A True Story of Servant Leadership
“Great leaders enable you to not only do your normal job, but to also pursue what you are passionate about. Great leaders seek to understand all the things that make up a person and nurture those qualities.”
To Sharon Grant, servant leadership is not just the next big buzzword. To Sharon, servant leadership is a way of life. We caught up with Mrs. Grant this month to gain insight on the impact opportunity has had on her trajectory and how she spreads that opportunity to others. We were enlightened with a deeper message of true servant leadership.
The Power of Having a Servant Leader
We started by asking Sharon a few questions about pivot points of opportunity in her career and how sponsors and supporters contributed to her growth:
A major pivot point in both my career and life came from one of my earliest bosses. He was one to always put everyone else first and truly invested in his team. He didn’t do it for accolades, but genuinely wanted to see us all succeed. He was a servant leader.
He could see a broader vision for me that I couldn’t even yet see myself. He saw my passion for knowledge sharing and my strength in leading people and genuinely supported my growth. It was that leader who pushed me to go for new positions and expand my own possibilities. More importantly, he was someone the entire team wanted to emulate and model. He was always very honest and fair. That level of integrity makes you want to do whatever you can to meet goals and drive success.
He created opportunities as both direct manager and a number 1 fan, always cheering us on. It’s something I still treasure to this day. It was this support and encouragement that shaped my involvement and enabled me to expand outside of my comfort zone into training, development and greater opportunities. I delivered on what I was paid to do, but still held true to who I am (a people person, and a natural planner), and it was so crucial that my boss supported that. These kinds of leaders, sponsors, and mentors are critical. I am not on an island on my own.
Being a Servant Leader
Sharon went on to describe her leadership style and passion for uplifting others, which we naturally dub the epitome of servitude:
I value the diversity of all things: diversity of thought, perspective, interests, not just color. As leaders, we must ask ourselves: ‘How much do I really know about my team and their interests? How much do I know about their goals and what they want to do or accomplish?’ As leaders, we must create a space where we can engage and support everyone in both their interests and the pursuit of their ambitions.
When people see me, they know that I am passionate about people and dedicated to uplifting others. They know that I lead with integrity. Not because I say it, but because it’s the way that I walk, talk and live every day. Over time, these qualities have exposed me to growing opportunity and shaped the leader I am today. I have dedicated daily time blocked on my calendar for the sole purpose of engaging with my team. Quoting Theodore Roosevelt, I truly embrace the philosophy that ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’; and being intentional about listening and learning is critical to creating, sustaining and growing the talented team that I lead.
Creating and Sustaining Opportunity
Finally, we asked Sharon how she creates opportunities for herself and others:
I start by looking in the mirror every day and thinking about where I can provide value. Do I feel connected to what I am doing? If I get to the point where something becomes second nature, then I start looking for something different or thinking of how I can stretch myself where I am. Each and every pivot point in my life or career has been has a moment when I was stretched outside of my norm. I am humbled by having the opportunity to leverage twenty years of finance experience and people development into my current role in Operations. This role allows me to be in continual service for ensuring the efficiency and effectiveness of delivery quality to my team and the customers we serve. Every day provides new challenges and opportunities that I seek to improve in myself and develop in others.
This also includes a firm commitment to volunteering and mentoring. I have always been very involved outside of the workplace in working with young people and now I’m proud to be a part of a company sponsored program to mentor young people weekly while at the office. No matter how busy I may get, I am passionate about committing this time to help inspire a young person to achieve their fullest potential.
In addition to Sharon’s open door policy and dedicated time for her team, she recently created a Dine In and Dialogue lunch series for women across the organization to come for open discussions and connections. Sharon went on to explain: You can’t expect opportunity to happen if we are not connected and engaged with each other. This is not about just meeting and doing a task, but true engagement where we get to know and understand one another. How much “bread breaking” are we doing with one another?
“We have to invest time to be active listeners and participants in each other’s lives. We must create more opportunities to naturally interact.”
More about Sharon
Many people don’t know that Sharon has an adventurist spirit. Jokingly she admitted, “This all completely contradicts the stereotypical risk averse nature of accountants. I enjoy traveling the globe as well as spending weekends riding shotgun on a Harley with my husband. A couple of extreme adventure highlights are white water rafting and sky diving. The rafting I have done multiple times and will continue to do while the sky diving was more of a bucket list once in a lifetime experience.”
Sharon Grant is vice president of customer contact centers for United Airlines. In this role, she is responsible for all aspects of the contact centers, customer care and refunds for United. She oversees 5,000 global team members comprised in 15 centers in ten countries and remotely in over 35 states. Sharon has 20 years of accounting and auditing experience. Prior to her current role, Sharon held various positions in the Finance organization, with emphasis in Internal Auditing. In this capacity, she served on the Executive Committee of Board of the Institute of Internal Auditors, president of the Institute of Internal Auditors Research Foundation, chairman of the International Association of Airline Internal Auditors and member of the DePaul University Internal Audit Advisory Board.
Sharon received her Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from Bradley University and is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Internal Auditor (CIA) and Certified in Risk Management Assurance (CRMA). Sharon is a 2016 Fellow of Leadership in Greater Chicago, recognized as a Chicago United 2015 Business Leader of Color and recipient of the Institute of Internal Auditors-Chicago Chapter 2013 “Inspirational Woman of the Year” award. A native Chicagoan and longtime Houstonian, Sharon enjoys living jointly in both cities. She is married with four children.
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