Level Up Leadership: Michele Bodda

Listen to the podcast (FULL TRANSCRIPT):

Level Up is a podcast for anyone interested in improving their leadership skills. The series is designed to help you get to know the leaders of Experian and gain insight into the skills needed to grow your career.

You can subscribe to Level Up Leadership on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlaySoundCloud and Spotify.

Most recently, we spoke to Michele Bodda, General Manager of Experian Mortgage and Verification Solutions in Experian, North America. Michele has held various roles in general management, strategy, sales leadership, marketing, product management, and new business development. She is currently leading the effort to start a new Experian business unit designed to help unlock the modern mortgage through data and analytics and empowered consumers. Michele is also the executive co-sponsor of Experian North America’s Pride Network Employee Resource Group (ERG).

Here are some takeaways from our conversation with Michele:

Being a leader doesn’t mean you need to have direct reports.
Influence is a lot more impactful than power. Like Michele pointed out, most of the leaders at Experian don’t have any direct reports. The greatest assets of a good leader are their influence and integrity, and it’s important to avoid conflating leadership with power.

Put a lot of thought into the team you build.
For those who do have direct reports, Michele says, “The number one responsibility of any leader is the team that you build.” Your team will be contributing to the success of the company and influencing high performance and culture, so handpicking your team will be a very important endeavor. Look for the people with influence, who have diverse mind and skillsets, and know exactly why they’re doing the job they do.

Elevate your team members.
Even if it means letting them go to join a team that will better fit their career path, a good leader will recognize what it takes to elevate their employees. Like Michele pointed out, leaders are only as good as the success of the team. And if you are putting a lot of thought into the team you build, you should also be putting a lot of thought into how you build each individual up.

Don’t forget about the power of your presence.
You would never see Barack Obama running to a meeting, just like we would not see a CEO running to a meeting. This is because someone of such importance running would surely mean something is on fire. Same goes for yawning—looking tired in front of your team will drain your members as well. Leaders set the tone and energy for a lot of things, so don’t forget the power of your presence!

Don’t underestimate the importance of bringing your whole self to work.
Hiding pieces of yourself and suppressing a big part of who you are takes a tremendous amount of energy. Your sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, gender, etc. matter, and hiding any aspect of them is a big burden to carry that can be relieved by bringing your whole self to work. As a leader, remember to create the safe spaces for your team to be open, vulnerable and comfortable.

We were so happy to have the opportunity to chat with Michele for Level Up.

Check out interviews with other Experian leaders.

Full Transcript

Patty:               Today we’re speaking with Michele Bodda, General Manager of Experian Mortgage.

Mike:                As a warmup, let’s just talk a little bit about what you just did. So you were just downstairs doing a mentorship program.

Michele:           Yeah, for International Women’s week. Experian had a number of events that we’ve hosted and they have a little bit of a lunch/fair going on downstairs and they had a speed mentoring section where there were five of us and folks that were throughout Experian could come up and ask us questions for five, six minutes, get some advice.

Mike:                That’s super cool.

Michele:           Get some perspective or thoughts and then the next person was standing behind them. It was one after the other. I’ve never done anything like that before, but it was fun.

Mike:                Were there any common themes or questions you were getting?

Michele:           I think one of the things I get asked about a lot is just, “How do you get perspective for other things that are going on inside of this business?” Experian is a pretty big company with a lot of different divisions that you can ask for time for networking. And one of the things that I’ve… I talk to people about this all the time because it is hard and I myself had to trick myself into doing it earlier in my career. I always felt like I was maybe imposing on going on elsewhere, so I kind of had to trick myself into it by doing it on behalf of my team so that I could get some more exposure for my team and understand what was going on and then that led to developing it as a practice. But in the beginning I had to trick myself into asking people for the time.

Mike:                So let’s talk about mentorship because it’s a passion of yours. When did you start doing it and what sorts of questions do people come to you with?

Michele:           When did I start doing it? Like I said I wasn’t very good at it for a while and I was advised that I needed to become better at it. And so again, I had to trick myself into doing it on behalf of my team. And that was probably nine or 10 years ago. But I think the other thing is that it’s really important to remember that influence is sometimes more impactful than overt power. And so I probably was an influencer earlier in my career where, because I’ve worked here for a while, because I’ve had a lot of different roles and because I’m pretty open to talking to all kinds of different people.

People would come chat with me even when it wasn’t a formal mentoring thing and ask, “What do you think about this? Or how is this going to… or what have you seen before?” So I was doing those informal things a lot earlier in my career. And that’s a tremendous gift to be given. It’s a really important network inside of the company that was kind of more informal influencers. That’s probably been part of what I’ve been doing for 20 years or more.

Mike:                Wow. I like what you just said about the influence. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Michele:           Yeah. Like I said, I think sometimes people forget that influence is more impactful a lot of times than power. So you can be a leader in an environment and not have any direct reports. In fact, a lot of the most influential leaders at Experian or at any company don’t have any direct reports. So when I get a new team, one of the first things I do is find out who those primary influencers are. Because when it comes down to it, they’re your most insightful source of information. But also if you’re trying to do something new or if it’s something hard, those informal influencers in a group will make or break your success. So as a leader, when you’re new in a role or new to some process, it’s really important to find out who those people are. Those are the people that everybody else talks to.

They’re the people that everybody else goes to for advice. They know everybody and everybody knows who they are. So one piece I have about that as a leader is you need to know who those are in your own organization, but you also need to know who they are in the other groups that your team interfaces with a lot. And if you’re an individual contributor, think about whether you’re an influencer or not, and if you want to be and recognize, like I said earlier, that that’s a really powerful position to have inside of a company.

