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Empowering Associates Leads to Great Things

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What we learn early in life stays with us.

It’s true with sharing at the playground.  It’s true about sportsmanship in little league. It’s true about manners at the dinner table.  It’s true about saying “please” and “thank you”.

It’s also true about leadership.  Let me explain.

My first role out of school was with General Electric in their Information Systems Management Program.  It’s now called the Information Technology Leadership Program and is an intense two-year program with central training at their renowned Crotonville facility followed by four six-month rotational assignments.

I was perhaps more technical than some of the other ten trainees that year and had a keen passion for database technologies.  This was a long time ago (longer than I care to admit) and a little early in the database age.  Bob, the VP at one of my rotational assignments, and an early mentor of mine, had a business challenge facing his group around how to transition from legacy database technologies to the next generation.  I must have instilled some level of confidence in him, and he knew of my interest around data and database technologies.  He challenged me to develop a strategy, technology design and proof-of-concept working prototype to transition from the old database world to the new (which, in turn, is now the old world, but that’s not the point!). I dove into the work completely. I worked with GE Research and Development in Phoenix, researched industry techniques, talked to colleagues and started to develop a working theory. 

Roll the tape forward to the end of the assignment, and I had achieved something actionable and valuable for the company – and my first leadership lesson was solidified.  The quality of the deliverable and my ability to inspire others in contributing to its outcome was clearly the result of my innate passion for the work.  I truly had a blast working on that project!

I have stayed in touch with Bob a bit over the years. On more than one occasion I thanked him for the confidence he demonstrated in me with that assignment and told him that I often share this story when I am asked about valuable lessons learned early in my career. At one point, Bob shared that the assignment was not random – he recognized my interest and affinity and knew that I would embrace the project fully.

So, what’s the leadership lesson I took from that experience? Let me first say, that it’s one that sticks with me today; three decades later.

For me, here’s the take-away.  Tap into the passion and interest of your team members, and terrific things happen.  Work to find scenarios and opportunities to empower associates with your business challenges that map well to their interests and curiosity.  But also more subtly - take prudent risks and get to know your colleagues and what drives them.  Lastly, let your past mentors, leaders and people who inspired you, know how they helped you to become the leader and person you are today, with even just a “thank you”.


Dan Brownell

About Dan Brownell

Dan Brownell is the President and Chief Executive Officer of XTRAC Solutions, an independently operated company of Fidelity Investments®. Prior to assuming his current position in August 2011, Dan spent 25 years in a variety of technology leadership, process excellence and innovation roles at Fidelity. He has led large and globally diverse organizations and has served as Chief Information Officer of various Fidelity businesses and functions.
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