As SVP and CIO of Whirlpool Corporation\u2019s Global Information Systems, Danielle Brown blends executive leadership, business savvy, and deep knowledge of emerging technology to deliver results. Those are some of the more obvious keys to her effectiveness as a collaborative and decisive leader and technologist. But Dani also attributes her success to something else: a willingness to take on the hard things. I call it boldness; she calls it a mindset that has propelled her since the early days.\nAs a college student, Dani was one of only two African-American women enrolled in the computer science program. She still frequently finds herself as one of the onlys or the very fews on leadership teams and in executive boardrooms. But she knows there\u2019s tremendous value in what she brings to the table\u2014her point of view, her experiences, her authenticity. As a result, she says, whenever she faces a challenge or an opportunity, instead of thinking, \u201cWhy shouldn\u2019t I?\u201d she thinks, \u201cWhy not?\u201d\n[ Learn\u00a0the 7 skills of successful digital leaders and the secrets of highly innovative CIOs. | Get weekly insights by signing up for our CIO newsletters. ]\nWhen I spoke with Dani for the CIO Whisperers podcast, she shared how her personal and professional experiences have shaped her approach to leadership, learning, and teaching. She also talked about what she\u2019s doing to make sure her IT organization has the voice, capabilities, and skill set to advance Whirlpool\u2019s strategic imperatives, all of which hinge on innovative technology and digital services. After the show wrapped, we spent a few more minutes drilling down into some of Dani\u2019s keys to successful leadership. What follows is that off-air conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity.\nDan Roberts: You are so effective at communicating the \u201cart of the possible\u201d to people. With the pandemic, we lost a lot of the opportunities for face-to-face interactions. How have you compensated for that?\nDani Brown: Without question, I look forward to getting back to face-to-face interactions, because some of what we miss by not being in person are the nuances of conversation and making that genuine personal connection face to face. I\u2019ve compensated by \u201cenjoying\u201d a lot of screen time with my team.\nI recall our first townhall and swiping through the multiple screens thinking, I don\u2019t know any of these people personally. Soon thereafter we came up with \u201ccoffee chats with Dani.\u201d The \u201cchat\u201d includes no more than 8-10 people max, no slides, and no agenda other than it\u2019s a chance for me to get to know you and you to get to know me. I\u2019ve learned so much through these conversations, and we always go right up to the hour. For an even more engaging opportunity, I also invite anyone in the organization to set up one-on-one time with me.\nWhat would you tell leaders who say they just don\u2019t have time for that?\nFor the one-on-ones, the only condition is that they must come prepared to share with me their career compass, which is our internal document that highlights their career aspirations, experiences to date, strengths, and areas for growth. Having that framework for the discussion really focuses us on the topic and makes the most of our time.\nBut yes, these types of discussions, whether it\u2019s the coffee chats or the one-on-ones, are a big time commitment. However, it is worth every minute invested. In our current environment, we are constantly in a war for talent, and that\u2019s not just new talent; it\u2019s also retaining the talent we have. I use the term \u201cre-recruit.\u201d As leaders we need to re-recruit existing talent every day.\nInvesting the time to understand \u201cwho\u2019s on the bus\u201d\u2014the talent in your organization\u2014is one way to keep individuals engaged. It also provides me with direct insight into my new organization and enables those personal connections that we can\u2019t get right now from, say, running into someone in the lunchroom. When you can\u2019t be together in person, understanding the value of these moments for personal engagement and taking advantage of them is critical. So, I would contend that leaders can\u2019t afford not to take the time to connect with their employees in a more personal way.\nLooking over your career, what do you think are some of the key things you did that set you up for success?\nI listened, worked hard, and always tried to create an environment for others to be successful.\nIn terms of listening, I have always sought advice from those who have traveled down the roads that I am attempting to forge. Even though the roads may not be exactly the same, their many years of experience have equipped them to share advice that makes me think about situations from various perspectives before making a final call. My willingness to listen and learn from others has helped me navigate through the many challenges I\u2019ve faced in my career.\nWhen it comes to working hard, well, it is a part of my nature to work with a spirit of excellence. This does not mean that I\u2019m perfect\u2014very, very far from it! But it means that whatever job I am doing\u2014from working at a fast food restaurant to data analyst to programmer to SVP and CIO\u2014whatever the job may be, I take pride in it and do it with 110% effort. I don\u2019t know any other way.\nI also believe that our role as leaders is to create an environment where others can be successful. We do that by creating a vision, bringing others along, helping to remove barriers, and coaching and guiding them along the way. I have found that, as a leader, the more successful you make others, the more successful you will be.\nFrom our conversations about your experiences and what\u2019s made you successful, I\u2019ve gotten this sense that it\u2019s about being bold but also being vulnerable. These could seem to be in conflict. How do you think they work in tandem?\nOn some level, they\u2019re both about taking risk. They\u2019re about extending ourselves to a place where we\u2019re not completely comfortable. In many ways, you can\u2019t be bold without being vulnerable, and you can\u2019t expose your vulnerability without being bold. Vulnerability means letting go of control, exposing yourself to let others lead. And letting go of control takes a level of courage\u2014in other words, boldness.\nHow do these play out in the day-to-day of being a leader?\nA lot of leaders build great teams by exposing their own vulnerability. That builds trust, it establishes accountability, and it helps us see strengths in others we might not normally see. I wouldn\u2019t be where I am today if people I worked for hadn\u2019t extended that vulnerability to me.\nSimilarly, when a leader takes a bold stance, they\u2019re exposing some vulnerability. A bold position might mean you\u2019re the only one with a certain view. Being on an island like that can feel extremely vulnerable. Again, great leaders will allow you the opportunity to be bold, be vulnerable, and take calculated risks.