Women in Leadership at SAP: Professional Sponsorship in Action

Since its launch in 2010, SAP’s Women In Leadership program has helped develop the careers of many female executives, by pairing rising executives with seasoned leaders.

In this Q&A, I spoke to Jennifer Schulze, vice president, Customer Marketing at SAP, and her program sponsor, Hernan Marino, COO, Marketing.

Hernan, why did you agree to sponsor Jennifer in the Women in Leadership program?

Hernan Marino

H: The ultimate goal of any organization should be to ensure its long-term success. It’s important we continue to develop the next generation of leaders. Jennifer is a shining example of who we want our leaders to be.

Jennifer, what are you hoping to achieve through the program?

J: My goals are to get some honest feedback, coaching, and mentoring to help me develop my leadership capabilities. I want to get a better understanding of my strengths and weaknesses, and how to identify internal opportunities that match my skills, talents and create additional opportunities for the future.

Hernan, would you agree it’s important for people you sponsor to develop a style that works best for them?

H: Yes. My style works for me. It might not work for Jennifer, or for somebody else. If you’re not being yourself, I think you have a lesser chance to succeed.

What advice do you have for folks trying to achieve a strong work/life balance?

H: Finding a balance is critically important to being a good leader. The key to success is to develop a plan where you feel like you’re in a good place with work and family—and work and family feel the same way. That’s not easy, sometimes things get sacrificed, but in many respects, we all do it every day.

Jennifer Schulze

J: I believe that the notion of having it all is flawed.  One way I’ve learned to find balance is to ask others to help me when I’m feeling stretched. This has helped me in many ways—including finding out what some of the team’s talents are and how we can leverage those skills to be more innovative in our work..

Is it possible for two different styles to work together, and if so how? 

J: Absolutely. Balance in views and teams is essential. The strongest leaders know if they are the Yin, to work with the Yang, and vice versa.  The benefits of diversity are vast and this is no different in leadership teams.

H: I absolutely think two different styles can work together. There has to be a level of respect, a willingness to listen to someone else’s opinion, and a consideration to act on that opinion. If someone else’s style contributes to the success of you and your team, it would be foolish not to take advantage of that.

What leadership qualities do you see in great leaders?

J: Great leaders have tremendous emotional intelligence: honesty, ethics, and even humility. Great leaders know they are never the smartest in the room, but they have the amazing ability to steer others to leverage strengths of the person, team, and organization. They facilitate new ways of thinking, thus driving innovation.

H: It’s important to a company’s success that the leaders spend time thinking about what comes next, what can be different, and what can be better. I think great leaders are also detail oriented – nothing gets by them. For example, in his book “Winners Dreams,” Bill McDermott talks about a meeting in which he wasn’t getting the answers he needed from sales managers, so he got on the phone with several field reps to get what he needed to make the right decisions for the company, and ultimately be more successful.

Looking back on your career, what’s one thing you’ve learned, changed, or that you’d do differently as a leader?

J: I am more certain of myself in my career now, which comes from better knowing who I am and what I want. I used to spend more time focusing on what I didn’t know and then beating myself up because I didn’t know it. Rather than try to change myself to be something or someone I will never be, I look instead for roles that leverage my strengths and hire those who have the skills I don’t. It makes me and my team much stronger.

H: I don’t know that I would change anything. I made every decision at the time for what I thought was best for me, my family, or the company. If we are to develop and enable true leaders, we need to let them make decisions without second-guessing them.

As far as something I’ve learned, it’s how important communication is. The more effectively a leader communicates to his team, the more the team will buy in and your chance for success increases.

Top image via Shutterstock