Name: Janet Conner
Title: Director - International Business Operations
Janet Conner is the Director of International Business Operations for Oracle Health. She holds a B.S. from Missouri University of Science and Technology in Applied Mathematics and an MBA from the University of Kansas. Janet first learned leadership skills through her experience as an NCAA softball player and 2-time MST Hall of Fame Inductee. You can read more about it in her book, The Six Figure Athlete (www.thesixfigureathlete.com). She has recently relocated with her husband, Aaron, from Kansas City, MO to London, UK for her work with Oracle.
Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!
I hope Janet's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!
1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?
It is really hard to see those around me struggle. As a leader, I know how important it is to stretch and challenge those on my team in order for them to grow, but my natural inclination is always to help, and probably to help too much if I’m being honest. I have to trust my team to find their own way through, and I have to build enough trust with them that we can talk openly about where and when they might benefit from my assistance.
2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Leadership for me began throughout my career in competitive softball. On the field, I played two positions that are both leadership positions, but required very different things from me. As a shortstop, I was a vocal leader. I had to command the infield and call where the ball should go. As a pitcher, I set the pace and tone of the game not by my words, but by my actions. I had to remain a calming presence when my team needed that, and even a subtle gesture or act could excite those around me.
I was most fortunate to have some amazing coaches along the way who understood the nuances in those positions and also who saw something in me that they felt was worth developing.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I am very much a morning person. So if it’s up to me, I’m in bed by 9pm and up by 5:30 or 6am. But, being in International Business Operations, my calendar is often unpredictable. I have early morning calls with my Australia team some days, and I have later evening calls with the US. Right or wrong, my meeting schedule dictates the rest of my day, but I am very mindful to carve out time for myself wherever it fits. Physical fitness is very important to me and keeps my mental health in check as well, so I make sure to find a way to exercise throughout the day. Usually that’s a trip to the gym, but it could also mean walking to work if that’s what fits.
4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?
The higher you climb, the bigger your audience. Your words stretch to people who may not know you personally and likely don’t have all the context you have when you make a statement. I was recently reminded that As a leader, the quality of your communications is significantly more important than the quantity of your words. Slow down, be thoughtful, and consider the impact of your words on every person who may read/hear them.
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?
I always recommend that every new leader read “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” by Marshall Goldsmith. Like many others, I started my career as an individual contributor. I performed well. I achieved a lot. I built a reputation of being someone who “gets things done.” So I got called upon to do bigger and bigger projects, and then was promoted into leadership. This book speaks to that transition. The skills that made me successful as an individual contributor are not the same skills I need to be a good leader. I can’t be the one who does everything as a leader. The skill of delegation was something I had to be very intentional about for my first few years as a leader, and is still something I work at. I can’t grow people around me if I’m the one doing all the work.
6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?
Don’t be afraid to ask the “dumb” questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a room with higher senior leaders and they ask a question like what a certain acronym means or who a particular team is. Especially as new leaders, we often feel like we have to know all the answers, and when we don’t, we don’t speak up. That doesn’t do anyone any favors. No one is going to think less of you for asking a question you think you should know the answer to!
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?
Through some recent reorganizations, I was moved under a new senior executive. Her reputation preceded her. Everyone talked about how incredible this woman was, and to be honest, I was a little intimidated when I first met her. In her first meeting with her new span of hundreds of people, she led with a story about a time she made a really big mistake and received some tough feedback. It was undoubtedly an embarrassing and humbling moment for her that most people would want to keep secret. In a matter of mere minutes, she built an inherent trust with her team and created a culture where it felt okay to make mistakes, but more importantly, to talk about them and to ask for and receive feedback even when it’s uncomfortable. As an athlete, we are taught that there is a difference in “playing to win” and “playing not to lose.” When we can move past the fear of failure (or fear of “losing”), not only is work more enjoyable, but our work is elevated and we achieve more.