Leadership Interview: Jennifer Hightower
By Valerie Carrillo
Jennifer Hightower of Cox provides some valuable insights on her leadership experience.
Name: Jennifer Hightower
Where do you currently work? Cox Communications, Inc.
What is your current role? Senior Vice President of Law & Policy and General Counsel
Where are you currently located? Atlanta, Georgia
Share three personal facts so our readers can get to know you.
I am an older mom of three boys. My oldest are twins, who will soon to be teenagers in October. And I have a little guy who is ten.
I am the youngest of four children.
I grew up in Kentucky.
Describe your journey to your current position.
I started practicing law at a firm doing trial work and was neurotic the entire time. I wanted to be a trial lawyer so badly, but I did not have the disposition for it because I do not like conflict. From there, I became an in-house litigator for a company called Racetrack, but it didn’t get me out of conflict. Eventually, I went to Bellsouth as a baby lawyer and joined the regulatory practice where I ended up loving telecommunications law. After Bellsouth, I joined Cox doing telecom and commercial deals and I just stayed. It’s been 19 years now and quite a journey. I started as corporate counsel and became senior counsel. Then, I was managing attorney over a team that did all the operations work, before becoming vice president of regulatory. From that point, I was fortunate enough to get promoted to senior vice president, and eventually general counsel where I have been for the last six years.
What would you say is your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement is finding a company where I could grow up in and love. I think it is important to find a place where you fit. I was fortunate enough to find the right jobs and have the opportunity to grow into different roles at Cox. Working for the wrong boss or wrong cultural environment is not a fun thing to do. The corollary is that I have been lucky to work for a company that lets me balance being an active mom with an active career. If I did not have that, I would not be here. That’s why I think it’s important to make sure you find the right fit and culture for your personality.
Describe your leadership style.
I would say my style is authentic. I am a casual leader, not an authoritarian. My strength is that I am approachable, but my weakness is my lack of structure. I’m not the most structured person, which is sometimes hard for people. And while I am a very open-doors type of leader, the downside of my leadership style is that I also like to be engaged, so I sort of have to reign myself in as a leader.
What is your definition of job success?
To me, job success is finding a place where you have a complete life. It’s getting to work on things that are intellectually challenging; getting to work with people who you like to be with; working for someone that you want to learn from and then having the balance in your life – that to me constitutes job success without a question.
How do you go about resolving conflict?
As you know, I do not like conflict, so I have had to learn to be direct and take it head-on. I do not like it festering, so I will try to resolve it early. If I have upset someone, I talk to that person about it. But to the contrary, if someone has upset me, I don’t talk about it at all. That is my downfall. I will hold it in and not let you know that you upset me; but if I upset you, I am very honest and will try to resolve things. Yes, that is my weakness in conflict.
In a fast-paced environment, how do you achieve your objectives?
The reality is that we all have to prioritize. Every day for me is a reprioritization of what is important for the company and for the people that I work with and support. The truth is my objective is achieved by what others find important. I make sure my team is getting what they need, and my boss gets what he needs. I also have the priorities of kids and my husband, too. I don’t want to mislead; I am not the most organized of executives- that is not my strength. But every day, I wake up with what I know that has to get done, then I look at what is given to me and then I reshuffle throughout the day.
How do you encourage the development of your employees?
I encourage my team to join WICT, both the men and the women. But I also encourage them to find the organization that is important to them. I also have people who are active in NAMIC and love it. I have folks that are engaged in the Corporate Counsel Association and love it. It’s important for people to get involved in leadership organizations so they can learn how to be leaders outside of the department, and test themselves in other places. All the leaders in my department at Cox are very focused on personal development plans. I encourage everyone in my department to have one and everyone on my management team to be working on that with them. I am also very open if anyone would like to explore new opportunities to learn, I am very supportive of that. I want people to stay at Cox, so I want to make sure I expose them to other things.
Do you have any career advice to give an emerging female leader?
First, you have to recognize that you have to own your career and not wait for someone else to help map it for you. That means you cannot be passive. You have to be actively engaged in managing your career. The second thing that I want young women to learn is how to think through and ask for what you want, or ask for input so you know what you are not doing well. I find that is the challenge watching women. I have men come to me and ask me how to get places, while the women will ask how they are doing. That is not the same thing. I encourage women to lean in and ask for what they want versus hoping someone will see how hard they are working and give it to them.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 25-year-old self?
I would tell myself to take more risks. Be more confident in my ability. Realize that I had something to contribute and that there was a reason I was in the room. Finally, I would tell myself to a take a deep breath, you have a long time ahead of yourself.
Jennifer Hightower is on the WICT National Board of Directors.