Mike:                Okay, so a couple of questions. Number one is how do you find and determine who are the influencers? And then the second part to that is actually no, I’ll get to the second part next.

Michele:           Okay. So how do you find them? You pay attention. You really have to observe and you have to know who everybody else is talking to. You have to listen for who else everybody mentions on a regular basis. Like I said, they’re the people who know everybody and everybody knows them and they’re the people that set the tone in a certain department or division. Even though they may not be the formal leader, they’re still the one that has a huge influence on tone within a group. And if you pay attention, if you listen, you’ll learn who they are pretty fast.

Mike:                The second one is, you talked about for the contributor who is looking to become an influencer. What does that look like?

Michele:           I haven’t had any yet. I don’t know how to give somebody advice on how to become one. But what I’m trying to say is that I think people sometimes underestimate the influence, the power that those informal leaders. They don’t have direct reports, they don’t have overt authority. These people that set the tone that shape the consensus within a group, they have tremendous power. And how do you become one? I think you probably network and you interact with your peers and you talk to people and you form an opinion, you have an opinion and you’re not afraid to say it, right?

Patty:               I think being able to influence people, arguably you need trust amongst the people you’re influencing, right? Like no one is going to follow you if they don’t trust you. How do you yourself build trust among your team and say it’s an individual contributor how would you build trust with your peers or with your manager, et cetera?

Michele:           Yeah. I think the single greatest asset every one of us has is in our integrity, and I think you have to lead with that. I think you have to lead with integrity. And when I say that I don’t… I as a leader, you should have integrity and everybody should know it. But when I say lead with integrity, I mean have that be your front foot. Have your decisions and your actions that you take filtered through that? And trust becomes part of that because if you’re leading with your own integrity, there’s a certain honesty that comes with that. There’s a certain dependability that comes with that and people won’t be wondering what your real motivations are. They’ll know. They’ll know who you are, what you stand for, what matters to you. And that builds trust when people aren’t wondering what you’re really thinking.

Patty:               Right. Being transparent.

Michele:           Yeah.

Patty:               Do you have a question [crosstalk 00:09:33]?

Mike:                Oh, yeah. Do you have an example of maybe a pivotal moment where you led with integrity that maybe impacted people in a way that all of a sudden you’ve earned trust from people that you didn’t have before?

Michele:           Yeah, I’ve lots of those moments throughout my career. There’s those moments where you have somebody new on the team who doesn’t lead with integrity, and it’s your responsibility as the manager or as the leader to see that and to do something about it. And when I say that, I mean, either work with them so that they’re aware of that perception or of that reality, or maybe this isn’t the right team for them. And I’ve definitely had to take actions before where that was the case and the rest of your team is watching to see how you react as a leader in that situation and how you handle those issues sets the tone, it sets the bar for the rest of the team about what’s acceptable and what’s not. So, I mean, I’ve had a lot of those… not a lot of those situations like that one that I just described, but a lot of situations where your own filter of integrity ends up having an influence on a lot of other folks around you.

Patty:               Right. If we could backtrack a little bit, you’re the General Manager for Experian Mortgage, can you tell us a little bit about your background and professional education and how you got to Experian?

Michele:           Yeah. I’m currently the General Manager of Experian Mortgage and our verifications solutions. I have two teams under me and next month I’ll be at Experian for 22 years.

Patty:               Congratulations.

Michele:           Yeah, thank you. I did have a couple of jobs before I came here, but not for very long. This has been the majority of my career. My educational background is, I have a Bachelor of Arts in Corporate Communications and Journalism and then I have an MBA that I got while was working here at night. I started in customer service. A friend of mine worked here answering the phones, taking calls from our clients and helping them know how to read a credit report, helping them understand their invoice, those types of questions, 120 calls a day. And my career grew from that. I ended up in our product organization in the Bureau for quite a long time and that was an amazing place to be.

And those two starting points are at this company anyway, some of the best places that you can learn about everything that Experian does. But the last seven years or so, I’ve spent incubating startups. So this is my third one. It’s a really great privilege to be given an opportunity like that because those types of things don’t come along very often, but man, is it exciting.

Patty:               Yeah, 22 years. So what keeps you at Experian?

Michele:           Yeah, everything does. I mean, look first and foremost it’s the people, right? You’ll find a lot of us around here. I am by far not the person with the longest career at this company. Some people have worked here twice as long as I have. But I feel Experian is full of people who want to do the right thing and feel like we have the opportunity to do that. And this company has changed tremendously in those two decades. It’s gone through a lot of different evolutions. I love the stage we’re in right now. This is one of the most exciting times here. I love our focus on the consumer. I love our focus on being a great place to work and people being able to bring their full selves to work and all of the cultural stuff that we’re doing as a company.

But it’s also an incredible time for the technology investments that we’ve made and the leadership that we exhibit in that regard, the innovation that’s been coming out of Experian and the fact that we invest money in those places to be able to be an influence on how this industry shapes in the coming years. This is my favorite moment in time here, but it’s been a mutually beneficial relationship for those 22 years. I’ve done my best to give my best to the company and each role I’ve been in and I’ve had a great time here as a result of that and what the company is and the opportunity to serve people.

Mike:                So you’ve got a chance to work across the business, what led you to what you’re doing now and why have you stayed in the startup realm?

