What My Mother Taught Me About Leadership
Learning to value the risks and opportunities in your life.
This piece was originally published by OZY on January 4, 2018.
My mother earned her Ph.D. when I was 5, which means she was wrestling with her dissertation when I was just a toddler. She instilled in me a strong work ethic and organizational skills and has been the biggest influence on who I am as a person. The academic route was pretty difficult in the ’70s, so my mother reinvented herself to work in the nonprofit sector. She taught me to be scrappy and to think of new things, to be able to switch tracks.
Inadvertently or otherwise, I carried some of that with me when I graduated from Stanford Business School and was recruited by JPMorgan Chase 23 years ago, before the firm became JPMorgan Chase. I started in groups working with high-net-worth clients, and ultimately became head of investor relations. Now in my current role focused on operational risk management and controls, we make sure the bank’s processes are thorough and efficient and that we safeguard the employees and our clients. I think a lot about corporate responsibility and having a positive impact on the different communities we serve.
Throughout my career, I made sure to raise my hand when given the opportunity, even if it was to launch myself into something I didn’t fully know how to do yet. I was fortunate to have the right opportunities come along at the right time, and the teams I joined were willing to teach me the ropes. I learned it’s OK to reach for something you may not know how to do, so long as you are somewhat confident that you can figure it out. It might feel uncomfortable at first because it’s new, but that’s how you challenge yourself.
These are lessons I learned early from my mother. She believed in hard work and building skills; I remember her doing research and writing her two books, even on nights and weekends, while I was growing up. She taught me the importance of being patient and showing commitment. Because if a company is going to invest in you, they want to see you are committed to their mission too. We all have to have a certain amount of stick-to-itiveness to carve out successful careers. But more than that, we have to be willing to take risks.
Irish author Frank O’Connor once wrote about throwing your hat over the wall—you will have no choice but to follow it. Conceptually, this is how I’ve seen my ascent up the ladder. Women can often be scared to speak up and let our voices be heard, but it’s essential that we do so, even if it is not in our comfort zone. It may not be easy to speak up, or to volunteer for something, but at the same time, it’s better to just get in there. It’s how I drive myself every day to be smarter and faster, because the world around us is changing so fast, and we need to keep up.
Julia Bates is Chief Control Officer of Commercial Banking at JPMorgan Chase & Co.