Episode 66

Meet Sandy Stojkovski, CEO Vitesco Technologies, North America

Meet Sandy Stojkovski, CEO of Vitesco Technologies, North America

Sandy Stojkovski’s career took off when, during her first year at her first post-grad job, her boss hand-selected her to run a manufacturing operation. She’s been taking chances on employees ever since.

“He was really unique in … choosing someone for potential instead of only demonstrated experience,” says Sandy. “I’m continuing to pay it forward, looking for potential in others.”

In this episode, Sandy shares several leadership lessons, such as how to overcome imposter syndrome and how to gain her employees’ trust — as well as their buy-in.

Episode Summary

Sandy Stojkovski’s career took off when, during her first year at Cooper-Standard Automotive — her first job out of college — the Vice President of Engineering hand-selected her to run a manufacturing operation. She’s been paying it forward ever since by taking chances on employees with potential.  

“I told him that I didn't think I was qualified,” Sandy recalls. “And he did something I will never forget. He told me he was choosing me not for my experience, but for the potential, he saw in me.”

After obtaining three degrees from the University of Michigan, Sandy climbed the ranks of seven positions at five different companies. Eventually, she landed in her current position as CEO of North America at Vitesco Technologies. 

Over the 18 years that have passed since she worked at Ford Motor Company by day and took master’s courses at night, she gained invaluable knowledge about business development. 

However, the most important lessons she’s learned are about leadership. 

Sandy's leadership model is an inverted pyramid structure rather than the traditional hierarchy with a CEO at the top and everyone else at the bottom.

“It’s about the team,” she says. “I serve as a player and a coach for the team … I care, and it's about seeing the team succeed.”

In this episode, Sandy shares hard-won lessons in how to overcome imposter syndrome, the mental health (and thus productivity) benefits of maintaining a routine and how to build trust among your teams.

“If a leader is trustworthy, and is focused on competency, carrying sincerity, and reliability," she says, "everyone wants to follow you.”

Other themes discussed in this episode: 

  • Gaining trust by showing you care
  • Why getting buy-in from employees is a slow but worthwhile process 
  • Why it’s important to attract and retain Gen Z employees (as well as how to do it)
  • How to be the leader you wish you’d had in the past 

Featured Guest: 

What she does: Sandy is the CEO of North America at Vitesco Technologies, a Regensburg, Germany-based automotive supplier for “clean, smart, and electrified” drivetrain and powertrain technologies.  

On Gravitas: “Anyone can carry on with the status quo. That's called a manager. In most cases, a leader with gravitas is willing to do the unpopular and sometimes uncomfortable work of creating a new vision, and leading people there.”

Episode Highlights

Timestamped inflection points from the show

[2:05] Back to the beginning: Sandy explains her background, from her roots in southeast Michigan as a varsity athlete, flutist and dancer to her extensive experience in the automotive industry as a planning analyst, engineering director, VP and eventually CEO.

[16:26] Taking a leap of faith: Long after her first boss took a chance on her, Sandy realized he promoted employees based on potential instead of just demonstrated experience. She talks about how his approach influenced her approach to leadership.


[20:01] Making up for lack of experience: One of the most important lessons Sandy learned early in her career was how to overcome imposter syndrome. She explains why putting in the work can help make up for lack of experience through on-the-ground learning.


[23:49] ‘Be the leader you wish you’d had’: At a previous job, Sandy learned to gauge people’s reactions when a meeting was over. She finds that post-meeting, some of the best ideas tend to come out — particularly if the leader of that meeting wasn’t making others comfortable enough to share.


[25:38] Flipping the pyramid: The majority of Sandy’s actions as a leader stem from her visualization of authority within her organization: It’s not a pyramid where she sits at the top as CEO. It's an inverted pyramid that starts with everyone working together as a team.   


[28:27] Nurturing a safe environment: Sandy understands that if her team members don’t feel safe, they won’t perform at a high level. She demonstrates why in a world of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), it’s increasingly important to be transparent and ask for input in order to foster psychological safety.


[31:38] Why it’s worth the extra time: Sandy is aware that her approach to leadership takes more time than simply giving commands. But she thinks it’s worth the extra effort because it takes a whole lot longer to get things done if there is no employee buy-in.


[32:59] There is no team without trust: A discussion of Sandy’s favorite of Jan’s 21 Traits of Authentic Leadership evolves into a point about why no company can function without trust: “Do you really think you can deliver the bottom line if you don't have your team? And do you really think you have your team if they don't trust you?”


[36:26] The power of Gen Z: Sandy discusses her perspective on attracting and retaining Gen Z. She says it's important to learn what they need and want and provide as much of that as possible (for example, ask them about their ideal return-to-work policy).


[42:07On Gravitas: Sandy’s definition of gravitas borrows from the David Foster Wallace definition of leadership: “It's not just enough to be visionary and to hope for a vision to come to reality,” she adds. “A leader with gravitas also isn't afraid to hope, and then uses even anger and courage to create a real pathway to achieving these harder, better things.”


[44:34] Find a routine and stick to it: It’s easy to get stressed when you have a leadership role, especially in the COVID-19 era. Sandy explains why sticking to a routine in your personal life, such as her tradition of never missing a workout, can have positive effects on your work life. 