Michele:           Yeah. I was in the CIS product organization for 12 years, a lot of different levels. I started as a product specialist and ended up as the Vice President of product and had a broad array of opportunities during that time. Some of the work that we did when we acquired Serasa in Brazil and doing product assessments across those regions and big huge technology investments and a lot of product innovation. I’ve been here through different economic cycles in the financial industry and everything. It was a wonderful place to be and a great learning environment, but it is the core of this company. It’s the core of this business. And there was a leader here, he’s still here who was running CIS, the consumer Bureau at the time. And he said, “Michele, where do you want to be when you grow up?” And I was pregnant at the time and I said, “I don’t know Steve, but I’ll think about it while I’m gone. I’ll give it some real thought while I’m on maternity leave and I’d love to chat with you about it when I get back.”

And so I did, and I came back and I said, “You know what? It’s been a privilege and an honor to be such a part of the core of the business for so long, but I want to do something that doesn’t exist yet. I want to do something that we build that either succeeds or fails because we succeeded or failed.” And he goes, “I think you would be great at that. Those opportunities don’t come up very often, but I’ll keep my eye out for you.” And it was like two years later that something did and that was my first one and it was a huge transition because I went from being again in the core of the business in very high demand. My calendar jammed every day and hundreds of emails to nothing, to a completely empty calendar and no emails because it was just me and we had to start something new from scratch. And whatever demand there was, was the demand that I created and it was a big shift.

Now it’s a little bit of a drug for lack of a better word. I’m trying to think of a better word for that in this moment, but that ambiguity in the beginning of starting something new and that white space to figure out what you do, Oh my gosh, it’s such a rush. It’s so hard in the beginning to shift into something completely different that you know nothing about. And every space that we work in has its own language and its own customers but that learning process and figuring out what we can do and then the best part of it every single time is building the team to pull it off. And so yeah, this is my third one and I hope I get to do more because it’s… I want to stay with this one for a while. I’ve told everybody from Alex, my boss, to anybody who asked me, “This is the most fun gig I’ve had here and I’ve had a lot of really cool experiences, but I am really enjoying this one.”

Patty:               You said your favorite part of the process is building a team that you know will help you succeed. So how do you handpick the people that you know will do a good job?

Michele:           Yeah, I think the number one responsibility of any leader is the team that you build. I know you guys interviewed Andy Meikle, I think his was probably… thanks for putting me after him, by the way. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Andy and I think that the work that we’ve done with him as some of the most relevant that we’ve done as a company in terms of looking at high performance and the influence it’s having on our culture overall. So the people that you put in the roles are only one factor of building a high performing team. And he took you guys through all of that. So I won’t necessarily reiterate it, but it’s really important that you find folks that have the right reason for being here and right is defined by them. Right? But you have to have a personal motivation for why you’re coming into a role and figuring out what that is in the interviewing process and understanding the fit and what might be a right for the rest of the team, is really important.

In this role that I’m in right now, I was employee one and we’ve gotten to handpick everybody who’s part of the team. That’s a truly unique experience. Those moments don’t happen in your career very often and we have been extremely purposeful about how we put this team together. And like I said, this is the most fun job I’ve had for a lot of reasons, but this group of people that we’ve put together is the thing I am most proud of. Experian hadn’t been a part of the mortgage industry for a couple of decades and we didn’t have any institutional knowledge about the mortgage industry. So we had to be really purposeful about having a mix of people who understood mortgage, who understood that industry and could bring that expertise into Experian.

But we had to augment them with people who knew Experian and who knew how to get things done here because we can bring in all the outside expertise that’s available but if they don’t know who to call, if they don’t know the processes that have to be done, if they don’t understand the systems, it’ll take a lot longer. It’s a lot harder. And so we’ve been very purposeful about having a mix of that talent. And then for me, I always try really hard to have a mix of skill sets that are coming in. You want people to be able to compliment each other in terms of what they bring to the table and the number one thing I look for is why are they looking at the job? Why do they want to come do it?

And that’s the other thing that’s been really fun about this group that we put together is everybody, everybody downer person has a personal reason for why they’re doing this, for the impact they think they can have. Experian’s got a super unique opportunity right now. We were selling our credit reports into what the industry calls a try merge or emerged report and doing it through resellers and those resellers have been tremendous partners of ours and remain so. They are a huge part of our go to market strategy. But we weren’t interacting with the market directly ourselves and now we get to help build a business to support this industry with where it’s heading.

So everybody we’ve brought onto the team sees that and they view it as an opportunity to really have an impact and have this be a moment in their career where they can have an impact that directly affects millions of consumers on one of the biggest buying decisions they make in their life. And it’s going to take time, and everybody gets that and it’s not easy. This is really hard. And they get that too, but they want to do it. And figuring that out was really important when we’re bringing people on.

Patty:               Right. You said that it’s really important that each person has their own personal motivation. Can you talk more about motivation and how you stay motivated and how you keep your team motivated?

Michele:           Look, people can be motivated by different things. People can be motivated by money, they can be motivated by titles, they can be motivated by responsibility or praise or a number of other things. But I read a book a long time ago and it was called The One Thing You Need to Know. It’s by Marcus Buckingham. And in it he talks about figuring out what gives people energy. And I have found that knowing what gives people energy is much more important than knowing what motivates them. What I mean by that is, in the book he talks about the fact that every job you have, hopefully there’s a lot of things that fill you up, give you that little jolt buzz that lasts for a little while. And there’s other things that will drain you with energy. And those are different for everybody. So for somebody, what drains them maybe speaking in front of a large crowd or doing an expense report, I mean it’s that broad spectrum.

Mike:                I clean that one.

