Excellence is the best equalizer

March 27, 2018 | GET MORE : Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

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Career advice from the real-life Olivia Pope.

Judy Smith is the real-life inspiration for Olivia Pope, the main character on the hit TV show, Scandal. Smith is best known in media circles for her expertise as a crisis management advisor. She is the founder and president of Smith & Company, a leading strategic advisory firm with offices in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York. 

Smith joined U.S. Bank employees on March 22 for a Women’s History Month event, during which she shared her career journey, lessons learned, tips for transforming your worst qualities into your best assets, and more. 

U.S. Bank: What are some tips you have for professionals entering the workforce?

Judy Smith: Have passion about the company you work for and the work you are doing. You won’t have all of the answers, and that’s ok. But you should be interested in learning and getting better every day. 

Which leads me to my next piece of advice: It’s ok to ask questions. It’s not only ok, it’s vital. Reach out to people who you admire, who you can learn from.  Asking questions is not a weakness; it’s a strength.

Also, don’t try to be someone you’re not. The truth of the matter is, you are more than enough, just as you are and your individuality is what will make you stand out from the pack. 

For me, excellence is the best equalizer out there. Focus on your work. Focus on making it excellent. Focus on what you can contribute and what you can bring to the table.

And trust your gut. When something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Integrity and strong character, values I learned from my wonderful parents, are all that get you through on those really tough days and help you on the really good days, too.

How has the workplace changed since you started your career?

The digital revolution has changed nearly everything. Everything moves faster; everyone is connected and everything seems pressing. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the power of a person-to-person conversation. It’s more important and influential than ever.

What skills stay consistently in-demand as the world shifts from manual to digital?

While cell phones and laptops have changed the way we do work in so many ways, my business is still all about relationships. Whether I’m calling my clients on a landline phone, emailing them, or doing a video conference, my job is still to provide them with sound advice and counsel. They need to be able to trust me and know that I am always working in their best interests.

What strategies do you use to inspire trust with new clients?

First, I am so proud that client and partner referrals generate the majority of my business. It’s one thing for me to share my experience and past case studies with a new client, but it’s so much more impactful for someone they know and trust to say, “Call Judy. She can help you with this.” That’s why I really think it’s so important to focus on the work. Once I choose to tackle something, I go all in and work my hardest to produce the best possible results. Then, I try to let those results speak for themselves. If you do good work for someone, especially when they are facing a really tough time, they are so appreciative and lasting relationships are built.

Arielle Goldberg works in public affairs and communications with U.S. Bank.