Top quotes


[5:57] “He [her first boss] was really unique in seeing potential and choosing someone for potential instead of only demonstrated experience. So I am committed, as a leader, to continuing to pay it forward, looking for potential in others and not just demonstrated experience.”


[20:55] “A pretty important piece of overcoming that imposter syndrome was to say, Hmm, if you work hard enough at it, you can figure it out. And it's really about how quickly you can figure it out — not about if you're going to fail or not.”


[26:14] “I don't actually believe that being in leadership puts you at the top of the pyramid. I believe that it should be an inverted pyramid. It is about the team. I serve as a player and a coach for the team.”


[28:50] “We need the best of all of our team members contributing and pivoting and bringing new ideas and information forward. So you've got to have a psychologically safe culture. And I believe it happens from being very collaborative. … instead of pushing decisions on people, it's about engaging.”


[33:41] “If a leader is trustworthy, and is focused on competency, sincerity, and reliability, then you truly have the absolute ability to lead, and everyone wants to follow you. Because they see you care, they see you have the competency, they see you're sincere and reliable. This is what I focus on.”

Mentioned in this episode:

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Transcript
Dietrich:

Welcome to the Finding Gravitas podcast. It's time to stop trying to fit someone else's mold and step into the world of authentic leadership. Connect with that irresistible force that is Gravitas. Your host, Jan Griffiths will guide you through an exploration into exactly what this elusive quality means and how you can get it. Now, let's join Jan on the quest for Gravitas.

Jan Griffiths:

Get ready to meet the chief executive officer of Vitesco Technologies, formerly Continentals Powertrain Division, you're going to meet Sandy Stojkovski, you'll hear her story. And you'll hear all about her leadership style. And it's different to the traditional automotive leadership style that you might expect in a tier one. Sandy embodies all of the traits of an authentic leader. And in my mind, she is exactly the kind of leader that we need to take this industry forward into the future. And she loves the challenges of problem solving. There's a fascinating story about how she was selected to run a manufacturing facility way early on in her career, and she was chosen for her potential. And she looks for potential in others, that moments in her career definitely influenced her leadership style. And she creates an environment for people to thrive. She would describe her style as being a player and a coach, and will cover exactly what she does to create psychological safety in meetings. We cover radical truth and what that means to her and the team at Vitesco. What she's doing to attract Gen Z, and her work from home policy, which might not be exactly what you expect. This is a leader that understands accountability, not only from a business perspective, but she understands it from a personal perspective, personal accountability. She never misses a day of working out, ever. Now that's something. Sandy, welcome to the show.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Thanks, Jan.

Jan Griffiths:

