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Tameika L. Pope: From the Fortune 500 to the Federal Government

Tameika L. Pope is the Chief Human Capital Officer for the United States Federal Reserve Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., which has oversight responsibility for the Federal Reserve System, also known as the U.S. Central Bank.

Prior to her appointment to the Federal Reserve Official Staff in 2012, Tameika held a variety of executive human resources positions to include Vice President of Global Learning and Development for Morgan Stanley, and Vice President of Global Organization Development and Learning for Legg Mason Global Asset Management. We asked Tameika about making the decision to leave the corporate environment to become a public servant, and her thoughts about leadership. 

What advice would you give to someone who aspires to senior leadership, be it corporate, governmental, or some other variation? What should they be thinking about?

There are so many things! Let’s start with savviness—in many ways—For example, I don’t see how anyone can navigate successfully as an executive or senior leader without being both politically and interpersonally savvy, especially in organizations that are huge, complex, and global.

Self-awareness is key too—knowing your strengths and areas for development, knowing your passions, your motivations, what truly drives you, and knowing what your boundaries are, knowing what’s going to work for you, and more importantly, knowing what’s not going to work for you.

In addition, there’s nothing that can replace one’s ability to truly connect with people. So, networking, and building relationships is important. 

Having mentors, sponsors, and coaches—I call it having a “personal board of directors”—can help with all of these and is a key component to success.  

What’s the most critical challenge leaders are grappling with today?

Effectively navigating and preparing for all of the changes coming at us, especially demographic and environmental changes. It’s funny how the environment plays such a major part in everything we do. Ten years ago nobody knew what “Twitter” was. Now if you don’t know how to navigate social media, you’re a dinosaur.

And dealing with every aspect of diversity and demographic changes in the world—every aspect of it, from age, gender, race, culture—what I call traditional diversity—is broad and complex enough, but now we have “thought leadership,” “social media,” and technology to add to that complexity of diversity and demographic divides. It can be tough for leaders who are trying to be strategic and innovative in a world where the dynamics are ever-changing. It’s hard. And it’s not going to get easier. It’s going to get more and more complex.

Have you noticed changes over the course of your career in the ways executives approach leadership?

Yes, I have. For example, most of my career has been in the financial services industry working for big corporations, banks, Fortune 500 companies, etcetera. So, when I think about what leadership looked like 15 years ago when I was in that world, even 10 years ago, compared to what it looks like today—it is very different. When I first started my career, leadership was top-down, very chain of command with “the leader” pulling the puppet strings and everybody below needing to fall in line. That model has been flipped on its head. We have much more collaboration, integration, and connectedness. I now see a more effective leadership style that’s “bottom-up.”

I often remind my own team that I am accountable to set the vision and the strategy, however, I need their brains, ideas, innovation, and proposals to implement the strategy and bring the vision to life. I welcome them to come to the table and tell me about gaps and blind spots that I may not have considered. I’d rather not pretend to know it all, be it all, and make demands—I just don’t lead in that way. That doesn’t work anymore, and I think that’s a good thing. I think it’s for the better.

Talk a little about one quality you believe a leader absolutely must have to succeed.

Authenticity and genuineness. I know that’s two but they go hand-in-hand. No matter what one’s leadership style is, what one’s preferences are, what one’s experiences might have been, or where one’s journey has taken them, I have found authenticity and genuineness to be greatly valued qualities—colleagues, bosses, employees, clients, stakeholders—everybody. Everybody recognizes and appreciates authenticity and genuineness. I think the more one is self-aware, knows what they want, knows what their passions are, knows their strengths and weaknesses, and knows their boundaries, the more one can lead authentically and genuinely.

What would you say is a predictor of failure for a leader? I’m thinking about those people whose credentials are impeccable, they look great on paper, but they just can’t seem to get a handle on the leadership thing.

From my own experience, one thing that is a catalyst for failure is not understanding organizational culture—knowing the culture of the organization is imperative. Successful leaders come in all varieties, every background, set of experiences, etcetera, but what makes one a successful leader is very much attached to what is valued in their organization. Success is subjective in this sense.

I could be a command and control type of leader in an organization where that style is appreciated, and be considered successful. But if I went to an organization like Google, that approach probably wouldn’t work so well for me. The biggest mistake I’ve seen leaders make is using their preferred style without taking into account that their preferred style may not be in alignment with what their current organization values. Every culture doesn’t value the same leadership style, and if one is not savvy enough to know the cultural nuances and differences (there it is again— “savvy!”) and can flex their style accordingly, the track to derailment is almost inevitable.

What do you consider to be your greatest strength as a leader (please don’t be humble)?

