Erika Johnson had a background in business, marketing, and sales before beginning her IT career eight years ago. She is now IT Director, Supply Chain, at Land O’Lakes and a graduate of York Solutions’ Link to Leadership Program.
Link to Leadership is designed to help IT professionals develop their leadership and soft skills. The program consists of six courses that are taught by senior IT members of the Think IT Association. We spoke with Erika about her experience in the Link to Leadership program and what takeaways have been most valuable for her.
What is your background in IT, and how did you become involved in the Link to Leadership program?
I have been at Land O’Lakes for about eight years, and the company has sent many people through the Link to Leadership program. They have a history of having one or two people in every cohort. I was asked if I wanted to participate and based on the folks I knew who had previously participated and had positive experiences, I said yes. One of the main reasons I said yes was because I was looking to build network of IT professionals outside of my company.
What have been the most valuable takeaways from Link to Leadership – for your career and your organization?
One of the most valuable sessions was related to the DISC profile, where we learned to understand about our personality styles and how to work with people who may be the polar opposite of that style. We talked through a series of exercises and activities, going over how to approach people who have a different style than you and how you can get dynamically different styles to work together effectively.
Another part that was impactful was access to the faculty that ran the program. They made themselves available not only for classroom sessions, but also afterward. I still keep a connection with Matt Hermann, the mentor I was assigned to in the program. We’ve been meeting quarterly since the program ended. The mentorship relationship is different for everyone. Matt and I were at around the same stage in our careers, so we leveraged it as a peer-to-peer networking concept. We compare notes and thoughts on key topics, like working with challenging team members or how to coach underperforming direct reports to get their performance up. It’s been a helpful relationship.
What is a useful tool you’ve brought back to your company?
One of the tools I found useful is the DISC personality test we took. I had team members take it, as well as the Myers-Briggs test, to see where they fall and have a discussion about our different styles. For example, if you’re a strong E (extrovert) and I’m an I (introvert), how do we work together? I found this helpful on my direct team, as well as on cross-functional teams.
Another lesson I took away was the need to do things outside of the four walls of your company. It’s important to network inside your company, but also in the broader IT industry and the industry you work in. For me, that means reading newspapers, trade publications and going to different trade events. Simply making time to build outside connections.
What would you like others to know about the Link to Leadership Program?
It’s a valuable program for both those in IT who are considering stepping into leadership roles and those who are already in management. For the first group, you can get exposure to some of the topics you’ll encounter as a manager, like dealing with challenging personalities and having tough conversations. For people like me, who were already managers when we started the program, you get a good refresher on the topics managers need to be familiar with. I especially appreciated the refresher on effective communication and building a team culture. Depending on where you are in your career, you’ll get different things out of the program.
I also recommend that you find a way to carry the lessons you learned forward. One of the last things you do as part of the program is to create a development plan. I initially thought it was just a box I was checking and I wasn’t going to reference it again. But I’ve actually merged the plan with one my company requires me to make. The focus on career and personal development has been really helpful.
For anyone taking the class, I say think beyond the six months of the program. How can you leverage it going forward? A way I did this was by staying in touch with people I met. I get together every other month with a group of women from my cohort. It’s important to keep those connections that we made in the program ongoing.
Learn more about the Link to Leadership Program.