Shannon Johnson, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at UMB Bank, was recently named one of this year’s Women Who Mean Business honorees by the Kansas City Business Journal. Here, she shares some of greatest career challenges, her proudest accomplishment and what she’s done to improve the climate for women in business both at UMB and across the Kansas City metro. 

During my 18-year career at UMB, I have been afforded exceptional opportunities to grow, develop and challenge myself to become the best associate and leader I can be. The lessons I’ve learned and relationships I’ve made during this time have shaped me into the person I am today. And I believe the best way we can help others grow is to share our experiences and challenges with one another, especially as women. I hope other women can learn from the challenges I’ve overcome as well as from how I’ve worked to bring people together and be a mentor to women both at UMB and in the community.

Know your value

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my career was when I took on my new role as chief administrative officer at UMB to oversee various departments within the bank. When this announcement was made, a colleague asked what value I could add if I wasn’t an expert in their field. Now, this was a fair question, as my new role would oversee some deeply technical departments that differ from my subject matter expertise—uncertainty was understandable.

What I know about leadership is the importance of being able to clearly articulate a vision and direction with clarity of purpose. With this in mind, I explained that my role was to leverage and position the expertise in the various functions to align with the greatest value to the businesses we support – not serve as the expert. I explained that my role was to help identify meaningful ways to strengthen our functions to enable the continued success of our organization.

A leader works to remove obstacles, set a clear strategy, build a good team and get out of the way. Another key practice I have always leaned on, is to ask for advice and to seek challenge from my peers and team members. Feedback is an opportunity to see things you cannot, and where you can improve. Learning that I don’t have to be the expert, but rather a perpetually curious learner and champion of others has been one of the most important leadership lessons I have learned.

Find your niche

You may have heard the familiar advice to “find your passion,” but beyond enjoying your job, there is also worth in finding your niche: know your strengths and put them into action. In my work at UMB, I find the most satisfaction in bringing people together and building enterprise-wide solutions, whether it’s streamlining corporate-wide training, establishing guidelines for all of our businesses to leverage, or identifying efficiencies.  When I’m able to make those contributions and peel back some of the administrative workload, it can make a real impact on our business’ output, which lends meaning and significance to my day-to-day contributions.

As chief administrative officer, I am responsible for human resources, corporate risk, corporate legal and our credit risk functions serving UMB’s more than 3,900 associates. My advice to younger professionals is to find what you are passionate about and align them with your professional strengths.

Stay connected to community

It’s also important to get involved both at work and in the community. I am part of the inclusion and diversity efforts at UMB, which include eight business resource groups (BRGs) that are self-managed and comprised of more than 800 associates with common interests.

Currently, I am executive champion of the Pride BRG. We have more than 50 associate participants and our mission is to help UMB achieve an inclusive culture that embraces equality and engages LGBTQIA associates and customers. The initiatives we tackle are meaningful and varied, from supporting LGBTQIA community programs to launching a company-wide preferred pronoun signature block option.

Be a mentor

I actively mentor several women throughout different areas of UMB. As a woman at the executive level at UMB, it is my responsibility, privilege and joy to work to empower other women at the bank to achieve and excel in what is often a very male-dominated field. Our mentoring relationships are focused on career trajectory and paths, as well as fulfilling passions and interests. I was so excited when one of my mentees was recently promoted into a new role, which was a goal from our discussions over the past 18 months.

In the feedback I receive from my mentees, they share that a significant help to them is my work-life balance transparency—which not only creates shared experiences, but also demonstrates the value of UMB as an employer. By being open and transparent with the challenges of balancing life with three amazing yet busy kids and a rewarding job, it gives others permission to have a better work-life balance, too.

Shannon Johnson was recently recognized by the Kansas City Business Journal‡ as part of its Women Who Mean Business awards. You can read more about her career and personal experiences in the October 9, 2020 issue that profiled the 2020 Women Who Mean Business winners‡.

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