Sheri Hedlund stood up in front of 1,000 attendees at this week's Women of the Channel conference and told her simple truth: "I am very ordinary.”
Many of the women in the room laughed, as it's hard to think of someone with a successful career in IT who now serves as the vice president of U.S. channel sales for Dell EMC, and who has been recognized by CRN as one of the Most Powerful Women of the Channel multiple times, as ordinary.
But Hedlund persisted.
"I think that's a good thing," Hedlund said Tuesday during a keynote session on the 2018 Women of the Channel Leadership Summit in New York. "I like being ordinary. I think [being] myself as an ordinary person makes me approachable, makes me relevant and enables me to drive meaningful connections.”
She pointed to her humble heritage, growing up on South Padre Island, Texas, where her father owned a marina and she caught and sold live bait to fishermen.
"That's ordinary," Hedlund said. "I learned very quickly though that I could put a price of $7 on a Ziploc baggie of mullet and the fishermen that were on their way out would hand me a $10 and never ask for change. That's where my sales career started.”
But as her tech career developed, leading her to sales roles at Cable & Wireless, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Tech Data and now Dell, Hedlund found several keys to ensuring that even an "ordinary" person can be an extraordinary performer.
"I am ordinary at my core, but I'm obsessed with doing a few things extraordinarily," Hedlund said.
Here are the three secrets to extraordinary performance she shared.
1. Strategic Mentoring
Finding strategic mentors who can help you map out your career path is critical, Hedlund said.
"It's incredibly important to surround yourself with extraordinary people," people who complement your skill sets and teach you new ones, Hedlund said. "It's equally as important to have a plan and really understand the direction you're going because along the way you're going to have to make some adjustments.”
Hedlund considers herself fortunate to work in a large corporate organization with many talented female team members, even though some might look at that scenario as extremely competitive.
"I don't see it as competitive; I see it as complementary," Hedlund said. "These are the women I believe lift one another up so that we can all be extraordinary.”
Hedlund also urged attendees to give back to their fellow women, though she noted that it does require a significant commitment.
"It's incredibly important to serve," Hedlund said. "Serving as a mentor is incredibly challenging. If you cannot sign up to be a mentor, commit to being a matchmaker. Matchmaking, I would say, is as important as being a mentor."
2. Results (Achieved As A Team)
"You've got to deliver on what you say you're going to deliver," Hedlund told Women of the Channel conference attendees. "It sounds so simple, but it's so important that you make sure you deliver the results that matter.”
Hedlund offered one tip to leaders when they're about to present a project or deliver results to others: "Start your sentence with, 'I'd like to recognize …'" and then spotlight the team members who helped make the results you're about to present possible. Leaders who publicize the contributions of others spotlight the value of the collective team, she said.
"We all know people who try to take credit for everyone else's work," Hedlund said. "Let me make it simple: Don't do it.”
Leaders who share credit for good work "will quickly see your message is being received far more favorably," she said.
3. Focus On The "So What"
"How many of you have sat through a meeting and 20 minutes in you have no flippin' idea what it's about?" Hedlund asked.
It's important to get to the "so what" – the reason why what you're talking about is important and impactful – right up front, she said.
She recounted a story about her time at Compaq, where she had a chance to present a recommendation to a senior executive. "I had 15 minutes to walk him through my presentation." For those 15 minutes, she prepared for months, did tons of research, and built a beautiful slide deck.
"He quickly got frustrated. He slammed his wrist down on the table and said, 'so what? So what are you telling me? What are you here for?' I was like, 'It's all on my last slide, that's my punchline … we just haven't gotten to it yet, let me just share with you my other stuff.' I hadn't delivered the 'so what.’”
Communicating simply and clearly will set you apart, Hedlund said.
"The people you communicate to -- the people you want to hear your message -- will see the value of what you're communicating," she said.