Leadership Qualities, Strategies and Advice for Women in the Workplace — From a Director

Sponsored by ISO New England

Laurel Hennebury

Photo courtesy of ISO New England.

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May 25, 2024 at 8:48AM UTC

“My overall approach to work is to strategically innovate in ways that help to position our people to meet the changing needs of the business,” says ISO New England Director of Enterprise Learning and Organization Development, Laurel Hennebury, PhD. 

ISO New England operates New England's electric power generation and transmission system. There, Hennebury has led learning and organizational development initiatives in support of the company’s priorities and core values for 16 years. And, over time, her scope of responsibilities has expanded in tandem with the growth of the company, she tells Fairygodboss.

Her previous experience as the Assistant Vice President of the Center for Learning at a Fortune 100 company has certainly colored her leadership style at ISO New England. A style she calls “supportive and adaptive.”

“My role is to set direction and quality standards for my area and provide the support to enable staff to successfully accomplish our objectives,” she explains. “I also leverage the collective skill and knowledge of my team to adapt as new challenges come our way. All of this needs to be done while enabling the team members to grow and maximize their potential in an atmosphere where they feel valued, comfortable and engaged.”

We caught up with Hennebury to learn more about how she built her team, as well as how she supports it now. She also shares her best advice for other women moving into leadership positions of their own. 

What’s one strategy you’ve used when managing an individual or team that you think has been particularly effective?

Situational Leadership. Effective use of this model provides a roadmap for leaders to adapt their management style to optimize employee productivity and motivation.

What is your No. 1 piece of advice for other women who are moving into or want to move into leadership?

Don’t try to wing it. If you are asked to take on a leadership role and have limited experience, negotiate upfront for leadership-development resources. If you are looking to position yourself to take on a leadership role at work consider the following:

  • To help you hone your skills at work, look for opportunities to lead projects or committees. Also, take on leadership roles in your community to gain additional experience.

  • Take responsibility for developing yourself. Go to training, join resource groups, attend conferences and read books and articles on leadership.

  • Identify a leader you respect, and ask them to provide mentoring support.

  • Don’t be shy. Let senior staff know you want to move into a leadership role, and work with them to find out what you need to do to get there.

  • If you have made a good effort to position yourself for a leadership role, but opportunities are not coming your way, move on.

What’s been your most valuable career mistake?

Figuring out that it is not about you or your team; it is about the organization and its mission.

What’s the No. 1 thing you hope your direct reports are getting out of working with you?

Besides the ability to tolerate puns, I hope that they are proud of and energized by what they do for the organization. I believe we spend too many hours at work not to enjoy it — at least most of the time. I hope they feel the same way.

How do you think about making sure your direct reports feel well-supported in their lives both in and out of the office?

The key is to stay connected, so you know the challenges your staff face at work and at home. As necessary, I make reasonable accommodations to help. I am also a firm believer in ensuring staff take vacation and do not work overtime for extended periods. My experience and the research backs this up, chronically working long hours lowers productivity, affects one’s physical and emotional wellbeing and leads to burnout. All of which are not good for the individual, the team and the company.

While at ISO New England, you’ve built a team that you’re now leading. How did you approach this?

The first thing I did was to understand the organization’s  short- and long-term needs. Based on these priorities, I recruited staff with the ability to successfully meet the short-term goals. However, I also looked for individuals that showed the potential to further develop and could be valuable resources as we look to address long-term goals and unexpected challenges.

What do you believe managers must do when onboarding new employees? How did your own manager support you during this process?

I believe you need to help new hires feel comfortable and productive as soon as possible. We have a comprehensive orientation program that is designed in a modular format to accumulate new staff to the company, the business and the community. In addition, new staff work with their manager to complete a 90-Day Action Plan that provides a structured and consistent process to accelerate their productivity, ability to build working relationships and understand how their business unit conducts its work.

While building your team, what did you learn that surprised you most?

What I learned was how much you can accomplish and how much fun you can have doing it when you have the right people.

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