Sheryl Battles of Pitney Bowes on Diversity and Leadership

June 30, 2017

As vice president of communications and diversity strategy at Pitney Bowes, Sheryl Battles understands the challenges of leadership. We discussed the best ways to lead networks of people and how important it is to build relationships and communicate when you’re looking to inspire others.

What are some challenges you often encounter as a leader? What qualities do you think make an effective leader?

It’s important to understand that leadership is not based on title or where you sit in a hierarchy or organizational structure. That’s management. Leadership is about creating a compelling vision of where you’re going and inspiring others to voluntarily follow. When leadership of a project or initiative occurs outside of a defined reporting structure, it means that team members may have other assignments competing for their time and focus.

I seek to create a “no surprises” environment so that team members and their management understand project objectives, requirements and timing. It takes open communications, cooperation and flexibility to make sure the team can deliver the best results.

What’s your counsel to mid-level managers or even new professionals who want to make the leap to leadership?

No matter where you are in your leadership journey, there are four leadership-building basics:

1. Communication is the foundation of leadership. The ability to express your ideas and opinions with clarity, authenticity and conviction showcases your thought process, judgment and expertise. Great leaders are effective communicators.

2. Learn as much as you can about your business and industry. Understand how your business delivers value, meets customer needs and provides opportunities for employees to make meaningful contributions. Ultimately, leaders serve a variety of stakeholders. The more you understand the business within the context of the industry — the technologies, the needs of the markets and the competitive landscape — the better a leader you will be.

3. Understand how your for-profit organization makes and manages money or how your nonprofit raises and manages money. Learn how to look at the financials and get a sense of the underlying strengths, opportunities and challenges of an organization. While financial results are not the ultimate measurement of success, they provide an important indicator of what’s working and what’s not in any organization.

4. Relationships matter. Build networks of relationships across functional and business-unit lines to help you connect to best practices, information and resources throughout your career.

Nothing builds a more sustainable personal brand than an individual who is good at what they do and who is a pleasure to collaborate with.

By the time you reach mid-career, your technical skills are table stakes, and it’s all about understanding the business, navigating the cultural landscape and managing relationships.

How is leading networks of employees different than leading individuals?

Pitney Bowes’ diversity-inclusion networks are designed so that diverse segments of our population and their allies can meet for professional development, networking and action-learning projects that leverage their insights and talents to help address business needs.

These employees have volunteered their voices, perspectives and experiences to work on initiatives in addition to their normal workloads. There’s great ownership and accountability because the team has made a choice to be engaged. Leading those networks involves setting strategy, providing guidance and connecting the team with resources to complete the task.

It’s also critical to create an environment of mutual respect and trust, where individuals feel comfortable expressing opinions and new ideas, learning from one another and disagreeing without being disagreeable.

Ken Jacobs

Ken Jacobs is principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching. Visit his website ( and contact him by email ( or Twitter (@KensViews).


Stephen Howell says:

Excellent article and hits 3 of the 4 keys to effective leadership strategy. 1. Communication and understanding of desired outcomes. You can't manage a secret or expect clarity without validation. 2. Fact based discussions on the reality or internal and external environments. Opinion only based leadership strategy is doomed to be wishful thinking of what could be but likely no more. 3. Defining what needs to occur to realize desired outcomes. Specific initiatives of what needs to occur. 4. A detailed plan to guide resources towards the desired outcomes.

Aug. 1, 2017

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