On Leadership: Insight & Advice from Microsoft Vice President, NCSU Grad Rashida Hodge

Uncategorized May 12, 2022

(First appeared in WRAL TechWire.)

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Rashida Hodge, Vice President of Data and AI Customer Success at Microsoft. It was easily one of my favorite conversations of the year. While our full interview will be available on the Reinvention Road Trip podcast in the next two weeks, I couldn’t wait to share a few of her leadership nuggets.

Nugget #1 – “We all have thorns; but we don’t talk about them… and we should.”

Right off the top, Rashida wanted me to know that she’s a woman of Caribbean soil and a child of perseverance. She draws on both in her leadership roles. And while she gets a lot of attention for her many awards and achievements, she is quick to remind me that there is more to her than her professional milestones.

“Hey, I’ve been through some things. I’ve been denied, and it’s important to remember that we can build from our circumstances regardless of the cards we’re dealt.”

Rashida reflected on her mom’s influence throughout our conversation. As a retired hospital executive, her mother not only holds her accountable—she also doesn’t let Rashida get caught up in the hype of her title.

“My mom gives me the ‘your shirt is on inside-out’ feeling.”

This grit displayed by her mom was earned honestly. After finding out she was pregnant, Rashida’s grandmother kicked her teenage daughter out of her home forcing her to leave the 32-square-mile island for New York where Rashida was born. In spite of this betrayal, Rashida’s mom was determined to raise her in Caribbean culture, moving back to St. Thomas when she was just a year old. Rashida, acknowledged that the drumbeat of perseverance and curiosity were always in the background of her childhood—ultimately sparking her interest in engineering.

Nugget #2 – “The best leaders know how to pause and reflect.”

If we ran Rashida’s professional highlight reel, we’d need to settle in and break out the popcorn and Skittles. With 16 roles and two international assignments at IBM, she appeared to be an unstoppable force from the day she graduated from NC State and stepped foot on the IBM campus.

But it was while on assignment in Europe that she learned the importance of rest and reflection. Shortly after settling into her role, her Slovakian boss pulled her aside and told her to take two weeks off. While he was delighted by her performance, he was concerned that she never took time off and was sending emails at all hours of the night. And it was what he said next that sharpened her perspective.

“If your team can’t survive without you while you’re gone, maybe there’s something wrong with your leadership.”

This moment confirmed what we all know and rarely talk about. The actions of leaders have an indelible imprint on workplace culture. People are watching.

No surprise, she took those two weeks off. Her team survived. And her leadership philosophy began to evolve.

Nugget #3 – “The days of command and control are over.”

Rashida and I share the perspective that we are currently in a ‘people’s movement’ – a groundswell of new ideas, ways of work and new voices.

She puts it this way, “Employees are no longer afraid to hold their leaders accountable.”

And as a leader of a few hundred, Rashida is comfortable with that type of accountability. She works hard at building strong, trusted relationships throughout her team. This degree of proximity and care helps drive the clarity and generate the energy that the team needs.

“At the end of the day, I want people to recognize me for how I treat my team – not my title.”

As we began to wind down our 45-minute rap session, I reflected on how insightful, funny and even reminiscent Rashida was. It was in this moment that she artfully ended our time together by sharing a final nugget passed down from her mother.

Nugget #4 – “Society doesn’t determine your sense of belonging, Rashida. You decide.” 

A simple, yet central truth.

Until next time.

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