Michele:           I hate that too. But I love speaking in front of a crowd of one of those blessed, I get a buzz for a couple of days if I’m up in front of a conference or something, but I’m weird. I know that’s not normal, but then there’s other elements that are more draining for me just like they are for everybody. And the goal is to figure out how to minimize those and maximize the things that you do that fill you up and give you energy. It has become an interview question that I ask and trying to really dig in when I’m evaluating folks to be part of the team about what fills them up, what gives them energy. When I was in product way back when there were like four of us on the team and there’s a lot of different aspects to being in product, to being a product manager or being a product owner.

And there were a couple of folks who really loved the research elements of it and behind the scenes requirements, elements of it and building the assets that you need to be able to take something to market. And then there were a couple of other folks on that team that loved the front facing part of it. They liked being out with sales, they liked being out with clients. And so we split up the responsibilities on the team that way and it was a tremendously high performing team that stuck together for quite a long time. And I think it’s because, it was right after I read the book, it was my first practical application of… and it’s probably why that particular book and what I read in that one stuck with me more than many of the others that I’ve read throughout time. But yeah, you have to do it on purpose though. You have to think about it.

Patty:               I mean, it make sense because you’re just letting people do what they like best about their job.

Michele:           Yeah. I mean, the fact of the matter is, I’m sure you’re still going to have stuff that’s on the other end of the spectrum, but the goal is to maximize the one and minimize the other.

Mike:                I love that you asked that during the interviewing process. Is this something that you’re checking in on regularly with them?

Michele:           I think my goal is just to know the folks on my team so you can kind of see it. If you’re working with people every day, you can see what gives them energy. You can see the folks that get just a jolt from being in a client meeting or the people who get really excited when we hit certain numbers or there are certain milestones that are achieved or the people who fret for days leading up to speaking in front of a group or things. If you’re paying attention, you can learn those things about people.

Mike:                I’m curious about other things you’re doing to nurture your team as you have a bunch of high performers in your team. They’re all doing great work. Some of them have aspirations of moving up the ladder. Some are very happy where they’re at and want to keep working hard on what they’re doing. How do you, I guess, nurture their own career paths?

Michele:           Yeah. That’s one of the things that’s most important to me in my job. So I spent some time a few years ago really thinking about what I needed to have in a job for me to feel fulfilled and I wanted to do it and one of my items is I need to be in a role where I can help other people advance their own careers. That’s different than wanting to manage a team and it’s different than when I knew you’re a leader or something and very specifically want to be able to help with that. So I do spend a lot of time being somebody that other people can network with or are signing up to be a mentor for the variety of programs that Experian sponsors or informally when someone asks me.

But for folks on my team, we talk about it. What do you want to do? How do you want to get there? And it’s okay if it’s not in our group, right? And the fact of the matter is, Look, to my team if they’re listening to this, I don’t want any of you to go in there right now. They all know this, but you also know that if there’s somewhere that you want to get to, I’m going to be your advocate. There’s a gentleman on the team right now, eventually he wants to get into a client facing role, but he’s really excited about an opportunity and we’re on a business side of it that he has in front of him right now, but we will work to get him into a client facing role within the next couple of years. It may or may not be in our group and I hope I’ve developed a reputation around Experian over all these years of that being true. I think there’s evidence of it throughout the company.

Patty:               That requires, I feel like a good amount of selflessness because you’re losing such a great team member and maybe the work will suffer or whatever. You have to find someone to replace that person. Do you have any tips for people who need to step out of themselves and remember that elevating your team members is what’s most important?

Michele:           Yeah. Any of us that are in a leadership role are only as good as the success of your team. And sometimes you want to have the hard way and maybe there’s no way around that. I don’t know. But hopefully if you’ve got a group of advisors and folks that you lean on, people are reminding you of that on a regular basis. But again, I said it earlier, I think your most important job as a leader is the group of people that you assemble to accomplish a goal. And it’s not the service. I mean, that and it’s the most fulfilling part of the last several jobs I’ve had. So, yeah, I don’t know what if I am in that regard. It’s something you have to learn sometimes and sometimes it’s a hard lesson.

Patty:               Right. Did you learn it the hard way?

Michele:           Oh my gosh. Well, I mean I had all kinds of learning experiences. Of course, I did. We all do. There’s a guy who works here right now who was a team I had 20 years ago. And it was in customer service. It was a call center, and I put up a chart that was like number of calls each rep took and what their average response time was and it was on a chart in the group and he hated it. And he made it clear to me that he did, by the way, he’s one of my best friends around me now. I brought him in on other teams and we’ve worked together in more than once since then. And he taught me to pay attention to things like that and I had to learn it. I also think early in my career, especially in product, I like getting stuff done. And I think if you guys had interviewed folks, “What are words you associate with…?

People would say you’re getting stuff done. But I had to learn the hard way that you have to do that the right way. You can’t bulldoze your way through everything and if I’m really vulnerable and honest about that, I wasn’t always great at that and it’s something that I have to pay attention to now because I’m super driven. I have very high expectations for our team and what we can achieve and what’s possible. And I want to see us get there. But you have to bring people with you. And I don’t just mean the team that reports to you, it’s a sphere of influence, right? People have to believe in your objective, they have to understand where you’re heading and how they may impact that and why it’s worthwhile for them to put their own time into it. But yeah, I wasn’t picked for some projects earlier in my career because people thought there would be too much collateral damage probably behind me.

Patty:               Oh, no.

Michele:           No, it’s not. I mean, I wish I’d learned the lesson a little earlier, but I don’t regret it. It’s part of my journey. It’s part of my own growth path and I got the feedback very directly and it’s hard to hear and you have to figure out what you’re going to do with that then.

