As an aspiring professional in Chicago, being able to find and connect with industry leaders can prove difficult for those not well plugged in. Enter Life Lessons from The C-Suite, where you gain insight and learn from those that have achieved levels of success we aspire towards even if they can’t be our one-one mentors. Life Lessons from the C-Suite’ hopes to serve as a mentor bridge, where Chicago or Chicago connected industry leaders offer advice and share insights that has helped them on the path of success to help inspire next generation leaders.
Connie Lindsey, in certain circles here in Chicago needs no introduction but if you’re not familiar with the powerhouse, allow us to do the honors of introducing you. Connie Lindsey is currently the Executive Vice President and Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Global Diversity & Inclusion at Northern Trust. She was recently named to the Barack Obama Foundation’s Inclusion Council. In her role at Northern Trust, she is responsible for the design and implementation of the heritage bank’s global CSR goals as well as inclusion efforts. Over the course of her career at Northern Trust, she’s held a number of leadership roles, including Deputy Business Head in Operations and Technology, Group Head in Northern Trust’s Wealth Management business, Director of Enterprise Relationship Management, and Manager in Treasury Management Consulting and Product Management. While her day job keeps her plenty busy, the Milwaukee native’s civic involvement is something of note. Lindsey served 9 years on the national board of Girl Scouts of the USA, 6 of those as National Board President. Additionally she serves on several boards including: Advisory Board of the Center for Green Schools (Founding Member); Executives’ Club of Chicago; Friends of Prentice Board at Northwestern Memorial Hospital (Vice President, Philanthropy Co-Chair); Leadership Greater Chicago (Fellow); Leukemia & Lymphoma Society; McCormick Theological Seminary (Trustee); Metropolitan Club; YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. On Thursday October 27, she will be the keynote speaker at the 2016 Women of Power Breakfast hosted by and benefitting Dress For Success. You can get details and ticket info here. Read below on some of the advice she gives, book recommendations and why an organization like Dress For Success is critically important.
SociaLifeChicago: Your current professional role, was it one you aspired to when starting your career?
Connie Lindsey: No not at all. I started my career in engineering at a company in what is now At&T and was part of the InRoads program that provides leadership opportunities and mentoring for talented minority young people. My career has included a series of positions. It was about what core skills did I need to develop? How do I take those moving forward and apply them to the roles that may be available.
SLC: Did you have mentors?
CL: I’ve been fortunate enough to always have mentors throughout my career and I look at it in terms of a career trajectory and say you need mentors, sponsors and coaches. The way I define those are: Coaches talk at you; Mentors talk to you and sponsors talk about you. The etymology of the word mentor is trusted advisor and we all need them. I’ve benefitted from all three and I think for most of us in our career we need that triangle relationship, if you will, in order to progress and be successful. Especially for women and women of color; there are different barriers that I have faced in my career and continue to face towards any kind of upward mobility and ensuring that I am able to have access to resources and the ability to advance in my career. But yes I’ve had many mentors in various levels in the corporation. I’ve had team mentors, I had people who worked in the company who had skills that I wanted to know more about and the way they navigated; how I could be more effective in my role and its how i’ve been able leverage those skills and relationship.
“Interested people are interesting people”
SLC:What do you hope guests take away from the women of power breakfast?
CL: When I served as President of the National Board of Girl Scouts USA, it was my responsibility to lead the board and organization for: Fund development/Fundraising, Strategy and Governance. Those three core roles and engagement with the members as well as my previous experience doing this kind of similar work as President of Bottomless Closet (Now Dress For Success), an organization that sought to serve and provide interview appropriate attires and job training skills for women going from welfare to work back at that time, it is important work. I have a deep understanding of the work of Dress for Success and why its so important for these women and how we need to be able to provide them with resources and access, not just clothing because what they wear is important but it is equally important that these women have the skills to know how to interview and we provide a support system for those women who might come from backgrounds where they are not being exposed to a lot of the corporate or workplace scenarios. It’s important to be attentive and to have a better understanding of the individuals you serve at Dress For Success. For me it’s highlighting the work of the organization but equally as important, is to encourage those individuals to serve. For me its important to make sure that we the empathy and compassion that’s tied to passion that then allows us to provide our time, talent and treasure to support other women
Coaches talk at you; Mentors talk to you and sponsors talk about you.
SLC: What’s your Morning routine?
