A couple of weeks ago, I was honored to attend the Charlotte Businesswoman of the Year award luncheon honoring Laura Schulte of Wells Fargo.
North Carolina’s newly-appointed secretary of commerce Sharon Decker offered the keynote address. She talked about lessons she has learned from Charlotte’s great leaders, including Joan Zimmerman, Bill Lee, a homeless woman and a Buddhist monk. As a current student of leadership, I was really interested in Decker’s perspective.
What Charlotte greats have taught me (Sharon Decker)
- From Bill Lee, Sharon says she learned that “you’ve gotta use what you’ve got.” When she asked him about whether she should get a degree in engineering to advance her career, he taught her that her perspective as a non-engineer was meaningful.
- From Ellen, a homeless woman, Sharon learned that every human has value, needs purpose and love. She had encountered Ellen one day when she asked Sharon for directions to the hospital. Ellen suffered from mental illness, and fell into homelessness after both of her parents had died. She told Sharon, “I’m not sure where I go from here, but I’m sure there will be another way to make a life.”
- From Joan Zimmerman, Sharon learned about priorities. After she started the Lynnwood Foundation, she received a letter from Joan. In the letter, Joan told Sharon that she was so proud of her, that she knew Sharon was working hard and that she wanted to remind her to set priorities – knowing what is first in your life, and loving by those priorities.
- From Rolfe Neill, Sharon learned how to listen. After he read about her in an article, Rolfe reached out to Sharon and said that he wanted to meet her. “I had never had someone listen so intently to my story,” she said after meeting him. His listening touched her, and she never forgot the power of taking the time for real conversation.
- From a Buddhist monk, Sharon learned what she considers her most important lesson – to be still. The greatest risk to us today is that we don’t know how to be still, she said. Sharon learned to meditate and “hear her own heart,” and she said that we miss things because we don’t listen to the story.
What I admired most about Sharon’s story is that she strives for balance and she is so open to opportunity. She doesn’t try to cover up that finding balance as a successful corporate executive, mother, wife and community leader is hard. Her transparency and honesty draw people in, and are impactful leadership traits.
When introducing award recipient Laura Schulte, Charlotte Observer president and publisher Ann Caulkins described Laura with words like customer-focused, calm, direction, identity and said that Laura “steps up.” In Laura’s remarks after receiving the award, she said that the number one key to Wells Fargo’s success in the Charlotte community has been its goal of making sure that every team member understands why he or she does is important. “Why are we here? Of course making money is a business goal, but I come to work because our customers have a lot going on, and we want to build lifelong relationships with them,” she said.
Connecting customer service to team member engagement was the theme of Laura’s speech. “I believe the responsibility of business goes beyond making money,” she said. “Philanthropy, civic engagement, volunteering…local leaders know that this is what a community needs to thrive.” She also mentioned that it’s important to hire great people and then get out of their way – a great example of empowering others.
Each of these women taught me that there is not one road to being a good leader, and that they share many of the same struggles that the rest of us deal with. A recurring theme that continues to emerge in these discussions is emotional intelligence, a sense of self-worth and understanding, and a talent for helping others feel valued.