It's great to have you on and I am dying to know your story. So Sandy, tell us your story. Take us right back to the very beginning.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Well, I was born and raised in Southeast Michigan. I was a varsity athlete in three sports, captain in two. Did flute, piano, dance just everything eclectic interests. I followed in my dad's and my older sister's footsteps and went into engineering. I've always loved to solve problems. And engineers are the world's problem solvers. So I went to the University of Michigan, and got my Bachelor's in mechanical engineering and later added two master's degrees also, from U of M, which I pursued in an evening dual degree program while working full time.I started my career at what is now known as Cooper Standard Automotive. And during my very first year there, I had a big fortune of being hand selected by the Vice President of Engineering to run a manufacturing operation. I told him that I didn't think I was qualified. And he did something I will never forget. And he told me, he was choosing me not for my experience, but for the potential he saw in me. He went on to describe the vision he had for where that potential could take me and wow, Jan, what a gift of confidence he gave me at such an early age. This was also important as it gave me manufacturing experience, which is something I believe all business leaders need. It was manufacturing experience in a low volume, Greenfield operation. So everything had to be invented and defined. There were no rules, plenty of room for entrepreneurialism. So I was being chosen for my potential and tasting the fruit of that I can learn and do anything I set my mind to treat. It just lit me on fire and I'm still so grateful to that Vice President of Engineering. Later on, I moved on and joined Ford in powertrain and I was chomping at the bit to make an impact in such an important company like Ford. There I worked on strategy and optimization of attributes of the powertrain that touch customers like fuel economy, performance and shift quality. I learned a lot and worked with great people, but it was also honestly at a time pre Mulally. So the opportunities to make a difference, were constrained by the overall decline of the business and so excited to use my newly earned master's degrees that I had earned while I was working. I joined Ricardo, an engineering services firm to be the Business Development Director with kind of sales, if you will. Responsible for growing our business with Ford. And within a couple of years, but with no prior sales experience, I grew to have responsibility for all the US OEMs. And with that larger field of view across all our US customers, I noticed that all had the same challenges of managing system level fuel economy, optimization decisions for their vehicles. And based on that insight, I asked and was granted the opportunity to start a new practice for the company. And I almost didn't even ask for that opportunity to start this because I thought, Well, who am I to do this, others no more. But then as my husband is known to do, I had the great kick in the pants from him, when he reminded me of the other things I'd achieved without having had any experience beforehand as well. Within two years, this new practice was 20% of the business, highly profitable, and we were consulting to the US government agencies and customers. Wow, I'm so proud of what we accomplished there. And I can't believe I almost didn't get into it, because I was afraid to raise my hand. I started love the influence and impact that we had. And by this point, I was absolutely confident in the potential to expand the practice, and was also starting to gain more confidence in myself. But failing to convince Ricardo to expand the practice. And with this conviction of what the business could be, I quit and started my own company. So that's a pretty big risk to do something like that. So I launched a new company and actually ended up selling a major portion of it to the AVL group early on, becoming the founder and overall head of this built from scratch strategic consulting firm, known as Senaria, eventually. Senaria focused on supporting strategic product and capacity planning decisions through model based decision analysis. That's that's kind of a lot to say. But basically, it was big data and data visualization and neural networks, and all these things that we start to hear about a lot now. But, you know, this was 12 years ago. So it was pretty new back then. But interestingly, despite all that technology, it was the relationships that I had built along my career. So far, those relationships, those people became our biggest customers and our first customers, and I'm so proud of the work we did for them. Because instead of following, let's say the hype cycle and conventional wisdom of what technologies and products would be needed, our team helped clients accelerate large scale investments, where they could really win. And or delay investing real money too early in technologies that simply didn't have a future for a decade or more. So, pretty important activity there. But after about 10 years, having been in consulting at that point, it was time, I thought to get back to making things. So I actually went and joined TRW, as the vice president of engineering excellence. It was a new role in the company with the goal of eventually moving into a p&l role. So that was my plan. But then, early on into my time there, there was the announced acquisition of TRW buys ZF. And so my focus shifted more to co leading the global technology related integration activities for what was then one of the largest supplier acquisitions to date, that acquisition of that of TRW. We identified and drove a lot of growth opportunities for the combined companies while I was there, and during this time, and this is pretty important. I was also such a student of the TRW practices and its CEO. I use this time to learn as much as possible about running a P&L Until then TRW was acquired by ZF, leading to the elimination of my role.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Losing your job is kind of a difficult thing to go through. But thanks to my network, once again, I landed my first p&l role then at Magneti Marelli as President of Powertrain North America, and I got to apply what I learned at TRW and used it to quickly drive a successful turnaround. FCA was openly talking of selling Magneti Marelli at the time because it was an owned company by FCA. So when continental came calling, I decided that I did not want to go through another acquisition and accepted what was an incredible opportunity, to go to Continental. So that opportunity had me moving myself and my family, where I became the Senior Vice President and head of the 4000 person global product line p&l, which includes really the overall leadership and growth, but also the performance for what was then nine production locations around the world and for global r&d locations. So here I was in Regensburg, Germany with my family, as a really big step up in the size of the p&l that I was responsible for. And I quickly realized that, in fact, I had inherited a failed turnaround from my predecessor. And that was a pretty big surprise, because I didn't think it was a turnaround business when I'd gone through the interview process. So you know, it's never quite what you think it's going to be while you're interviewing what you then find. But nevertheless, I really dug in with the team. And we collaboratively defined and implemented a new strategy of global organizational structure, customer focused innovation processes and consolidated our whole footprint, across the portfolio of growing and shrinking businesses and through a variety of actions ended up taking out about 30% of our structural costs over a couple of years, and getting ourselves into a profitable business situation, despite the overall market for the kinds of products that that product line had. But it was not enough to overcome what I call the melting ice cube or the the melting future for the internal combustion engine. So after the company, pre announced them a five year exit of the injector business, I had to or got to leave the divestiture and phase out of that business. And so that was really a nice segue then into coming back to North America. So now, after having lived and worked in Germany, for a couple years, we came back to the US into Michigan again, and the family and I came back just before the pandemic, where I became the CEO of North America for Vitesco Technologies. This is a proximately 8000 person region representing all of our products, so not just the internal combustion ones, but now also into the electric vehicle and hybrid electric vehicle components that we make. And in the last two and a half years, we have been very successful driving the regional team now to be operationally and then finally spun off from Continental. This spin off was for us to become our own separate legal entity, legal company, were listed in on the German Stock Exchange, we also through this time period got to overcome really the very significant sales reduction and then bounced back due to COVID. And through that, we also were able to make the very important steps into winning, electrified order intake, which is a key part of our strategy going forward. So those are some of the key things I'm proud of over that last assignment so to speak. And as you can hear, it definitely hasn't been a straight line for me, my career. One where everything happens inside the same company, I've certainly accumulated a lot of breadth of experiences from Product Engineering, to manufacturing to business development on both the OEM and supplier sides. And then through that broad lens, you could say for about the last 12 or so years, I've been running p&l for different kinds of supplier businesses, I have found my true calling is running businesses, the p&l because that's where I can make the most significant positive impact. And I get to still be a problem solver. But now I'm the problems of more complex, higher impact problems of businesses and in service of their stakeholders. I certainly moved around a lot in my career if you count them all up at seven different companies. But the consistent thread for each move was to use my experience to solve bigger and higher impact challenges. And that's definitely led me to be on the leading edge of some pretty exciting technical and business transformations that have described our industry. It's also meant I've encountered just about every kind of business transformation, whether it's startup turnaround, aggressive growth, restructuring, acquisitions, spin off, you name it, and I've found successfully navigating them required me to be the very best leader I could be. Which brings me to say thank you for having me on your podcast because I think at the end of the day, we're really talking about leadership.

