Of all the challenges that come with being a leader, staying resilient may be one of the toughest.
“When it gets really hard, sometimes the easiest choice is to lay off the gas,” says Lisa Sterling. “But I don’t believe that. I believe in downshifting and hitting the gas full speed ahead.”
Her resiliency comes from a place of empathy and compassion. As an advocate and champion for roughly 4,500 employees and families that are associated with the company, she works to build experiences that allow people to be the best versions of themselves at and away from work. Sterling says this approach is one way for leaders to have more impact on their people.
“Having a strong personality or direct approach doesn’t make you any less of a caring, compassionate, [and] empathetic person,” she says. Here are some of Lisa’s insights on how to have the greatest influence at work.
Having a larger vision and thinking BIG
In everything I do, personally and professionally, I ask myself, “Am I setting a good example and making positive impacts?” [In my current role at the company], there is a far greater purpose, and that is to create a future that is truly equal for every human being. We need to change the way society thinks about equality, inclusion, and acceptance.
I watched someone close to me spend the first 18 years of her life trying to “fit in,” but something always seemed to stop her from feeling fully accepted. She and I had a very difficult conversation one day and I simply asked her, “What is holding you back? Is there something you are wrestling with yourself?”
It was at that point that she said to me, “I’m gay and I’m just not sure how to go about fitting in.”
That moment sparked something in me. I wanted to do what I could to build a much better experience [for others]. I didn’t want any single person to ever feel that way. That has really been the heart of why a future that is equal is so important to me. But it doesn’t stop there. That was just the beginning.
Leading with compassion
I have three daughters who are at the heart of everything I do. I want to set a good example for them and create a future where they can be successful.
I have always focused on teaching my daughters and my colleagues to treat other people the way you want to be treated. And it truly is that simple. I can either impact people in ways that are positive or negative, but I am the one who ultimately chooses what that interaction is going to be like.
To truly be impactful, you have to listen intently, seek guidance, be in the moment and really hear what people have to say. And most importantly, act with kindness.
To create a future of equality, you have to start by building the appropriate connections. The best advice I would have is to start first by connecting people who have similar interests and beliefs. We created platforms for people from different backgrounds, genders, ethnicities, and other preferences to come together and share their common experiences.
By bringing together people who shared commonalities, we watched those platforms expand. People began to build bridges organically. People became secure and confident in creating the relationships within the communities where they were more similar. Then, the wider bridging started to happen organically.
Understanding beyond their words
Understanding people and what is important to them is common sense. It’s the best way to engage and build relationships with others.
I remember a gentleman in a previous role who was our top sales rep every single year. At our sales kickoff celebration we would parade him on stage and recognize all his contributions in front of all his peers. The last time we were at our event and we brought him on stage, he looked disappointed. He walked off the stage with his head looking down like he was defeated. As he came backstage I asked him, “What’s wrong? You just got named salesperson of the year! You should be celebrating!”
He said, “Lisa, I hate public recognition. I don’t enjoy this at all and I thought you all would have figured that out by now.”
This is a powerful example of what happens when we assume we know what’s important to people or what motivates them. I now try to take time to learn and create opportunities where people feel empowered to execute in ways that are authentic and genuine to them.
Persevering with integrity
Being able to persevere is incredibly important not just individually but collectively as well. One of the people who inspired me to never give up was our CEO David Ossip. He helped me learn that no matter how challenging things were, if you continue to do the right thing for exactly the right reasons, you will get through to where you want to be in life, personally and professionally. He has demonstrated what it takes to push through, keep your foot on the gas, and not get detoured in your journey.
I have an amazing husband Shane, who one of the most supportive, caring and loving people. We have three strong, courageous daughters who are 20, 13, and 11. They are all soccer players so they keep us very busy.
What is your favorite movie?
One of my favorite movies is the original Aladdin. It was the first movie that I ever took my oldest daughter to see. I can watch that movie over and over again. I am also a huge fan of almost anything that has Adam Sandler in it. The whole family loves to sit and laugh together.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Kimberly Rath, who is the president and CEO of a behavioral assessment company in Nebraska, once said to me, “Lisa, you are the only person – and I mean the only person – that stands in the way of your success.” That sticks in my head every time I start to question myself or my ability to tackle something unimaginable.
What are three qualities that you would like to see young girls develop?
I truly want my girls to be courageous in everything they do. I want them to be authentic; I never want young women to be anything less than who they are and to be proud of who they are. And finally, they need to be compassionate. I think a well-rounded young woman who can be all these things is going to drive us into a truly unimaginable future.