Our head of HR in Maine had a golden retriever breeder bring some puppies to the call centre for a visit. Holding a puppy is a great stress reliever. It was all emotionally powerful, and a lot of fun.
These efforts not only helped the call centre employees cope; we published photos on our company intranet once we got through that difficult phase, and the whole company was talking about it. Folks remembered the fun but also how hard they worked, and were now walking taller; they’d gone into battle together and come out of it together.
I’ve learned that just being yourself and connecting with people in the trenches wherever we happen to be working goes a long way toward making others feel valued. Ultimately, everyone wins.