Jan Griffiths:

We are indeed and there is so much to get into with your story. I want to go back to that moment in time where your boss put you in a manufacturing position and you had no experience you said, it lifts you up, you know, you just felt like you could take on the world. And I, I share that exact same experience. I had a boss once, when I went to work for GKN and manufacturing, did the same thing to me, I'd never worked in manufacturing in my entire life. And he said, I want you in this role, because you don't know how to play the games. He said, You're very honest, you're true, you want to do the right thing. And that just sort of blew my mind that he was going to invest time and take the risk with me. So this man took a risk with you. You didn't have the experience, right? You're a girl. It's his back in automotive, right? This is a while ago, but he believed in you. Tell us more about how you felt.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Oh, I still remember him calling me into his office and sitting me down and saying, I've got this great opportunity for you. And I really want you to take it. And then he started to talk about where it could take me. And he told me, Sandy in 10 years, I can see. So clearly, you'll be a vice president here in this company. And I was like, did you know that? I mean, I'm only 32? Are you crazy? You know, I just continued to have this sort of perspective of he doesn't get it? Why is he seeing things that we know aren't possible? And I'm so glad I finally said, Can I sleep on it? He said, Sure. And it took me one night and a call with my father and some reflection further. And I thought, Well, if he sees this in me, and he's got all this experience, who am I to say, he's wrong? Let's give it a go. But it just lit me on fire because it meant so much to my confidence.

Jan Griffiths:

And I'm going to guess that you learned that leadership trait or behavior, if you will, from that moment, is that right?

Sandy Stojkovski:

I had no idea how rare his perspective was, at that time. It was only after years of further career development that I looked back and said, you know, he was really unique in in seeing potential and choosing someone for potential instead of only demonstrated experience. So yes, I am committed to as a leader continuing to pay it forward, even in looking for potential and others and not just demonstrated experience.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, and I think in that potential, he saw character, you know, we often see character over competence, hire for character train for competence. And you're right. It's rare, it's extremely rare in the automotive industry, I think, because a lot of us are driven by fear, you know, what if, what if you had failed? Right? I would, I'm guessing that he probably would have helped you, right, he would have supported you and helped you and, and put you back on track and support you every step of the way. And I think a lot of people are afraid to do that, because they're afraid that if they make the wrong decision, it's going to come back on them. So we automatically go out there and we look for the resume with the competence that we need, and then we put the people in the role. So I am I'm going to guess that this is a big part of your leadership now at Vitesco. Is that right?

Sandy Stojkovski:

Absolutely. And you know, especially when maybe we'll talk about this later. But when you talk about diversity and trying to improve, you know, the the numbers from a diversity perspective, so often you have this discussion of, well, we will only want to pick the most qualified candidate. And given the example I just raised, what is the most qualified candidate? Is it the person with the right attitude and aptitude and hunger to learn? Or is it the person who's already done that, and that's a hard call to make. But it absolutely is one that we all then face as we start to make decisions of who to promote and who to hire.

Jan Griffiths:

Well look at your boss at that time made that decision and look what it produced, right? It produced you, a leader, a CEO, in the automotive industry, on the leading edge of the automotive industry with a tremendously successful track record. And it was the right decision. And the reason I'm staying on this subject for so long is because I think it's so important that to all the leaders out there who are listening to this, look around you, look at the potential that exists around you in the people that you have. They may not have the resume for the job, but you know your gut will tell you that they've got the potential you just need to give them the environment in which they can thrive and great things will happen.

Jan Griffiths:

This episode is brought to you by Gravitas Detroit. If you want to improve employee engagement Now's the time to implement your own internal company podcast. Human to human conversation, develop a strategy, design episodes to share executive interviews, employee spotlights, technical reviews, so many different options, the possibilities are endless. Go beyond the traditional corporate communications platforms and bring the dynamic power of story from a real human voice, we will work with you to make that happen. The link is in the show notes.

Jan Griffiths:

In your story, you mentioned that moment, where you experienced imposter syndrome, you were a little bit afraid to reach out when you're at Ricardo to say, Hey, I think we should do this people. And here's why. Tell us a little bit more about that. Because we've all experienced imposter syndrome where we think we're not good enough? Or should I should I really be the one to come forward with this idea? You know, where they think that it's crazy coming from me where they think I'm stupid, you know, you just you're just, you're more reserved. But you had that thought for a moment, but you pushed through it. And then you raised your hand and you said, I think we need to do this. Tell us about what was going through your head at the time?

