Maryfran Johnson

Daphne Jones: Envision a new career destiny

Apr 23, 2022

The board director and former CIO knows a thing or two about transformation. Her advice to IT leaders looking to improve their career trajectory: “Approach it like a business problem” and take steps to improve your product.

Daphne Jones
Credit: Daphne Jones

To this day, Daphne Jones remembers the high school guidance counselor who told her she would never get into college—or if she did, would never graduate. ”Black girls just don’t make it in college, he told me,” says this renowned C-suite technology leader and board director. “He had my destiny all locked up.”

If only that misguided counselor could see Jones today (college degree and MBA achieved long ago). “His voice is always in my ear,” she adds, and that partly inspired the name of her consulting firm: Destiny Transformations Group.

“I want you to know you can transform your destiny, when you’ve been told you’re not enough, too female, or too Black! You can transform,” she adds. The former CIO’s next transformation will add “author” to a long list of career accomplishments when McGraw-Hill publishes her first book this fall. Current working title: Win When They Say You Won’t.

“My book is part autobiography, part instructional, and part inspirational,” explains Jones, who serves on three public boards and was named to Savoy magazine’s list of most influential Black corporate directors for 2021.

 “I want to inform the reader that whether you’re a woman or a person of color, or different than the approved mainstream, not everyone will tell you they’re not in your corner. But they’ll find a way to show you,” she says. “You won’t get the budget everyone else did, or you won’t be given the same opportunities.”

When the newest Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson had to watch members of Congress publicly walk out on her during her confirmation celebration, Jones adds, that was a very public example of what many women and people of color experience every day. “They are being told, ‘You’re not going to win, and I won’t support you if you do.’”

Next month at the SIM Women National Summit in Princeton, N.J., Jones will share with several hundred mid-career women how they, too, can succeed despite being told they won’t. Her keynote address will introduce her 4-step process for transforming business and personal lives—regardless of the roadblocks or discrimination encountered so far.

“I’ve reinvented myself at least 5 times,” she cheerfully points out. “You have to approach it like a business problem and figure out what steps to go through to improve your ‘product.’ ”

I caught up with Jones recently to hear more about her career strategies and how she created this methodology to coach others along their own paths to success.

Maryfran Johnson: Describe what you’re doing today with your business. Mainly career coaching work?

Daphne Jones: My business today is about three things. One, I serve on three boards to help drive stakeholder value from my business and digital background. Two, I’ve launched a new company called The Board Curators, which is about demystifying the process of pursuing a board seat. Third is my coaching and consulting work through Destiny Transformations.

How does Board Curators work?

It’s an online course and an individual coaching program, designed for those C-Suite or equivalent executives who are curious about board service or ready to serve on a board. We focus mainly on those leaders who have been overlooked, undervalued, and not traditionally sought out for board service. We “curate them to ready.” We’re also doing live sessions for companies that want to drive a group understanding of board services for their leaders.

Tell us more about the 4-step transformation methodology you write about in your upcoming book.

I describe my methodology with the acronym EDIT, which stands for Envision, Design, Iterate, and Transform. You start with Envision by thinking about what is possible? Where can I go? Can you envision what you’d been told is impossible? With Design you work on understanding your own SWOT, your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. You think of yourself as a business product. IT people understand the SDLC (software development life cycle) really well—and you can apply that to your personal development.

Then you try out your design in the “market” and using some principles from Eric Ries’s book, The Lean Startup, you iterate through your hypothesis, persevering if it’s working or pivoting if it’s not. Finally, when you have achieved your objectives and key results, you have transformed yourself—and hopefully those around you, as well. We should be able to transform not only ourselves, but our environment because our product (us) has superpowers. 

What version are you now in this personalized SDLC?

I’m probably at least on version 5.5 by now! I was at version 2.0 in college and graduate school. But when you think about whatever version you are today, it’s never too late to edit your direction. I’m a business owner and board member now, but my next transformation will be to author. The focus is on continuous improvement.

Looking back at your career strategically, what was the best decision you made?

It was having the idea in my mind and realizing what the next big job could be for me. I believe that wherever your mind goes, energy follows.  I worked as an IT director at PSE&G utility in New Jersey, reporting to the CIO, who reported to the CEO. He asked me one day what I wanted to do in my career at the company. I told him I wanted his job! That was the first step. I believe reimagination can lead to transformation. 

What was your biggest mistake or lesson learned?

It was about how you choose who you work with, either from an employee or contractor standpoint. I’ve made choices by trusting what people told me, but not doing the due diligence on their background. I once hired someone after being warned about that person’s horrible reputation. I should have listened!

To me, there are three kinds of trust. First, I have to trust your intentions—you mean well and you’re looking to do the right thing. You have integrity. Second, I trust your word. You meet deadlines. You honor commitments.  If you will be late, you disappoint early, not late.  And third, you really have the skills to do the job well. If someone doesn’t demonstrate those 3 areas of trust, I cannot do business with them.  But I had to learn that the hard way. 

This article first appeared in CIO’s Career Strategist newsletter.