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Tips From The Top: One On One With Shannon Schuyler, PwC’s Chief Purpose Officer

I spoke to Shannon Schuyler, Principal and Chief Purpose Officer at PwC and President of the PwC Charitable Foundation, about her best advice

Adam: Thanks again for taking the time to share your story and your advice. How did you get here? What failures, setbacks or challenges have been most instrumental to your growth?

Shannon: My dad taught me two things that helped get me where I am today:

(1) Outwork everyone

(2) Say yes before no

Those tenets gave me momentum as I started my career and began to consider the impact my actions could have more broadly, but also served as setbacks when I overplayed them. Saying yes opened doors but I soon found myself overcommitted. I lost my true north star. Learning to use “no” diligently has been a challenging shift for me personally but it’s important to know how.

Similarly, “outwork everyone” was my initial way to show commitment and endurance. Now, I still push myself to do more and make sure my team knows I’m giving 150% of myself at all times, but I work differently. I’m present, not perfect. I feed my intellectual curiosity on issues and areas of expertise outside of my own to spark ideas to constructively disrupt and move the social agenda forward.

Growing up, I also had very strong women in my life that never seemed afraid to fail. My grandmother, mother, and aunt found power in who they were – a state and local lobbyist for a bank; a philanthropist; a farmer – and they each passed along a strong sense of self. They all passed away far too soon, when I was in my early 20’s, but I take what I learned from each of them to continue to tell their stories and carry their legacies with me daily. Because of them, and many other influential people in my life, I am an eclectic woman, finally comfortable with myself.

Adam: In your experience, what are the defining qualities of an effective leader? How can leaders and aspiring leaders take their leadership skills to the next level?

Shannon: The best leaders have four qualities:

(1) Authenticity: Be true to yourself and let others see who you are through transparency, empathy, and selflessness

(2) Resiliency: Run into the fire first and own your failures. Be willing to change long-held personal beliefs when compelling arguments make you see things differently

(3) Purpose: Give people a reason to follow you: a north star, a way forward that engages people

(4) Presence: An aura or charisma that make people want to get closer to you 

Leadership is a skill shaped by experience and honed into a personal suite of actions that are unique to you. For me, it has been a journey and I am constantly learning and evolving in order to provide the greatest value to those around me. I spend time with my own personal leadership coach to help me reflect on challenging experiences and analyze how I might have approached certain situations more effectively. I am self reflective and critical of myself when needed, and I spend time in the presence of leaders I admire in the hopes their magic touch might rub off!

Adam: What are your three best tips applicable to entrepreneurs, executives and civic leaders?

1. Innovation is rewarded. Execution is worshipped.

2. Simplicity is genius.

3. Never underestimate loyalty – building trust will make or break you.

Adam: What is the single best piece of advice you have ever received?

Shannon: Be the heroine of your life, not the victim.

Adam: What is one thing everyone should be doing to pay it forward?

Shannon: Give the next generations a voice and your time. After I graduated college and was trying to get my first job, I felt so alone. The amazing women in my life were gone, and I did not know how I should “show up” as a woman in the workplace. I just wanted a 15 minute discussion with a woman who had “made it” and would give me a chance to ask questions. I could not find that woman. That will not be my legacy.

I now set aside time every month to meet and speak with young professionals who need someone to listen without judgement. I share ideas or strategies to consider and help them keep moving in their career journey. It’s most important for leaders to equally share what they’ve gotten right and wrong since most journeys are not smooth but full of turbulence.

I recently spoke with a talented young woman about her fear of public speaking. She had watched a couple videos of me on stage and thought it was easy for me. I let her know that while I am confident speaking now, the first time I gave a speech in front of large audience in college, I froze on stage, and ran off. It was horrifying – I remember the feeling vividly today. Afterwards my dad told me I tried too hard to memorize the words of my speech: “Get up and tell a story, talk about what you know,” he said. Now I give speeches in front of thousands of people all the time, and I always think of that lesson. We need authentic coaches and mentors like my dad to help our young people achieve their full potential.

Adam: What are your hobbies and how have they shaped you?

Shannon: Running. It is the fastest workout I can find and when I go fast I stop making mental lists. It also serves as discipline and sense of completion – although I don’t love it, I do it every day for my health and it has a defined start and finish so it can be at least one moment of success for that day. I also collect artwork and go antiquing. The thrill is in the search and the perfect find. Working in professional services teaches you to be analytical. It’s nice to have the decorator’s eye to help me think, “well, what if I make a small tweak and try something this way, or put it with something else. What could we create then?” Art fosters my creative side.

Adam: Is there anything else you would like to share?

Shannon: My five-year-old son Billy has changed me and made me reflect more than anything. He’s a mini me: not patient and so sassy, but endearing (ok, so I think I am endearing). On a daily basis I see this little person watch everything I do. I want to create an experience I want him to see. We should all remember we never know who’s watching us.

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