“Be your authentic self,” Kathy Dixon from General Mills
Welcome to the Pass the Mic and the Defining Moment series. We’re giving powerful women the opportunity to make the world their mentee. These rockstars are joining us to share their stories and sage advice with up-and-coming women.
Meet Kathy Dixon, Senior Marketing Communications Manager for Cheerios and Adult Cereals at General Mills. With consumers holding a brand like Cheerios close to their heart, Kathy feels honored to be leading a team that continues to bring a smile to people’s faces. After 15 years of working at General Mills, she has developed her skills in communications, marketing, and branding, which allows her to inspire, lead, and build strong teams.
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Kathy for a Pass the Mic interview. In it, she dives into her past experiences and shares the lessons she’s learned along the way to bring her to where she is today. Tune in below to find out more about Kathy and her best tips for being successful while being yourself.
Be okay with your authentic self.
“My biggest advice, both as an employee and as a leader, is being your true, authentic self and really being okay with that. And I think that kind of has woven its way into all of the anecdotes that I've shared today. But I think being comfortable and being okay with being yourself… It's okay that we're moms. It's okay that we have a family that we need to take care of. It's okay that whatever it is in your life that is happening. I just have found that, again, as a leader, but also as a just as a human, we're all better and work is better and business is better if we are our authentic selves.“ – Kathy Dixon
Create safe spaces for others.
“I think that it’s so important to have that ambition within yourself to make sure that, as much as we possibly can and as much as I possibly can, to make sure that I'm showing up as my authentic self. But I'm also giving space for those who I work with to show their authentic self in a safe space and to provide that psychological safety for my team and for those that I work with. And I think the more that all of us play a role in that and in creating those environments, the better the work is going to be because people will be more motivated, and people will feel more willing to show up and to do what they need to do to get the stuff done. And I just think it makes everything better. And so, that's my nugget of advice, both as an employee and as a leader, is just be true to who you are.“ – Kathy Dixon
Be yourself, even if you’re a hugger.
“The idea of being your authentic self, even if you're a hugger. And I say that because I tend to be more on the warm, fuzzy side. I get excited. I hug my friends when I see them. I'm a little more on the you know where you stand with me in terms of emotion—pretty easy to read. And so that's kind of who I am, and that's how I am in my house, and it's how I am at work. And so I've been fortunate enough that I have some amazing, wonderful friendships and friends at General Mills, and that's just how I am. If I haven't seen someone in a long time, I'll give them a hug. That's just how I operate.“ – Kathy Dixon
It’s okay to be who you are in the moment.
Several years ago, the company was going through restructuring and layoffs. And everyone had a one-on-one meeting to attend to find out their fate and future with the company. There was a lot of stress and uncertainty leading up to each meeting, especially as time went on. The man Kathy was scheduled to meet with was new to the role, and one of his first tasks was restructuring.
“I walk in, and he's sitting there, and he's a super nice guy, but I didn't know him very well. I certainly never reported to him. And so, we went through, and you could tell, obviously there is a long script that they're reading through and telling people. And I'm very anxious. and he started, and he said, ‘You know, it’s been a rough day, and I’ve had to do a lot of different kinds of news, lots of different sorts of conversations. But I'm super excited about this conversation with you, because I want to let you know that you're getting promoted.’
I was kind of in shock because, first of all, I had a little bit of survivor's guilt because I had a couple of close friends who had been displaced. And so, I had a little bit of like, it just wasn't what I was expecting at all. And so, it took me a moment to kind of pull myself together and ask the appropriate questions of, ‘Okay, great. This is awesome, but what am I doing? Where am I going? How is this all going to work out?’
I just had a moment. I was a little overwhelmed. And, like I said, I was not prepared for that conversation. That's not what I thought was going to happen at all. And so, we got through the conversation, and I was caught off guard. And so, I stood up at the end of the conversation, and I looked at him because I was shaken. And I looked at him, and I was like, ‘Well, I'm a hugger, and I don't really know what else to do right now. So I guess I'm just going to give you a hug, and then I'll go.’ And I gave him a hug, and I walked out of the room. And I walked out of the room, and I thought, ‘Now what did I just do?’ That was not my best moment.
And now, so like I said, that was seven years ago. Fast forward, that guy who was giving me my news is our CMO, and he is not a hugger. But in that moment, that's who I was. And that was what was on tap for me. And it might not have been how most people would have handled themselves or handled that situation. But that is core to who I am. I tend to lead with empathy and sometimes that kind of manifests in emotion and that's okay.“ – Kathy Dixon
Learn from your managers.
