AIG’s Elaine Rocha: 8 Life Lessons Not Learned in School

If everyone at the table has the same experience, background or perspective, they may tend to have a similar point of view, which may limit the scope of our ability to imagine.

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By Elaine Rocha, Global Chief Operating Officer, Investments at AIG
  1. Speak up for yourself and others – most importantly, your team. How do people treat each other? Is it superficial or sincere? When you see people speaking up for others as well as themselves, acknowledge that behavior. That’s how you build the foundation for a strong culture. For early career professionals, it’s important to build relationships based upon trust to create a strong network. This in turn fosters a culture of fairness, which then builds a culture governed by equitable relationships. The inevitable result is the sharing of good and often novel ideas that will benefit the company.
  2.  Take risks. Whether it was serving as President of my sorority, Vice President of my senior class in college, Vice President of the Women’s Law Forum while in law school, or as the President of my law school Alumni Council as a working professional, I have always made it a point to take on new challenges. I found that you grow by taking strategic risks, and that’s how I arrived at my current role, making the leap from a practicing attorney to a business role in Investments. When I was considering my current role, I may not have checked all of the boxes for the skills needed, but I saw this as a great opportunity to stretch and grow. I would like to point out that the risks I took were not haphazard, but strategic. At every juncture in my career, I asked myself — what new tools and abilities did I need to add in order to grow my skillset in a balanced and multi-dimensional manner?
  3. Diversity and inclusion should be part of every aspect of workforce culture and decision-making. In other words, this is not simply a tagline, hot topic or hashtag #D&I — but an essential element, one that has always been essential. When I remember my classroom experience as both an undergraduate and law school student, most courses were filled with a relatively even mix of male and female classmates. However, when I arrived in the workforce, and as I moved up the ranks, gender diversity thinned out. Statistics reveal that greater diversity in the workplace yields a much larger diversity of ideas, which in turn benefit any company or organization. If everyone at the table has the same experience, background or perspective, they may tend to have a similar point of view, which may limit the scope of our ability to imagine. As a result, diversity also reaps dividends in terms of effective problem-solving. The efforts to cultivate diversity and inclusion in the workplace have greatly improved, but there is still work to be done.
  4. Never stop learning/Ask questions. You can’t rest on your laurels. Never be satisfied with the level of information you currently possess. Make it a point to interact with colleagues likely to have differing viewpoints and don’t be afraid to ask questions. In this way you will constantly be learning. In addition to creating good working relationships with your colleagues, you can also learn and grow by taking classes in your area of expertise or related fields of interest. In addition, make it a part of your weekly or monthly routine to read widely in your professional field. Finally, consider challenging yourself to become an expert or a thought leader in one or more areas of your field. Try to cultivate your inner curiosity by making a game out of finding new and interesting people in your workplace to get to know.
  5. Broaden your network. Keep up with the people in your network, especially those pockets of people you have been in contact with throughout your career, especially because it is now easier than ever to stay in touch through social media. As you move further along in your career, don’t neglect those people you have known for a long time. You never know when a beneficial connection may open doors for you.
  6.  Search for both mentors and sponsors throughout your career.  It’s important to identify with and learn from those people who can be your role models. Mentors are also extremely important as sources of information, professional expertise and advancement. Having someone you can rely on for guidance is invaluable. It’s important to cultivate your relationships with potential sponsors, who are those willing to advocate or stick their neck out for you. But do remember that it’s important to reciprocate and to pay it forward whenever you have the opportunity by mentoring or sponsoring colleagues at different levels. I’m very grateful to all my mentors and sponsors, some of whom I still consult with from time to time.
  7. Hold yourself accountable. Strong leaders should own their decisions and most importantly, must take responsibility for their mistakes. When leaders demonstrate the strength of character to call out their own mistakes and to effectively leverage them to learn and grow they inspire the confidence in others to do the same.
  8. Finally, remember that everyone is a human being, deserving of your fairness, respect and consideration. Remember that the way you treat others is the way others will perceive and treat youThe measure of someone’s success is not their job, their career, or their title, it’s the impact they have on the people and the culture of their workplace and in turn, the impact they have on society.