Mike:                I love how devoted you are to your team and also just building up people, helping to get people into the roles that you think are going to be best suited to them and also best suited for Experian. So I just love the fact that you were a mentor and I’m curious if you can speak to what it was like for you coming up, being mentored by others.

Michele:           I think the whole mentoring concept is super interesting because it’s easy to think of it as meetings that you have once in a while with people who have more experience or different experience than you and you ask them for advice or you get advice. For me, some of the biggest mentoring moments that I’ve had in my career have been moments, have been a moment in time where when I was in customer service, when I first moved to California, so this was 21 years ago where there were four different customer service sites and it turned out we had some pay discrepancies between the sites and one of the locations learned about it and we didn’t necessarily have the budget to raise everybody’s page at the same level all at once. And I was like a supervisor, I think. And the VP at the time, I happened to be in the director’s office and the VP at the time, he doesn’t work here anymore, but I still keep in touch with him.

I was in her office, he came in to talk to her about this and he asked me, “What do you think?” And I said, “You have to fix it there and then we’ll figure out how to fix the rest.” And that moment of him being willing to ask me is a learning moment for me, right? I was saying to give this other group arrays and not my group, right? And he asked me and I appreciated him asking me for my input. He ended up giving everybody a raise, which I don’t know how he pulled it off, but he did. But then there’s lots of other moments like that too. I had a boss once who is a very dear friend of mine now I’ll never forget this moment.

Whatever job you’re in, hopefully you think it’s the most important thing the company is working on right now. Right? You want people to think that. The fact of the matter is, it’s probably not. I mean, hopefully in some regard to biz and hopefully it’s important, which is why you’re doing it. But there’s probably a few other things going on. And I remember getting worked up about something that was in my responsibility set and I went into his office and he looked me square in the and he goes, “This is not even in the top 10 right now.” And it gave me a huge perspective, just perspective. It just gave me perspective in that moment to think about it and go, “Oh yeah, okay.” And he helped me, like we figured it out but he needed a minute because he was dealing with 10 or more other things at that moment.

And so for me, that was mentoring me. He was mentoring me in that moment, giving me feedback. And there’s a lot of leaders, there’s a lot of executive leaders around Experian that will give you feedback in a moment and it won’t be overt. They won’t go, “Michele, I’m going to give you a few right now.” But they’ll make comments in a meeting and stuff and if your  ears are open and you’re listening to it, you’ll hear it all over it. You hear it all around you. But then yeah, you have to be purposeful about having people both inside of the company you work for and outside of the company, an internal and an external network that some people call them board of advisors, some people call them mentors. It doesn’t matter what you call it, but you need to have a group of people that you can go to and you can learn from and that you trust and can ask hard questions of.

Mike:                I love this idea of the mentorship in a moment because that is such a great way to capture it because it’s so true that a lot of mentorship isn’t these one-on-one let’s meet every month this time. A lot of it, the most impactful stuff happens in the moment, in those meetings.

Michele:           In the moment.

Mike:                But also like you said, you have to be listening for it. And I’m curious about how are you because you’re very self aware, how have you built up being self aware so that you are sensitive to those comments?

Michele:           I’m sure I’ve missed more of them than I’ve heard. I mean really if we’re real here, I’m sure I have missed more of them than I’ve heard, but I do try and pay attention. I do my best to be present in the moment. Steve Wagner, who leads our global DA business right now, he gave advice once to Carrie Williams, who’s our COO gave him which is, “When you get into a leadership role, people are watching you all the time. So when you’re sitting in a room full of people and you raise your eyebrow because it itches, somebody across the table may think that you’re questioning their idea.” It becomes that.

Mike:                That’s so true.

Patty:               Oh, God.

Michele:           And Steve telling me about what Carrie told him has stuck with me forever. And so I don’t know, I’m not perfect at it by any means and thank you for thinking that I’m self aware, but I just try and listen.

Mike:                Let’s talk more about that because actually that’s very interesting because I’ve actually been in a meeting with Gerry and especially when I first joined Gerry’s team and I was presenting and Gerry was off to the corner and he had this facial expression, like I was saying something that was totally off. And I found out later that actually it just happened to be a facial… It meant nothing, it meant nothing but to me, internally I’m here presenting, inside I’m screaming like, “What am I doing wrong? What am I missing here?” But actually Gerry meant nothing by it. He was just like…

Patty:               He was like, “Oh, God what did you say?”

Mike:                He was acting curious, he was just watching, but it’s so funny because you pay attention to the leaders in the room. Their attitudes, like when you see them walking around, right? It’s like their mood is always telling you like, “Oh my gosh, the stock market. A stock will be falling right now.”

Michele:           Yes. Right, and there was a program that I attended run by a lady Marie Moran. It’s called the the power of your presence. I took a lot of nuggets away from them. But one of them was powerful people never rush. And I had this moment in my head where I was like… Barack Obama was president at the time and I was like, “You would never see him running to a meeting.”

Patty:               Yeah, that’s so true.

Michele:           We would never see Craig Boundy running to a meeting at Experian because if he’s late, he’s late. Right?

Patty:               Yeah, people are going to wait.

Michele:           And if he’s running somewhere, it’s like the fed lowering the rates yesterday, right? Now the stock market is freaking out because everybody’s like, “Maybe this coronavirus is worse than we thought it was because they lowered the rates.” The fact of the matter is, there’s probably a million reasons why they did that. But the impact of it is far reaching. So yeah, Andy Meikle will say, “Never yawn.” If you’re a leader, you can never be seen yawning. You can never look tired.

Patty:               Oh, God.

