Empowered: Serena Sacks-Mandel’s Journey of Resilience, Leadership, and Innovation

Ladies and gentlemen of the Agile Leaders community, we hope you’re ready for this.

We recently sat down with the inspiring Serena Sacks-Mandel, global CTO and transformation officer for education at Microsoft, and the dynamic force behind the book “Empowered: Frame Your Narrative, Own Your Power.” Serena shared honest insights on leadership, resilience, and lifelong learning that have served as a valuable guide for her and will for anyone looking to navigate the complexities of today’s rapidly evolving world.

From this conversation, we think it’s clear that her passion for making a difference and her commitment to personal and professional growth are not only truly inspiring but are deeply rooted in who she is as a human being.

(feel like you’re missing out? Catch up with the full episode now on YouTube or Spotify.)


Serena’s Rollercoaster of a Career

Serena’s career path is a testament to her resilience and adaptability. From starting out in finance with IBM in New York City to navigating the realms of public education and the corporate sector, her journey has been nothing short of extraordinary. Add to this mix the challenges of raising children and surviving two cancer diagnoses, and you have a story that inspires awe and admiration.

Through her diverse experiences, Serena learned invaluable lessons that she wished she’d known in her younger years. The first and foremost? The importance of continuous learning and staying humble. “There’s always more to learn,” she emphasizes. “Stay open, stay growth-minded, and always be willing to learn.”

Another crucial lesson Serena shares is the art of selling – not just products or services but ideas and oneself. “People buy from people they like,” she says. “Be interested in others and be likable.”


The Power of Resilience and Action

When asked about the most impactful skills for her success, Serena highlights resilience and the ability to take action. “You have to process, not stuff, not deny, not ignore,” she advises. “Take action and move forward. It’s all about action.”

Serena’s most significant career pivot came when she discovered the untapped potential of educational technology. Realizing that technology could revolutionize teaching and learning, she became passionately involved in leveraging technology to improve educational outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of technology in education, pushing educators to adapt to remote learning. While the transition was not always smooth, the pandemic has opened doors to new opportunities, particularly with the advent of generative AI.


Trust, Resilience, and Strength-Based Leadership

Despite facing numerous challenges and betrayals, Serena remains remarkably trusting and optimistic. She attributes this to her ability to empathize with and understand the complexity of human nature.

From her story, we learn the importance of strength-based leadership, building diverse teams, and embracing the multifaceted nature of people. Serena’s journey serves as a powerful reminder that our challenges can become our greatest strengths if we choose to frame our narratives positively and take ownership of our power.

Serena’s personal journey, particularly her battle with cancer, taught her a valuable lesson about the importance of asking for and accepting help. She believes that asking for help is not a sign of weakness but rather a gift that benefits both the giver and the receiver.


The Pillars of Leadership According to Serena

Serena shared her leadership triangle, which she believes is fundamental for creating a thriving team environment:

  • Psychological Safety: Serena emphasizes the importance of creating a space where individuals can show up authentically. In her view, it’s essential for team members to feel safe in expressing their vulnerabilities, asking for help, and admitting mistakes.
  • Clarity on Roles and Expectations: Clear communication about responsibilities, processes, and expectations is crucial. Serena believes that leaders must be explicit in outlining what success looks like for each team member.
  • Shared Purpose: Understanding the ‘why’ behind the team’s objectives is essential. Serena stresses that a shared purpose provides direction and motivation, enabling teams to work cohesively towards a common goal.


Balancing Work and Personal Life

Serena shared her personal mission, defined by three words: contribution, exhilaration, and serenity. She emphasizes the importance of finding a balance between work and personal life, focusing on lifelong learning, and aligning one’s time, energy, and focus with personal values.


Adapting to Technological Advancements

With the rapid advancements in technology, especially the emergence of generative AI, Serena stresses the importance of lifelong learning. She believes that organizations and individuals must adapt and harness the power of AI to stay competitive in today’s market.


Future Goals

Looking ahead, Serena is excited about helping organizations prepare for and harness the power of AI. She emphasizes the importance of organizational change management, data analytics, and privacy and security in this AI-driven era.

Serena Sacks-Mandel’s story is a masterclass in resilience, leadership, and innovation. Through her experiences, she teaches us the importance of continuous learning, the power of resilience, and the transformative potential of technology in education. Her journey inspires us to embrace our challenges, trust in our abilities, and create positive change in the world around us.

So, the next time you face a challenge, remember Serena’s story and ask yourself: How can I turn this obstacle into an opportunity? How can I empower myself and others to succeed? Because, as Serena shows us, the power to frame our narratives and own our power lies within each of us.


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