Sharing Leadership Lessons in an interview with Bruce Waller…
10 Answers from HR Leaders that make a difference!
I once heard Sara Blakely, (CEO Spanx) say, “The more you experience in life, the more you have to offer others.” Today, I want for you to experience more by learning from some Super Stars serving in HR! I am inspired by people every day who model great leadership for others through their daily actions in human resources. These leaders have common threads that include empathy, love and care for people. They value people and the importance of relationship building.
In this HR Super Stars interview series, I want to introduce you to some of the best of the best in HR! These leaders make impact and will share challenges, successes, and perspectives on their journey as a business leader and in their personal lives. My hope is each person will inspire you and challenge you to become more for others on your journey. So, let’s get started and meet our HR Superstars!
Today, we are going to hear from… LaTonya D. McElroy, SHRM-SCP, SPHR, Vice President of HR at BCS Data Center Operations. I first met LaTonya when I joined the Texas SHRM State Council as a volunteer leader. LaTonya is one of our Core Leadership Area Directors (CLA’s) as co-director for certifications. She is genuine, positive, and has a passion for helping others. You are going to enjoy getting to know her!
Now, let’s meet LaTonya!
- Where did you grow up? I grew up in one of the greatest cities in the world for raising families, Texarkana, TX, which borders Texarkana, AR as a twin city. We have a slogan – Texarkana is twice as nice, and that holds true. In my community growing up, the families all knew each other, went to the community churches together, played sports and did band together, and took care of each other. My grade school and high school community was a combined, historically segregated school system like most in America, where the two schools (Liberty & Eylau) joined to form Liberty-Eylau, but my generation didn’t really know that. We were just like family, no matter what you looked like or where you lived. I think I had the best childhood values framework anyone could possibly have, and my classmate who served with me as a leader in our high school, where I was his Student Council/Government President, is now my CEO after 25 years! Who would’ve thought!?
- How did you get started in business/career? I honestly stumbled into HR. I was at a starting-over place in my life at the time. Everything had happened all at once! I was laid off, newly divorced, a new mom, and feeling very displaced, working 1 part-time jobs and selling insurance part-time as a self-studied licensed insurance agent. Honestly, I walked into a credit union to pay my car loan with borrowed funds, and nervously asked for an application for any position available. I was instructed to go by the front desk on the way out to grab an application, to which I IMMEDIATELY responded by screaming ‘there’s no way I will apply for this job with my broken life and credit!’—only, I didn’t say it out loud, just in my head. I simply resolved to sink back into the fear of rejection, and I was getting out of this credit union before I did something stupid. That’s when Veronica threw me a career lifeline. She was the teller in the next window who overheard my request and scrambled through her drawer to hand me an application over the partition. That was my moment. I took it home, completed it (hoping only for a part-time teller position), and returned the application with a huge smile of gratitude to Ms. Kathy at the front desk. To my surprise, I received a call before I was a mile down the road. I don’t know why Ms. Kathy ran my application directly to Ms. Karen (the Director of HR), but she did, and instead of interviewing for a teller position, I was interviewed for a position in HR. I took that part-time HR Assistant role and ran with it, even though I had to maintain my FedEx package-handling morning gig for a while (after which I’d freshen up and change in the credit union lady’s room before beginning my desk job in HR). I felt tremendously blessed! I joined the local SHRM chapter, started working on finishing my degrees and certifications, while progressing in my career over the next 14 years, and here I am today, much to the credit of my family and local professional network.
- Do you remember a challenge or life lesson that you had to overcome early in your career which made you a better leader? During a 1-year season of my career, I remember being rejected, misunderstood, overworked, and completely misjudged, when I really needed support and mentoring the most. At that time, I learned to live with that rejection and still thrive despite it. I learned to forgive. I learned never to be that person toward anyone else. I also learned that success is not measured by how many times you fail trying, but it’s measured by how many times you get back up until you succeed. It’s also measured by the way you treat others in the process. My first HR Director told me, ‘you can’t get bloody over everything.’ She taught me to have patience if I want to make a difference. I can’t fight every single battle – even the ones that come to me. I have to choose the right strategy and the right time to change the world for the better. At the end of each day, I want to be able to fight another day.