My ability to be authentic and genuine. What that means to me is not being afraid of bringing my whole self to work. That’s very important to me. It requires me to be vulnerable and I’m okay with that.

Being resilient is another strength. I believe in my heart that I can recover from any failure. I’m going to get back up if I fall down. That’s just who I am. That’s not to say I’ll get back up immediately, but eventually, I will get back up.

The last strength I will add is that I have a genuine passion for people. I love studying people, I love observing people’s behaviors and choices, and I love developing people and helping them find their greatness. The human being is the most incredibly dynamic and complex creature on the planet and I’m enthusiastic about everything that comes with being human. So I know that I am in the right role for what my “North Star passion” is, and that’s people. That passion fuels me every day to continue in this line of work.

Who’s had the biggest impact on you in your life in terms of becoming the leader you are today?

Some of the people who have influenced me the most are people I’ve never even met. An example of this is a professor at Georgetown University named Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. I don’t know him. I’ve never met him. However, about 10 or so years ago, his words had a profound impact on my life.

I was driving to work in my car and listening to him being interviewed on the radio. He was commenting on whether or not Dr. Martin Luther King’s alleged extra-marital affairs negated his contributions to the Civil Rights movement. He said: “One doesn’t have to be perfect, to be useful.” This really spoke to me. I had an “aha moment’ and I said to myself—literally and aloud— “Oh my, I have spent so much time and energy trying to make everything 100%, but sometimes 80% is good enough and you figure out the other 20% along the way. You need to be useful, Tameika, not perfect.”

As a leader, when I am up against an obstacle, when something feels really tough, that quote surfaces for me and I am reminded that I need to be useful; I don’t have to be perfect. 

Another example is people I aspire to be like. I have reached out to strangers and said, “I aspire to achieve what you’ve achieved, would you be willing to do an informational interview with me so that I can learn from you?” Luckily, most people have agreed to the interview and we have managed to stay connected to this very day.

A third example is that I tend to surround myself with people who are better than me. And by that, I mean people who are smarter than me in some way—people I can learn from. Whether that’s being better at money management, leadership, parenting, an HR skill, etcetera. I think I’ve done a good job of surrounding myself with people who challenge me to be better or to be more, whatever that may be—people who give me something to strive for, to help me find my best self.

All of these things impact who I am as a leader. They are all contributors in some way.

What (so far) has been the biggest professional risk you’ve taken?

It was choosing to make the transition from being a corporate executive to being a public servant.

A large part of my career had been in corporate, global, executive roles, in Fortune 500 organizations—which was a great experience for me. It was quite rewarding (great places to travel, an abundance of perks and resources, etcetera) and yet, quite demanding at the same time. I was already married with young kids and I knew that as my kids became school-aged, the corporate pace and demand was not going to work for me—not the way I wanted to be involved in my family life. I wanted to be “present” and at the PTA meetings and at band concerts and sporting events, so I had to make some tough decisions. I knew that leaving the corporate world was going to be a big deal for me personally—it was a very emotional decision for me to leave Morgan Stanley, and it took me a long time to work through it before I chose to come to The Federal Reserve.

While I was confident that I could make the transition from corporate to public service, I was hesitant thinking about the fact that I already have this amazing career that so many people strive for and I’m going to walk away from that for public service and the aspiration of better work-life integration. As a woman, as a wife, as a mother, I questioned if I could get back to where I was leaving off in my corporate life. I questioned if I could have the same title, authority, scope of work, influence, and success starting over in a new organization and with stipulations because of my new family boundaries. I stressed about that a lot.

But, this turned out to be a great move. It was a risk, but it turned out well for me. As a matter of fact, the reward for taking that risk was better than what I would have imagined for myself. I’m the head of HR and I have more balance. My career has gone in a direction I didn’t know it would take. Had I stayed at Morgan Stanley, I would not have been the head of HR there. I actually had never even thought about becoming the head of HR. My trajectory was really heading toward becoming a Chief Learning Officer—well, so I thought.

How do you see companies succeeding (or not) at diversity and inclusion?

We spend a lot of time on “diversity” and not much time on “inclusion.” The two words are used interchangeably and this is a problem because they don’t have the same meaning. They don’t translate into requiring the same actions to be effective. I think this gets lost upon us sometimes, you know?

I do know. And I think it speaks to why the strategies some companies are using may not be working.

Exactly! Take recruiting/staffing for example. Companies are spending a lot of time making sure they are recruiting from diverse sourcing pools, which is great. It’s exactly what they should be doing. However, they don’t spend enough time investing in ways to address the question of “now that we have created this wonderful, diverse, melting pot, how do we keep the stew boiling?” The answer to that question requires an inclusion strategy.  

