Leaning In: Carla West and Tammy Pearson Recognize Value of Supporting Each Other
This March, YoungWilliams launched a campaign to celebrate its women leaders in honor of Women’s History Month. Becoming a leader doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Any good leader has a solid support network. Tammy Pearson, the Director of Operations for YoungWilliams’ North Carolina offices, and Carla West, Senior Director for Economic Security for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), Division of Social Services, have been “leaning into” each other long before Sheryl Sandberg popularized the term.
Around 2007, West was managing the YoungWilliams-run New Hanover County child support office, and Pearson was managing Catawba County’s office. Pearson was asked to do some training for West and her employees. They also connected through the North Carolina Child Support Council. West’s first impression of Pearson was “that she was very smart, and I needed to find a way to get her on my team!”
When West took a position overseeing a YoungWilliams customer contact center in Iowa, she reached out to Pearson about working in New Hanover County. Pearson had been pondering a career change, so this offer came at the right time. Their paths crossed again in 2010, when West came back to North Carolina to manage all the YoungWilliams North Carolina projects. It can be hard when your friend and colleague becomes your boss, but Pearson and West have achieved a perfect balance, according to Pearson. “Carla taught me to never doubt myself, to keep learning, keep growing, and most importantly, don’t give up,” said Pearson. “She always says ‘We got this.’ I still use this saying today.”
West’s leadership style reflects her commitment to developing leaders. “I would describe myself as a collaborative leader,” said West. “I prefer to work together as a team, to listen to other voices, and make decisions as a group when possible. That being said, I am also pretty decisive if a decision needs to be made. Leadership styles evolve, as I have matured, I have learned that surrounding myself with people who are far smarter than me is the key to a successful work environment, which is why I loved working with Tammy so much.”
Helping her colleagues to stretch and build their own leadership style is key for West. “I like to encourage those that I work with to take chances without being afraid to fail and to try to think of each problem from different angles.”
In 2017, West left YoungWilliams for a position with DHHS. Ready to take another leap, Pearson became the Operations Manager. Pearson used lessons learned from West to develop her leadership style. “I am interactive yet transitional,” she said. “I like it when staff express creativity and ask questions like how can we do this, how can we make it happen, how can we make it better? On the transitional end, I feel that motivating and encouraging staff to be more innovative leads to more productive outcomes.”
Both Pearson and West recognize the importance of women supporting each other. “When I think back on the women that shaped the leader I am today, I realize that I am still in touch with all of them in a way that allows me to simply pick up the phone and call if I have a question or need help,” said West. “Those relationships have been valuable in providing support and guidance as I have continued on my journey.”
“Amazing things happen when you support each other and build great relationships,” said Pearson. “We are all more productive working together as a team and it makes us a lot happier.”
Young leaders should take advantage of the experience and wisdom of the professionals in their field. “The emerging women leaders of today are so fortunate to have so many strong women role models to look to as they shape their own leadership styles,” said West. “I hope that other women have a support network that is there for the good times and the bad times – a safety net that will catch them when they fall and celebrate them when they soar.”
Follow YoungWilliams on Twitter and LinkedIn as we recognize our women leaders. #WomenAtYoungWilliams, #womeninbusiness, #Herstory.