Follow The Leader – A Spark In The Energy Industry

You know Darlene is in the room before you see her.  Her mere presence seems to cause a shift in the atmosphere – the room seems a little brighter, the people seem a little more relaxed, and the feeling in the air is one of – ok, now we are going to get work done.

Darlene means business.  Not only is she a mother of two young children, with a successful role at an energy company, and a recent law degree – she is also ultra smart, lightning quick, and knows the energy industry inside and out.

But perhaps Darlene’s greatest strength – the one that causes people around her to take notice – is her attitude.  Positive, authentic, and focused.

In meetings, her voice is heard, respected, and considered.  I’ve witnessed this first-hand with CIOs and top executives at customer and internal meetings alike.

It was such a pleasure to reconnect with and interview Darlene – as she was an influential force early on in my early career.

As a brand new consultant on my first project, Darlene taught me the importance of putting the client needs first, treating all people (even the cleaning staff) with respect, and taking a collaborative approach to teamwork.  Best of all, she did this through her behavior alone- not one to dictate or lecture – she led her team by example and let them learn from their mistakes.

It was interesting when Darlene spoke about how much she admired a former CEO at her company.  “He was so personable – it showed you can be a strong leader and get things done without losing sight of the people part of the business.  At the C-Level you don’t always get both – but he did.  It increased morale”.

These were the exact qualities that made Darlene an excellent leader.  Bookmark this article because I expect many more good things from her in the future.  And if you are lucky enough to join her in a meeting, look for that special, indescribable quality that changes the mood and fosters success.

Read more from the interview below:

1. Who are your biggest career influences?

I’ve been a member of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) for about 18 years now.  AABE is a national association of energy professionals founded and dedicated to ensure the input of African Americans and other minorities into the discussions and developments of energy policies regulations, R&D technologies, and environmental issues.  The people that I’ve met through the organization have influenced me the most throughout my career.

In the 18 years I’ve been involved in the organization, I can probably count on one hand the number of annual conferences I’ve missed.  The networking is so important.

2. Lessons Learned

When you are starting your career it is simple – hard work is the name of the game.  Work hard and continue your education.

What I find later – as you move up and break into the top levels of management with the goal of a senior position, the game changes.  You still need to do good work – but it is more about having mentors and advocates within in your organization – or within other organizations that influence the decisions of your own.

We underestimate the power of having advocates…without this the chances of getting to the next level are slim.  Right now I’m working on how to develop and grow these relationships.

3. Biggest Regret

Besides not realizing sooner that I needed a mentor, my biggest regret would be getting too comfortable.

I recently re-read Who Moved My Cheese by Spencer Johnson, M.D. and I think everyone needs to carry this book around.  When you get too comfortable you don’t do the things that help you grow.  I regret not moving fast enough and being as strategic about my moves within the organization.

We, as women, need to be cognizant of this.  We need to think about whether a career change is actually an opportunity or just another move- we need to think strategically and long term.

4.      Share a leadership story.

I was recently in my colleague’s office talking about leadership topics when our VP of HR, Greg Powell, walked by.  We invited him in and asked the question – Do you think that nice people can make it to top leadership roles?

His answer was a good one and I think it is true.  He said yes.  Nicer and more personable leaders tend to get the furthest and have the most sustainability at the end of day than those who are not so nice.  But the catch is that it may take these folks longer to get those leadership roles.

It made me realize that you don’t need to change who you are to get to the next level – it may take longer – but you will be better off in the long run.  This made me feel better about the collaborative, team approach that I tend to take at the office because I truly believe that better decisions are made when you take multiple perspectives into consideration.

5.     Your “big 3”?

There are actually 4:

  1. Continuous Learning – One thing I’ve learned is that regardless of organization, you need to keep on top of what is going on in your industry and be able the talk the talk.  You are never too old to learn.
  2. Mentoring and Advocacy – This is critical for success
  3. Have a Voice – In meetings, you need to speak up.  As women, we don’t often get a seat at the table so when we do, we need to get over our fears and make sure our voices are heard.
  4. Keep your perspective - Understand and appreciate the important things in life and remember often our priorities.  When we start making our careers or jobs #1, we lose track of ourselves.

More About Darlene

Darlene Phillips, Director of Market Operations Planning at the Midwest ISO, is responsible for Operation’s 3-year Operating plan, budget development, tracking, and reforecasting activities; Market Development and Services business planning and dashboard reporting; project development activities; Market Advisory Committee activities; and providing other internal support as requested.  Ms. Phillips also recently led the Midwest ISO Ancillary Services Market Task Team which oversaw the implementation of the newly launched Ancillary Services Market.

Before becoming Director of Market Operations Planning, Ms. Phillips was Director of Change Management, responsible for providing direction and oversight of the Change Management-Quality Assurance (CM-QA) team at the Midwest ISO which reduced the risk to the MISO operations by managing the technical changes into the production environment.

Ms. Phillips came to the Midwest ISO in 2004 from BearingPoint, Inc., where she served as a manager in the Electric Utilities Practice.  Her prior career also includes service at Arthur Andersen as a manager in their National Energy and Utilities Practice as well as an Engineer with the Michigan Electric Power Coordination Center (MEPCC).

Ms. Phillips earned both a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and an MBA from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  She earned her JD from the Indiana University School of Law, Indianapolis, cum laude.

Ms. Phillips lives in Carmel, Indiana with her husband, Eric Phillips and children (Sydney and Joshua).

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  • 1
    March 31, 2011 - 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Hi Liz,

    I came across your LinkedIn profile and noticed your blog. I’ve not had the time to peruse your site but was inclined to read this interview. Very inspiring. I am passionate about my work and have always made strong connections with my clients. I look forward to reading through your site further. I think it’s great that you write about successful, career-driven motivational topics. I agree with you 100%, positive energy is key; not only in business, but in life.

    Thanks for writing! Tara

    • 2
      March 31, 2011 - 7:09 pm | Permalink

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Tara. Positive energy is certainly key and it sounds like you embrace that in your career as well.

      Keep reading and I look forward to hear your thoughts and comments again.


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