She creates an atmosphere where people can bring their whole self to work

Melissa Howell - Chief Human Resource Officer
Melissa Howell is the Senior Vice President, Global Human Resources for General Motors. She has been with the company 23 years and has extensive global human resources management and labor relations experience. She spent time in Zurich, Switzerland and Singapore serving as the HR Manager for GM Europe Manufacturing and the HR Director for GM’s Asia Pacific region.

Melissa’s leadership style is informal. She believes in being a collaborative leader who enjoys throwing a topic on the table and having an honest, robust discussion. She takes the various discussion points into account making her decisions.

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She holds leaders under her accountable in leading their own team. Melissa brings her team together frequently, believing they need to spend time together to feel safe expressing their honest opinions. She keeps it safe to express honest opinions by having an agreement with all parties that once a decision is made, the various issues, opinions, and who said what won’t be discussed.

Mary Barra is GM’s first female CEO, Melissa explained that Mary was simply the best candidate for the position, regardless of her gender. Melissa told us that throughout her career, Mary has stayed true to herself, has been transparent about the importance of her role as a Mom, and has been a collaborative leader. The GM executive team didn’t anticipate the sensation that was created by naming Mary CEO. Melissa feels Mary’s role is an inspiration to women throughout GM.

Melissa’s top 5 leadership tips are:

  1. Spend time lifting your head out of the weeks—it’s easy to lose sight of the long term vision when in the weeds. She has her global mission and five year plan on her white board in her office. She also schedules “think time” in her schedule.
  2. Be positively disruptive and challenge the status quo.
  3. View feedback as a gift—both when giving and receiving it. She expects feedback from her team and gives feedback. Her team feels comfortable being honest because they know she expects it. She says it’s not always easy to receive, but it’s very important to her and her team’s growth. She’ll challenge her team to do some self discovery if they are resisting feedback and she’ll ask for and give concrete examples as part of the process.
  4. Don’t lose touch with reality—reach deeply into the organization to get feedback.
  5. Bring your whole self to work—making yourself human allows everyone else to do the same and builds stronger teams.

She talks with candor about how difficult it was to join GM in her early 20s and become involved with labor relations. She built relationships with the union men by being human and not putting up barriers. She talked to them about what she was trying to learn and asked them for their help. They stepped up to the plate and became great teachers. A couple were even guests at her wedding!