- What was that moment when you knew that you had found your lane, your purpose? I was volunteering for the local Tri-State SHRM chapter as a Workforce Readiness Chairperson (brand new in HR myself), and I developed a project to promote workforce readiness to one of our local alternative schools. Standing there talking to that group of students who other people had possibly counted out, and doing these presentations on the former, run-down campus of my old middle school, I felt that I was making a difference. I was showing them that they were valued, teaching them how to be prepared for life and the importance of choosing the right field or career path. I was sharing the resources and knowledge I and other HR volunteers had available, to help someone who needed it most. That’s the essence of HR, and it was me.
- What is your most valued achievement, and why? For about 23 years, I’ve been a volunteer at my church, working in some way with the children and youth. For me, that’s the most important work I have ever done. I’m proud of that. I volunteered even while working full-time, raising my family with my spouse, and going to school non-traditionally for 14 of those years. I wouldn’t allow myself to quit serving God, through serving those children. That’s the greatest accomplishment of my life.
- Is there any one person who inspired or mentored you along the way? There are too many to name, honestly! I won’t start naming people, because I’ll leave someone out. They know who they are, because I make a point to thank them periodically. They’re probably reading this, because that’s the type of people they are. They have taken an interest in my success over the years and have offered various opportunities for me to shine, use my gifts and talents, or to serve. For their selflessness, encouragement, and for always thinking of me, I am forever grateful.
- Do you have a saying or creed that you live by? “The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11-12
- What book(s) are you reading or audio to help grow your leadership right now? I am reading several at once – shame on me, right?!
- Weekly audible morning routine – Inspired By: The Bible Experience, on Audible,
- Find Your Lane is an awesome book by someone I know, and it’s filled with nuggets of wisdom! I don’t bowl well, but I can still understand the analogies in the book.
- Just starting – In Praise of Difficult Women
- Mid-way through Dare To Lead by Brene’ Brown
- On my list – Instinct by Bishop TD Jakes
- Podcasts by Isaac Pitre (amazing Christian leader of leaders)
- You Can, You Will – Joel Olsteen
- Can you share any of your daily disciplines that help you stay focused as a leader? I read daily words by a Christian author every morning (and I commit to believing God’s promises for ME), I pray (on a daily basis, and sometimes all day), I read a devotional related to overcoming anxiety and worry on especially busy days, and I intentionally focus on others. Also, we still take our two youngest children to school and pick them up (even though they can ride the bus), and then I go back to work. This forces me to balance work and family. You see, I’m a recovering workaholic… (smiling). My children, grandsons, and family in general keep me focused on my ‘why.’ They don’t care about my conference calls or deadlines – they’re just ‘hungry’ or ‘have a project due tomorrow and need supplies tonight.’ There’s nothing to keep us focused like remembering what really matters in the end.
- What advice would you give others to help them on their leadership journey? Remain others centered. Leadership is never about you.
Outstanding! Thank you for sharing your story and letting us get to know you more, LaTonya! Some of my takeaways include: Sounds like Texarkana was a pretty special place to grow up, enjoyed the story of the bank teller that took interest in you – we ALL need “lifelines”, we are definitely in a great lane when we share with others that have a need and teaching makes it that much more special, volunteering is such a great accomplishment and I can tell it’s in your DNA – so glad we have you on the Texas SHRM State Council as a volunteer leader too, we are standing on the shoulders of giants and sounds like you have many, love Matt 23-11-12 – thanks for sharing this… Great book and podcast list and thanks for the FIND YOUR LANE shout out 😊, thank you for sharing your daily disciplines to help us learn especially when you include “There’s nothing to keep us focused like remembering what really matters in the end”, and absolutely love your advice – “Remain others centered. Leadership is never about you.” Thanks again for sharing your story.
Congratulations on being an HR Superstar! You are truly making a difference in the HR community!
What’s your takeaway? Share below… We would enjoy hearing from you!
Looking for reasons to take the HR Certification? Click link and listen to LaTonya share the 3 C’s about being HR Certified on this 1 min video…
Bruce Waller, CRP, PHR, SHRM-CP is the Vice President of Armstrong Relocation and Companies in Dallas, Texas and Author of Find Your Lane and Milemarkers. You can visit connect by phone at 972-389-5673 or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also sign up for his weekly blog “A Relocation Minute” at brucewaller.com