Sherleander Phillips | Vice President | US One Commercial Channel Sales Organization | Microsoft

As a Vice President of Microsoft’s US One Commercial Channel Sales Organization, Lani Phillips is driving digital transformation across its customers in Commercial, Mid-Market and Regulated Industries in the United States with its partner ecosystem.

As an inquisitive child, Lani Phillips was always fascinated with technology, so it was no surprise that she started her career as a systems engineer. Although it was an eventful career, it left her unfulfilled. She realized that she loved technology, but also had a passion for solving customer business problems, and she needed to be able to do both. So, she made the transition to a product specialist and an enterprise account manager, which allowed her to leverage her strengths in building relationships, understanding client business needs, and equipping clients with the technology to bridge gaps in their organization. This shift shaped her career and taught her a lesson that she needs to operate from an area of pursuing her passion and leveraging her strengths.

Lani began to confidently declare her interest to take on more leadership roles, and she found that the company was willing to invest in her. Her second career led her to become a Microsoft Executive supporting a number of large businesses.

In an interview with Insights Success, Lani shares some valuable insights on how she has been intentional around investing in herself, understanding her company’s customers’ business and their industries, while also keeping an eye towards the digital disruption and transformation that lies ahead.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

How do you strategize your game plans to tackle the competition in the market?

My perception of competition has evolved over time. Identifying your competitors, determining their strengths and weaknesses is essential. Obsessing excessively over the competition, however, leads to loss of opportunity. Look inward instead. The key to tackling competition is to identify your unique value proposition and recognize there is always one key differentiator between you and your list of competitors. That will determine your relationship and connection with the customer. Furthermore, be an innovator and disrupt the space. Plug into the market, invest in research and development and anticipate the trends. This is my go-to approach to finding our unique value proposition that serves our customers.

What are the vital traits that every businesswoman should possess?

Over the years, I have realized as a businesswoman you need to develop some traits to continue working with precision.

  1. Perseverance. Being persistent allows you to push through difficulties until success is realized. If you lack perseverance, you might stop short of making that final mile to reach your goal.
  2. Strength and Confidence. Confidence is an essential tool to be able to face the challenges you may encounter. Strength equips you to deal with the adversity. As a woman, you have to fight for what you believe in and have the strength, confidence and ability to face all the things coming your way.
  3. Success and Failures. Studying failure allows one to course-correct to push ahead. But, studying successes helps you identify the winning formula, which can be replicated.
  4. Growth Mindset and Inclusivity. An environment where people feel seen, valued, and heard, and have a sense of belonging is the success model. When people are allowed to operate from their strengths and approach situations with a growth mindset, there is no goal unattainable.
  5. Personal Well Being. We are only human. Finding the balance and taking care of your mental, physical and spiritual health is essential to being more balanced. Personally, this is always my struggle, but prioritizing selfcare is the only way you can show up as your best self.

As per your opinion, what roadblocks or challenges were faced by you in a corporate business? And how did you overcome them?

In hindsight, all my struggles shaped the leader I am today. However, it is important for me to look in the mirror and own that I struggled with my confidence. As one of the very few women of color, I was constantly seeking people I could emulate while being surrounded by white men in IT. This led me to a period where I tried to model their strategies, desiring the same outcome, but was not reaching the same goals. My lightbulb moment came when I was in a customer situation that was quickly spiraling out of control and I had to rely on my strengths to get us through this difficult time. My boss told me that I was unique and had something others did not, and that was the ability to have deep empathy for the customer and drive towards solutions across various organizations. At that moment I realized being different was okay. It changed my approach going forward.

Perception is another wall I had to breakthrough. When I walk into a room, automatically perceptions are formed because I am a woman of color in technology. Without uttering a word, I have been labeled and judged, which consequently impacted my confidence. I would pull back versus asserting more. Over time I learned to not focus so much on people’s perception and just let my actions speak louder than my words. I can’t change how people feel.

Career stagnation can also become a barrier for any leader, regardless of gender. When you stay in a role or group for a substantial amount of time, people start to develop a blueprint of who you are and what you’re capable of and automatically put you in a box. The longer you stay, the more it will stagnate you because they can only see you in a certain type of role. I dealt with this by always challenging myself to sign up for additional challenges, taking on stretch projects, and expanding my network with an intention to add value in unique ways.

What are your insights on “The myth of meritocracy”? And how it could bring a change in today’s business arena?

There is no substitute for hard work. Meritocracy suggests working hard ensures success. But the reality is quite different. In fact, sometimes you have to claim your success. I have learned that as women in leadership, it is important for us to represent our successes and share our accomplishments. Don’t expect that everyone has visibility into everything you are working hard towards. Muhammad Ali famously said, “It is not bragging if you back it up.” Therefore, you need to market yourself as a leader with achievements, while acknowledging the team that led you to success.

How do you cope with capricious IT and other technological trends to boost your personal growth?  

Technology knows no end. You cannot stop being a learner in this world, period. This dynamic industry allows me to develop business skills and technical skills.

Technological developments are taking place at an unprecedented rate. There is no business conversation without understanding the technology and its specifics. What is the solution? What is the value to the customer and their business? How does this help them on their Digital Transformation journey? As technology leaders, we must stay informed.

Additionally, irrespective of your position in the hierarchy, there are professional business skills you must invest in to remain progressive. The modern leader will need a balance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and Intelligence Quotient (IQ). Embrace both sides, and practice this throughout your career. I also have adopted a growth mindset because, with the acceleration of digital transformation, we must invest in both business and technical skills to stay agile and competitive.

What are your future endeavors/objectives and where do you see yourself in the near future?

“Goals on paper” limit mindset. Lately, checking boxes has not been on my agenda since it drove me to the next item on the list rather than letting me experience the growth I was undergoing. While my goals are defined, I am determined to enjoy the journey with room for experimentation and experiences.

I am persistent in continuing my leadership journey in Corporate America to not only deliver exceptional business results but to make a difference with our most important asset — our people. I am largely focused on giving back to the next generation of leaders in the pipeline. I am using mentoring/coaching, blogging, social platforms, and two passion projects: (1) Launch a podcast to share leadership wisdom to help educate, inspire and transform leaders and (2) My first leadership book.

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