Kikelomo Lawal is chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Interac Corp. and was recently named one of the Most Influential Women in Payments for 2019.
I look at my daughter (who is starting university in the fall) and my sons (who are not far behind her on that path) and wonder what the job market will look like when they graduate. We are in an age of disruption – skills that were necessary four years ago may not be necessary today. The technology we will use four years from now may not even exist today. How are seasoned employees, and recent graduates, supposed to navigate today’s changing job market?
I don’t have definitive answers, but I’m big on themes, so what I’ll try to do for my children, and all of the people in my orbit, is share some of the life lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn).
Define the workplace values that are important to you and stick with them
I’m chief legal officer and corporate secretary at Interac Corp., the domestic debit network in Canada. Before I joined Interac, my world was courtrooms and law firms. And my knowledge of payments was pretty much limited to inserting my debit card (or swiping it, as we did then) to complete a purchase. The jargon, the interlocking relationships and the underlying technology were all new to me and the social and professional learning curve was steep.
But one thing I could and did carry forward from my previous roles was my approach to work. I strive for excellence – always. I try to put forward my best effort, whether I’m producing a first draft or a final version. I endeavour to do my homework and come prepared. I cop to being exacting and driven, but I try to balance that with kindness and grace, with a willingness to give of my time to others, and by giving credit and praise freely. (I’m a work in progress when it comes to that last part, though.)
Don’t just identify problems; develop solutions
To be a lawyer is to be a problem-solver. To be an in-house lawyer is to constantly balance exposure and risk with the pursuit of business objectives. To be a strong contributor in any setting is to offer creative, smart solutions. Again, I don’t have a formula, but I ascribe great importance to understanding nuance and context; to having a 360-degree view of things and trying to think several steps ahead; to understanding what people’s motivations are and what drives their decision-making; and to tapping into available resources, whether they take the form of data, tools or relationships. These are all things that help one identify problems – and solutions. And it’s the solutions that will make you a sought-after contributor.
Seek out the relationships that will help you grow
My personal life is enriched by the people around me, particularly, my parents (whose work ethic and dedication far eclipse mine), my siblings (who are my advisers, my confidants and my truth-tellers), my husband (who is my supporter and exhorter) and my children (who are my great pride). In the business world, my career and my confidence have been bolstered by people who took an interest in me – from the law firm partner who put me on his important files when I was greener than green; to my dear friend (who, today, is a sitting federal court judge in the United States) who taught me the importance of building and preserving relationships; to the boss/mentor/friend who spent some of his political capital to support my growth and promotion. Because I’ve been the beneficiary of that kind of favour, I’m a big believer in paying it forward, on my own and as part of existing and upcoming initiatives at Interac.
Look for your own coaches, sponsors and mentors, but as you do so, also work on being the sort of person who is not difficult to coach, sponsor or mentor. No two people have the same path, so look at what that person has accomplished (or faced) and identify themes you can ask about and apply to your own circumstances. Allow the relationship to grow organically – your very first meeting is not the time to map out your entire career path. And don’t focus exclusively on those in your field or the people whose jobs you aspire to have one day. Your coach/mentor/sponsor might be someone only a few steps ahead of you career-wise or may be someone in a different field whose experience can inform yours in other ways. It’s more important to have a person who has the time, capacity and inclination to encourage and challenge you.
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