Sheryl Palmer Transcipt

Sheryl Palmer has navigated a vibrant and varied career, picking up a mix of skills that set her up perfectly for her current role as CEO at Taylor Morrison home builders. Over the past 13 years, she has helmed a team of more than 3,000 employees with a fearless, authentic style and unique perspective on life. The survivor of a dangerous brain tumor, Sheryl has been put to the test and sees clearly the things in life that truly matter, both personally and professionally.

In this interview, Sheryl explains why Taylor Morrison’s philosophy focuses on legacy and relationships, community building, and people. It’s obviously been a highly successful formula, given the company’s exponential growth and perennial recognition as America’s Most Trusted® Home Builder.

Sheryl’s peripatetic career has taken her from an early job with McDonald’s, where she learned about customer service and marketing at the knee of founder Ray Kroc, to work in advertising and sales for Del Webb and the Pulte Group. Beyond her professional achievements, she is a devoted wife and mother of two and grandmother of five – with lots of wisdom to share.

What a job at McDonald’s has to teach us about work – life.

Sheryl sees her early experience at McDonald’s as excellent career preparation in two ways. She learned early on the importance of customer-facing skills and connecting with individuals wherever they need to be met. Service was all. She was fortunate to have worked at McDonald’s corporate when Ray Kroc was still alive, seeing him in action as the ultimate master of “customer experience.” The second key takeaway was her work ethic. That milkshake machine? It had to be pulled out and swept behind every single night. “There were no cutting corners,” says Sheryl, “because that was such a part of their brand, their reputation. It’s what the consumer trusted.”

What one moment has most shaped Sheryl’s leadership style.

It’s a personal story, one that has impacted how Sheryl shows up as a leader – and human – every single day. She’d always been a glass-half-full person, but that viewpoint was suddenly put to the test a decade ago when a basic executive physical revealed a brain tumor. For someone who rarely got so much as a cold, it was a major blow. Life soon became about surgical versus other treatment options and self-advocacy within a maze of conflicting medical opinions. Ultimately, after doing her homework, Sheryl underwent surgery, which she believed was her best shot at living the fullest life going forward. The risk was significant and reckoning unavoidable. “When you write those goodbye letters to your children, and to your company, it just changes your perspective on what’s really important in life. Why would we let the little things get us down? There are too many big things we can’t control.” The outcome, of course, was all positive and Sheryl’s scans have been clean ever since.

Who Sheryl was and who she became as a result of her brain tumor.

In fact, Sheryl doesn’t believe she was substantially altered by her dramatic health crucible. As a CEO and leader, she had always been about people and relationships, which did not change. She recognized, however, some reorientation as a parent, revisiting what it meant to travel for business and how important it was to be present to her kids. “I always convinced myself that it was quality over quantity,” says Sheryl. “But I started questioning that and recognizing how important each moment is.” She’s a big believer in marking passages, which she does annually with letters at Christmas to her grandchildren. “If I were to say there’s one thing that may have affected me from a leadership standpoint, what I went through put life in perspective.”


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What kinds of strategies might help people who tend to sweat the small stuff?

For Sheryl, her daily workout is sacrosanct. She relies on that hour to take space and get clarity. She also finds calmness and centering spending time with her grandchildren. Spared all the daily parental logistics and responsibilities, she’s able to focus her attention fully on their world and feelings. She finds it fully engaging and hopeful. Being at the beach, simply enjoying the sights and sounds of the surf, also helps Sheryl stay centered. She suggests that everyone bring their unique DNA and approach to serenity. It doesn’t matter the route you take, says Sheryl, but it’s important to find ways to take that step back and maintain perspective as to what really matters and is nourishing in life.

About the power of bringing your most authentic self.

Sheryl believes she is who she is – which doesn’t mean she’s static. She’s always bringing onboard new information and insights. Without that there can be no growth. But she fundamentally believes in showing up fully as her authentic self, in both personal and professional contexts. Sheryl has always represented honestly exactly who she is and what she knows – and doesn’t know. “We all come through life with different experiences and we pull from those experiences,” she says. “The best gift I can have as a leader is to surround myself with people a whole lot smarter than I am and take their advice and counsel.” The strongest leaders don’t bring unnecessary pride or ego. They trust who they are and are comfortable with the vulnerability inherent in everyone’s personal story.

The role vulnerability plays in effective leadership.

Taylor Morrison subscribes to the “No Assholes Rule,” which is the first line of defense for vulnerability. It doesn’t mean tough decisions can’t be made, but the overall culture supports mutual respect and room for people to be their full selves, even when they fail. Everyone on the team is held accountable for their job and responsibilities, but space is left for questions and collaboration. “I get questions. I get thank you’s and I respond to every one of those. Sometimes it could be ten. Sometimes it could be 200.” That’s the definition of a vulnerable organization, says Sheryl, one where openness, accessibility, and solidarity are woven into the culture.

Why mistakes, failures, and fears are welcome in the strongest organizations.

If we don’t allow ourselves room to fail, we sacrifice the room to grow, learn from others and lead our organizations to a better place. As a young businesswoman starting out, Sheryl took on positions where she was stretched, sometimes beyond her core competencies. Was there some element of “fake it ‘til you make it”? You bet. But leadership is about learning things on the fly, adapting to challenging situations, transferring skills sets where possible, and acquiring them where necessary. She wasn’t afraid to admit what she didn’t know and solicited help from those with more experience.


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Why leaders need to cultivate a thick skin … but not too thick.

Sheryl believes successful leaders balance their temperaments. It’s important to be resilient and have thick skin, but that skin can’t grow so thick that all empathy is lost. It’s a sort of “selective” approach to thick skin. She’s sensitive and emotional at heart, unafraid to wear her heart on her sleeve, but Sheryl also had to develop over time a nuanced understanding of when and how to react as a leader. Sensitivity has to coexist with tough tasks that require thick skin. “I want my skin to be thick,” says Sheryl, “but at the same time not lose myself in trying to be so tough on someone that I’m not being me.” Above all, in matters of business, Sheryl tries always to remember: It’s not personal.

Why restaurants can be a great place to stage interviews.

You can tell a lot from how people treat servers. Sheryl has discovered that sharing a meal with a prospective employee can provide critical clues about their essential nature. Do they pull out their phone? Are they haughty or dismissive? Do they say thank you for their food or drink? Are they gracious about – or even cognizant of – the fact that they are being served? It may seem like a small or silly thing, says Sheryl, but she finds it deeply revealing of character. “I’ve experienced leaders who just don’t have the time for people (that) aren’t in management or that don’t have something to give them back,” says Sheryl. “That wouldn’t be a good fit in our organization. If people don’t have the courtesy to say ‘thank you’ when food is put in front of them, to me, that’s not good.” Some of her interview meals have been shorter than others!

Sheryl’s Top Tips:

·         Be true to your authentic self.

·         Have conviction in your beliefs – and share them; resist letting the job change you.

·         Trust your gut.

·         There’s no substitute for hard work.

·         No matter the job or promotion, never lose sight of the customer.

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There are 6 trends that are transforming leadership forever do you know what they are and are you ready for them? Download the PDF to learn what these 6 trends are and what you should be doing about each one of them. These are crucial for your leadership and career development in the future of work!