Working It Out!

How a young executive overcomes obstacles on the job

Name Susan Chapman
Title: Global Head of Operations, Citigroup Realty Services Location New York
Age: 37
Charge: Oversees 14,000 properties, representing 90 million square feet of space in 96 countries
BE: What obstacles have you faced in your career?
SC: There were times when I wasn’t given opportunities because of my gender or the color of my skin. Part of me wanted to stay and stick it out because that’s what we do; we don’t quit. But then the other part of me realized that I needed to make a change. When I did, the whole world opened up to me.

BE: What strategies have you employed?
SC: Having people around who are willing to tell you the truth is key. Oftentimes it’s very hard to get feedback from those who are culturally different from you. But it’s critically important to develop relationships so that others feel comfortable telling you where you need to improve.

BE: How do you handle constructive feedback?
SC: I seek it. Earlier in my career, I didn’t really seek out feedback. One day [a] mentor told me, “You need to get a lot more quality feedback because something’s going on that you don’t know about.”

BE: What was the problem?
SC: There were a couple [of problems] in terms of not getting promoted and in being in an environment where people weren’t engaging me the way I needed [in order for me] to be successful in my job. I hadn’t built the relationships the way I needed to. I have to go out of my way to build the relationships.

BE: How do you distinguish between what is truly your fault and what is a problem with the organization?
SC: It’s critically important to have strong relationships with people who understand where you are. I have three close friends who are all in corporate America in very senior roles. They don’t necessarily work in the same industry I do, but they experience a lot of the same experiences I do on a day-to-day basis. We call it the “Am I crazy? corner.” We get on the phone and say, “Am I crazy, or ….” We work with each other to figure out how to get out of [a situation] or deal with it. Not enough people have that [support].

BE: What traits or skills do you think are most important in overcoming obstacles?
SC: Be ambitious about setting goals, and do a self-check regularly. Ask yourself: Who am I? What am I doing? Why am I doing this? And is it working for me? You also have to be very giving, which allows a channel of things to come back to you when you really need it. When you’re trying to overcome an obstacle and you need some help, it’s hard to ask for help if you’ve never given it.

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