Sandy Stojkovski:

Well, you know, I had had some good examples around me at that time. In fact, Ricardo had different parts of its business. So one was on the engineering services side, which is where I was, but right next to me, and a group I worked with fairly often was the strategic consulting side. And I was amazed at how much clients would pay by the hour for people to essentially, essentially figure it out. And what I mean by that is, you know, these consultants had never necessarily dug into the particular topic that they were being asked to explore. But they were really good at scouring the universe of knowledge, absorbing as much of it as possible, talking to the experts they could find, and then communicating with that in a in an important way back to those clients. And so that was, I think, a pretty important piece of overcoming that imposter syndrome, which was to say, Huh, if you work hard enough at it, you can figure it out. And it's really about how quickly you can figure it out, not if you're going to fail or not. So that helped, I think, pushed me through a lot of that. But, you know, there's nothing like the stool of proof points that you develop over your career, you know. Having run a greenfield manufacturing location and done so successfully, having figured out sales and getting promoted in that having had no prior experience, you know, these kinds of legs of the stool, if you will, were really important to me overcoming imposter syndrome, because I started to build the muscles of, you know what, I can figure this out, and I can figure it out pretty fast. So let's give it a try.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, I think it's about it's about having that commitment and faith in yourself, right? It's about knowing, hey, you know what, I'll figure it out. If it goes wrong goes wrong, we'll do something else. You've got to push past that fear of failure, and just say, I know I'm coming from a good place. And so here we go.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Yeah. And just to add to that, if, if the worst thing that can happen is you gain powerful new experiences, and you've learned something that makes you even more marketable because of the experience that you've gained. Is that really even a big risk to take, you know, you start to get comfortable, I think with what's the worst that can happen and realizing that the worst isn't so bad.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, yeah. Well said. Your leadership has gone through an evolution as all of us as leaders who have been in the in the field for several decades, can attest to right you changed. Maybe change is the wrong word. But you evolve, Evolve is a better word. I think you evolve. You have undoubtedly grown up. And seen in the command and control model of leadership in automotive. I know that you are a firm believer in the School of authentic leadership. So tell us a little bit about command and control. How were you able to if you will, pick the good parts of command and control that perhaps resonated with you? And the reason I say that is because you said when you were at TRW, there were a lot of good things there that you learned about how to run a p&l. But I also know that TRW back in the day was a lot of command and control. So there was some good not to pick on TRW, but there was some good things there and maybe some not so good things about command and control that you did not take on board with your own personal leadership model. So how are you able to navigate through some of that?

Sandy Stojkovski:

Well, in every place you go, you can learn something you can learn what to do and what not to do. And I've not found a perfect human being yet. So there's always elements of Oh, yes, this was really excellent. And oh, no, I'm not going to do that. And if I, you know, not even to pick on TRW, but to even combine that experience with some other experiences I've had where Absolutely, command and control was present in one or the other area, you definitely can see what the impact is on, on yourself and on others. So it's true. While I was at TRW, I learned a lot about how to run a p&l. I also learned, you know, to watch for what people's reactions were after the meeting was over. And, you know, it was really interesting to see that, you know, there are people who had so much more to offer, whether this be there or in other environments I was in. And you could see that it was only after the meeting was over, they felt comfortable bringing that forward. And many times those were the best ideas of all. So it was through those experiences that I became convinced that I wanted to be, well, the kind of leader I wished I had, you know, in all these circumstances, you can start to say whether it was at Ford, or in consulting or at TRW it, it just kind of came to this drumbeat of when I'm a leader, I'm going to do this, and I'm not going to do that. And it all came down to I want to be the kind of leader I wished I had.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, yeah. Sandy, elaborate on your leadership style? What's it like?

Sandy Stojkovski:

Well, you know, it's hard to compare to others, because I'm not another. But I do know, somehow that through the feedback I get from my teams, that there are elements that are different. And you know, and I think maybe to kind of come to this question, I think about well, what's the normal leadership style? In, you know, this kind of, let's say, the mold is, you might say that, and a lot of times you see leaders who think, hmm, I'm in leadership. Now I'm at the top of the pyramid. And I'll start there. I don't actually believe that being in leadership puts you at the top of the pyramid, I believe that, you know, it should be an inverted pyramid is about the team, I serve as a player and a coach for the team, sometimes playing a position other times the coach. But either way, I'm all in with the team, because I care and it's about seeing the team succeed. And so this is, I'd say, the most fundamental difference that I used to think about my leadership, compared to maybe the corporate mold of leadership, especially in big companies is this inverted pyramid. Another piece that I think is important to think about, is how decisions are made. A lot of leaders tend to bring together how called the Five smart guys in a small room and come up with decisions. And then these decisions come from on high for the rest of the organization to implement. And that's not been my approach, ever. I've definitely come through it, maybe it's because I am a diverse voice if you want, but to really foster the diversity of thought that exists in a team, before a decision is taken, you know, really making sure that different points of view come forward and things are debated. When you have something that's got no debate around it, there's either fear, or nobody is caring, you know, I think it's a sign of not caring or afraid to speak up if you don't have diversity of thought.

Jan Griffiths:

As you are bringing forward those ideas, those diverse ideas. How do you ensure that people feel safe, bringing their ideas forward? We talk a lot these days about psychological safety. And it is as we know, the number one criteria of a high performance team. People have to feel safe in telling you what they think and what they believe, right or wrong. They've got to feel safe. How do you create that environment? How do you nurture that safety?

