Rachel K.Mushahwar: When Inspiration Wears a Suit

To nourish the tree of opportunities and to provide an equal share of its fruits, to all those who’ve plowed through thick and thin with unwavering efforts, is what justifies the role of a leader. The comprehension of this virtue, in its entirety, requires one to push open the muffling doors of their comfort zone and thus, setting upon the path to greatness. With the motto of bringing into the limelight, those, who are entitled to be pronounced as an epitome of grit, passion, commitment and individuality, Insights Success brings to you “The Most Admired Women Leaders in Business.”

In the aforesaid endeavor, we’ve had the privilege of crossing roads with a certain someone who is in touch with the rawest of human emotions, who is sensitive and sensible, who is humble and high spirited, and who is earnest and empowering. It wouldn’t be detrimental to say that one seldom comes across such a person who carries an aura so vibrant and enthralling, and this certain someone, is what inspiration looks like in a suit.

This is Rachel K. Mushahwar, the Vice PresidentGeneral Manager US Enterprise, Government, and nwCloud Sales at Intel. Her work experience started in her family’s retail store in rural America where she learned from an early age about business, entrepreneurship, customer service, the value of one’s employees, and the importance of turning data into actionable insights to drive sales. She conveys how fortunate enough she was to have parents and grandparents whose role in the business wasn’t defined by gender or by boundaries of what one could see. She recalls what her parents said, “Don’t let the horizon of what you can see define where you can go.”

“When the time came to head to university, the notion that women didn’t study computer science and civil engineering wasn’t a discussion. The discussion was, find something you love, and the rest will fall in place. Don’t let others tell you, what success looks like – it is different for everyone,” she adds. It took her a couple of restarts to figure out what she loved and how to do it right for her, in contrast to what was right for everyone else. “Rural America, cattle ranches, and small towns – that was the start of my journey – to push the boundaries and create a boundless life,” she expresses.

Throughout her 25 year career as an IT executive and now as the Vice President and General Manager of US Industry, Government, and Next Wave Cloud sales at Intel, a pioneering technology company, she has been on the forefront of digital transformation and technology across all types of businesses and government agencies. “I’ve been blessed to work with executives who’ve encouraged me to take calculated risks and step outside my comfort zone, for it is outside your comfort zone where the greatest learning happens,” says Rachel. She believes that growth and comfort do not coexist. Her best mentors/sponsors have taught her to embrace the uncertainty and discomfort of not knowing what’s next. She comprehends that many people avoid these two things, but is of a strong belief that apparently without them, one never improves, and never learns anything worthwhile.

Rachel further adds that she has had the opportunity to work with a lot of senior executives, and she always asks them about what is that one thing they wish they’d have done? And interestingly, as she says, it is always about regret and regretting what they didn’t do in their personal life. Rachel coherently summarizes it as, “The crazy, the crying, the cuddles; the screaming, the sacred, the scared; the minutes, the magic, the mess; It’s all part of it. And it’s all worth it. Don’t regret your life. Accept that you will fall apart and do it all wrong. Forgive yourself. There are moments in your life when you will reach a fork in the road – if you are tempted to take the easy path, ask yourself why. Success and easy don’t usually go together.

Figure out what the problem is you are trying to solve. Many times, the answers are right in front of us if we ask the right questions. Take the leap and have no regrets!”

Rachel describes her approach towards business and people by quoting Maya Angelou, saying, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

With experience comes expertise 

Pertaining to Rachel’s experience which spans over more than two decades, her views on how technology and its volatility has affected businesses over time, evidently exhibits the erudition she’s acquired. She asserts, “You can’t ignore or underestimate the wide-ranging impact technology and data has had on business and our lifestyles. It’s not just the markets depicting the evolution of technology and data – it’s also consumers, and significant changes in technology and consumer behavior have spurred a new set of businesses that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago.”

Rachel is of the opinion that businesses must be agile and pivot quickly to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. She says that the velocity of change also means today’s business and educational institutions must create and nurture lifelong learners, so as to keep pace with the changes that technology is bringing and accelerating. This kind of environment requires strong leaders who can motivate, empower, and help teams find success, while realizing the need for flexibility to cope with the dynamic business environment that has become today’s reality.

