At every step in my career, I have always stayed on the lookout for new problems to solve. So my tenure at Toyota has been punctuated by many Lean In moments—times when I’ve decided to stretch beyond my comfort zone to dive into one business issue or another. But there’s one example that stands out as particularly meaningful to me and my career.
After about eight years at Toyota I was serving as Manager of Facilities Purchasing, overseeing procurement related to vehicle production and other aspects of the company’s operations. I was well equipped for that job, thanks to my prior focus on manufacturing and engineering. But I was looking to diversify my experience and see where else I could contribute.
Because of my purchasing background, I had long known about the fantastic story Toyota had to share about its economic impact in the U.S. As far as I could tell, however, we weren’t telling it enough, especially to the elected officials who were creating the policies that impacted our U.S. operations. Here was a problem crying out to be solved—and it was right up my alley.
Still, I hesitated. Raising my hand meant that I would have to learn how to lobby, something I had never done before. I would have to discuss complex policy issues with federal and state officials to help them see our side of the story.
That’s how I ended up creating our Government Affairs function for Manufacturing. Of course, I was nervous at first, but there soon was an “a-ha moment.” During a meeting with a U.S. Senator and his staff about an important policy issue, it all of a sudden dawned on me that the only “expert” in the room was me. No one else there knew as much about Toyota or certainly felt as passionately about the great things we were doing across the country. That gave me all the confidence I needed. Within a couple of years, I was asked to run the entire External Affairs Division, including philanthropy, community, media and government relations.
The decision to lean into the Government Affairs position had a decisive impact on my career. I become known around the company as a versatile resource, and the senior leadership began to come to me with business issues to sort out. Today, I am in my third city and seventh role for Toyota—and happily never so far away from my comfort zone. All I’ve ever needed was the chance to lean in that my company provided, and I will never stop doing it.