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7 Questions on Leadership with Elisa Bannon Jones

Name: Elisa Bannon Jones

Title: Chief People Officer

Organisation: rue21

Elisa Bannon-Jones is a Chief People Officer at rue21, a national apparel retailer with over 600 retail locations and 7000 employees. She has over 20 years of experience in human resources, leading global talent and employment strategies, implementing recruitment and retention practices, and influencing corporate culture. She holds prestigious credentials such as Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS), Certified Executive Coach (CEC), and DDI Certified Facilitator.

As a passionate and strategic leader, Elisa is responsible for the entire employee experience, from recruitment to onboarding, retention, performance management, professional development, and career acceleration. She leads a team of professionals who manage benefits and compensation, talent, HR systems and operations, HR reporting and analytics, and internal communications. She is also a well-known industry expert who has spoken at national events and serves on the advisory boards of Capella University School of Business & Technology and HRO Today North America. She has received multiple awards and honors, including the 2020 CHRO of the Year by HRO Today and the 2023 HR Team of the Year. She is committed to building next-generation women leaders, fostering diversity and inclusion, and aligning talent with organizational vision and strategy. She is an awardee and member of the Exceptional Women's Alliance.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Elisa's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

The most challenging part of leadership is the balance. There is so little time in the day and there is always something to do that it can be challenging to know when to turn the workday off. Learning to pivot between career and other the role of wife and parent is not always easy. Being mindful of all the roles we have as leaders takes determination and commitment.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Throughout High School and college, I naturally held leadership roles and have been a people leader for my entire career. In my senior year of college, I was elected Panhellenic President. Serving as the leader of the governing body of all the women's fraternities was complex, yet I caught the leadership bug. Mentoring, inspiring, and sometimes leveraging conflict management skills as a young leader positioned me for a life of leading. Throughout high school and college, I naturally gravitated toward leadership roles and have been teaching people throughout my career. I was elected as the Panhellenic President in my senior year of college. This position required me to lead the governing body of all the women's fraternities, which was quite challenging. However, this experience instilled a passion for leadership in me. As a young leader, I learned the importance of mentoring, inspiring, and managing conflicts. All of these experiences have prepared me for a fulfilling career in leadership.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I keep a calendar with all my essential meetings, personal and professional. I block time to prepare for meeting calls and clear my mind. The one habit I follow is getting up early every day, catching up on current events, surrounded by my two dogs. I take an hour before heading to the office, centering myself. This mentally prepares me to bring my best to work. I catch up on chatting with one, two, or all three of my children on my 40-minute commute home (I have to hear their voices). My husband and I catch up at dinner every night. He's a fabulous cook! The structure keeps me balanced!

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

I recently changed organizations to work with my previous CEO. Working with him reminded me that being surrounded by a team of people who are focused, positive, collaborative, and committed to driving results is intentional.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Marshall Goldsmith's "What Got You Here Won't Get You There." Throughout my career, there has always been a standard of leadership that replicates iconic CEOs. In 2007, I attended a conference at which Marshall was a speaker. He shared his thoughts on leadership and how we get stuck in past successes and habits. His book taught me to continually assess, adjust, and drive forward as a leader. Self-reflection, appreciation, and leadership agility became critical steps in my growth. Marshall's book became a catalyst for my continual evolution as a leader. I have always looked up to iconic CEOs as a standard of leadership throughout my career. In 2007, I had the opportunity to attend a conference where Marshall Goldsmith was a speaker. During his speech, he shared his thoughts on leadership and how we often get stuck in our past successes and habits. His book, "What Got You Here Won't Get You There," taught me the importance of continuously assessing, adjusting, and driving forward as a leader. Self-reflection, appreciation, and leadership agility became critical steps in my growth as a leader. Marshall's book was a catalyst for my continual evolution as a leader.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

In the post-pandemic world, telework has become integral to our work culture. However, making time and attending in-person meetings whenever possible is essential. As a young leader, it's crucial to seize opportunities to collaborate with peers and build relationships with leaders. When people come together, it accelerates communication and strengthens collaboration. Therefore, if there is an opportunity to meet your colleagues in person, you should take it. Communication is enhanced when people meet face-to-face.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Developing a strong and capable team is a challenging task that requires time, patience, and commitment. As a leader, receiving recognition and awards is an honor, but the highest honor is receiving recognition for the team's efforts. During my tenure as the Chief People Officer at GNC, I had the opportunity to lead a team of HR professionals consisting of both new and experienced leaders. Our mission was to design and implement a people-centric strategy that required creativity, collaboration, and commitment. The team worked tirelessly across all HR functions to weave all HR programs into a cohesive story of belonging. They invested long hours to ensure that our benefits, career opportunities, associate development, and support services were easily accessible and understandable, which culminated in the launch of a people-focused intranet site called "Support Well."

Their growth as thoughtful, innovative, and resourceful leaders earned them the recognition of being awarded the 2023 HRO Today HR Team of the Year. As their leader, I am proud of their achievements and recognize that it is our responsibility as leaders to develop the next generation of leaders. Being recognized as a best-in-class team reminds me of the importance of developing our next generation of leaders.

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