Sandy Stojkovski:

This is a big area of focus for me and has been for some time, because like you said, you have to have a psychologically safe culture. It as a base for everything, right. And so, it also comes from the idea that look, we are in this VUCA world, as we use the acronym volatile and uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous, this VUCA world means we need the best of all of our team members contributing, and pivoting and bringing new ideas and information forward. So you've got to have a psychologically safe culture. And I believe it happens from being very collaborative. As I said before, this diversity of thought, peace is really about being collaborative, instead of, you know, pushing decisions on to people it's engaging. And here's what I see. And therefore what I think what how does that relate to you? What do you think, upfront getting that feedback in, it's also about being transparent with data and with decisions. And certainly, it's always about putting the team and the team success, first. We at the Vitesco technologies have recently and very deliberately defined our Vitesco Technologies culture in North America, so as to be able to explain these behaviors and reinforce them to others, they're that important to us. And some elements that relate to psychological safety and even risk taking, we talk about, you know, we used to call it radical truth. But now we say we speak uncomfortable truths, and value candid, timely and productive feedback. This is written into our culture, we also have statements around fostering diversity of thought. And furthermore, even that we share a growth mindset. And all three of these pieces, I think, really help us to codify elements of our culture, which relate completely to psychological safety. But as with any words, these are just words, even though they give license to certain behaviors that we want. Where we live them is in our meetings in our groups, and in one on ones. You know, I say psychological safety is practiced in meetings. How do people get treated when they speak up? Who gets rewarded or not? You know, and when you have psychological safety, you do get radical truth as an outcome. So when I see people really speaking up and bringing forward radical truth, I kind of step back and smile a bit, because I see it as a sign that Yep, we do have psychological safety. It's here and it's working.

Jan Griffiths:

Let me take a different view, right there with you. And that is, and that all sounds great. And it's true and correct. And it's right in line with authentic leadership. And I applaud you for that leadership style. But there are some who would argue, okay, that's great. But that takes way too long. Isn't it easier to just tell people what to do?

Sandy Stojkovski:

Guess maybe, you know, the quick answer is, well, you know, I guess when do you start the clock, because it's yes, faster to just issue a command. But then if people really don't have the buy in, if they don't understand why the decision was made that way, if they're afraid for what it means for them, is certainly takes a whole lot longer, because then you have all the resistance and re explaining and the lack of movement together. And, you know, it's just all about, you know, the almost the African proverb, I'm trying to think of it, but it's like, you can get everyone to hear it is if you want to go fast go alone, if you want to go far go together. Right. And so it just depends on when you start that clock.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, no, it's well said I had to ask the question, because I know this some people thinking that there's some listeners out there thinking that. Sandy of all the 21 traits of authentic leadership. And I know you follow the podcasts and you've read them. Is the one that resonates with you, tell me which one of those 21 traits and I know you probably want to give me a whole list, right? Tell me what's the one that really truly just resonates with you right down to your very being of every fiber of your being? Which one is it?

Sandy Stojkovski:

You're right, Jan, as I went through your 21 traits, I thought, oh, yeah, that's a good one. That's a good one. Absolutely. But the one that just resonates to the level of fiber of being to me is about trust, or even trustworthiness. And you know, there's a there's a great book out there if people haven't read it, I highly recommend it. I've given it to my team and they love it. It's called the Thin Book of Trust by Charles Feldman. And in it the author defines trust as a function of four things: competency, caring, sincerity and reliability. And I think this is just fantastic. Because if a leader is trustworthy and is focused on competency, caring, sincerity and reliability, then you truly have the absolute ability to lead, of course, and everyone wants to follow you, because they see that you care, they see that you have the competency, they see that you're sincere, and you're reliable. So this is what I focus on. But also, as I look through your list, oh, my trust, I think it's just the foundation of all of it.

Jan Griffiths:

I agree. And I like Stephen Covey's work too, The Speed of Trust. And I think often people, when we talk about trust, they say, Oh, that's nice. But that's a soft stuff. You know, it's just nice to have. It's about running a business. It's about driving bottom line results, there is a very real and significant impact to the bottom line when you have trust.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Absolutely, then, you know, I think if you even want to say, Okay, let's talk about the bottom line, do you really think you can deliver the bottom line if you don't have your team? And do you really think you have your team if they don't trust you?

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, yeah. And I like in Stephens book, he cites countless examples and research supporting the relationship between cost and speed and trust. When you have trust, speed goes up and cost comes down. It's that simple. And I often use the example of you know, think about somebody you trust that you're communicating with at work, right? What does that? What does that process look like? If you trust somebody, it's an easy conversation, you don't feel guarded, you don't feel like you got to copy 25 people on the email. But if it's something you don't trust, you're like, oh, oh, first of all, I don't really want to have the conversation. And then I better cover my back. And I better do all these other things. So there's, it's a very simple, but very real example, when you have trust, you open up this sort of superhighway of communication and information, and it just flows. It just gushes through the organization. And I am always excited when I meet leaders like you who get it.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Well, thank you, Jan, I hope to get it and I am, like everyone else on a journey to continue to keep getting it by learning from the teams and from experts like yourself.

