Be Bold – Be Unique: Debbie Storey, the Servant Leader

I’d like to highlight my colleague Debbie Storey. Debbie is senior vice president talent development and chief diversity officer at AT&T. Debbie leads AT&T’s efforts to foster an inclusive workforce and develop diverse talent. She also participated in our Texas Women in Business segment, airing on WBAP/KLIF radio in Dallas, Texas. I work with many leaders at AT&T, and Debbie’s name comes up frequently in conversations as someone they look up to as a role model. She is one of the few leaders you will meet who truly invests in others. She wholeheartedly believes in the power of coaching and developing others, and makes herself accessible to do so. In Debbie’s world, there is no hierarchy. She treats each person with respect, takes a genuine interest in them, and offers support.  Her leadership style is truly a differentiator and has notable business impact. I have seen how it fosters greater commitment, loyalty, and results.

During her Texas Women in Business interview, Debbie shared some insights into her career and strategies that have helped her gain success.

Q. What has contributed to success in your career?

A:  I wanted to be a leader from an early age but never wanted others to follow me because of my position. Rather, I wanted them to follow because they were inspired to achieve a vision. I have always cared most about helping people grow, achieve, and succeed. I focus on creating a vision, connecting them to that vision, and then coaching them to do their part to achieve it.  That means challenging them to innovate, take risks, and celebrating big and small contributions and successes.

I also believe that I am not the smartest person in the room. In other words, that I alone don’t hold the answers. The higher you go in an organization, the more you have the opportunity to move into new roles or unfamiliar territory and the less you have to rely on others around you for answers.  The best leaders don’t necessarily have the best answers, but are highly skilled at knowing the right one when they see it. I am not focused on executing my own mission, but on serving those I am leading (whose care I am charged with) and truly listening.

Q. In your opinion, how does the future look for women leaders in business?

A: Women are more educated than ever before, studies show that women excel at the skills considered essential for top leadership, women enter the workforce with as much ambition as men, and companies with more women at the top and on boards outperform in terms of business and financial performance. The data is irrefutable – women are good for business.

There are more conversations taking place – in the media, the board room, and at the highest levels. So, there is more awareness and focus, which will ultimately lead to more opportunities. On the other hand, we are not making progress rapidly so we still have a lot of ground to cover. The bottom line is that success will not be measured by the number of women at the top, but rather when every woman has a choice about the path she wants to pursue – without artificial barriers and with abundant opportunities and resources.

Q. What advice would you give to women who are looking to make their mark in business?

A: There are four things I would advise women to do:

  1. There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but few will capture your heart. Pursue those.

  2. Understand the importance and power of building the right network and never hesitate to leverage that network to get feedback, advice and sponsorship

  3. Make your interests and your aspirations known. You will be overlooked for opportunities if others aren’t aware of what you aspire to

  4. Remember that comfort and growth cannot peacefully coexist. If you want to grow – and I think we all innately want to grow – you have to get out of your comfort zone. Your knees may shake but as you begin to step forward they will strengthen and carry you forward.

As I reflect on Debbie’s comments, I want to challenge you to think about how you will take the lessons from her career and apply them to your own life. For more strategies that you can start putting into play today, take a look at Show Up. Step Up. Step Out. Leadership Through a New Lens available on Amazon.