Find a Booster, Send a Warning Flare, Volunteer Your Leadership

MEET THE MENTOR(S)  |  Advice from three local leaders who know they didn't get where they are by themselves.

From left: Dallas Regional Chamber President and CEO Dale Petroskey, At Home Chief Marketing Officer Ashley Sheetz, and Hilti North America President and CEO Avi Kahn.

What do a president of a multinational construction products firm, the marketing chief for a billion-dollar retailer, and the head of the Dallas Regional Chamber have in common?

They know they didn’t arrive where they are by themselves.

Recently, they shared advice they’ve learned along the way with those who attended the 2018 Young Professionals Annual Summit at the Statler Hotel. Below are excerpts from talks given by Hilti North America President/CEO Avi Kahn, At Home Chief Marketing Officer Ashley Sheetz, and Dallas Regional Chamber President/CEO Dale Petroskey.

Avi Kahn
Hilti North America
Reawaken your curiosity. Live in the now. Throw a flag when you need help.

Hilti North America CEO Avi Kahn started with the firm in San Francisco in 2008 and worked his way up the ranks in the company over time. A lot of his success had to do with learning from others in his organization.”One of the things I appreciate most about my job is the opportunity to meet people who know more about a topic than I,” he said.

Stoke your curiosity
“As you reflect on your childhood, you were much more curious than you are today,” Kahn said. “You used to ask a lot more questions.”

Kahn said it’s possible to recapture that tendency within an organization by feeding a desire to learn more about how others work in your organization. “It will lead you to become a better listener. You’re listening to understand not just to respond.”

Launch a flare when hitting a dead end on a project
“We in the U.S. are prone to put your best foot forward,” he said. “We’re prone to say, ‘I’m doing great. When is my next raise?’ Take a small step and tell your boss one area you’re struggling in—one task, where you were not so happy with the outcome.”

Kahn described such conversations as “constructive conflicts,” and that telling supervisors about difficulties helps them to assure their own success. Professionals might be positively surprised by the response from their supervisors. “In most cases, they’ll dig right in with you and be highly engaged in making you successful,” he said.

Live in the now
Smartphones are easy to blame, but a tougher challenge to face is a wandering mind, Kahn told the crowd. Kahn cited a Harvard study that indicates more than 40 percent of the time, minds are on things other than what’s happening in the moment. “We’re thinking about problems at work, problems at home,” he said. “Don’t feel guilty—it happens to all of us,” he said.

But when distractions subtract from what’s happening at that moment, or when people don’t set aside time to think, they’re missing out, Kahn added. “Some people come up with great ideas in the shower or while they’re driving,” he said. “It’s also happening when you’re having a conversation with your spouse or your kids are trying to tell you something or you’re taking a great course. Ideas are being shared, and they’re going right past you.”

Kahn summarized his experience at the YP Summit here.

Ashley Sheetz
At Home
Find a mentor who has a vested interest in your success.

At Home Chief Marketing Officer Ashley Sheetz has worked in marketing and advertising for 20 years, including stops at Sally Beauty, GameStop, and at international marketing and advertising agencies.
Sheetz credits her ascent to keeping on task while maintaining and building relationships.

Know how to get from there from here
“I always at least had a one-year and three-year, very focused objective of what I wanted to get to next,” she said. “And I always made sure that I communicated that with my supervisors, and said, ‘This is where I want to be. What do I need to get there?’ There’s something about putting that out there and being vocal about that, and being bold. Now, (that I am a) supervisor and who manages a lot of people…it changes people’s perception of you and thinking about you—not in the current role you are in—but starting to think about you in your next role.”

Identify a mentor at your workplace who is vested in your success
“I hate the word ‘mentor’ because I feel like it’s very clinical, and a lot of times, the people who were… my direct supervisor or somebody who had a lot of sway within the organization. But they were never formally assigned… to be my mentor and it was more of a natural relationship and natural situation. They had a vested interest in helping me grow in my career. I would say that if you don’t have that now, try to figure out what that looks like for you. And if…you’re just not finding it, that’s when you lift your head up and say, ‘Am I in the right place? Am I in the right company?”

