We walk through Denyelle’s innate desire to question norms and her own beliefs and why she always asks for the promotion before she’s ready.
Denyelle also highlights why our unique strengths are the competitive advantage that makes us untouchable, the importance of asking for what we want and communicating our perspective while inviting and respecting others to do the same.
Highlights from the Transcript
- On embracing our uniqueness: “We spend a lot of time in our early years trying to fit in and not be different, which I later learned is a huge waste of energy…Over the years, I learned that what makes us different is what makes us special. Later in life, I realized it was this notion of being special that helped push me to do things that I wouldn’t do otherwise or maybe other people didn’t do because I didn’t feel like I had to follow the same rules because I was a different kind of person. As I have gotten older, it has become really clear to me that standing out and being different takes us out of the rat race and gives us the opportunity to be more successful and do things differently. Every body can learn to be good at something. When you learn to be really great, especially when it’s related to things that make you unique, that’s untouchable. Those are the kinds of things that I tell people to really hone in on. Instead of moving away from the things you think make you different, dive into them and figure out how to make them work for you…Focusing on your strengths and the things that make you unique are the things that are going to take you to the next level. If you are ambitious, driven and you want to break out you really need to focus on the things that make you unique. Otherwise, you’re just going to blend in.”
- On questioning how things are done: “I feel like I almost have post traumatic stress from the word ‘conform’ because I heard it so much. I laughed it off but I did wonder: ‘Oh my gosh. Am I going to have to conform? And, if I do, how do I even do that?’ I was a little worried. I never felt like I could conform so it was never an option for me but I did worry that it was going to be something that was going to hold me back. I realized that it was a huge waste of energy and I probably should have just dove into the fact that I thought differently way back then. It’s just ingrained in who I am.”
- On finding your tribe: “When we all cross over to that place where we feel like we can totally be our whole selves all the time – with our partners, family, friends, our colleagues – it’s very satisfying and is way less exhausting than trying to be everything to everyone and fit people’s needs and expectations. When you try to do that, you don’t always end up being surrounded by the kind of people you want to be with. I am a really direct person and I sincerely like to challenge and question things. Not everyone loves that and wants to have those types of conversations. But, the people who do want to spend time with me are quality people who I feel like I will have lifelong friendships with and we will be able to make each other better. We like what makes each of us unique. I think that’s such an important byproduct of being your authentic self all the time.”
- On the liberation of thinking different at Apple: “It was the first time in my life when I felt like I didn’t have to secretly have the idea in my mind that I wouldn’t get anywhere in life if I didn’t conform. It was the first time I realized that thinking different and being around people who were willing to push the envelope and challenge things was going to change the course of my life. The Think Different tagline was impactful. Being there and really being around people who on a daily basis challenged norms was comfortable, empowering and life-changing.”
- On always pushing for the promotion: “Even when I was a little kid my mom wanted to put me into the Brownies. I refused to wear the brown outfit because I wanted to wear the green one that the Girl Scouts wore at the next level up. I got a hold of a green vest that I wore to the Brownies meeting because I refused to be seen as a Brownie. I always wanted to be a Girls Scout. It ultimately resulted in me getting kicked out, but for me I just never want to settle for where I am or what I am doing. I feel like unless I keep pushing to do the next thing I’m going to become stagnant…There was a point in my career when I really was given a job that was way too big for me running Pure Beauty. I thought I was going to be Director of Operations but due to some strange miscommunication I ended up running the whole thing and having every functional department reporting to me. I walked away thinking: ‘I don’t know how to do this job. This is the craziest thing I have ever heard of. I’m basically being handed the keys to this company and I’m running departments I’ve never even worked in before.’ I called a friend of mine and said: ‘This is so weird, I’m actually sort of running this thing.’ She asked me what I was going to do and I said I was going to fake it until I make it. She said it was the craziest thing she’d ever heard, but I said: ‘Look around out there. There are tons of people out there who aren’t qualified to do jobs but they’re doing them. You just figure it out.’ And, I did. I worked day and night to figure it out. I sought out experts, looked at the best in class versions of everything, what people were doing and how to get there. I used the things I knew well and leveraged them. The things I didn’t know, I just said I was going to figure them out…If we push ourselves, we are often capable of doing a lot more than we think we are capable of doing. It’s often other people who tell us we can’t do something or we aren’t qualified that keep us down. If you have the ambition, drive, curiosity, and willingness to be wrong and learn from people around you who know more than you that’s what success is about.”
- On why failure isn’t an option: “I don’t believe in regrets and failures. Failure for me just depends on where you end the story. There is no such thing as failure. Every success was achieved after multiple failures. As far as I’m concerned, failure isn’t option because failure doesn’t exist.”
- On asking for what you want: “Nobody can read somebody else’s mind. If there is something you want you need to just ask for it because otherwise no one is going to know. I don’t think there is a risk in saying what you want. For me, the risk of not getting something because you didn’t ask for it seems much higher.”
- On being team-first: “I’ve always believed in servant leadership. One of the things that has definitely made me different in my career and has caused a lot of people to respect my leadership and others to question it is that I don’t believe in the customer first. I believe in the employee first. There have definitely been times when people found that position upsetting. But, we are human beings. In my experience, when you’re working in the retail services environment, unless the people who are helping the customers love what they are doing, feel energized, empowered, and appreciated it’s going to be hard to make the customer happy. If the people on the frontline aren’t really loving their jobs, there is a huge risk to the company. If there has been one thing that has been consistent and might be different it’s about really making sure that I truly understand the experience of the people on the front lines, how they’re receiving information, how we’re speaking to them, how we’re referring to them, how they’re being compensated, and always being open to the things they want to challenge or push in the organization. It’s about creating a culture where everyone feels like they are contributing and they are learning something from it.”
- On questioning your beliefs: “We all have backgrounds that make us who we are. Those defining moments effect our beliefs about how we are supposed to do things. I grew up in a pretty chaotic environment with parents who divorced when I was young. My wife, Christie grew up in an idyllic, traditional and very dynamic, intelligent family. They’re also a family that is very formal and traditional. Her parents have been together for over 50 years and they’re amazing people. So, her rules around how to rear children…And, when I say rules, I guess that is actually the point. She has rules in her head about how to raise children. I didn’t have rules in my head about how to raise children. I just thought we’d figure out and they’d figure it out. I felt like I’d seen too many examples of people trying to do the right things and not having things go exactly as they wanted. One of the things we have really learned over the past few years is that we come from different places, have different perspectives on things, and neither one of us is right and neither one of us is wrong. So, talking through where I come from and what the thinking behind my thinking is and having her do that is extremely helpful because there is such a natural tendency in parenting, and many things, to feel like you are supposed to do things ‘the right way.’ It wasn’t until I became a parent that I learned about this notion of parenting shaming — parents are supposed to do certain things and act, talk and be social in a certain way. I think those things need to be challenged. Kids are dynamic, developing individuals. Just having their best interests in mind at all times will lead you in the best direction.”