To become a trusted leader, your people have to know you.
It’s an idea Lynn Holmgren of New Cumberland puts into practice daily as regional vice president of customer care for Comcast.
“It’s our role as leaders of these front line folks to really help them,” she said. “It’s not just get to work, sit in your chair and do your job. It can’t be like that. It has to be much more familiar. You have to really care about people and how they are in their life, not just how they are at work.”
A U.S. Navy veteran with international experience working for Fortune 200 and 500 companies, Holmgren oversees 1,100 people in four call centers in Comcast’s keystone region. Her career and military background have helped her develop many traits she relies on today to be a successful leader.
“You have to develop camaraderie, a very strong sense of trust, and you have to be very honorable because if you’re not, your staff won’t follow you into difficult situations,” she said. “You really have to have a strong sense of self and a strong commitment to what you’re doing.”
Holmgren, who joined the team in September, spends a lot of time walking the floors of the four call centers – in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland – to check in with employees, ask how their day is going and find out how she can help them perform their job better.
“One of the biggest things that you gain (in the Navy) is good listening skills,” she said. “Everybody thinks that it’s about giving and taking orders. It’s really about building a team, and in order to build a team you need to be a good listener.”
Engaging with the employees regularly also shows commitment.
“It shows that I care about them,” she said. “And when they have a problem then they can trust they can come to my leadership team. Being a successful leader, in order to build trust, they’ve got to know you.”
And you have to know your employees, even if it’s as simple as knowing their hobbies or if they’re having a negative experience in their life.
Recently Holmgren learned one Harrisburg employee had been evicted from their home. She knew that they couldn’t come to work and feel safe if they didn’t have a home.
She and several others helped the employee get set up in another residence.
“If our employees don’t feel safe and confident … they can’t possibly take care of our customers,” she said. “We have great people taking care of our great customers, and I have to value those people.”
With a degree in aviation from the University of North Dakota, Holmgren joined the Navy in 1986 and became a supply corps officer. She led people twice her age and lived in Japan, where her natural curiosity and inquisitive character served her well as a leader.
Many of her fellow servicemen and women had more experience than she did at the time, so she had to be willing to learn and take advice from others.
Her openness to learning was also valuable in her exposure to the culture of Japan, which is completely different from that of the U.S., she said. She bridged the gap by observing their traditions, such as hanging her bed outdoors in the morning. Her efforts impressed her neighbors, who kindly started folding and taking in her clothesline-strung laundry when it rained during the day.
Her readiness to learn about other cultures benefits Holmgren still. Harrisburg’s Hispanic population is growing, she said, so it helps that she can speak conversational Spanish with employees or customers, and she understands some of their traditions, such as greeting others with a kiss on the cheek.
“It gives me a lot of credibility,” she said. “It shows that I honor and know their customs, and I follow them.”
When she worked for Whirlpool Corporation, Holmgren’s experience “couldn’t get any more diverse.” She traveled to China, Sweden and Italy. She’s spent time in Latin America, South Africa, France, Belgium, England and beyond.
“All of that experience in the Navy and visiting all of these different countries allows you to find a way to connect,” she said.
So what continues to drive her to lead each day?
Empowering her “front line.”
“It’s about the people who come behind me,” she said. “It’s about having them achieve success and seeing them grow and develop.”
She sees her job as helping every employee behind her get promoted within four years.
“I think running call centers is my niche because I grew up in not a lot of wealth,” she said. “My mom was a single parent. I’m not too proud to say I grew up in a trailer and I’ve gone to the food bank. It gives (employees) something to aspire to. It allows me to say, ‘You can do this.'”