Jan Griffiths:

Oh, thank you. Let's talk about Gen Z, shall we, I love to talk about Gen Z, because they're right there. They're knocking on the door, they're knocking on your door right now. What, and they're different, they're different to millennials, Gen Z are different millennials. What are you doing to attract Gen Z to vitesco?

Sandy Stojkovski:

Gen Z is very important. And of course, as we're growing in our advanced technology fields, we definitely want to attract and retain Gen Z. And actually, we want to attract and retain all our talent. And so from that basis, we've been very intentional about creating an environment where all our talent can thrive to their fullest potential. Now, that shows up differently for different parts of our population. And so what we're doing very importantly, is making sure to listen to all of our different stakeholder groups, and understand what do they need? What do they want, and trying to provide as much of that as possible? So this gets to, you know, how do we communicate? And how often do we communicate and how collaborative are we? We know this is a very important piece of it, and it improves the employee engagement. Yes, but most importantly, it gives everyone the information that they need in order to understand why we're doing what we're doing, and how they can contribute. And everyone wants to be able to do that. Beyond communications, we've also been very intentional about our return to work strategies. We want to be the most flexible and progressive employer we can be. And so as we came back to the office, we said, let's turn this into an advantage. And with that, we engaged our Gen Z and our millennials into a kind of task force. And we said, please tell us, if you had all your dreams come true. What would our return to work policy look like? And believe it or not, with very limited input from myself and from some of the leadership team, they came up with a simple four page policy, which outlines our different categories of work, which keeps it open to whether you're on site, or hybrid, or work from anywhere or fully remote, giving each and every individual and their manager maximum flexibility. Given the kind of work they're doing and the team they're in to decide what works for them. And so as you can see from that there's no one size fits all answer. But I think in the past, we probably could have come up with a 25 page policy with lots of manager approvals necessary and tracking and all these kinds of things. And we just said, throw it out, let's come up with a smart, simple, progressive and flexible approach, that also gives some guardrails to the managers and the employees so they know how to maneuver through it. So those are just a couple areas, which I've talked about, which is return to work and communications, which hopefully you can see is all about creating an environment where environment where all of our talent can thrive.

Jan Griffiths:

I love the return to work policy, the way that you did that. And you hit on a point, you said, there's no one size fits fits all anymore. And I think that that's a huge fundamental shift in a leadership model that we see taking place right now. Because we were brought up in a world where you had a policy for everything, just like you said, it would be a 25 page policy. And you would try to think about everything that needed to be in that policy. And you would try to push everybody into this policy, regardless of their needs, regardless of who they were or what they did, or what was going on in their personal lives, that would be the last thing you would ever consider, right? And it was just all we got to do the same for everybody. It's got to be the same for everybody. And you were even told that you were a weak leader, if you didn't implement that policy that way and treat everybody the same. And now we're learning that leadership is actually about doing the exact opposite to that it's about understanding that every human being is different. And there is no cookie cutter approach to this. Yes, you do need guardrails, as you so eloquently put it, you need some guidance there. But to have a restrictive policy to try and force every human being into that is not going to work now and in the future. And there's a lot of companies out there right now that that haven't quite got that figured out yet.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Well, like I said, we're hoping to turn it into a competitive advantage, so to speak. So, you know, as much as I'm willing to share what we've done, because I do believe it brings out the best in all of our employees. And it's also true that not everyone's going this way. And just another reason for people to come join us.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, yes. Well said, Yes. And I see people, you know, really agonizing over that. Well, should it be two days back in the office? Should it be three days? And that's not the right question. The right way to do it, I believe is the way that you've done it. And all the successful, truly successful leaders that I speak to are approaching it more in line with the way you did it. And that is throw it out to the people get a group of people together, say, hey, figure it out. What do you think what how should we do this? Recognizing there needs to be some kind of guideline and along the way there but we don't want it to be too prescriptive. So yeah, kudos for that. I think that's, that's wonderful. I love that. Okay, let's talk about one of my favorite subjects, Gravitas. Gravitas, as you know, I have described as being the hallmark of authentic leadership. So what is gravitas to you Sandy?

Sandy Stojkovski:

Yeah, so I've thought about this, because I think it's a great question that you ask your guests and, and it's led me to the thought that, you know, anyone can carry on with the status quo. That's called a manager. In most cases, a leader with Gravitas is willing to do the unpopular and sometimes uncomfortable work of creating a new vision, and leading people they're daring, even to lead there. And I use Brene Browns term of daring to lead on purpose. Because when you lead, by definition, you're doing something different than where people have been sitting before. And that can be uncomfortable, and there's always resistance to uncomfortable things. But as David Foster Wallace says, you know, I love his definition of leadership. It's getting people to do harder, better things together than they ever thought possible. And, and that is what a leader with Gravitas has, to me. But it's not just enough to be visionary and to hope for a vision to come to true. You know, a leader with Gravitas also isn't afraid to hope and then uses, you know, even anger encouraged maybe to create a real pathway to achieving these harder, better things. So that's how I define it. And I love all the answers that have come before me on your podcast because a leader with Gravitas is such a mosaic of different things.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, you're right. And I love it. Because everybody, everybody has a slightly different take. At once I define it as being the hallmark of authentic leadership, which is my definition, right? Then everybody's got a different spin. And it really speaks to who they are as a leader. So that's why I love to ask a question and the different answers that come back. But that's, that's a great one. Thank you. Let's turn this around to personal side for a moment. How do you hold yourself accountable? Personal accountability, it's one thing as a leader, to lead a large tier one leader organization and follow a vision and deliver the results to the p&l. That's one thing, but it starts with you. How do you lead yourself? How do you hold yourself accountable?