Michele:           And my goodness, if you’re in one of his, because that affects the energy in the room. And so if you’re in one of his training classes and you yawn, you will get called out on. We all lead very busy lives and we all probably get far too little sleep, but he’s right. If you’re a leader and you look tired, that gets interpreted as being disinterested. I mean, it gets interpreted a whole bunch of different ways, right?

Mike:                That’s right. I remember him saying something about, “If you’re whatever, something’s going on in life and you’re just not in a great mood, maybe you should be skipping that meeting. You’re probably best sitting at your desk working on something.”

Michele:           That’s right.

Patty:               How do you work on your presence as a leader?

Michele:           Again, you have to pay attention. You have to be aware of it, and you have to think about it and you have to have learned those lessons. I know that my energy can have a big impact on various rooms that I’m in. I’m like that anyway. I’m sure it’s true at my house, right? Because I’m expressive and so if I’m upset, you probably know. If I’m happy, you probably know and I probably don’t even have to say anything. You’ll just feel it. I’m expressive. And so when that’s just part of your nature, you have to know that about yourself and you have to think about it. I’m sure my team, if they’re listening right now again, it was like, “Oh my gosh, the other day she…” I probably yawn and everybody, “I remember when you…” Again, not perfect at it, but try, right? Try.

Patty:               They’re going to take note of every time you yawn.

Mike:                That’s so funny.

Michele:           You pull the chart and somebody is [crosstalk 00:40:38].

Mike:                I wonder if you can talk about… I was talking with some people about and there were newer to the company about career navigation and sometimes, especially when you’re younger and your career, you have so many different paths to take, different doors open. And I’m curious, the doors that have been opened for you, which ones did you close and which ones did you decide like, “I need to walk through this one even though maybe this doesn’t feel totally comfortable for me, but this is still important for me to move.” I’m just curious about the doors you decided to keep opening up and the ones you were like, “I’m not going to go in that direction. Even though maybe earlier in life I would have went in that direction.”

Michele:           So I was going through a divorce a number of years ago and an opportunity was presented to me for a role and I had to say no because I was not in a good place to switch jobs in that moment and be effective at learning a new skill which it would have required and doing that. It wasn’t actually a divorce, we weren’t married, but I mean it was like a 13 year relationship. So this was quite a while ago. And I mean, it was back when I was in product and they were asking me to do a different role and I said, “No.” And I’ve never regretted that it was the right decision for me and it was the right decision for Experian. The guy who asked me to do it still works here and he still teases me about it, but that’s okay.

It’s just part of our dynamic with each other. I have been in a situation where I did not agree with this. I didn’t agree with a change in strategy and I said, “No.” I didn’t want to be part of it and that was the hardest and the easiest decision I’ve ever made with regard to my career and I don’t regret that either. This role that I’m in right now, we didn’t know what it was going to be when we started it. I had rolled my most recent effort, which is our credit match product over into our direct to consumer business and they didn’t know what they were going to do with me. And there was a lot going on in the mortgage industry and Alex and Craig came and said, “Hey, can you just research this space? We don’t know enough about mortgage and maybe there’s something we could do here. Can you look at it for the next five months and come back to us by Christmas and tell us what you think.”

I’m really honest, sorry guys. It didn’t sound like a real job. I was like, what? But I had to go. “Yeah, I’ve never done anything that open space before and so let me see what I can do here.” And it was really obvious like three weeks in that we were going to have an opportunity here that I had never seen before in my career and I wanted to be part of figuring that out. And so yeah, we put together the research, we put together a strategy, the business leaders throughout Experian all the way up the chain said, “Yup, go try and do that.” And now it’s going well. It’s really good. But I didn’t know that I wanted to say yes to it. In fact, my instinct was to say, “No, I don’t really want to do that.” But I’m so glad I did.

Mike:                Now you mentioned that when you made that transition, you went from a full calendar, full email box to now…

Michele:           Nothing.

Mike:                Nothing.

Michele:           Literally nothing.

Mike:                Now tell me about that transition because I would feel like, “Oh my gosh, I used to be needed and now…”

Michele:           Oh, I was really in demand. I mean, we’ve got hundreds of salespeople and CIS. The consumer Bureau products sits at the center of everything that’s going on in the company. It interacts with most of the other business unit. It interacts with global opportunities. I mean, every client segment that we work with in one way or another. Yeah. I would have days where I’d have 17 or 18 meetings, half hour or 20 minute minutes, boom, boom, boom, boom and three or 400 emails to nothing and I didn’t know what to do with myself. It was a little bit of a crisis, like an identity crisis. And another gentleman who still works here, his name’s Tony Reeves, he’s in finance, he’s been here a very long time. He had just made a transition similar and I saw him one day and he called me into his office and he said, “You okay?” And I said, “Yeah, I’m fine, Tony.” You know what? I played it off. He goes, “It’s hard, isn’t it?” I’m like, “What’s hard?” He goes, “How many meetings did you have today?” And I was like, “How did you know?”

I mean, thank you Tony for pulling me in, in that moment and seeing that this was a weird transition and that that’s hard. But Oh my goodness, how empowering is that to get to define your own path? And once you figure that out, it doesn’t matter that you don’t have 17 meetings [crosstalk 00:45:56] time span, again it’s like, “Wow look at what I can get done when I’m not checking every item off the list. I’m definitely having time to think and having time to plan and then executing.”

Mike:                I’m curious how things started to ramp up again for you, how do you keep your energy up throughout the day with so many requests and demands for your time?