Sheetz said one of her mentors taught her an invaluable lesson, requiring her to reduce her message to a single page; it enabled her to become more concise in expressing her ideas.

Surround yourself with diversity
“Make sure that you’re not surrounding yourself with just people just like you,” Sheetz said. “Whatever it takes… groups you can be involved in, or whatever community service you can be involved in, the more diverse groups of people that you’re around, and the more diverse thinking that you’re around, that’s really where learning takes place.” She said one of her mentors encouraged her to have breakfasts and lunches with people who aren’t in her field, so she could broaden her perspectives. It’s something she still does.

Know you’re good enough—and smart enough—to be in the C-suite
“I had a boss who brought me to that (C-suite) table. We’d leave those meetings, and he’d say, ‘It’s not as brilliant as you thought it was going to be, is it?'” Sheetz said.

“These are normal people with objectives, and with hang-ups, and all these things. The C-suite is not as unattainable as you think. I would say that there’s not a single person in this room that shouldn’t be [at the C-level] at some point in your career.”

“It’s hard work, determination, and drive that gets you that table,” she said. “That was helpful to me because I needed that confidence [to know] that I can sit at that table.”

Ask the right questions
“Early in my career, I thought I had to have all the answers,” Sheetz said. “I realized I’m much more effective in my job saying … I need to ask the right questions. That’s been an instrumental shift for me, especially now that I lead a large team. If you’re not pulling out the right perspectives, you’re missing the key ingredients.”
Sheetz said she initially learned passively, but she had to become a more active learner, so she could ask better questions.

Organizational perception is reality
“I believed that work output would get me where I wanted to go, but there are very few people exposed to your work output,” Sheetz said. “But I wasn’t building a relationship. I kept my head down and missed opportunities to grow within an organization. People will pull you into projects based on their perception of you.”

Dale Petroskey
Dallas Regional Chamber
Raise your hand to gain leadership skills.

Dallas Regional Chamber President and CEO Dale Petroskey previously served as an assistant press secretary for President Ronald Reagan, was a marketing executive for the Texas Rangers, and held top spots at both National Geographic and the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

His tip for success comes from a lesson he learned from a Chamber member.

If you want to lead, start by volunteering
Petroskey said he noticed remarkable leadership skills demonstrated by Cigna North Texas and Oklahoma Market President LaMonte Thomas, who rapidly progressed up the ranks at the major insurance carrier. Petroskey enquired: How had he gained those skills?

“[Thomas] said, ‘I got all of my leadership training through nonprofits and through volunteer activities. Raising my hand to chair this, or to raise money for that,'” Petroskey said. Petroskey said while Thomas was volunteering, he was also learning the organizational and leadership skills that proved invaluable to him at Cigna.

“That’s what all of you have an opportunity to do, by being part of YP (Young Professionals) and other things that you’ll be part of down the road, to practice leadership outside of your companies, and to learn how to bring people together and to inspire people,” he said. “And to think about visionary kinds of things that you can also take back to your company.”

A version of this article was previously published here on the Dallas Regional Chamber’s website. The mentor takeaways are from the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Oct. 18 Young Professionals Summit, an event that gave members of the Young Professionals organization a chance to connect, hone their professional skills, and to interact with top civic and business leaders from the Dallas Region. Roughly 300 people attended. The Dallas Regional Chamber created its Young Professionals program to develop the region’s future leaders by providing them with opportunities to build relationships, to serve the community, and to engage with political, civil and business leaders.

R E A D   N E X T

Dave Moore has 30 years’ experience in writing, editing, reporting, and analysis. He’s traveled to Bosnia to observe efforts to boost the country’s post-Soviet economy, explored the causes of ho(...)