I often write about what it means to be a leader and a mentor as a woman – a subject clearly near and dear to my heart. I was recently asked to share about a woman leader, a woman mentor, and the most memorable female leader I worked for. Interestingly enough as I reflected on the question (and the ask to write about it) – the boss, the leader, the mentor all point me to the same person – Margaret Serjak.
I met Margaret in 2005 through my then boss who served on a special project with Margaret. We were connected as well through my Market Area President at the time. I was considered a high potential leader and ready to move into a Director role. I was being put forth to interview and had interviewed in New Jersey. There was a position open in Southern California and I went to interview with Margaret. I was vetted out by others and offered the position!! In April of 2006 I went to work as the Director of Field Operations in Southern California and my journey and the relationship began. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how much I learned in this pivotal point in my career. Operations Strategy, Influence, Technology, Financial Performance, Pace of Change, Marketplace and Customer Strategy, Employee Engagement, and Leadership Engagement – all areas of business and leadership I learned from Margaret as a boss, as a leader, and as a mentor. I also reflect back to moving across the country and relocating my family for a role in her organization in Southern California and she always checked in to see how my family and I were acclimating to our new location. That is another leadership tenet I carry with me – people matter, yes – people’s family’s matter, absolutely!
Margaret was undeniably the hardest working and one of the smartest women in the industry. Margaret was above reproach in the integrity department – it was truly fascinating to watch her approach relative to business, leadership, and professional/personal integrity. Margaret kept a fast pace and executed quickly but with solid quality. She expected that of her team. We had large scope of responsibilities as leaders and she expected much from each of us. Knowing your business was table stakes and knowing how to change a trajectory of operational or financial performance was a measure of effective leadership. Margaret possessed the ability to ask the really tough questions in an operations review or finance discussion (sometimes to the point of being harsh) but it pushed me to ensure I was on point and on my “A” game. While there was that side, there was also the side of Margaret that was my greatest supporter and cheerleader (and I am sure same for my peers as well).
Margaret encouraged me to be creative around employee engagement and innovation, which are areas of strength for me and she always applauded those efforts, as did our employees. It means a lot when your boss encourages your areas of leadership strength. I try to do same with my team. In the fast pace of business with high expectations of leaders, it always feels great when someone recognizes work that you do. Especially when that person is your boss!
The most interesting reflection I have is during the time from 2006 until 2015, Margaret always believed in me more than I believed in myself. In 2011, she believed I was ready to be promoted – she told me I was as good as anyone else, why not. I went into that new leader role back East and Margaret then became a mentor and trusted advisor. As a mentor, she encouraged me and tried to reinforce my professional confidence. My regret is that I wished I had listened and believed. Margaret was not a person to simply say something to say it, she had to truly believe it herself. I realize now how I missed that (on my end) during the time she mentored me.
She has now retired from the business world (well-deserved I might add) and although we may not connect as often as we did when we worked together, I know that all I need to do is simply pick up the phone and she would be there for me!
I have had many mentors, bosses, and leaders over the course of my career – women and men – and I count my blessings for all of the lesson learned from each of them (the good and the not so good). I count my blessings three times though when I think of Margaret and the role she played in my career, my leadership, my confidence, my passion, and my overall business savvy. What an amazing gift!