Leading by Example – The Value of Being Yourself at Work

When no one else in the room is like you, sometimes the first instinct is to try to find a way to fit in. In my more than thirty years in the industry, one of the most important things I have learned is that trying to be anything but your authentic self can do you more harm than good.

Having been a chemical engineering student at the University of Alabama, I started my career no stranger to being the only woman in the room, and as my career progressed in manufacturing, that can still hold true today.

I learned early on that whenever I tried to blend in or be like all of the males in the room, I wasn’t being true to myself. And by doing that I was actually minimizing my strengths.

No one is hired for a job because they are like everyone else on the team, and that is something I try to take to heart every day. The unique perspective and approach you bring to the table is something that only you can own, and knowing that is what can make for a truly effective leader.

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One of the reasons I joined GAF, North America’s largest roofing and waterproofing manufacturer, was because of the leadership. The interview was unlike any I have ever participated in. The manager genuinely wanted to get to know me and highlighted not only why I could be a good fit for GAF, but why the company was a good fit for me and how I could make an impact.

As plant manager of GAF-Tuscaloosa, I strive to engage, connect and empower my team every day. Knowing that everyone brings a unique strength and perspective to the table no matter what gender, race or college football team you favor, I work to make sure they each feel valued and that they are contributing to the goals of the team.

Part of that is instilling a philosophy that I call being “people, people,” which means building a community where everyone is respected. Putting the people first, the work and quality work will follow.

I have had so many people lift me up when I’ve been through hard times and I try to lift people up in the same way. There’s no manual, but what I try to remember is that I am a support leader. I’m here to support this plant and make sure everyone on the team feels empowered in their role to help reach the company goals. That means I bring my true self to work every day. And if you’re not being your authentic self every day, how can you ask your team to do the same?

I’ve had the pleasure to work with so many amazing mentors throughout my career, but the biggest influence on my leadership would probably be my mother. She taught me everything I know about doing the right things for the right reasons, and that’s something I carry over into my management style.

The question I ask myself about every role I’ve undertaken is, did I leave it better than I found it? If the answer is yes, then I feel like I’ve been true to myself.

Katrina Baker is the plant manager of GAF-Tuscaloosa – one of 26 manufacturing locations at GAF, North America’s largest roofing and waterproofing company. With more than 30 years of manufacturing experience, she has worked across various industries including aerospace, chemicals, flooring and roofing. She brings her energy and passion to every project and focuses efforts on inspiring teams to become high performers. Baker is a graduate of the University of Alabama.

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