CL: No day is routine for me and I treat each day as a gift. Depending on where I am in the world, as I do travel quite a bit, the time I wake us is based on the time zone I am in but generally when I am at home I am up at 5:30am. The first things I do is meditation and prayer. It’s important for me to get up everyday and focus on my intentions. It allows me to cultivate the kind of positive thoughts, actions and intentions that would make me to be a positive presence but also to start the day very focused and very calm; to be grateful for whatever might come to me or whatever might be happening that particular day. First and foremost is meditation to center myself and state of calm.
“Be teachable and continue to push and not deny who you are.”
SLC: I read you don’t do to-do lists but rather priority lists, how do you prioritze what gets done especially when unknown factors arise?
CL: The three most important skills any leader can develop are: Flexibility, Resilience, and Focus. At work, I have strategic plans for my business, I have key performance indicators that I need to meet in order to be considered successful in the role that I have and objectives that I need to meet. The rest of those things are tactics and how we get there. Each day, I think of the priorities; if the priority is to ensure that my team is able to understand the vision and they have the resources and tools that they need. My priority then is solid leadership for the team ensuring that they understand the mission, vision and purpose of our work. The tactics under that might be that they need new technology or whatever else that might be. That whole notion of priority doesn’t change, its the tactics that go with it and the resources I need to achieve those tactics. If I’m preparing for a board meeting, part of my role is to ensure that I have the right preparation and information that the board committee might want to have. The tactics is how I get to that.
The priorities then become what are the big picture items that I need to do in order to achieve success in this role and the to-dos are the tactics around that.
That’s where the flexibility, the resilience comes in. If things don’t quite go the way I need them to or we need to shift because resources have changed or priorities for the organization or for my CEO, if those priorities change or shift, then its my ability to be flexible to meet them. Since I am focused on priorities, when things do change or shift, I am less likely to get rattled or confused that I can’t maintain a sense of equilibrium and outcome. My personal priorities have always been: Faith, Family and Work.
That’s the way I prioritize my life and I am able to know when to say NO. No is a complete sentence. In our lives there are people who want us to do everything; It’s important for me that the no is not ego based. How do you learn to say no, and to say it in a way that’s clear and without having to make excuses.
“No is a complete sentence”
SLC: What advice can you give to those aspiring professionals that might be discouraged by the lack of diversity representation in the C-Suite?
CL: First I would say I’ve certainly been supported by individuals in my career, I don’t believe there is any person who is self made. As a woman of color and in the work that I do today, certainly there’s more work to be done. I don’t lead with my gender or ethnicity. I ensure that I am intellectually, mentally, and spiritually prepared for the opportunities that come but I also know that in the role that I have today, my own view is that I have an obligation and responsibility to ensure that doors are open, that opportunities are presented and the personal courage that it takes to ask the kinds of questions to ensure that the representation is made from a diverse perspective. Advice I would give would be this:
Be clear about and understand who you are. Have the intellectual preparation for whatever goals you are planning to achieve and develop good relationships. Having intellectual curiosity; it requires movement outside of that which we may be very familiar with into things we might know less or little about. The more we understand about other people and other cultures, they become less foreign to us and we are then able to have a broader perspective on the world.
My Grandmother would always say to us, “cover all the ground you stand on,” that meant having clarity about who you are, where you come from and conducting yourself in a way that allows you to show your self confidence and not arrogance. You have to keep working hard at it and be open to new ideas, to change. Being courageous and knowing that it’s not easy. It will continue to be a struggle, I think, but certainly there are opportunties that exist and looking for those sponsor, mentors and coaches and ways to distinguish yourself. Be teachable and continue to push and not deny who you are.
SLC: What books are you reading/have read you would recommend for professional development?
CL: 1) Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges by Amy Cuddy
2) The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane
3) Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis
4) True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership by Bill George
5) Her Place at the Table: A Woman’s Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success by Deborah M. Kolb Ph.D. and Judith Williams Ph.D.
SLC:Why is civic/charity/volunteer involvement important?
CL: I think it’s important for all of us to get involved and be engaged in causes that are bigger than ourselves. When we look at statistics about women and poverty for example, 1 in 7 women live in poverty and it gets worse as we get older. True ways that we are enabling and empowering women to have economic self sufficiency, that uplifts the entire community. When we are able to provide opportunities for these women to find work and we create a network around her so that when things come up she has a place that she can go and be encouraged and to know that she has worth.
Self Worth is not the same as net worth. We are building and encouraging women from the inside out and that is the work of Dress For Success. Success is not only what you are wearing its how you wear who you are. I believe this breakfast is so important for those being served and those who are serving.
If you would like to hear Connie Lindsey share some more of these great gems while supporting a great cause, you can get tickets for the Dress For Success Women of Power Breakfast taking place Thursday October 27, here.
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