Rachel expresses that she often talks about how her kids, as digital natives, have different priorities and a different view of the world than her generation. She says, “As leaders, we must draw the best out of divergent perspectives from baby boomers to millennials – a generation that will dominate the workforce in a few short years and also have a very different world view from the previous generation. And, we must build collaborative as well as inclusive work environments where all employees can thrive and succeed.” She adds that at the same time, helping teams find balance in a hyperconnected world and clearly articulating the right priorities, so they know where to apply their focus, is also vital.

Building more leaders 

Commenting upon the essential traits of an ideal leader, Rachel asserts, “We all have a vision of what a leader is, or could be, but the truth is that leadership is nothing like you would expect. It can be daunting – even on the days when everything goes right. I wish I could say I glide effortlessly along as a working parent and executive, but life’s no ballet and I’m not a ballerina! We should be willing to acknowledge that leadership’s not always easy or effortless.”

According to Rachel, a common trait of good leaders is the willingness take on big challenges – while empowering, inspiring, and trusting their teams to tackle them. Great leaders create other leaders and encourage them to take the game winning shot. “You win as a team and every great leader knows when to coach from the sidelines vs. on the field,” states Rachel.

Rachel also opines that great leaders:

  • Must keep speaking up, keep pushing for progress, keep focused on closing the diversity and inclusion gaps that exist even in 2019. Being a leader is like climbing a big mountain. When climbing, look for the base camp. That’s where you rest, meet other climbers, take in oxygen and acclimatize. Base camp is what makes summiting possible. The tiniest adjustments in the climb make all the difference and allow you to get to the top together. We aren’t alone, we have each other. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 

  • Must believe and love what they are doing, if they don’t, no one else will either. People often think that leadership is about their title, their position in the organization, the corner office, and such. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Real leadership is about creating a vision in your heart and mind and bringing the energy of manifestation to that vision so that others can see and believe in it too. Real leadership is about aspiring to inspire others to what they never thought possible.

 

  • Must stop searching for balance and perfection. It makes me crazy when leaders talk about balance; if you are in perfect balance, you are not moving; but, standing still and trying to balance everything. So, stop trying to balance. Being a working parent isn’t a tight rope walk; it’s a beautiful, yet chaotic, dance. Strive for rhythm instead of balance and trust yourself to move to the ever-changing beat. Of course, there’s a very fine line between enjoying the chaos and barely surviving. Being a working parent, caregiver of aging parents, dealing with an illness, or just about any other personal situation will bring you face to face with the best and worst of yourself. It is terrifying, and it may break you. But it will also rebuild you and you will be stronger than you ever thought possible but only if you embrace the rhythm.
  • Must listen and observe. If you can quiet down your own mind and focus your eyes, usually the answers are there to be seen and heard. Leadership isn’t about just talking and making speeches and communicating. It’s about watching, learning, sitting with people, and truly hearing them. You cannot lead from your office; you must travel often, even if to the floor below you. It will require you to open your mind, your heart, and your arms to new things, to new people, to new cultures, and new ways of thinking. We are united in our differences. Life is about the people you meet and the things you create with them. So, go out and start creating.

Opportunities do not distinguish 

When asked about her opinion on the current challenges which businesswomen or female executives face, and why, Rachel exclaims, “First, there are no challenges, only opportunities. Today, we have unprecedented opportunities to advance our careers, we have the support to achieve our goals, and also a growing group of executives we can look up to as mentors. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, women are the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of US households.”

Rachel expresses that woman executives have succeeded in moving the bar forward and helping companies in a wide range of industries, including tech, to level the diversity playing field. “We are reaching a place where building women leaders and building businesses are, and should be, one in the same,” she adds.

There couldn’t be any other way to put it other than how Rachel has, quoting, “We have made progress, but it isn’t enough. It is our job, as leaders, to continue to accelerate women in leadership positions across all industries. It is our job, as leaders, to reach out and support each other. It is also our job to ensure that equality starts at home so that our sons and daughters grow into a workforce that is different than today.”

“Yes, we have made tremendous progress and yes, there is so much more to do. Yes, we are at a unique point in history where women are so excited about being able to do anything. But the biggest opportunity we must tackle is thinking we have to do everything all at once,” she includes.

Rachel expresses her pride in working for a company like Intel and is also proud of the initiatives Intel has taken as a business to foster greater diversity and engage women to advance careers in science, technology and engineering. They’re building the pipeline in real time, and it’s starting to work. Rachel exclaims, “We recently achieved full representation in our U.S. workforce two years ahead of our initial 2020 goal. Our workforce now reflects the percent of women and underrepresented minorities in the U.S. skilled labor market. That being said, we’re not content to sit on our laurels. There’s more to do and at Intel, we’re doing it.”

