Athena member Lani Phillips’ goal is for every person she speaks with to feel seen, heard, and valued. Lani serves as Vice President of US Channel Sales at Microsoft and is an expert at building inclusive cultures and leading with empathy. And her investment in her team pays off: her colleagues and employees describe her as authentic, effervescent, inspiring, and balanced, relaying how she helped them set new goals and reach new stages in their careers.

Below, we talk with Lani about her executive journey, how leaders can cultivate inclusive cultures, and her tips for women in leadership.

Tell us about your background and your executive journey up to this point.

Most people looking at my executive journey outside-in probably would say it took longer than what is considered reasonable, or longer than most people have the patience for. But I acknowledged early that I wanted to play the long game. That meant I wanted to focus on building knowledge, gaining skills, and experiencing the roles I would be responsible for leading at some point in my career.

I’ve always had pretty good sponsorship, but new sponsors started showing up that were more aligned with where I wanted to go. It was important for me to identify my superpowers and understand them as a competitive advantage. 

I also wanted to differentiate how I lead by transforming teams and organizations and building healthy cultures. At my core, I am all about empowering people.

What are some goals you’ve set for 2021?

A simple goal of mine is to join a public board. It’s time to take my years of experience and share that expertise with more companies.

Another goal is to share my learnings with others through content creation, publishing my first book, conducting speaking engagements, and launching my podcast. I’m in the editing stages of my book. It’s about taking a different approach to leadership in this more modern world because it requires us to lead differently. I am also doing a weekly IG Live on mentoring.

You talk a lot about being an inclusive leader and leading with your mindset. How can leaders do that?

You have to take inventory of yourself and the biases you hold, and understand what inclusive leadership means. Until you do this, you won’t be conscious of some things that might pop up.

Then, create a people plan. This is a strategy for how I plan to engage people throughout the year. I plan around communication, professional development, driving morale in the organization, inclusion, and diversity. Creating a space to connect with individuals is so important, so I also make sure I connect with people through all hands and 1:1 meetings. It’s important to allow the people to define what is working and what needs to be more effective.

I talk with my leadership team as we have talent discussions, and as I hear names mentioned I send them individual notes thanking them for their contributions. It shows them that even though they are not with me day in and day out, I see them.

I’m a feedback junkie, so mutual participation is essential in this process. The ultimate thing you can do as a leader is to make everyone feel like they belong. Connecting to employee resource groups and providing peer mentors are ways of creating community so they feel connected.

Can you talk about soft power and your role as a woman in leadership?

Believe it or not, I’m blessed to never have struggled in that area. My innate personality shows up that way; however, I did struggle to find my voice. I was second-guessing a lot to make sure I didn’t say the wrong thing. I tried out a few different leadership styles as well. I had to make my leadership style unique to me, and when I realized this, it started flowing.

There’s power in speaking out and having your voice heard in the world. You never know what resources will come to your aid to help and enable the dream you want. 

Athena Alliance brings the most powerful women leaders into a single global community. Athena Alliance activates the connections, knowledge, and opportunities executive leaders need to break through the barriers that line the “last mile” of their career. Join Athena to connect with women leaders like Lani and advance your own executive interests—into the C-suite, boardroom, and beyond. Current members can request an introduction to Lani by logging into Athena.

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