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Grit in action: Phillips 66 executive shares leadership lessons

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Tandra Perkins recalled that mantra while debating a job offer from Phillips 66 after a long and successful career at KPMG.

“Why would I want to go to a new playground? I knew the KPMG playground,” Perkins told over 600 attendees of the Women in Leadership Conference at the Rice University Jones Graduate School of Business on Feb. 9. “I was doing exactly what I had told women and my son not to do, which was being comfortable.”

Spoiler alert: Perkins is now Senior Vice President, Chief Digital and Administrative Officer at Phillips 66. Perkins shared that story and others in a keynote address on how women can lean on their grit and elevate themselves during moments of challenge and disruption.

Perkins climbed the ranks at KPMG, becoming the first Black woman to be promoted to the firm’s senior management team and to lead one of its major markets. But professional success came with personal challenges.

During her second year as Senior Manager, her son was born prematurely at 27 weeks and spent two months in a neonatal intensive care unit before making a full recovery. For Perkins, resilience during tough times is a prerequisite for demonstrating grit.

“My mom used to always tell me sometimes you feel like you’re overwhelmed,” she said. “You feel like you’ve been buried, but in reality, you’ve been planted.”

And three weeks after starting at Phillips 66, Perkins reminded herself of those words when her mother unexpectedly passed away.

Leaning on others is another sign of grit, said Perkins. She believes that asking people for help and counsel is not a sign of weakness. In fact, everyone needs a tribe.

“It’s your people, the people who are going to think straight and tell it to you straight, but they do it with the right heart because they care about you,” she said.

People who show grit during pivotal times in their careers have a growth mindset and don’t let fear get in the way, said Perkins. “As you lean into challenges and push yourself through disruption, reframe your negative thoughts, embrace change and know that you’re always learning.”