Being a leader is more than managing a team - it takes hard work, open communication, and understanding what makes an effective team member. Nicole Powley, Information Systems Application Line Manager for The Automobile Club of Southern California, has earned her stripes as a leader in the technology and insurance industry and never fails to provide what she calls: "legendary service". Nicole's authenticity in and out of the workplace as well as her endless support for both her family at home as well as her "family" at work, has molded her into the leader she is today.
People Managing People
The Auto Club Enterprise Organization spans across America with constituents in numerous markets and states, which puts big responsibilities on Nicole's shoulders. Her role is to support multiple teams with their insurance products, as well as provide services to product owners, business stakeholders, and fellow team members. "Valuing an employee is an important part of being a leader. Basically I'm here to help my team get their job done." Nicole believes in building a reciprocal relationship between the team member and the organization, where the work you put in, you get out. She describes when she first started at AAA, the appreciation, opportunities, and support she received from the organization was a main contributor to her success within the company. "When an organization puts in that time and respect into you, you want to give it back."
Nicole doesn't just look to lead her team as a whole, but to understand her team members as individuals. With each person having such different career paths, backgrounds, and professional goals, it takes plenty of open communication and active listening to build a cohesive team. "Oftentimes I find a team member just wants to be listened to and you get to know them better." Even for herself, Nicole has found mentorship to be an integral part of employee success, and to be a good mentor it means empowering others, understanding your role in the organization, and not being afraid to speak out. "A successful leader wears many hats." She also finds taking a step back helps her refocus and understand what her and her team are trying to accomplish and the necessary steps it takes to get there: "how can I look at the bigger picture?"
Even though Nicole has worked there for 25 years, the tech and insurance industry was never where she had seen her career path heading. Post-graduation, she had no idea what she wanted to do and ended up working as an insurance underwriter for 8 years before utilizing her extensive experience to join the Auto Club Association. From there she found her niche, an invaluable support system, and plenty of opportunities in both the tech and insurance industries. "Sometimes life doesn't take you where you think, and I was fortunate enough to end up finding myself a great job and a place to grow."
Standing Out And Standing Up
As the only woman on a team of 9 men including the manager, Nicole understands how important it is to push initiatives for gender diversity in the workplace. Although her team doesn't treat her any differently, she finds herself feeling like she has to work harder to prove herself and to "keep up" with her team. To her, equality does not necessarily mean hiring individuals to hit diversity numbers, but rather to challenge gender biases and stereotypes. "I want to look for the best people to get the job done no matter their gender, ethnicity, or background."
Rise Up is Nicole's answer to allyship. They are a resource group open to everybody, not just women, to support diversity, encourage inclusion, and speak out against things that are not right. "We are women supporting women, and making people feel like they belong. That is allyship." Nicole takes these same practices back to her work, and is a firm believer in having difficult conversations. "Speak up and escalate when you need to. If you see something that isn't right, bring it to me and then at least it's a conversation."
The Bigger Picture
Nicole is a big advocate for time away from the desk, "Everyone has to walk away from work. To wear the bigger picture hat is to know when you've hit your limit." Spending time with friends, family, and going on vacations to Hawaii is Nicole's way to completely take herself out of the 9-5 mentality.
Being able to balance her work and family is incredibly important to Nicole, especially as her heart is so closely tied to both. In the past couple of years, Nicole had unfortunately lost both her best friend and spouse, and it completely changed the way she looked at both her career and life paths. "I had wanted to see myself in a senior management role, or maybe even as a director. It felt like my world fell apart, but work keeps going." The Auto Club was very supportive and patient with Nicole, and gave her the time she needed. "I am grateful for the job I have here, and I am grateful for the support system I have here." Through this, Nicole emphasizes how important it is to give yourself time, to surround yourself with people who care, and to evaluate the things that are truly important in your life. Spend good time on these things, and make them a priority. "Your path is your path, and yours only. Go and get what you want, and try as many different things as possible."
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