EXPERT INTERVIEW – Karyn Corbett of Cisco Systems, Inc. discusses the qualities of a leader and more.

We continue our EXPERT INTERVIEW series where we are asking corporate and entrepreneurial leaders to share their thoughts, ideas, tips and advice on the subject of what it takes for leaders to be successful. Though the focus has been targeted to female professionals, each of our experts has made it clear that, as it should, there is no difference in what is expected of a female leader or a male leader, so feel free to share this with your female and male colleagues, teammates, and managers.

Our latest Expert Interview is with Karyn Corbett, Senior Director, Operations, Service Provider Business Unit of Cisco Systems, Inc.

Karyn Corbett is a results-oriented, collaborative leader with 25 years of experience in strategy and planning, operations management, portfolio management, process improvement, cross-functional governance, leadership development, and change leadership. She has had the opportunity to lead and work with many global, cross-functional teams, and create lasting foundational change. She is particularly skilled in the definition and implementation of cross-functional and cross-organizational Governance models to drive business results in a global, matrixed environment. She truly likes to Get Things Done!

Before Cisco Systems, Karyn worked with companies such as PartyLite Gifts and Sonoco Products Company. Karyn earned a B.A. at Jacksonville University and her MBA at the Crummer Graduate School of Business at Rollins College. She lives in Gilroy, CA with her husband Mike and dog Murphy, and enjoys wine tasting, travel, and motorcycle riding in her “off” time!

Question 1. What are the most effective traits/qualities you find in yourself, your colleagues or clients as leaders?
Karyn: Authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, and humor.

Question 2. What are the top challenges or destructive/disruptive patterns leaders experience in their performance?
· Thinking that what got you here (to this level or role) will get you there (to a higher level or a different role).
· Not being willing to change either behaviours or decisions based on new information.
· Not being open to learning new things.
· Thinking you have to perform perfectly at the next level or at a new role before you are “qualified” for it.

Question 3. How do those challenges differ between female and male leaders around you?
· Women tend to be more reticent to apply for a new level or new role if they feel they are not 100% “qualified” for it – whereas men are more likely to apply for a new role or position themselves for a promotion at closer to 60% qualified (according to an internal study by Hewlett Packard).
· Both genders sometimes have a hard time changing decisions because they are afraid to appear “weak” or uneducated. However, when men change their minds, they are more likely to be perceived as getting new data. When women change their minds, they are more likely to be perceived as “wrong” or “flaky”.

Question 4. What impact do those challenges have on their teams, company, and themselves?
Karyn: Companies don’t get to leverage their best talent because the talent can stall themselves out due to lack of confidence. This, in turn, causes teams to stall or start to get bad reputations within the company, and the best talent on the team then leaves, leading to a self-fulfilling downward spiral. Finally, women don’t take the opportunity to try new things or showcase their strengths as much because they feel like they have to be closer to “perfect” to go for something new – they can self-limit their personal exploration of their capabilities.

Question 5. What 1-3 tips would you give female executives who are looking to up their game, take on greater roles, and/or advance their business / career successfully?
1. Don’t wait to be perfect before taking the leap.
2. You don’t get what you don’t ask for – when you don’t ask, you are robbing the other person of being able to say, “Yes!”!



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2 Responses to “EXPERT INTERVIEW – Karyn Corbett of Cisco Systems, Inc. discusses the qualities of a leader and more.”

  1. Jane Allen says:

    Inspiring interview – good fuel for thought. Great to hear from you on this important topic of “leadership qualities” in general, and some of those differences between men and women. I look forward to hearing more from you. Best, Jane


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