Developing Her Influence and Leadership Skills
A conversation with Kyleen Walker about her career and experience in the Black Leaders Program
In 2020, the global pandemic and the murder of George Floyd thrust Kyleen Walker, Director of Office Management and Global Lead of the Black Professionals Network Employee Resource Group at Alix Partners LLP, into new challenges and a higher profile within her firm. As co-lead of her firm’s Black employee resource group, she was tasked with collaborating with her co-leads and the firm’s Diversity & Inclusion team to create the company’s response and guidance following Floyd’s death, which led to historical educational forums and events that were attended by hundreds.
In 2021, Walker pivoted from leading one busy office to oversight of operations and administrative staff for two busy offices and she took on the global lead role for the Black employee resource group, earning a promotion to director and more awareness of her influence across the firm. With a strong desire to broaden her growth, expand her network, and sharpen her leadership skills, she attended the Black Leaders Program at Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2022.
What made you want to further develop your leadership skills through this program?
I found myself having to lead in two different spaces during a global pandemic: the administrative operation space and the D&I space. I was put on a platform that I was not familiar with, which was exciting but somewhat uncomfortable. I was mentoring and reverse-mentoring others at various levels, developing other leaders, and casting vision, yet I had never received formal training in these areas. I knew that my leadership and my influence would continue to grow, so I wanted to make sure I functioned with best practices and knew how to enhance my leadership skills.
This program gives participants the opportunity to connect and learn with other Black leaders. How important was that to you?
I’m one of the few Black female leaders in my firm at the director level. And, although we are making strides to increase our numbers, I still find myself often thinking, “What is it like for others? Do they have similar challenges?” I barely have words to describe the richness of the relationships that I developed with the other 30 very talented individuals in the BLP program. There was such synergy at every session. I felt intellectually stimulated in a way that I didn’t know I needed.
Was there a faculty session that was particularly enlightening?
Jeffrey Pfeffer’s session, “Paths to Power,” helped me understand how people use power and how I might use my influence in the ways that I feel comfortable with. It gave me a way to talk about the things that have been working for me when I go into difficult spaces and need to have influence, especially in speaking about race.
What skill-building sessions will likely prove most useful to your work?
There was a session on how to have difficult conversations that I’m going to use, and another on understanding how to have coaching conversations that inspired me to think more about the needs of those I lead. I am currently implementing training on networking with AlixPartners’ Black employee resource group, which was another great session at the BLP. The negotiation training sessions have also been helpful because I do a lot of negotiating in my role.
How would you sum up the overall experience of attending BLP?
Inspirational! The program inspired me to come back to AlixPartners and continue to bring my best. It inspired me to help grow and develop other leaders. It inspired me in my personal life to take better care of myself and to expand my network so that I can connect with like-minded people. It also inspired me to continue to sharpen myself, my sword, the tools in my toolkit, and to get more tools!