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Victoria Pelletier: “Learn from the constructive criticism”

Learn from the constructive criticism. Given my origin story, I was a bit sensitive to constructive criticism at the beginning of my professional life. I have learned that true constructive criticism — emphasis on constructive — is immensely valuable. Listen to what is being said about your performance. Ask follow-up questions if you feel comfortable doing so. Make a […]

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Learn from the constructive criticism. Given my origin story, I was a bit sensitive to constructive criticism at the beginning of my professional life. I have learned that true constructive criticism — emphasis on constructive — is immensely valuable. Listen to what is being said about your performance. Ask follow-up questions if you feel comfortable doing so. Make a growth plan based on what you hear. Remember, those who are most supportive of you as a person and a professional, are the ones most likely to evaluate your work and offer helpful feedback.


As a part of our series about Inspirational Women of the Speaking Circuit, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Victoria Pelletier, Vice President of IBM’s North American Talent & Transformation business unit: She is a senior executive with over two decades of progressive experience in strategy, operations, growth initiatives, and business and talent development. She is a visionary leader with a passion for innovation, creativity and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. In fact, Victoria has won both the 2020 Mentor of the Year award from Women in Communications & Technology and the 2019 HSBC Diversity & Inclusion in Innovation Award. Victoria serves as a board member for several organizations; she is also a published author, regular contributor to Forbes and a member of the Forbes Human Resource Council. She is an in-demand public speaker and appears regularly on national radio and television. An inspiring professional with impeccable credentials, Victoria is a trusted voice among peers and emerging executives.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Victoria! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

It is not a pretty story, but it shaped me into the person I am today. I was born to a drug addicted teenage mother — I was on the receiving end of abuse and neglect. I was removed from the home as a child when my mother told friends that if I stayed, she would kill me. Like I said, not pretty. When I finally escaped my childhood, I realized that I was a strong person and had the will to thrive in the world. My origin story, as ugly as it is, made me resilient, confident, and determined to make a success of my life.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

The story that brings me, to this point, is not linear. I thought I was going to be a lawyer but fell in love with the corporate business world instead. My life has been an amalgam of starts and stops. While I bought my first house at age 19 and made my first million before I turned 30, I have also endured significant personal and business challenge and change, sleepless nights, a failed marriage, and limited time with my kids because of all the work and travel. IBM allows me to lead and personally thrive while supporting me with the flexibility to be a parent, partner, and healthy human being. They are also supportive of my focus around personal brand and having an impact on my colleagues, clients and within my community and the world at large. I am honored by the opportunity to pass on the wisdom I acquired while taking some hits on the way to this place in my career.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I think there are too many to pick just one, so I will go with a newer one. I just moved back to New York City (first time with family), arriving just a few months before the pandemic was in full swing. So here I am in one of the great cities in the world, and I (my family) have yet to tap into all the culture, food, and history it offers. Interesting timing.

I also have been leading a team that continues to work remotely. It is surreal, really. I came to the city to be at the heart of a great company in an amazing city. Here I am, however, locked down in my home. I will be the first out the door when a bit of normalcy returns.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Back when I was working for Nike, I made the mistake of wearing a Gap shirt to our casual work environment. While it wasn’t as bad as wearing Adidas or some other direct competitor’s apparel, clearly, I should have done more homework! A coworker thought I was crazy for not wearing the home team’s brand from head to toe. I am all for brand loyalty, but it was Gap and I most definitely don’t consider those two brands in the same category!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Well, I’m going to turn this question upside down. While I can point to a number of leaders who have walked with me along the way, I’ve been the kind of leader who gleans wisdom from those leaders that I want to be nothing like. Here is what I mean… There are a lot of terrible leaders out there who micromanage, demean, and do everything in their power to cobble more power. I continue to dedicate my professional life to being the kind of leader who inspires, teaches, and grows the brand and the people supporting the brand. Yes, bad examples can make us better at our own craft.

You have been blessed with great success in a career path that can be challenging and intimidating. Do you have any words of advice for others who may want to embark on this career path, but seem daunted by the prospect of failure?

Control what you can control.

You have control over your schedule, your vision, your appearance, and your preparedness. You also have control over how you respond to challenges, criticism, and, as we have learned this past year, crises. Too often we give our control away to people and tasks that knock us down instead of those who affirm our vision and talent. Control is also about saying, “No!” You can define and control your personal boundaries.

What drives you to get up everyday and give your talks? What is the main empowering message that you aim to share with the world?

As a leader, I understand that effective leadership flows from one’s “Why.” Why is a metaphor for one’s personal vision for life, work, and the future. My Why centres on transformation. I am interested in transforming communities, organizations, and corporations. I mentor the people on my team and in my professional orbit to be agents of transformation in their own settings. In my work and public speaking environments, I articulate the importance of naming one’s Why and then I inspire others to name and claim their own.

Can you share with our readers a few of your most important tips about how to be an effective and empowering speaker? Can you please share some examples or stories?

Strong speakers understand and believe in what they are articulating publicly. If you have no passion for the content of the speech, you will deliver it without energy and conviction. Your audience will not be interested in what you have to say if you are not impassioned yourself. Would I be an effective spokesperson about fast-food? No, because, as a health and fitness fanatic, I don’t put garbage into my body.

Effective and empowering speakers are authentic. I talk about my childhood, as horrible as it was, because it shaped who I have become. Being honest about one’s life — the good and the bad parts — shows the audience that this person is real and relatable. Counselors call this “therapeutic use of self.”

I think effective public speaking also leans toward improvisation. While you always want to prepare a script as part of your preparation, you should always read and respond to the audience’s energy and feedback. You might call this the “Obama Approach.” At the core of the former president’s deft oration skills is a knack for engaging the audience in real-time through gestures and a willingness to venture off script.