“I just wanted to talk about was something that I kind of learned early on in my career, but it's helped me as I've continued to progress and to move along. And it's really about paying attention to your manager and thinking about taking something away from every manager, especially earlier in your careers.“ – Kathy Dixon
Micromanagement is demotivating.
“I had a manager who was, she just micromanaged to the end of time. She micromanaged everything that we were doing. And it was just, it was so demotivating and it was so just silly, quite frankly. We're all adults, and we can all manage on our own. And it was just so much in the way that it was just one of those things that I did not look forward to going to work to deal with that. And I think there was not only the micromanaging, but there was this inflexibility. And I think as hard as that was to stay motivated, it was really such a good learning for me. Because obviously I got out of the situation, but I think about that situation all the time. And I think about making sure that people on my team and people that I come into contact with don't ever feel like I felt when I worked for her. And I think it was such an important lesson for me.” – Kathy Dixon
Choose what you want to emulate.
“What are the things? I can look back for all of the people that I've reported to and say, ‘This person, I want to emulate this. Or this person, in this moment in time, made me feel not great about myself. I don't want to make people feel that way.’ And so I think it's been something that I constantly take with me and that I'm reflective on every time that I have a moment in time where I have a pivotal moment with a manager of, ‘How do I feel, and how can I learn from this and apply it to future relationships with my team?’ Be it good or be it bad.“ – Kathy Dixon
Ask for specific feedback.
“Being specific and forcing those who are giving you the feedback to be specific is so much more helpful and actionable. At least I found it to be so that I can hold myself accountable, but I can also hold those around me accountable. And I can even share with my team, ‘Hey, I'm working on this. What do you think?’ Or going to trusted counterparts and saying, ‘Hey, I'm working on this piece of feedback. This is how I think I've addressed it. Can you read through this and do you interpret this the same way? Or is there anything I can do to make this feel better? And having that lens with what success looks like, I think has been really helpful for me as I've continued to move through the organization and continue to have to take feedback and make adjustments. So, I think that's kind of my big piece of advice is make sure you know what you're getting feedback on.“ – Kathy Dixon
Normalize prioritizing yourself and your family.
When Kathy decided to have a special summer with her family by taking advantage of the sabbatical benefit at General Mills, she was surprised by some of the reactions she received. But in the end, she stood by her decision and created lasting memories with her kids—who cannot wait until she can take a sabbatical again.
“I remember talking to someone who is more senior in the organization, and I was telling her about going on a sabbatical. And her first reaction that she said to me is, ‘Wow, that is so brave.’ And I remember being really taken aback by that—that taking a sabbatical was brave. And I know she had really good intent. She was such a super, super kind human and wonderful leader. But it really took me aback, and I had this feeling of. ‘Why should I feel brave for wanting to spend time with my kids? That's ridiculous. And why should I be brave for taking advantage of a benefit that's available for all employees? That's not brave. That's normal.’
I remember just processing that and sitting with that: ‘Is what I'm doing risky? How has this somehow turned into a situation that I'm brave for?’ And I really sat with that, and I really thought about it a lot. And it was, not only did it kind of help bring the clarity in that I knew that no matter what happens when I was gone, and when I came back that I was going to be 100% okay with my decision. Because in that moment, I knew this is not brave. This is what I need to do for my own family and for my own self. And work would be fine. And General Mills was going to survive with or without me. And of course, I wanted to be a part of the organization, but it was going to be fine.“ – Kathy Dixon
Know when to lean in and out.
“I realized that there’s always going to be times in our careers, especially as females, of when we need to lean in and when we need to lean out. And so, that was one of those moments for me where I knew in my heart that I needed to lean out, and I was 100% okay with it, and I still am. I look back on that summer as truly one of the best summers of my life. And it was such a gift to have that time with my kids. And the kids still remember it, still talk about it. And I'm fine. My career is fine. I'm good. General Mills survived, and it's great.
I think that was what I needed in that moment in time was to lean out. And let me tell you, there have been so many times when I've leaned in. When we have big things coming, and we have big promotions that we need to get out the door, or we have big presentations, or senior leadership needs something, I guarantee you I am leaned in. There has to be moments where you are leaned into your career. And I'm okay with that as long as you can find the balance of when it's okay to lean in or when you need to lean in, I should say, and when it's totally fine to lean out, and whether or not that's leaning out for your family, or leaning out for your own mental health, or leaning out for whatever you need in your life.“ – Kathy Dixon