She also comprehends that it’s not enough to cheer from the sidelines. “I am a mentor, active in my community, and involved in many leadership groups. I believe it is our social duty to help those around us, whether that’s volunteering at our kids’ school, participating in STEM learning events, or even something as simple as having a coffee with someone seeking advice on a career move,” Rachel emphasizes. She believes that women need to support each other and be the change which is to be seen in the world. “One step, one conversation, one article, one person at a time, a great leader knows that their biggest accomplishment will be about those you have lifted, those you have made better, and what you have given back,” she expresses.

Being the benchmark 

Commenting upon her and her organization’s strife to prolong the market competency, Rachel asserts, “One of my favorite sayings is, if you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less. That’s never been truer than today when every person, industry and business needs to build unprecedented flexibility into their business models and move with speed and agility.” Rachel underlines that the ability to collect, harness, and gain insights from available data is now foundational to every industry.

She states, for an organization such as Intel, to remain at the forefront of an industry that’s continuing to change rapidly, requires vision, adaptability, and a culture that fosters innovation. A business that’s content to continue operating the way it has successfully for decades will find itself irrelevant in a very short period. She recalls how one of Intel’s founders, Andy Grove, created a culture at Intel that “only the paranoid survive.” And she believes that this is true now more than ever, as every organization and leader must be able to identify and exploit crisis points to create the next new.

Passing on the scepter of inspiration 

In her advice to the future generation of leaders, Rachel narrates, “My dad always told me, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together. Too often, women think they’re showing strength by doing it alone, but we’re stronger together, and now more than ever before, business is a team sport.”

Rachel avidly shares a few more virtues and lessons which would palpably help others in their path to success, and to quote her:

“Start before you are ready. There’s no magic date on the calendar. Sometimes later becomes never. Find mentors – both senior and junior mentors have different but valuable lessons to teach. Don’t try to be Wonder Woman. She’s fictional and this is real life. It’s messy, imperfect and we need to figure out how to make it work without adding undue pressures. This leads to my next point.

Women are told so many times during their lives that they cannot be good at multiple things at once. We are told you have kids, and you cannot climb too high in your career. We are told we cannot run board meetings and carpools. We are told we cannot run companies and care for our families. We are told we cannot bring home the bacon and fry it in the pan. We are told if you are pretty, you won’t be taken seriously. None of this is true. It’s our secret, that’s our power, that’s our magic, our strength. We are the contradiction – we are the AND.

We earn advanced degrees after the kids go to bed and pay the bills. We raise our kids and impact our companies’ EPS. We are executives for some of the largest companies on the planet and still answer the plastic phone when our 3-year-old hands it to us. We are ambitious and can make an amazing room mom. We work outside the home and love our friends/partners who made different choices. We are the “and” and can be both. This is your life – kids, no kids, spouse, no spouse, career or career on pause. It’s tragic and triumphant, messy and magical. Whatever your choice, make it count. Be the AND, just not all at once!”

Change is the future 

Rachel’s remark about what the future holds for her, both, in terms of her career as well as an individual, she says, “With the velocity to change in business increasing, I’ll admit it is sometimes difficult to see clearly what the future will hold and how soon. From autonomous vehicles to AI, the only thing that’s certain is change. We must be ready and able to adapt to those changes.

It’s a big part of why I love working for Intel. It’s not just a company; it’s not just a promise of the future; Intel is a company that is serious about creating the future. As the world continues to become smarter, connected, autonomous, and data driven – Intel is at the forefront of creating the extraordinary from 5G, to artificial intelligence, to autonomous everything. Intel is the only company on the planet that has the ability to connect everything from the edge autonomous cars, smart machines, etc. to the data center, to the cloud. Intel continues to help transform our world, our communities, our governments, and our environment for the betterment of humanity. I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else!

For my four children, I have no doubt it means they will be working in jobs that haven’t been invented yet, and for those of us in the trenches, we must foster a culture that values lifelong learning as part of a growth mindset to keep pace with the changes around us. We must help our education systems keep pace with the changing landscape so that as new jobs are created, we also have the education systems in place to fill the pipelines.

And, while I think leaders of tomorrow will face challenges and technologies we can’t fathom today, Robert Noyce, another Intel cofounder, eloquently stated, don’t be encumbered by history. Go off and do something wonderful.”

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