Introduce yourself to our audience. Tell us who you are and what you are currently focused on.
I'm an executive coach and change management consultant. After 12+ years of Fortune 50 experience, I decided to start my own firm, The Sparks Group. My focus is helping individuals, teams and organizations build the capacity - not just the skills - to make the changes that make a difference to them and in the world.
Tell us about your favorite Ellevate Network memory or success story. Why are you a member?
Last year, for Ellevate's anniversary in Charlotte, a fabulous panel of women came together including Sallie Krawcheck, Julia Landauer, Chris McLeod, and others. There was terrific energy in the room, I got a great tip on training to become a corporate board member, and connected with a number of new and familiar faces. It was a great night.
How would you define your professional mission?
I'm all about enabling deep, transformational change that matters, be that with a single individual or an entire company. The challenge is that the rate and complexity of change coming at us is greater than ever. How to cope?
Imagine my 11-year-old son driving a car. He understands how the steering wheel, gas and brake pedals work, but there's no way he has the judgment or maturity yet to drive safely. (Sorry, kid.)
The same is true in our work. We can learn skills all day long, but if our judgment, our maturity, our "capacity" isn't sufficient for the dynamic and complex situations we find ourselves in, we won't be successful. Skills are important, but I believe capacity is a far more interesting and high leverage place to focus development.
What qualities does it take for someone to be successful in your line of work?
Coaching and change management are disciplines unto themselves, so I'm a big fan of a proper, relevant education as a foundation. (Don't just hang out your shingle!) Beyond that, critical qualities include presence, being able to take a systems perspective, and having unconditional positive regard for your clients.
What is one of your most memorable career accomplishments?
Right after I completed my coach training, I was able to cut my teeth by coaching the top 150 leaders at Lowe's Home Improvement where I worked, from the VP level up to and including the CEO. The coaching was part of a larger effort to help the company become purpose-driven. It was big, juicy, meaningful work and I loved it.
What are some career challenges on your radar?
I'm learning how to be an entrepreneur. I like being in charge of my own destiny, and I am making lots of mistakes! Fortunately, failure is only a mistake you don't learn from, and I learn from most of mine. I'm reaching the point at which I can't continue to grow and still be a one-woman show, which is a great problem to have. So I'm creating processes and getting help to get the lower value work off my plate so I can stay focused on what I do best - working with clients.
What project have you worked on that you’re most proud of? Why?
I'm part of a wonderful team of people and organizations that created the Third Sector Leadership Program here in Charlotte. The TSL Program provides an intensive, 9-month leadership development and coaching experience for non-profit Executive Directors in the greater Charlotte region. My role is to design, develop and deliver the core curriculum for the participants which means I get to ride along with them for the duration of their time in the program. It's a real treat for me. After spending my early career in the non-profit sector, getting to do this work for these leaders in my community feels like coming home to what is truly important.
We’d love to hear more about your career path. What led you to where you are today?
I was on a traditional post-MBA human resources career path when the economic downtown in 2007/8 forced Lowe's to reconsider its growth strategy. Being in the right place at the right time, coupled with a healthy dose of persistence, enabled me to have a front row seat to that enterprise-wide shift in strategy and learn the discipline of change management.
As my profile grew, leaders were seeking me out for coaching and advice, except I had no idea how to coach someone! Enter Georgetown's leadership coaching, which for me was a transformative and affirming experience. I knew I wanted to coach more and work with a variety of different leaders and organizations, and I began to acknowledge there was an entrepreneur inside who wanted to come out and play. So here I am!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
It is a privilege and an honor to be allowed into someone's interior life with the intent of helping. I gain a tremendous amount of joy and fulfillment supporting people who are doing hard personal work.
Is work-life balance a problem for you? What is one no-fail tactic you use to create balance?
The good news is that I love my work and enjoy doing it, so I'm not unhappy if I'm working a lot. That said, one of my two children has autism, and his needs ebb and flow which makes it more challenging at times. I'm not sure it's really about work-life balance, or if a better term would be work-life integration. I'm not convinced there are any no-fail tactics, but for the highest priority things such as his therapy appointments and scratching my itch to travel and explore, I do my best to make those non-negotiable parts of how I spend my time.
What advice would you offer future leading ladies wishing to break into your industry?
Coaching and change management are quickly becoming commoditized, and many organizations go shopping for these services without really understanding what they are. Differentiate yourself by going deeper than anyone else or making a niche for yourself within the space.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
Learn how to solve problems!