“What’s really important for me is being clear, and that it’s okay to be a woman, it is okay to have a voice,” says Sharon Piehl months into her job as General Manager of FleishmanHillard, Johannesburg.
Piehl was appointed as General Manager of FleishmanHillard Johannesburg in May 2016, after spending five years as the lead of FleishmanHillard’s Brand Marketing portfolio. What does it take for a woman, especially one who takes eight months out of her career to start a family, to rise to this level of leadership?
The journey started early for Piehl when she became head librarian in grade 7 and later a prefect in grade 12.
“I became prefect in my matric year and I realised that you should just own your moment and when you’re comfortable and confident then people around you are comfortable and confident,” she says.
Piehl started her corporate career at Allied Technologies Limited (Altech), where she reported to the Group Communications Executive who reported directly to the CEO. After several years, she moved on to an agency, Inzalo Communications, where she worked for ten years.
“In a local agency you learn everything and so you start to make it your business, to understand how business works, working and grabbing every opportunity,” says Piehl.
After a break of eight months raising her twins, she had the opportunity to work at a brand marketing position in FleishmanHillard and that was her opportunity to grow her business and leadership skills.
“Although eight months does not seem like a long time, the changes in the communications industry were certainly noticeable. I was excited to have the opportunity to learn and adjust to the new disciplines in the evolving industry,” said Piehl.
In all it took Piehl five years to get the GM position.
“My message to my leadership team when I became GM was, stand alongside me as we embark on a new journey, stand ahead of me when armed with the knowledge and talent, and behind me when we face challenges,” says Piehl.
Working at one of the top global communication firm, Piehl says that leadership is understanding when to depend on other people’s strengths when you’re not feeling strong yourself. It is then when they’ll lift you up.
As a leader, Piehl inspires the team through her unwavering passion and self-commitment to excellence. She lives and teaches through her life’s philosophy, “Do it with passion or not at all. I believe that you should always push the boundaries and challenge yourself. Only hard work, commitment and loyalty will get you where you are going.”
“Your career is your responsibility. Put your hand up regardless the size or importance of the task. Take time to learn about how everything works in your company. Surround yourself with different types of people and lastly, always have a passion for what you do, and find ways to continuously ignite this,” she says.