As Director of Government & Public Policy Affairs for The Mosaic Company, Callie Neslund is responsible for building and nurturing relationships with communities, business leaders and elected officials while providing leadership and executive counsel on public policy.
As a volunteer leader, Callie chairs the board of directors for Volunteers in Service to the Elderly an organization that “has her heart”. She also serves on the Lakeland Economic Development Council board of directors and chairs the Catapult Advisory Board. Her visionary leadership and ability to quickly form authentic relationships were instrumental in opening Lakeland’s new 40,000 square foot entrepreneurial center in the heart of downtown.
What is the most insightful leadership feedback you’ve received as you have advanced in your career and how has that feedback served you?
I like to think of leadership as a series of personal challenges. One of the leadership challenges I see utilized by the best leaders is the ability to stay curious and ask great questions rather than supplying great solutions. I constantly remind myself that when people find answers independently, they gain skills and are more likely to buy-in to new ideas. My job as a leader is to ask the right questions and then serve as a resource and a source of support.
Another leadership challenge is empowering others with the skills necessary to solve problems. This goes hand in hand with asking the right questions. If I ask the right questions and ensure that the team member is equipped to address the issue, the ownership of the issue isn’t transferred to me and the team member is more prepared for the next issue that comes along.
What are the most valuable leadership lessons you’ve learned over your 10 year career at The Mosaic Company?
One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that if you are not genuine and courageous about the way you approach issues, it is very easy for those around you to lose faith in you. My mindset is that you must lead with intention in a way that represents your core values. If you lead using a style you read about in a book rather than your authentic style; your team will pick up on that. It becomes easy for them to sugarcoat bad news and delay reporting issues, which ultimately wastes energy that could have been spent solving the problem together. I have learned that it’s crucial to establish a “no spin zone” that insists on realism and create an environment where we approach problem-solving together. My team knows that problems don’t age well, and delusions don’t produce results. The best outcomes result from open and honest conversations.
What is an important lesson that you’ve learned about managing and leading others that has served you well?
Over the years, knowing the difference between authority and leadership has been an important lesson. Taking the time to communicate the vision and get engagement before charging ahead is a pre-requisite of progress. If you’ll stay with me for a short story, I’ll take you back to my 4th grade safety patrol. At first, the teachers selected the Captain and sure enough, I was picked – partly because of my superior skills (I’m kidding) and partly because I was an old fashioned brown noser. I spent a lot of time and energy making sure the safety patrols knew who was boss. After the first term, the rules changed, and the other patrols got to elect the Captain. Well, I was promptly booted out. But my eyes were opened, and I realized I couldn’t do this on my own. I spent the next nine weeks working on those relationships and was re-elected to serve the rest of the school year. I never forgot that lesson.
What advice do you have for professional women who are struggling to manage work-life “blend”.
You’ve hit on something I’m passionate about. I preach on what I call lightly the “Mom Code of Honor”, which means that I have a team made up of professional women who support each other not only in our careers, but as women. The Mom Code of Honor allows flexibility to tend to family needs, extends grace when needed, and absolutely bans judgment or criticism. God gives us unique gifts and we should feel empowered to use them in the workplace and at home. Figuring out what matters most and being okay with outsourcing some of the other things is part of that. Motherhood is not a competition and we’ve got to stick together. The last few months have highlighted the need for flexibility. If I’m on a Zoom call for second grade at 2pm, there can’t be a work meeting at the same time. That might mean a colleague fills in for me and we circle back later in the evening. It’s more about the commitment that the work will get done rather than micro-managing when or where it actually gets done.
What is one piece of advice you have to offer women who are starting their careers?
Women starting their careers should be intentional about developing a community of support. It has been important for me to cultivate mentors who act as sounding boards and speak truth into my life and my decisions. Some of my mentors are male, but I think it’s equally important to have other females in your circle of influence. I have benefitted greatly by observing women who are a season ahead of me navigate their work-life blend. These women have been sources of inspiration and have helped me identify pros and cons about important career decisions.
Leadership is a constant journey and something you’ve got to work at daily. There are probably some people that are born as natural leaders, but for the rest of us, it’s kind of a discipline. I’m learning and growing every day.
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