Lifelong Learning: The secret tool for career development
Sales Management 10.13.2021

Lifelong Learning: The secret tool for career development

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This episode of Sunny Side Up focuses on Lifelong Learning, a value woven throughout Carolee Gearhart’s fascinating, highly successful career. Vice President of Worldwide Channel Sales and Global SMB Sales, she has taken a path uniquely her own and shares with Asher the elements she believes are critical to leadership success. She offers actionable advice for those looking to optimize their career development, including:

  • Be willing to work with people with whom you disagree.
  • Be willing to admit you don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Make the extra effort to incorporate diversity in all its forms. 

About the Guest

Carolee is Vice President of Worldwide Channel Sales at Google Cloud. She is responsible for the tens of thousands of partners who resell and serve Google Cloud’s business — from small system integrators and online partners to the world’s largest consulting, telco, and managed services providers. Carolee has more than 20 years of industry, international sales, and executive management experience with an accomplished track record for leading global channels, devising and executing sales strategies, and delivering extensive growth.

Connect with Carolee Gearhart

Key takeaways

  • Carolee explains the hats she wears at Google – and how she got to where she is. It all traces back to early “smiling and dialing,” which fostered important lifetime traits.
  • Navigating Her Path: Trying various roles in companies of all sizes and areas of focus has contributed to Carolee’s versatility and breadth, as well as depth, of knowledge.  
  • Why the focus on Lifelong Learning? Because the importance of keeping things fresh is universal and spurs growth to the benefit of all. 
  • The psychology of risk is integral to moving forward, including trying and failing at new things. Creating an environment in which people feel safe to experiment is essential. 
  • You’re always going to do better if you’re excited, rather than just gutting it out.
  • In addition to betting on yourself, bet on someone else. In the end, it’s all about impacting others – those who have helped us and those whom we can help.
  • Even early-stage leaders will benefit from listening to others. Creating an atmosphere of safety and openness spurs not only fresh ideas but also a stronger team fabric.
  • The rejection or a setback doesn’t have to be binary – or forever. It’s all part of the journey.
  • Carolee has taken pay cuts and steps back at various points in order to exceed and evolve in the big picture.
  • A common leadership challenge is finding the right balance between having a great relationship with those who work with you – and recognizing that some issues will have to be discussed only among peers. Having that support network is key.
  • Promotions are most easily built on past performance. The best way to achieve that next role you desire is to excel in your current position.
  • It may seem easier to communicate with people who are like us, but that can be a trap. There is an enormous upside to working hard at connecting with people who bring diverse, perhaps unfamiliar, backgrounds and experiences.
  • Working hard to connect and collaborate effectively with diverse sets of people will ensure a career in which you do better, faster, and longer.


“Don’t take a job that you’re not excited about … Something that looks good but you’re not excited about, you’re really going to struggle to show up as your best.”

“Great leaders hire people who are smarter than they are – and then listen to them!”

Highlights from the episode

Even the lowest entry-level sales job has its role to play.

Carolee attributes some of her career success to the early lessons she learned while “smiling and dialing.” Understanding that work can be discouraging and knowing how to bounce back and show up the next day with a positive attitude has set her in good stead her entire life, both professionally and personally.

Why the Lifelong Learner Theme?

A voracious reader in her youth, Carolee drained her elementary school library. It was the start of a hunger to learn, stretch and grow. Technology has proved a great professional fit because it’s all about perpetual evolution; it’s the library that never runs out of books. Humans feel best and perform best when they’re open, engaged, and curious.

Carolee Gets Out Regularly on the Flying Trapeze for a Reason.

It’s okay to look foolish, to not know something, to fall on your face. That’s the message that Carolee wants to communicate when she evangelizes about Lifelong Learning. When you’re constantly stretching, growing, and taking risks, life’s never boring. Trying new things is where the fun and inspiration lie. 

You can make up for a lot of gaps if you’re willing to put in more work than anyone else.

Experience gaps needn’t be insurmountable. They just require trust on the part of someone giving you a shot and – more than anything else – a willingness not to be outworked. Bonus: Sometimes that same lack of experience translates as interesting new perspectives and ideas.

Early-Stage Leaders Need to Be Authentic and Make Space for Others to Do the Same.

It’s okay to let people disagree with you, even if you’re in the point position. Having the strength to let people speak up in an atmosphere of trust will yield benefits and ideas that, as a leader, you might never have conceived. You’ll hone yourself so much more effectively if you’re willing to listen to folks who have challenges in terms of working with you. That’s your gold!

A Missed Opportunity is Not Forever.

You may feel laid low by a rejection that feels binary, but there will always be another path that opens if you keep your eyes on the horizon. Don’t get super-anchored on “this or nothing.” It’s more important to keep moving forward. Otherwise, opportunities will be self-limited.

Carolee Offers Advice About How to Ascend to that “Next-Level” Leadership Role.

First and foremost, be really, really good. Know your domain and be sure you’ve cleaned up “your own side of the street.” Dial in what you do really well and then you’re in an optimal position to offer help and approach the next step. You’ve got to be doing your best work in the role you’re currently in before graduating to other challenges.

Diversity is a Critical Part of Effective Leadership.

It’s all too easy to stick with people like you – those with whom you have an easy shorthand. But it’s a diversity of experience – the background and influences that have shaped co-workers different from yourself – that produces the richest environment for thought leadership and innovation.

Recommended Reading

How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi


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