Sandy Stojkovski:

Yeah, I hold myself accountable in a variety of ways. Starting with routine, if you don't mind, I'll even share, you know, my my routine, every single day, and I do not miss a day not even when I had COVID that I miss a day of working out. So you know, there's certain routines and things that I do, that I don't think about they are part of who I am. And with those routines, then comes, in this case, stress reduction and time for learning and growing, because I'm always reading while I'm working out and things like this. So certain things just, I can hold myself accountable, because it's just what I do every single day. And I don't question it. I don't negotiate with myself about them, I just do them. Those are, you know, the the autopilot things, and some of the harder things where maybe you want to set a goal and hold yourself accountable for them. But you don't even know if it's possible? Well, this is where I really believe it's important, you know, maybe in line with what John Wooden would have said is, you know, don't focus on the scoreboard focus on the processes you're going to use to get, you know, points in the game, right. But if you're focused on the scoreboard, you never figure it out. So for me in a accountability situation, it's about what are the daily actions I'm going to take towards this longer term goal and then reflecting even down to putting it on my calendar and saying reflect on this. How's it going? Do I need to change my approach as a reminder, not to just keep going with a maybe a, an approach that doesn't work as well as you want. So those sorts of check ins and daily actions are really key to how I hold myself accountable to those kind of bigger goals, including ones that I don't know how I'm even going to get there when I set the goal. And then lastly, when I'm with my team, I've gotten to the point where I'm very intentional about sharing with them. Here's how I define success for this coming year. We just did this last week, in fact, as a team, here's the things that are top of mind that when we look back at the end of this year and say, Was it successful, we'll be thinking about these things. And this is what we're going to achieve. And so by even giving voice to that with the team, it gives all of us an opportunity, certainly to discuss that before it becomes set in stone. But secondly, then they all know what my yardstick is for myself. And that's pretty powerful as a motivator.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, I love that. And in the words of BTS, the Korean boyband, Speak Yourself. I know I know you're probably thinking Where the hell is she going with this? Right? But that's so true. As a leader you have to declare yourself you have to declare just like you said, what the year what success looks like and feels like and when I heard that about BTS they have the whole thing called Speak Yourself. I mean, such wisdom out of young teenage boys in the most, oh by the way, the most successful boyband ever. So let's not forget that.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Well, I know you like to dance. So, this fits right in there with that, doesn't it?

Jan Griffiths:

It does. it does. Although my BTS influence comes from my daughter. You know not Yeah, I'm more of an ACDC girl myself. But there you go. So I'm talking about teenagers. What advice would you have to your younger self? Maybe in your early 20s? What advice would you give Sandy. 20, Say, twenty year old Sandy today in today's world. If you could talk to her right now what would you tell her?

Sandy Stojkovski:

To expect failure and harness it? I like to think about failure happens for you, not to you. And when you think about that, it completely changes the meaning of failure or challenge to be something that's growing you and developing you it's a favor even, as opposed to being a victim of something. So expect failure, harness it. And never let anyone tell you what you are, or are not capable of believe in your ability. And in this, I think has served me well. But I didn't always know this. So I wish I could go back and tell myself these two very important things. And maybe even just, it's all going to be okay, get excited, because it's very easy as you go through different challenges and things to get, you know, deep into it. As you can probably tell, Jan, I care, I care a lot. So you know, it's important as a leader to stay positive and to keep in a in a positive state of mind that allows you to be productive, and I do that, but sometimes some something like losing your job happens like I referred to before, and it can feel like a powerful pothole. And so it's really good to know in advance before any of it happened. It's all going to be okay. In fact, it's going to be better for this pothole than it would have been otherwise.

Jan Griffiths:

Yeah, that's a beautiful way to end. And it's true, it's all going to be okay. Sandy, thank you so much for your time and sharing your insights, your wisdom, your energy with us today. It's been a pleasure.

Sandy Stojkovski:

Thank you, Jan. It's been a pleasure.

Dietrich:

We love feedback. Email Jan, directly at jan@gravitasdetroit.com to tell us about your journey into authentic leadership. We want the show to be meaningful to you. So leave a comment on what you thought of today's episode and let us know if there's any topics that should be covered in future episodes.

About the Podcast

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Finding Gravitas
The Authentic Leadership Podcast

About your host

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Jan Griffiths

Jan Griffiths is the founder of Gravitas Detroit, a company committed to helping you unlock the power of your team through authentic leadership.
In January 2020, Jan launched the Finding Gravitas podcast where she interviews some of the finest authentic leadership minds in the quest for Gravitas.
Gravitas is the hallmark of authentic leadership.