Recently I had the pleasure of meeting with Kristen Lowers, Chief Information Officer (CIO) at Saddle Creek Logistics Services. We talked about her path to executive-level leadership and the qualities that continue to serve her as she navigates her career journey. Kristen is a strong servant leader who believes that graceful strength is a crucial leadership attribute. I’m eager for you to learn more about how Kristen has leveraged her strengths and leaned into her limitations to establish herself as a key leader in a large company. Kristen has a bachelor’s degree from University of South Florida and an MBA from the University of Phoenix. She lives and works in Polk County and when she is not leading technology innovation at Saddle Creek Logistics Services, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two sons boating, baking, and crafting.
In July 2021, you became Chief Information Officer at Saddle Creek Logistics Services. What essential leadership qualities had you demonstrated that opened this door for you?
There are several characteristics that opened the door to the CIO role. The first is the ability to execute. You can have the best vision and plan, but you must take it over the finish line to be seen as an effective leader.
The second characteristic is the ability to demonstrate grace under pressure. How you handle yourself during times of crisis magnifies who you are and tells a lot about your capacity to lead in the future.
The third characteristic is the ability to build high-performing teams. I’ve invested a lot of time leveraging tools like Energize2Lead to help me learn how people work most effectively and to encourage my leaders to create the most dynamic teams possible for our company.
The final characteristic that prepared me for this role is servant leadership. I look to my Christian faith to find the purest example of servant leadership. Servant leadership is simple to implement. If you aim to serve the needs of the teams you lead, the teams will have the tools and motivation to be successful.
As you considered this new leadership opportunity, did you have any hesitation about your readiness for the role?
The proper answer is probably yes. However, I was confident about my readiness for the role. I’ve always wanted things to go faster, even if that means not all I’s are dotted, or T’s are crossed. I must dive in and immerse myself in any new topic to feel like I’m making progress and learning. I’ve been blessed with great mentors throughout my career and have had many leaders invest in me. Even in my first role out of college, I was given leadership training, and that’s not the norm. Usually, leadership training comes immediately before or after you’re actually in a leadership role. I’m thankful the company saw me as a hard worker with potential and talents in this area. Since that first training, I’ve had decades of leadership growth opportunities, even when I wasn’t a leader per se, that prepared me for this role. Now, was I nervous about proving my readiness to people in the organization who may not know me as well? Of course, but nerves fade with time, just like anything else.
In what ways do you feel you have grown the most over the past eighteen months as a first-time executive level leader?
My biggest growth area was finding creative ways to hire during our talent crisis. I’m not wired to be creative and thinking outside the box doesn’t come naturally to me. I learned to spend a lot of time with creative people and tap into their ideas to find ways to retrain, retain, and attract talent. A key success factor for us was evaluating the “do we need somebody ready to hit the ground running, or is there something we can do to train them ourselves?” We frequently partner with Florida Poly and other schools to get fresh talent, and then we invest quite a bit in training them to understand IT in general and the complexity of the logistics space. We created a trainee program for all areas of our IT organization, including infrastructure, systems, and service desk. This program is a considerable investment of time and energy, yet it creates a constant pipeline of talent with the business, technical, and supply chain focused skills we need to fill open positions.
What advice do you have for emerging women leaders as they consider opportunities for advancement in their career?
My advice to emerging women leaders is – just be you. Use your gifts and talents in a way that comes naturally because that is the way you will be most effective. Find mentors you admire and trust. Talk to them openly about your goals and then act on their advice. Finally, take your time with your development. Even though I always go as fast as I can, I’ve learned through trial and error that sometimes, if things are moving slower than I would like, there is a reason. Perhaps I needed time to learn something that would be useful in a future role, or maybe there is a relationship that needs to develop that will serve me later. My advice to women is not to microwave your career development; let it simmer more slowly as if in a crock pot to allow time to create a rich, flavorful, and tender leadership toolkit that you can pass on to others.
What sense of purpose guides you in your life and work?
Striving to live God’s plan for me guides me in my life and work. I cling very closely to the Bible and my prayer life to help guide me as I seek His will. I say His word is the ultimate leadership guide, and I encourage all leaders to start there to find their purpose. We can come up with our own plan and struggle through the execution of it, or we can choose the easier and more rewarding path of seeking out our divine plan and executing it through His strength and His wisdom, and His leadership. Following a divine plan seems like an easier option to me.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Emily Rogers, Founder & CEO of Emily Rogers Consulting + Coaching, is an executive coach, team coach, and leadership development facilitator. She strategically advises and supports leaders and teams in growing and realizing their full potential in purposeful and balanced ways. You can connect with her at http://emilyrogers.com