Michele:           I mean, I’m sure my energy ebbs and flows throughout the day. I’m sure my assistant Katrina could tell you that certainly and she’ll come and give me green tea once in a while and say, “Here you go.” Or she’ll put some food almost under the door like, “Eat something right now.” Oh, and thank goodness for her. But one of the things I learned all those years in product, when you’re in product and you’re bringing a new product or supporting an existing product to market, you have the responsibility to do the same presentation over and over and over and over again.

And you have to learn that although this is the 75th time you’ve done this deck, you’ve presented this material, it’s the first time whoever you’re presenting it to has ever heard it. And you have to learn that lesson and I think that lesson helps when your energy changes. The person who’s coming into your office next, they’re spending their time with you. When I was thinking about talking to you guys, I had an interesting moment over the weekend that I thought about with regard to this conversation. So I’m going to talk about it now.

Mike:                Oh, go for it.

Michele:           So the moment that I had was I was in the car with my son and he’s nine. And I don’t even know what he was doing in the backseat, but I was like, “You know, Brady, I really like spending time with you.” I don’t think he got it because he’s used to hearing me tell him that I love him and I think in his mind, love is more powerful than like, which of course it is, especially your mom. But we ended up having this really dynamic conversation about time being the only thing that you can’t replenish and when someone’s telling you that they like you and like spending time with you, it’s really one of the greatest compliments that there is. And I think it’s probably beyond his sphere of understanding right now at nine. But it’s true. And then I went home and I was thinking about it and it absolutely applies to work, right? The people you’re inviting to be on your team, you’re asking them for their most precious commodity.

You’re asking them for their time, you’re asking them for their skills and their livelihood. And so I’m probably going to be a lot more thoughtful about that even now after that conversation with Brady in the car and last Sunday than I have been before but we all need to think about that. People are choosing to come meet with you. Now, there’s a lot of meetings that don’t need to be meetings. There’s a lot of meetings that can be an email. And I do think we all have a responsibility to each other to figure that out and be responsible in that regard and have a phone conversation for a minute instead of scheduling an hour meeting or communicating in the multiple ways that are available to us but some of these giving you their time in that minute, in that moment. Anyway, that was my little thing I had with my son.

Mike:                I love that. That’s such a beautiful perspective-

Patty:               I love that. [crosstalk 00:49:39] was love. I love it.

Mike:                … that they’ve chosen to spend time with me. What a beautiful moment? I should really… I mean, that speaks to the importance of being present with those people that you’re with. That’s a very valuable piece of time.

Patty:               And it’s such a good point that it’s just like the one thing you can’t replenish because arguably you could replenish love when you went out of it there’s always someone to give, right? But yeah, time is just constantly losing it.

Michele:           Great.

Patty:               That was a really beautiful.

Michele:           Yeah. It’s interesting that you’re trying to explain that to a nine year old boy.

Patty:               Yeah, he’s like, “What do you mean?”

Michele:           And then he’s like, well, mommy, what about this Pokemon [inaudible 00:50:16] I don’t understand what that is. Why that one matters.

Mike:                Can you you talk about work and raising a family? Because I struggle with this too. We get consumed with work, especially when the work you’re doing is exciting and the people you get to work with as you talk about, you love working with them, you love mentoring them and so you get a lot of fulfillment in the work and then you go home and you want to make sure that you’re bringing yourself and your love and spending as much time as you can with them. And sometimes it’s very, very hard, especially when you’ve got something going on at work or vice versa. Something hard is happening at home and you need to be… and maybe your mood is not so great because something’s happening at home, but you’re here at work. You need to make sure that you’re energized and excited.

Michele:           Yeah. There is no right way to do this, right? And I have found Experian to be an extremely good place to work with that in mind. And not just the Experian of today that I was talking about earlier and all the cultural attention we’re giving to bring your full self to work and all the rest of it. But 15 years ago, my dad was really sick and in the hospital and we didn’t know if he was going to come out of a coma and I was in product at the time and he lives in Illinois. So Experian let me be in Chicago for a month and I worked a little bit from the hospital lobby because frankly there wasn’t anything else to do. But that was a very big gift that they gave me way back then.

And it probably really solidified my loyalty to the company in that moment. But I have experienced that over and over again working here. So my situation is I got divorced a few years ago and share custody, I am very open about the fact that my schedule is weird on the days that I have my kids, I get them after school most of the time and I’m with them. And then on the days that I don’t have them, I work much longer hours and sometimes I’m doing email at night or early in the morning and I tell my whole team that’s not because I expect you to, it’s because I’m going to leave at 2:30 on Monday and Tuesday and go pick the kids up from the bus. And so I’m just changing the cadence of the time allocation for work versus home.

But I love being a mom. It’s my favorite part of who I am and what I get to be. And yeah, in these jobs, a lot of the work you’re doing is in your head, right? You’re thinking through things, you’re trying to figure stuff out and I’m not going to pretend that when I’m with my kids an idea for work doesn’t pop up into my head or I have to write a note down or something along those lines. And I can’t pretend that something may not pop up in the middle of the day related to my family and I need to figure that out. But this has been a really good environment to work in, to be able to be afforded that flexibility. And I hope I give that to all the teams that I work with too, I hope they feel that because it’s important

Mike:                I love that you communicate that when you’re sending off these really early emails or these late night emails, you’re giving the reason behind the context because sometimes you’ll feel like, “Oh my gosh, I’m getting an email at 10:00 PM I better respond.

Michele:           I better respond right now.

Patty:               Yeah. Yeah, that’s really important and I feel like a lot of people are going to want to mirror that behavior too. So it’s important that you…

Michele:           Sometimes I’ll hold them and I won’t let them send it until I get into the office the next day or something too. But most of my team or all of my team get this is the cadence.

