Suitcase for Success: Colleen Russell

Meet Colleen Russell, Managing Director Internal Audit, at Southwest Airlines. Colleen has been with Southwest for over 20 years and currently leads an independent team that addresses risk across the company by delivering recommendations and insights. In this role, she influences those around her to do the right thing. By navigating her career with a “do good” mindset, Colleen has gathered valuable knowledge that is all packed into her Suitcase for Success!

Suitcase Item #1: Be Great with Change

Colleen received her degree in Management Information Systems from the University of Texas at Austin. Her first job out of college was a Programmer Analyst at Southwest. Since that initial position, Colleen has held several different roles within the company such as developing financial strategies, supporting the CFO as Chief of Staff, and working on ground operations. Although Colleen’s responsibilities have shifted throughout her career, she’s found success by embracing change. “You can’t be good with change, you have to be great with change,” said Colleen. “Whether it’s change within your day, department, or company—you have to be great with it. If you become more resilient with change you will allow yourself to get better, become a leader, and succeed in any role.” Colleen encourages you to associate change with opportunity, rather than uncertainty.

Suitcase Item #2: Embrace Ownership

All job titles are accompanied by specific roles and responsibilities. As a team member at any company you are expected to fulfill your role; however, Colleen encourages you to take it one step further and to be an owner of your work. Colleen explained, “While we do need people that complete tasks, what drives impact are those who truly serve as owners. Make your work yours. Do your work the right way, be thoughtful, and really see it through to completion.” An ownership mentality helps you develop skills and garner expertise.

Suitcase Item #3: Prioritize Your Energy

Throughout her career, Colleen has learned lessons through trial and error. One such lesson was realizing “you have to pick your battles.” Colleen stated, “Early on, I thought I had to handle everything and I had to handle it right away. I wasted time and energy obsessing over what I thought were big issues at the time. I expended a lot of energy on battles that weren’t worth fighting instead of exerting my energy to do more important things, such as forming meaningful relationships.” To build relationships, Colleen recommends building a support network in your workplace. This network should consist of individuals who “lift you up, encourage you, and support you, and for who you do the same.”

Suitcase Item #4: Be Present

Colleen’s father was in the newspaper business, so reading the paper was a big part of her childhood. This habit stuck with Colleen. Every morning she uses her phone to check the news, reading about current events, industry trends, and inspiring individuals. Although Colleen relies on her phone to stay informed, she makes it a priority to be present and advises you to do the same. “We are in the digital age. People are always on their phones multitasking all the time. Don’t miss out on that opportunity to connect in the hallway and in the elevator,” said Colleen. “What’s on your phone is not that important. Take a minute and smile at someone.”

As Colleen demonstrates, we should be bold and follow our hearts. The more you love what you do, the more empowered you are to continue to grow and learn, and build a network that supports and motivates you. If you were to pack for the rest of your life tomorrow, what would you carry in your Suitcase for Success?

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