As you know, many people are terrified of speaking in public. Can you give some of your advice about how to overcome this fear?

Fear is subdued through repetition. Remember how you felt when you first learned how to drive a car? Scared as hell. Public speaking is the same way. The more you are behind the microphone, the more comfortable you become with your speaking style and how to build rapport with the audience. Practice in front of the mirror. Practice in front of a camera, too, and learn how to constructively criticize your methods. Also, recognize that your fear in front of the audience is a sign of your humility. If you start to believe “you’ve arrived” every time you speak before an audience, then the crowd will sense that you’re arrogant and unrelatable. That said, I always welcome the burst of butterflies before I step on stage as it gives me energy and pumps me up to deliver with such passion.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Develop and grow your personal brand. In the early days of my career, I almost exclusively promoted the companies I represented. I still do this, of course. However, I’ve also learned the value pf personal brand and promoting myself. If you want to grow your career, you must grow your personal brand. You MUST create and control the narrative about your brand and ensure consistency, relevancy, and regularity in promoting and articulating your personal brand. I accomplish this through public speaking, mentoring, and networking, to name a few.

Bring your whole self to all you do; Authenticity is the key. Trust in relationships, and particularly in business, when asking others to follow, is critical. Trust is built on being honest and transparent and also being your authentic self. For years, I hid my past, my insecurities, and my emotions out of fear — it was only when I started to show up authentically, owning and sharing my experience and emotions that I grew as a leader and subsequently developed stronger relationships built on trust.

Setting and maintaining boundaries are essential. I am a self-professed workaholic and I also have side hustles and passions, a family and large friend network. To be able to make time for all that brings me persona and professional development and joy, I’ve needed to learn to say “No” and not feel guilty for doing so. I’ve also learned to delegate and outsource much more effectively to be able to accomplish all that I need to deliver.

Learn from the constructive criticism. Given my origin story, I was a bit sensitive to constructive criticism at the beginning of my professional life. I have learned that true constructive criticism — emphasis on constructive — is immensely valuable. Listen to what is being said about your performance. Ask follow-up questions if you feel comfortable doing so. Make a growth plan based on what you hear. Remember, those who are most supportive of you as a person and a professional, are the ones most likely to evaluate your work and offer helpful feedback.

Share what you know. Looking back at the contours of my career to date, I can point to many leaders who offered great wisdom about business, leadership, and life. As my career advances, I recognize that I am called to be a mentor too. The success of our organizations, as well as the success of the next generation of leaders, rests in our willingness to take mentoring seriously.

You have such impressive work. What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? Where do you see yourself heading from here?

The “Woke” movement continues to remind all of us that diversity, equity and inclusion are at the core of every strong business and community. In my environment, I have an opportunity to lead my organization, and coach other companies in its expanding DE&I strategy and engagement. I love this work.

DE&I is truly the next great frontier in research, strategy, policy, and execution of policy. Diverse, equitable and inclusive businesses help to bring DE&I to the forefront of community consciousness. In my own leadership, I recognize that diversity, equity and inclusion promote creativity, collaboration, and innovation. I am eager to continue this important work and share with others broadly.

Can you share with our readers any self care routines, practices or treatments that you do to help your body, mind or heart to thrive? Please share a story for each one if you can.

I am a fitness fanatic. Movement, physical training, and deft nutrition keep me in top condition as I manage my professional and personal life. If wellness is not a top priority, everything else suffers. During the pandemic, I’ve moved equipment to my home. Whatever it takes! My mantra is No Excuses!

I play hard. Whether I’m exploring a new city, hiking a new trail, or venturing into a new neighborhood in NYC, I am always game for adventure and joy. It’s even better when I’m playing hard with family and friends. If we can’t enjoy life, then what’s the point?

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You know, I don’t think I have a favorite quote. Many great writers, leaders, and entrepreneurs have and continue to inspire me. But, given my unconventional upbringing, a quote from Rachel Schade, author of the Silent Kingdom, resonates. Schade says, “The courage to live brings its own rewards.”

I knew early on that my backstory was profoundly unhealthy. To survive it all, I tapped into what Schade calls the “courage to live.” We all have unhealthy moments and seasons in our public and private lives. We can let the unhealthy stuff define us — be our “face” to the world — or we can live courageously, learn from the hard stuff, and leverage the resilience it forged in us when more challenges arrive.

You are a person of huge influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

That is a great compliment. Thank you very much.

While we need a lot of movements these days to right a broken world, I would be glad to lead the one that helps young women thrive beyond abusive relationships and upbringings. Yes, a lot of people are already doing this important work. However, I see myself as one uniquely positioned to help young women leverage their resilience to really drive forward and progress in business. Our stories, as painfully as they may be, have a way of honing some amazing gifts. I suspect a lot of women in roles like mine overcame staggering “beginnings.”

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

Can I have lunch with both Obamas? I’ll pay!! I deeply admire this couple for the balance they’ve found in serving the world, nurturing strong girls, and enhancing their own relationship. I would love to “pick their brains” to learn about the challenges they’ve faced along the way, and the techniques they’ve used to master them. The Obamas are mentors for so many. That may be the most compelling part of their story; the Obamas are generous in “giving back.”

Are you on social media? How can our readers follow you online?

Of course I am! Remember what I said about the criticality of personal brand. The best place to start is https://victoria-pelletier.com although you can also find me on the following social platforms:

LinkedIn — https://www.linkedin.com/in/victoriapelletier/

Twitter — @PelleterV29

Instagram @Victoria_Pelletier_Unstoppable

This was so informative, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

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