Women in Leadership Roles Know It Takes Business Acumen to Reach the Top, and for This Bank Executive It Took Following This Surprising Advice

March 2018

Women in Leadership Roles Know It Takes Business Acumen to Reach the Top, and for This Bank Executive It Took Following This Surprising Advice

When you think about the skills and attributes of women in leadership roles at multibillion dollar corporations, chances are that “kindness,” “humility,” and “vulnerability” aren’t the first words that come to mind. But for Trina Evans, chief of staff and director of Corporate Center for KeyCorp, those qualities are critical to success, in life and in business. She has a big – strike that – huge job. As a senior executive working alongside KeyCorp Chairman and CEO Beth Mooney, Evans has a vast range of responsibilities at one of the largest banks in the U.S., overseeing marketing, data, client insights, corporate communications, media relations, sustainability, philanthropy, community development, diversity and inclusion.

She started her career 25 years ago in bank operations. “I like to say I started at the garden level—in a cubicle in a basement, working next to someone who is still one of my dearest friends,” she laughs.

Over the years, Evans has learned a lot about leadership. She says that emotional intelligence, also known as EQ, is as important as IQ, and that kindness—not to be confused with weakness—goes a long way toward bringing out the strengths of others. Another critical leadership tip was the importance of being authentic because, in her view, authentic leaders are trusted, and teams follow those leaders whom they trust.

“When you’re younger, you admire other leaders and you think you need to be someone other than yourself,” she says. “In my case, I’m an introvert and as with any introvert, I’m a thinker and a watcher and I listen more than I talk. I was always afraid I would say something stupid and that everyone else knew more than me, so I stilled the voice inside of me. I would hold back in meetings and wouldn’t speak up.”

A turning point came when a manager pulled her aside and told her she was doing a disservice to her team. He gave her a leadership tip that would change the way she approached her job daily. “He said ‘The insights you share one-on-one are invaluable, but no one else knows that because you only share them one-on-one. You need to practice finding on-ramps to conversations. You have great insights. We want them, we deserve them, and you need to put them on the table.’”

From there she began practicing, as she calls it, “interjecting without interrupting,” and found herself voicing opinions prefaced with words like “Yes, and. . .” or “Another way to think about this is. . .” She became more comfortable in her own skin, and it didn’t hurt that by that point, she was working at KeyBank, in a culture that values diversity and inclusion and encourages people to bring their authentic selves to work.

“I’ve been liberated by working at Key because of the environment,” says Evans. “Our CEO, Beth Mooney, has done a great job creating that environment. She surrounds herself with diversity. Some differences you see and some you don’t, but these are leaders with different gifts, who think differently from each other, who come from different backgrounds, and have different experiences. And we are a stronger, better team because of our differences, not in spite of them. You are reverent of your peers but you also feel good about who you are and what you can – and should – contribute.”

In addition to authenticity, vulnerability is another quality that has served Evans well and that she encourages other leaders to embrace.

Here’s an example. “We get performance feedback every year. I feel I owe it to my team to share it openly with them. I say ‘Here’s what you’ve told me and here’s what I’m working on. I want you to be candid with me when I get it right and candid when I don’t. I want to be the leader you deserve.’”

Evans says that showing vulnerability and humility sends an important message about the need for continuous improvement, no matter where a person is in their career. “My hope is that by seeing even the most senior people admit they still have things to work on, will make people think ‘If she’s still on her journey, I can be, too.’ This notion that some people have it all figured out is so wrong—we are all works in progress.”

Among many civic roles outside KeyBank, Evans is also the executive sponsor of the Key Women’s Network, the largest of the bank’s 12 employee network groups, and has been widely recognized for her civic engagement and philanthropy, including receiving a YWCA Woman of Achievement award. While her accomplishments are personally meaningful, for her they are about something bigger than herself or her career.

“I want to be a proud reflection of the KeyBank culture that I love, which is one part responsible bank and one part responsible citizen,” she says. “We call it balancing mission with margin. To me, that means that my community needs my gifts as much as my company does. And, you know what? I’m proud to say that I am not unusual at KeyBank; service is part of our collective DNA.”