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8 Leadership Principles and 4 Career-Development Steps for Young Professionals

The Winston Under 40 Lunch with Leaders series connects young professionals with our community’s most distinguished leaders. The wisdom and insights gained from these conversations help to build the next generation of successful professionals with strong leadership skills.

In June, we heard from David Stevens, the Mid-South Division President at SunTrust Bank. Here are some of David’s thoughts on leadership and career development.  


I don’t have the market cornered on what it takes to be a great leader or all the answers to how you should manage your career. But, I have been charged with leading some large business units over my 37-year career. I have seen and experienced the good, the bad, and the ugly side of leadership. I have made some great career decisions and some that I would love to have a do-over on.

I defined my personal leadership style based on a question which came not from any of my superiors, not in a job interview, or in a professional review. It came from my wife. One day, she asked me what it was that I did which made people want to follow my lead.  

Here is the answer I gave her and what I have since defined as my leadership style and principals:

I believe in what I am doing and the purpose of my company – at SunTrust that purpose is helping our clients and communities achieve their financial goals and dreams – we call that lighting the way to Financial Well-Being. I believe in it and it is easy for folks to see my passion about our purpose.

My teammates know I will always do the right thing and that when I commit to something it is the gospel. If I commit, it will happen, even if it might bring some heat on me down the road. That may not seem like a big deal, but in the world we live in today, it is a differentiating quality.

My teammates know I care and have a vested interest in their success. I know them well, personally and in business, and want the best for them. This doesn’t mean that I never have tough conversations or tell them where they need to improve. Some of the best bonds I have built with people have been over very difficult conversations.

I try to model work life balance – people don’t want to sell their soul for a company. They need balance to help them be their best while at work. My teammates know I have a life outside of the bank and that it is equally important to me. I expect them to do the same.

It’s not about me. It’s about the client and the teammates. Said another way, my teammates know I am focused on the best outcomes for them and our clients –  not advancing my career. That is the focal point of every leadership decision I make.

I have high standards and demand the best from my teammates. When your teammates know you believe in the cause, you can be trusted, care about and invest in them, you make it fun and are not in it just to advance your career; you can then set high standards and demand their best.

I have fun doing my job. That type of style tends to be infectious and make folks want to be a part of it. I take what I do seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously and try to have fun doing what we do.  My career is full of stories and I share them as a means of communicating important messages and lasting memories for folks. Even the worst experiences of your career have value and can be used for the greater good down the road.

I give back to my community – we are nothing without the communities we live and work in and we all need to help our communities prosper by giving back.

Being purposeful about developing your leadership skills is an important quality. So is being strategic about your career plan and charting out your path to achieve your ultimate career goals.

Over the course of my career, I developed a decision matrix which helped me to frame potential career moves and decide whether or not they would be a good fit for me.  

It is an easy 4 step process:

1. Determine your personal and family goals, dreams and desires- and make sure your career path choices are consistent with these non-negotiables.

These should all be very specific to you but might include the following:

Where you want to live
Cost of living, quality of life, school system if you have children
Proximity to immediate family
Participation in children’s school and athletic events
Proximity to close friends and business networks
Work hours and travel demands of a job
The level of compensation you require

2. Complete a candid self-assessment of your personal strengths/weaknesses and likes/dislikes.

Be honest with yourself – you will be the only one that will see this work. Some of these will guide you to what training and development work you need to do, but many will just be your personal preferences. Know them and don’t run a red light or kid yourself just because you want a bigger job. A self-awareness of your strengths and weaknesses/likes and dislikes is a great way to make an informed career decision.

3. Play and plan for the long game – set long term career aspirations.

Don’t just think “what do I want my next job to be” – think 2 or 3 jobs down the road. Will the job you are considering advance you towards your end game?

4. Once you have a bead on the next possible career progression opportunity:

Test it against your personal and family goals, dreams and desires – is it a fit?
Test it against your personal strengths/weaknesses and like/dislikes – Is it a fit?
Ask yourself – what gaps do I have and what training/development do I need and get a plan
Test it against your long term game plan – will it help advance you towards your ultimate career goals?

The next Lunch with Leaders will bring us insights from Maurice Green, Executive Director of the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. This event is coming up on August 16th at the Marriott Downtown. RSVP Here.

To learn more about Winston Under 40 and the Lunch with Leaders series, visit winstonunder40.com.

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