Elizabeth Bryant on mentors, honest feedback, and having a passion for learning.
Managing Director, Training, Southwest Airlines
A former college teacher, Elizabeth Bryant began her learning and development career at Southwest Airlines and has held numerous positions, including director of leadership development and senior director of talent development.
Q| What led you to move into the learning and development profession?
A| Teaching has always been my passion, and once I stepped into a college classroom I immediately fell in love with teaching adults. I had planned to stay in academia for my career, but a friend of mine encouraged me to consider teaching in the corporate setting. I still remember leaving my first interview with corporate training: I was blown away by Southwests enthusiasm and creativity.
Q |Did you have a coach or mentor to help you along the way?
A| I believe every leader should have a mentor. My first mentor was my grandmother, whose lessons continue to influence me today. She taught me to work hard and to always lead by example. I have been told I am extremely optimistic (which I am) because I believe in the best in people, the way my grandmother always believed in me. I am also a firm believer in honest feedback, good or bad. I care enough to be honest, care enough to tell you what I think, and care enough to never leave you guessing. As leaders, we owe it to the employees who work with us to be honest and candid, yet compassionatewhich is not always easy. My grandmother was a genius.
I also have had impactful mentors beginning in graduate school through today. I try to learn something from each person I meet.
Q| How does what you do now compare with your earlier talent management work?
A| I recently moved from the development side of the house to training. While there are many differences, the similarities win by a long shot. My department is responsible for training Southwest employees to perform their job functions, whether it is a flight attendant caring for the safety of our passengers, a customer service agent offering positively outrageous service, or a mechanic learning to work between aircrafts. I have the privilege to lead the training department, and a big part of my job is to develop, support, and grow my team so they, in turn, can help others grow. Its a simple philosophy that Southwest has taught meinternal customers come first. My team is my number one priority.
Q| What advice would you give to those wanting to advance their careers in the learning field?
A| First of all, try to align yourself with a company that actually believes in learning and development. So often I talk with learning professionals who are trying to change the organization without senior-level support. This can be done, but it is not ideal. Having the support and example of senior leadership sets the tone for the organization and allows you to move from justifying your existence to increasing your scope and impact.
In addition, find connections and stay in touch with learning professionals outside of the company. Some of my best ideas have come from sharing with my network. Finally, find a mentor within the learning field. As you can tell, I am a huge proponent of having a mentor!
Q| What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from your career journey?
A| I would say that it is just that: a journey. Your learning career is not a sprint. Prepare for the long haul; youll have good miles and challenging ones, but stay the course. If you try to maintain a fast pace, youll burn out. Be steady, thoughtful, and intentional. Build strong relationships along the way. Ive learned that these relationships are the true key to career success. As long as you have great friends along the journey, anything is possible.