Patty:               They got it.

Michele:           This is the rhythm of my work.

Patty:               So I have one more question because we’re running over time now. But my first exposure to you per se was during my first week here at Experian. And I was actually just like poking my nose around our websites, our social media to get a feel of the company. And I came across your national coming out day post on the Global News Blog and as part of someone who’s also part of the LGBT community, that meant a lot to me.

It meant so much to me because before at other jobs I wasn’t really allowed to bring my whole self to work. And here at Experian they want you to, they encourage that. So I want to know what that moment felt like for you, especially being here for 22 years where there might’ve been a time where that wasn’t as accepted or people weren’t as open minded. And I know you said that this is your favorite moment in Experian now, so I would just love to know like what was going through your head when you wrote that post?

Michele:           Yeah, it’s more involved than writing that piece. When Craig and Justin and folks came and asked me to lead The Pride Network, it would be one of the executive sponsors for that network. I had to think about it for a minute. And I knew that it was the right thing to do. There’s been mentors in this capacity for me throughout my career that changed my life by being authentic and present themselves. And look, I’m completely jazzed up by the work we’re doing in verification solutions and mortgage. But leading that ERG is the most fulfilling thing I get to do because it has a direct impact on people and it’s a vulnerable situation to put yourself out there like that. But Oh my goodness, the reach that it has, I mean, I was interviewing someone who works at Experian today in a different division for a role, and she said, “Hey, I wanted to let you know that my son recently came out to me and when he came out to me, I shared with him the humans Experian video that you did and that Todd did and that Grace did.”

And he was so proud that his mom worked for a company that embraced everybody and she was… She said, “That thank you for that.” And I’ve had other people that have come and said, “My child just came out to me and how can I support them? What can I do?” And then other people at work that have said like you just did. When we first started this thing, there was a woman who I’ve known forever. She’s worked here 30 years probably. And she came by my office and she started to close the door and she said, “Oh, I guess I don’t have to do that anymore.” And that moment, I went home that night and I cried about it because I was like, “Yeah, this is important.” The work that we’re doing from a culture perspective, with the resource groups and everything else matters.

It matters that people feel like they can be seen and it matters that people feel like they don’t have to hide pieces of themselves. Going back to the conversation about energy, it takes a tremendous amount of energy to suppress a huge part of who you are while you’re at work. And so this is International Women’s week. The work that the women Experian group is doing. It matters and people… it can be hard for populations that maybe don’t feel like there’s an ERG for them or something to feel like, “Oh, we’re talking about this again.” I’ve heard that before. But I can also tell you for sure that some of those people have come to me and said, “Well, I didn’t know and I didn’t know it mattered. And you know, I’m glad you guys are doing this and I just learned something here.” So my role as the executive sponsor for that ERG is the most important thing I’m doing right now.

Patty:               Well, thank you for all your work. Do you have any last words for our emerging leaders listening in right now?

Michele:           For the ERG leaders?

Patty:               Emerging leaders.

Michele:           Oh, emerging leaders.

Mike:                Or ERG.

Michele:           Yeah. I do. I thought about this too before I came in here, so here’s my advice. Be willing, just take the risk. I’m going to run through a little list here.

Mike:                Go for it please.

Michele:           Be willing to take a role that has a high degree of ambiguity to it. As long as you know what the end goal is, the ambiguity should be in how you get there, but be willing to take something that’s not 100% defined. Be willing to take a lateral move like we talked about before because you can learn new skills in your industry, be exposed to different line of thinking. Be the one who willing to take on extra projects, who works long hours, who shows up even when they feel like others aren’t especially in that early part of your career where you’re establishing your reputation. Be willing to do that. Being willing to understand that people are doing their best.

This is one of the life lessons that I had to learn. Even if it doesn’t feel good enough in your opinion or it’s not what would have been your best in that moment. It may not even ever be good enough for the role they’re in. That’s their manager’s responsibility to figure out, but be willing to know that everybody’s human and everybody’s got a life outside of work, like you mentioned, and that they’re managing stuff you don’t have any visibility to. So understand for both yourself, give yourself the grace and give others the grace to know that your best can differ from day to day.

Be willing to be called passionate or ambitious or aggressive or driven, even if sometimes those words aren’t meant as a compliment. That’s okay. Be bold. Be willing. No let’s say it this way. Be unforgiving in your commitment to your integrity like we talked about before. It’s everything, so lead with it. Be willing to know when your time in a role is up. That’s a super nuance thing to learn, but when it’s best for you to move into your next endeavor, that’s a skill that’s going to serve you both professionally and personally for the rest of your life to know when you’re done in that role and it’s time to do something else. To the women out there, since it’s International Women’s week, being willing to be the only woman in the room. It doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but it still happens enough that you’ll notice it.

And while you’re there skillfully work to make sure your voice is heard. And the other thing I’ll say, given my 22 years here, is be willing to have a long career with the same company. Sometimes that sounds weird and people are like, “Oh, I’m going to move around and have…” Sometimes with a company like Experian, you can have different experiences over the course of a couple of decades and it can be a tremendously rewarding experience. But that’s my advice. We could keep going. There could be a huge, huge list here, but just be willing, try, take the risk. Just go for it. Just try.

Patty:               I think that was the most beautiful way that we’ve ever ended a show.

Michele:           Super sweet. Thank you.

Patty:               That was really good. That was very inspiring.

Mike:                You need to get this on the blog for sure. That’s such a great advice. Oh, my gosh.

Patty:               Well, thank you, Michele.

Michele:           I was super nervous coming in here, but this was more fun.

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