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Taren Rodabaugh ’16 (EMP 100) is the Chief GIS Service Delivery officer at Harley-Davidson Motor Company. In her role, she handles all information technology resources required to define, design and deliver technology solutions that align and support the Harley-Davidson’s strategic direction. 

Taren shared advice given to her when she took on her first leadership position.

When I was first promoted as a manager, a mentor gave me three quarter-sized knick-knacks and a piece of advice for each one. To this day, I keep those items in plain sight. Through the years, as I’m faced with a difficult situation or decision, I have found myself rolling them around in my hand and remembering what she taught me.

The three pieces were a Lego block, a heart and a ladybug.

With the Lego block, she told me to “know your stuff,” regardless of how the “stuff” is defined.

In every role and situation, “stuff” is different. Sometimes, it’s very technical in nature. Other times, “stuff” is a deep understanding of the organization or the business environment. In all cases, understand what you are leading, build expertise in your business, know your risks and opportunities and do your homework; each piece of information is the building block required to effectively deliver results.

As she handed me the heart, she said, “Don’t forget to lead with feeling.”

This is the element of leading that is difficult to put on paper or learn from a book. It’s personal to every leader. It’s about knowing what makes you tick. Leading with feeling is also about recognizing that emotion flows through everything we do as a leader. It’s the aspect of decision making that you can’t lay out in a spreadsheet.  It means understanding when and how to coach an employee, a peer, or a boss.  It’s what is required to understand your team, your stakeholders and your employees and what motivates or demotivates each one. Finally, it means making decisions for the benefit of long term organizational and cultural change rather than short term deadlines. Having all the knowledge in the world isn’t enough if you aren’t also listening to your heart.

Lastly, she handed me the ladybug and reminded me, “Sometimes it’s just about luck.”

Luck puts you in the right place at the right time, provides the opportunity to demonstrate your strengths or brings someone into your life that has a real impact. It can also be that bad break, market change or tragic event. Good or bad, accept that you can’t control everything.  You can prepare and enable or mitigate, but realize you are not always in control. Use this advice to seize opportunities but also to accept, learn, and move beyond the failures.