Dayna Johnson has some simple leadership advice we should all be following: “I trust people on a team until they give me reason not to. Quite often, I find that this approach results in them trusting you more quickly as well,” she says.
And as a Business Development Manager in General Electric Power’s Accelerated Leadership Program, Johnson’s been told she’s particularly good at inspiring teams. Perhaps that’s no surprise, considering the trust and support she’s been afforded at GE, where she began a new leadership role immediately after returning from maternity leave with her second child.
In fact, one of the things Johnson loves most about her job is that she’s surrounded by inspiring, supportive colleagues: “I think GE has amazing people,” she says. “I very rarely run across someone at GE who does not want to help me with whatever problem I’m working on. It’s inspiring to wake up and go to work with the smartest, most dedicated people around!”
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
DJ: I have been in this role since July, when I started the second year rotation for the Accelerated Leadership Program. I started the program last July (immediately after coming back from maternity leave with my second baby!), and I spent my first year working as a Global Sales Leader for our Aeroderivatives Services business. Before that, I was a proposal manager, working on proposals for large substation projects.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
DJ: Even though I’m a creature of habit, I struggle with getting my day going. First things first, I always fill my water bottle. Once I’ve got that done, I feel like I can tackle my email. And the last thing I do before going home is always to check traffic. Living in the Chicago suburbs, it can be quite unpredictable! I’m OK knowing there’s traffic, but it’s the unexpected delays that frustrate me.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job?
DJ: I get to talk to people. A lot of people. As an engineer, the stereotype is that we don’t like to be social — but I love meeting new people and learning their backgrounds. I also love solving problems, and I get to be involved early enough in the sales process to help customers solve their problems. It’s everything that an extrovert engineer could hope for!
What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about GE that you think they should?
DJ: A few years ago, GE increased its paid parental leave. Now, both men and women get 6 weeks of paid parental leave. I think this is AMAZING!
What’s something you’re especially good at at work?
DJ: I’ve been told I’m good at inspiring teams. If there’s a mission a team needs to accomplish, I’m willing to roll my sleeves up with the team and get the job done. I also have a philosophy where I trust people on a team until they give me reason not to (if at all). Quite often, I find that this approach results in them trusting you more quickly as well.
What about outside of work?
DJ: Outside of work, I really enjoy (and am good at!) home improvement projects. I love working with my hands, and I especially love flooring projects.
What are you trying to improve on?
DJ: I’ve been actively working on conflict resolution skills. I find that when I get passionately engaged in something, I get more defensive. While it’s great to be passionate, I need to make sure I can still keep my feelings in check.
What’s your favorite mistake?
DJ: All of them that I can learn from! Is it truly a mistake if you are able to grow from it? I’ve had many (many!) mistakes over the course of my career — all sorts of things, from screwing up a calculation to making mistakes that were much harder to correct. Out of all of those mistakes, though, were lessons — how to perform the correct calculation, how to repair a broken relationship in the office, how to make the situation right with the customer.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
DJ: There are a lot of these, thankfully! However, this one in particular ties my Society of Women Engineers career to my professional career. I’ve spent the last year or so serving on the SWE Board of Directors. It has been an amazing opportunity for me to share my leadership abilities and continue to grow as a professional and a person while simultaneously supporting diversity and inclusion.
What do you love most about your job or your company?
DJ: I think GE has amazing people. I very rarely run across someone at GE who does not want to help me with whatever problem I’m working on. It’s inspiring to wake up and go to work with the smartest, most dedicated people around!
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
DJ: I have two small children, so anything I watch is animated (much to my dismay!). However, I’m currently working on finding the right balance between reading for improvement and reading for fun. I’m a big fan of reading at night before bed to unwind, but right now I make sure I read one chapter of something to help my development before I turn to something more fun (I’m a big cozy mystery fan). For development, I’m currently reading “Your Oxygen Mask First: 17 Habits to Help High Achievers Survive & Thrive in Leadership & Life” by Kevin Lawrence.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
DJ: Trust your gut. If you leave an interview and something about the role didn’t feel right, there’s probably a reason. We are rather intuitive creatures, and when I’ve left an interview feeling like something wasn’t right, it’s because it wasn’t. However, this does not mean to not trust yourself. Go for the big roles — the roles that will stretch you and challenge you!
Who is/was the most influential person in your life and why?
DJ: I try to have a bit of a different philosophy. I don’t think I can pinpoint a single person that has been the most influential, but I have many, many people who have been incredibly influential. Among those, I’m especially grateful for the people who encouraged me to pursue engineering — from an early age all the way through high school. Without them, I don’t think I’d be where I am today.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
DJ: Someone once framed career advice in the words of everyone’s favorite blue tang – just keep swimming. I think, especially as women, we tend to dwell on our mistakes and overanalyze everything. Put that behind you and keep moving forward. When work (or life) gets really hard, focus on what’s directly in front of you. Keep moving towards that goal. Try not to think about the miles of ocean in front of you, but just the next milestone. And stop looking over your shoulder at what happened behind you!
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
DJ: I sometimes struggle to just call it a day when I’ve had enough of work. However, I had a boss that would repeatedly tell me, if he knew my workload was temporarily light, to get out of the office and go home. Especially around holidays or slow times, he would help me with work-life integration. He also helped the entire team make sure vacation was as relaxing as possible and worked to take care of any issues that came up while we were out.
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