Walk us through a typical day for you.

My day involves a ton of meetings!! I’m most energized in the morning, so I’m typically at my desk around 7 a.m. The environment shapes what happens in my day and I have to be ready for that. My day never ends up looking the way it did on my calendar that morning. There’s no such thing as a routine day, so I see my day reflected on my calendar as “aspirational.”

A good day for me is when I get to spend time being strategic and future-focused. I like to brainstorm and create. I enjoy forecasting and playing out “what if?” scenarios. Of course, the daily operation of the HR function is important and I spend a lot of time on that, but I personally add the most value when I am in the vision and strategy process.

Most days I can leave work at a decent hour (I normally do a 9-10 hour day in the office,) but I’m on my phone in the car (hands-free) taking meetings many times after I leave the office. I then go home to what I call my ‘first job’ and that is my family responsibilities—dinner, homework support, driving to extra-curricular activities, etcetera.

My husband and I try to make sure that we build in some connection time for “us” after the kids go to bed to catch up on each other’s day or to discuss any important tasks surrounding the kids or the household in general. Then, before I call it a night, I open my mail and check my email one last time. I don’t feel like I’m ever really off during the week. I try to use my weekends to disconnect when possible, but sometimes duty still calls. I think the only time I truly disconnect is when I’m on vacation. However, my trade-off for this type of schedule is that I do have flexibility. I am fortunate that I can attend a school meeting in the middle of the day and then work from home the rest of the day. I can come in late on days that I have an external appointment and then stay later to take late day meetings. I can take meetings virtually by telepresence or conference call. This flexibility is super important to me as I stated previously, and at this point in my life, not having it would be a deal-breaker.

What can organizations do to support the growth of women as leaders?

I think mentoring is a tried and true approach to growing talent—whether through official or unofficial means, mentoring works.

Second, I think providing customized learning and development plans is essential. Our needs and development gaps aren’t necessarily going to be the same as our male counterparts. This is why customization is a game changer versus off-the-shelf methodologies. Customization can include programs, training, books, TED talks, networking, or affinity groups, coaching, mentoring—there are hundreds of different approaches, but doing a thorough needs assessment and then investing in making resources available is a more effective and progressive approach.

Third, having male allies and sponsors who serve as advocates for women is important.

When you were 10-years-old, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Oh, that’s easy. I wanted to be a news anchor. I was walking around the house when I was a little girl with my “microphone” (hairbrush) pretending to interview politicians.

However, that dream changed for me when I learned that journalists could not have opinions and that the true job of a journalist was to report the facts. Leaving my ideas and opinions at home just wouldn’t work for me. Of course, this epiphany came my senior year in college! I ended up still getting my undergraduate degree in Broadcast Journalism. While I am not a news anchor, the skill and discipline of the industry has been useful to me in many ways. Mind you, this was also in the pre-social media, YouTube/blogging era—I was in college in the early 90s. My, how times have changed! Maybe I should have stayed with it and become a blogger or a YouTube sensation!

If you could recommend one book to anyone what would it be?

Only one book? That’s so hard! Marshall Goldsmith’s book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” That book is a great resource for one’s career. It focuses on the premise that we cannot take our past success markers, transfer them into a future state, and think that those same markers will automatically ensure our future success. It’s somewhat of a similar message to what I was eluding to earlier about being aware of how knowing the culture of an organization is imperative to success as a leader.

A good partner to that book is anything that makes you more self-aware. The better you know yourself, the more equipped you are to be agile, resilient, strategic and an authentic leader.

Any final words of wisdom for women who aspire to leadership?

As women, it’s important that we take good care of ourselves. We are leaders, executives, entrepreneurs, breadwinners, mothers, wives, partners, sisters, etcetera. We can’t be great at any of it unless we take time to regroup, to reenergize, and to be in touch with ourselves.  

More about Tameika L. Pope
Currently accountable for the strategy and implementation of The Federal Reserve Board’s four-year Workforce Plan, Tameika is spending 2017 developing a comprehensive Workforce Planning and Succession Strategy, refreshing The Board’s Executive Onboarding initiatives, and piloting new programs focused on enhancing employee engagement. Tameika lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her husband, Jonathan, and their two daughters, Chandler and London. In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family, going to the spa to de-stress, and watching her favorite television series “This Is Us.” In her plans for life after The Fed, Tameika intends to study world religions and lead a non-profit organization to provide professional development coaching to women of color.

Lorrie Lykins
Lorrie is i4cp's Vice President of Research. A thought leader, speaker, and researcher on the topic of gender equity, Lorrie has decades of experience in human capital research. Lorrie’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and other renowned publications.