Penny Pennington’s path toward leadership began early in life. Growing up in a household with two parents who were both senior leaders and corporate executives, she was inspired by the big things her parents did at work every day.
“My father in particular instilled in me the importance of being a strategic as well as people-focused leader,” she says. “Seeing the way he led taught me a lot that I still call on – and call on him! It seemed natural to move toward a career in business and finance.”
Penny started at the firm as a financial advisor. Now, as the sixth managing partner in Edward Jones’ 100-year history, she is responsible for strategic direction and overseeing more than 50,000 employees.
Here are Penny’s insights on how knowledge and empathy are keys to business success:
The Platinum Rule
It’s not a mystery how traits like empathy can be beneficial to anyone in a professional role. We all interact with other people at work, and we all want to be treated respectfully. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Golden Rule: treat others as you wish to be treated. I actually subscribe to the Platinum Rule, which takes things a step further by suggesting we treat others as they wish to be treated.
It’s an important distinction. Everyone is different, and everyone receives information and input differently. When you’re capable of recognizing the ways others respond to you and tailoring your interaction with them so that it’s on their terms and helping them achieve success as they define it, you’re going to do well regardless of your chosen profession. I heard one of our financial advisors describe it this way – maybe a little tongue in cheek, but I really took it to heart … “Make it about them, until they make it about you, and then be brief.”
A valuable asset in difficult times
Taking this empathetic approach can be most helpful during difficult times – times when we are uncertain about what’s around the next corner, times when resilience is important. When I first joined Edward Jones in 2000, I was a financial advisor myself. My office was in Livonia, Michigan, just outside of Detroit. While serving my clients, we experienced the tech bubble bust, the horrors of 9/11, and the challenges of a changing domestic auto market (did I say I was in Detroit?). Many of my clients were feeling the effects of a lot of disruption and uncertainty. It was my role as their guide to help them steer through that anxiety and come out on the other side of it with their long-term goals as their north star.
I applied my knowledge to help the people I served, yes, but I could not have succeeded without my capability for empathy. Those were not easy times for any of us. In many cases, what my clients needed was a sympathetic ear and someone who took the time to listen to them. Other clients were focused on building their financial resilience to help them be prepared for future uncertainty. Not every conversation was about finance – sometimes it was just about connecting as people. It was up to me to understand what each client wanted and needed from each conversation.
Leading without a playbook
Those same traits were valuable again much more recently. I had only been managing partner–our firm’s equivalent of a CEO – for a little more than a year when the COVID-19 pandemic changed our world almost overnight. As you can imagine, there was a lot of uncertainty among our 7 million clients, and among the 50,000 colleagues who work at our firm.
In many ways, my leadership team and I were leading without a playbook – we were writing a new one, and fast. We had contingency plans in place in the case of a pandemic, of course, but in those early days, we rarely had the luxury of time. In some cases, information we received from one source conflicted with what we had learned elsewhere. We needed to move quickly and be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
We also had to understand what our clients and our colleagues needed at that time. They needed decisive leadership and quick actions, yes, but many people were anxious and sometimes even frightened. As leaders, we needed to keep in mind the emotions our stakeholders were feeling and adjust our communications accordingly. In most cases, this meant speaking plainly and directly – and with frequency.
Penny has risen to great heights because of her ability to serve and care for others, grow her knowledge and build a career by leading with passion and purpose. Every day she is making a difference because of her deep desire to create impact.
As you think about the role empathy can play in your own career, there are a few questions you can ask yourself. Be honest with yourself when answering these questions – they can help provide you with some insights as to where you’re strong in terms of your empathy, and where you might consider becoming an even more effective colleague, friend, partner, or spouse.
Questions to ask yourself…
• Do you pay attention to the way you respond to others? Are you considering their viewpoints?
• How do you respond to stressful moments at work? Do you react in the moment, or do you take the time to more thoughtfully respond?
• Do you think about your words and actions and how they will be received before you do or say something?
• Are you clear and direct when you communicate?
• Are you an active listener – not just waiting for your opportunity to say something, but truly and deeply listening? Do you pay attention to nonverbal cues as well?
For more information about careers at Edward Jones, visit https://careers.edwardjones.com/.