Sahra Roberts (EML Cohort 10) shares her marketing journey from her time at Disney and now at Yum! Brands, detailing how she's adapted to the new digital workspace during the pandemic. Looking after teams from Toronto to Mumbai, Sahra also provides insight about how EML has empowered her to be the global leader that she is today.
With over 23 years of experience in the sales & marketing sector, Sahra Roberts has previously worked at Disney and now is currently the Global Data Privacy Manager at Yum! Brands. Sahra oversees the data privacy efforts for notable brands such as Taco Bell, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), and Pizza Hut and manages teams from across the globe.
As a leader on a global team, what challenges have you encountered?
Sahra: Scheduling meetings with different time zones is always a constant challenge that I still struggle with to this very day. What it ultimately comes down to is being flexible; yet, still compromise because for example there'll be times where I start really early or vice versa. But, again, compromising when you're working together on a project, especially when you're physically apart, is so crucial because being understanding of others establishes your respect for their time, schedule, and situation. While compromising is important, it’s also important to establish boundaries and to “put your foot down” when necessary because it's a two way street that requires give and take.
How does a leader navigate these tough conversations with difficult, uncooperative partners?
Sahra: Everywhere that I've gone there have always been these tough conversations, but it's just the way that you navigate through them. One of the things that I've learned though is how crucial it is to get to know the individual first. Try to build that relationship. Who are they? Who am I? That way it's not necessarily all business. So then, when you're working together, it's not so difficult to ask tough questions for either clarification or further elaboration and exploration to help move the project forward
“When you have those difficult conversations, be your authentic self.”
When you have those difficult conversations, be your authentic self and ask those hard questions. Most of my colleagues from the past will agree and mention that my questions created this open conversation. Even though it can seem like people might feel that you're being a "jerk" or being "too difficult", one of the things that I learned from EML is that conflict is OK! Conflict is good to have as long as everyone isn't taking it personally because sometimes conflict is needed to get to that next step. Otherwise, things will stay the same and there's no growth.
“Conflict is OK!”
To summarize, be able to be yourself; have the ability to put out what you're looking for; and ensure that those relationships and team environments you're creating are such that these transparent and open conversations are encouraged and critical feedback isn't taken too personally.
Now with the new obstacle of the hybrid workspace, how do you continue to make the team still feel inclusive and feel connected?
Sahra: I would say that during the pandemic, most people have embraced this new online workspace; yet, there are some who still struggle with it, including some of my teammates. Hence, we encourage more bonding opportunities such as doing happy hours together outside of work to make our team dynamic more fun and intimate. Instead of our weekly check-ins being strictly business, I also take the time to have these more personal chats to ask everyone how they are doing and what's going on in their life right now.
“Be more conscious of how they're feeling, what their workflow is like, or...any hardships at home.”
These conversations help me to be more conscious of how they're feeling, what their workflow is like, or if they're dealing with any hardships at home. For instance, one of my co-workers is in Mumbai, India and she's still in semi-lockdown right now and there's still quite a bit that she can't physically do because of that. So, taking the time to really listen to your team and having that empathy for any issues that your teammates are dealing with, whether it may be in the workplace or at home, is so important. That's also why I'm very transparent with asking my direct reports to let me know if they’re feeling overwhelmed because I won't be able to help them unless they let me know.
How has the EML program shaped you as a leader?
Sahra: During one of the first conversations I had with one of my direct reports, he told me, "I'm uncomfortable." He had been maneuvering a new role, a new promotion, and was probably unsure of what type of leader I was going to be. But, the first thing that I said was "It's ok. You know what, I'm uncomfortable too." That's one of the quotes that I always remember from Dr. Rick Culley: "Leaders have to be comfortable being uncomfortable." And, for me, being able to admit that is a huge testament to the EML program.
“Leaders have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”
Rather than just speaking to speak, think first. Be more intentional with what you're trying to say. Especially with my direct reports, I always make the extra effort to listen before speaking. And, to really show that you're listening, recap what you've heard. Doing so demonstrates what you’ve heard and understood, and if you’ve misunderstood it opens the opportunity for further discussion and clarification.
“Make the extra effort to listen before speaking”
Any final thoughts you would like to share?
Sahra: Maneuvering through this new role at Yum! has really reminded me, yet again, of the network I have available, especially after EML. When I got this role, one of the first people I reached out to was Carol (EML Program Director)! This program allows you to tap into such a valuable network from not only within your cohort, but previous and current EML students. I still keep in touch with my mentor from an earlier EML cohort, as well as remain in close contact with close friends from my own cohort. Throughout your entire life, you'll always have other leaders that you're able to reach out to and ask for guidance. The network you’ll have during, but especially afterwards, truly makes EML unique.