If you’re aspiring to be an effective leader, there are several qualities you’ll want to focus on – courage, respect, and empathy are at the top of the list. It’s easy to see the value of these attributes, but developing and exemplifying them takes work.
We spoke with Isobel Phoon, Director of Customer Engagement Network at American Express. As a leader of more than 200 team members throughout the UK and Vienna, she collaborates with a broad range of stakeholders throughout the business to drive operational efficiency, provide a high-quality coaching environment, and deliver great customer experiences.
“Working in operations, every day is a new challenge because you never know what’s going to happen,” she says. “You must be adaptable. One minute, we could have zero calls, and the next, there’ll be a hundred! But that’s why I love this role, because no two days are ever the same.”
If you’re an aspiring or current leader looking to grow your career, check out Isobel’s take on workplace cultures, relationships, and actions to be successful.
1. Choose the right environment
She’s been part of Amex for ten years, and she knew early on it was a great place to grow.
“To be honest, I’ve never considered leaving because it’s such a great company to work for. They really care about their people, invest in our development, provide flexibility, and offer great benefits that support us and, by extension, our families.”
After first joining as a Collections Specialist, she quickly grew into various leadership roles at the company.
“Right from the start, it was clear there were so many opportunities to learn and develop. I received my first leadership role within a year. It was a supervisory role, which was a great opportunity to hone my leadership skills, and my team leader was there for support along the way.
“I’m grateful I had this chance to grow and it showed me that Amex takes colleague development seriously, and that I could have a long career here – which was an accurate prediction!”
2. Model leaders you admire
Many effective leaders tout the value of mentors, not only for the knowledge, experience, and opportunities they provide, but for the ways they help you build confidence and trust in yourself. As Isobel shares, she feels lucky to have mentors in the organization.
“They’ve provided me with instrumental support and guidance throughout my career, and, perhaps most importantly, they’ve given me confidence to go for things that I might not otherwise have.”
Even now as a Director, Isobel still looks to her leader too.
“She’s a true inspiration and pleasure to learn from. She empowers me to make my own decisions but is there for guidance when needed. For others looking to grow your career, having this type of support means so much and will set you up for success.”
3. Take chances and say yes
As someone who values learning from others and getting support from her network, Isobel says: “Take risks. Say ‘yes’ to things that might make you uncomfortable but will help you grow. Don’t worry about making mistakes – that’s all part of it.”
She’s particularly proud of her own ‘yes’ moment in her latest career move, which involved learning about a completely new business unit.
“Historically, I’ve always had some connection to Credit. So, transitioning into the Servicing world and being given the opportunity to diversify my skills makes me proud.
“It’s also important to me to be a role model for my daughter, so it’s been great to be able to show her that hard work and dedication pay off!”
She’s also said ‘yes’ to some of the great company resources and programs available to support colleagues’ growth and development.
“I joined Amex’s ‘Future Talent,’ a program designed to support people in their careers. I loved getting to know people from other teams and learn new skills. I was also part of our BetterUp program, where I had the chance to work with an external professional coach for six months. They were a great sounding board to help me overcome challenges, learn new skills, and so much more.”
4. Follow your interests
When you’re looking to grow your career, it’s easier to do so when you’re truly invested in and delivering in your current role. For Isobel, there are two things she’s passionate about, and both are centred around people.
“First, I’m passionate about our customers. Every day we support them by delivering a best-in-class customer experience. We go above and beyond to be there for our customers in both good and challenging times and ensure their experience with us is as easy as possible.”
In addition to the Card Member experience, Isobel is also passionate about the colleague experience and supporting those she works with.
“It’s why I focus on coaching and developing talent and creating a highly-engaged team.”
Which leads us to her final key takeaway…
5. Pay it forward
Having achieved leadership success while continuing to learn and grow, Isobel is motivated to support others in carving their own paths. For her, the best days at work are when people have the chance to connect with customers and each other.
“I love connecting with my team, spending time with them, understanding how they operate best, and providing guidance when needed. When we achieve a big goal we’ve been working towards, we come together to celebrate those moments and it’s special.
“I enjoy building relationships with colleagues on other teams too, learning from them, and seeing what’s happening in their worlds.”
All these combined experiences have shaped Isobel’s leadership perspective and empowered her to continue supporting others.
“If there’s one key thing I advocate, it’s to get comfortable being uncomfortable! By stepping outside my comfort zone, I’ve been able to travel, learn about different cultures, and create my own leadership style.”