Success and leadership in the digital age means a degree of technological awareness, but just as important, a desire to change and grow beyond one’s original career path. Here at Forbes and other leading publications, we urge aspiring professionals and CEOs to get comfortable with technology. The reverse is also true – tech professionals need to consider more business-focused career paths as well. Susan Somersel Johnson, Chief Marketing Officer at Prudential Financial, is an example of a tech professional who thrives in a business leadership role, sharing her professional experiences, describing what it takes to succeed in the digital 2020.
What kind of training or education do you see as necessary to move up the corporate ladder, or even to lead your own business?
Johnson: Don’t sleep with the opportunity to do something completely different, even if those opportunities are unexpected. I started my career as an engineer at Apple. If you asked me if I would become a marketer, it didn’t cross my mind.
One day my commander suggested that I take this step. Being open to new developments changed the course of my career. From my background as an engineer, I have strong analytical skills which I use to approach marketing from an entirely different point of view. I turned to an opportunity that was out of my comfort zone at first, and this was my greatest journey – and it’s not over yet. Being successful doesn’t have to be dictated by the number of degrees or the type of training you have, but rather the constant desire to rise to the next challenge.
What are the best qualities that today’s leaders should have?
Johnson: To be a great leader, you need a strong foundation that starts with knowing your purpose and a desire to translate that purpose into your work. Set ambitious goals – so everyone can move forward. With smart and inclusive teamwork, everyone around us is getting better. Learning how to inspire others not only supports the growth of your business, but also the growth of your colleagues.
What qualities were needed in the 1920s that were not essential in previous decades?
Johnson: Digital resilience is an incredible, great business force. We should all be microdata scientists. By combining creativity with data, you don’t have to guess – you can measure and target customer behavior changes with predictive analytics. Doing so requires discipline and a constant focus on the customer experience.
What worked a month ago may not work today. Knowing how to positively use technology to engage target audiences and drive business is critical as more consumers, especially Generation Z and Millennials, are demanding brands to be purposeful and connected forces in their lives.
What are the tried-and-true qualities that are timeless, regardless of decade?
Johnson: Successful leaders are not afraid of change. Creativity and curiosity are timeless, tried-and-true skills that serve leaders well, regardless of the industry. But it also requires a certain level of intuition to connect the dots and anticipate trends in order to make real change.
The pandemic has taught us that innovation and resilience are the drivers in nearly all aspects of companies that get the best results — especially during tough times. Find inspiration connected to current social and economic experiences, and harness that energy in purpose-driven solutions. Having this lens that is people-centred and entrepreneurship at heart will allow you to continue to grow and succeed.
Also, humility is at the top of my list. No matter what meeting I am in, I will remain open to new ideas and ways of thinking, which you can only do if you are humble enough to know that there is still a lot to learn. This awareness goes hand in hand with true inclusion. Be genuinely willing to show up for yourself and others – and it will double the value you bring to any project.
Please advise women and minorities looking for leadership opportunities in today’s organization.
Johnson: Own your voice early in your career and sell your successes. Share the ways you win and contribute – and be sure to give credit to others along the way. If you set the right tone for yourself, other prominent voices in the company will notice and listen – this is good news for you and creates important dialogue for leaders to better understand what is working well in their organizations.
For many women, especially women of color, this is difficult to do. I didn’t always feel comfortable talking about my experiences as a black woman at work. But the events of the past year and a half have inspired me. I am louder and bolder, because I want to set an example and inspire others to do the same. Know that you got this, and you also have to support it with work.