40:20 Profile: Athletic Retailer COO on Dreaming Big, Being Cheeky, and Not Selling Herself Short

By Emily Betz, 40:20 Vision Ambassador

Senior male executive leaning forward on his chair in an imprompI’m delighted to share Melissa Greenwell’s career journey and goal to create gender balance at the table. With over 20 years as a C-suite executive, Melissa is currently Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Finish Line, a national athletic retailer. Prior to moving into operations, Melissa served as Chief Human Resources Officer at Finish Line and has made it a point to partner with executive teams to create strategies that best support the business and stakeholders.

Melissa is also an executive coach, consultant, and speaker on her 10 Principles for Building Gender-Balanced Leadership. Always one to help lift up and inspire women leaders, she thoughtfully answered some of my questions about her journey.

When you were in your twenties, did you have a plan or idea of what you wanted to be “when you grow up”?

I wish that I could say that I had a plan, but all I knew is I wanted to excel in a leadership role. I was not focused on what industry or part of the organization, even into my thirties. I was focused on wanting more responsibility to contribute to the good of the company, the good of the people, and ultimately the customer.

What is one thing you know now that you wish you knew then?

How much I had to learn—everything from financial acumen to learning how to be process-focused.  More importantly, I didn’t realize I had so much to learn about people. I didn’t realize how much I needed to learn about how people work and think.  People are so complicated because they have different motivations and interests; they care about different things in ways I didn’t realize.

What advice did someone you look up to you give you that you followed? 

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-10-53-12-pmMy mother said, “You can do anything you want to do.” I had bosses that said, “Don’t sell yourself short, you’re better than you think you are.” I definitely had bosses as mentors who really pushed me to step outside of my comfort zone, like in my current operational role. They were always encouraging me to take on responsibilities for things I didn’t have a lot of experience in.

What is some advice you were given that you DIDN’T follow?

The main piece of advice I didn’t follow was to slow down. It wasn’t necessarily in terms of slowing down the acceleration of my career, but I was always in a hurry to get things done, which was perhaps too fast for the taste of someformer bosses. It’s so ironic because no one is saying that anymore—everyone wants it done faster and better—but there were times in my career where I was encouraged to slow the process down. I didn’t. And I attribute that to where I am today.

What is the worst thing you were told in a performance review?

I was once told that I was cheeky. That really ticked me off. It irritated me because I was never one to be disrespectful to other people. I really do think I got that feedback because of speaking up in meetings. It was from a male boss and it was very early in my career. Really, I felt like I was penalized for speaking up. This was another piece of advice I DIDN’T take. I did not let that comment deter me from asking questions and stating my opinions in meetings. It was a room full of mostly men who would yell over each other to be heard, yet I was told in my review that I was cheeky. Come on, give me a break.

What about the best comment in a performance review?
This is a perfect example of how women have emotional memory – we remember the negative stuff and forget the positive. While I don’t remember a phrase, a common theme I’ve excelled in is getting results. At the end of the day, that’s what is most important; if people are consistently saying you’re getting results, that’s great with me.

What’s a book you would never return to the library?

What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith.
I often recommend this book because Goldsmith talks about the best characteristics of great leaders. He uses words like “courageous,” “humble,” “disciplined” and “trusted”–not words like “rich,” “powerful,” and “smart”. There are a lot of great reminders in that book about what really makes a great leader. People who want to get ahead often focus on the wrong things.

If you were to give your 20 year old self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Dream big. Without dreams, chances are, you won’t accomplish nearly as much.

To follow Melissa’s journey or to learn more about her book Money on the Table: How to Increase Profits through Gender-Balanced Leadership, visit her website at http://melissa-greenwell.com/.

 About our Ambassador: Emily Betz

emily-betzEmily is an HR aficionado and Orr Fellow, specializing in talent acquisition, reporting, and communications. In addition to her 9-to-5, she does photography and design (some of which you can see on her website at http://www.emilyrbetz.com), and aspires to become a career coach to help people make some of their biggest career moves. She loves penguins, the color orange, family time, podcasts, and exploring Indiana’s craft beer scene.

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