March 30, 2016 6:24 pm Published by

I was honored to interview Kay Phillips, former co-owner and President of ATEK Companies, for my column in Minnesota Business magazine. From high school basketball captain to business owner, Kay has been leading her whole life. She draws her leadership skills from her vast career experience and credentials, yet it is her practice of continuous learning that has most shaped her into the leader she is today. In fact, Kay emphasizes that “the line between learning and leading is a thin one.”

Kay is a perennial life-long learner. She believes that learning and leading are closely tied, and is “always watching others and seeing how they did something, communicated something or are thinking about their strategy.” She says, “I’m constantly watching and taking notes of things I want to add to my toolkit or my capabilities.” One thing Kay has determined over the years is that different situations require different leadership styles. “There are times you need to be commanding and controlling, but that’s rare. I’ve learned to listen better and be more thoughtful about the team and not just the project.”

Kay’s biggest leadership lessons have come from “taking on pretty much any crappy job someone would give me,” she says with a laugh. “I learned so many things by doing that, and often took on jobs and did things I didn’t have the skill set for. I had to figure things out pretty quickly.” Kay admits while she did sometimes fail, the failure always resulted in learning. “When something doesn’t go well you have to reflect so you’re better the next time around. You start to notice warning signs and ask yourself what you could have done differently,” says Kay. “There were always signs — learning from failure means getting better at seeing those warning signs and changing plans quickly.”

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