Led by visionary founder Marc Benioff, Salesforce has become one of the word’s most admired companies–setting a high bar of corporate leadership and a force for good. The assignment to develop and execute the impressive Salesforce story is led by Senior Director of Corporate Communications Cheryl Sanclemente and her team.

The following Q&A with Cheryl provides insights into why she was selected to receive the 2019 “Milestones in Mentoring” Emerging Leader Award from the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations. In the following interview with the Plank Center, Cheryl shares her career story and offers some important tips on mentoring and teamwork.

I don’t feel bound by formal mentorship structures. I have learned that the art of mentoring is in the moment. Every interaction you have can be a mentorship opportunity. Early in my career, I assumed that mentors and mentees have to set aside time for regularly scheduled meetings in order for those interactions to be meaningful. Intentional time is important but given the time demands that most of us face, isn’t always possible. I like to take advantage of everyday work situations as opportunities to mentor and be mentored such as 1:1s with my direct reports, inviting someone on the team I don’t usually get to work with to walk with me to pick up a salad for lunch (and treating them, of course!), using extra time left over at the end of a meeting (instead of rushing out) to ask someone what is top of mind for them, where they are in their career journey and how can I help, etc. Often, I gain more from those interactions than the mentee! While traditional mentorship was designed to help the “up-and-coming”, I believe mentors have much to gain other than seeing your mentee succeed. Mentors gain new perspectives and stay close to the thought process and issues that are important to the next generation. It keeps your mind and skills fresh and makes you a better leader.

If you go through life with the perspective that you have something to learn from everyone you meet, you’ll collect a lot of informal mentors along the way. In my own life and career, I’ve had many “accidental” mentors, and many of them unaware that I even saw them as mentors. I seek mentorship moments in all places: Lyft drivers can be mentors even for a few minutes, our friends can give great guidance, and our children can be deliverers of incredible wisdom, even if it is sometimes hard to hear! My two-year-old son, Mateo, recently said to me “Mama, no phone” to remind me of when I should be present. Work emails can wait, evening time with my son shouldn’t — it is invaluable.

Diversity of mentorship and people is key. It’s common to have one person you regard as a primary mentor, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek out a variety of perspectives, even if it is on a more informal basis as well. Don’t be afraid to have a mentor who is younger than you, looks different than you, thinks differently than you, isn’t the same gender as you, works in a different industry than yours, or is at a more junior level than you are. Having a diverse set of mentors has helped me realize that there isn’t a cookie-cutter for success in PR or any industry for that matter.

Honesty and authenticity is key in my relationships. We often think, as mentors, that we should have all of the answers. But if a mentee is having an issue that I am not suited to help with or don’t know the answer to, I say just that and think of who in my network can help. Vulnerability drives trust.

What do you see as the differences between mentorship and sponsorship, and how do you approach each one?

I like to think of mentors as advisors who use their general experience and expertise to help shape your career plans and draw blueprints for your ambitions. Sponsors or “career champions” are those who can help you grow through their direct endorsement.

As a young female Latina who has worked in competitive and fast-paced (read: challenging) industries like Finance in NYC and Tech in SF, I have learned first hand the game-changing power of a sponsor. In fact, I have observed over the years, that women tend to have more mentors and men tend to have more sponsors. Men have been sponsoring for each other for DECADES. I’ve observed over the years that leaders tend to pick their mini-me’s for succession plans and so the cycle continues. A personal example of someone who was a sponsor for me was Cindy Robbins, Salesforce’s former Chief People Officer. Cindy was an advocate for me during a couple of pivotal moments in my career and endorsed me in rooms I had no access to. While we did not have a traditional mentorship relationship, she was a champion for me.

I encourage other young women to get more comfortable with seeking out a healthy mix of both mentors and sponsors. Mentors will give you a map to your destination but sponsors can unlock the door once you get there.

Please summarize your professional career including its high and low points.

I took a somewhat non-traditional path in PR as I did not start out at an agency the way many of my colleagues did. I have been “in-house corporate” from the very beginning. I started out in male-dominated Wall Street working in various roles across PR, Marketing and Corporate Communications. I was fortunate enough to work for different sized companies: a Fortune 500 company and another with less than 500 employees. Both experiences taught me invaluable lessons.

At Franklin Templeton, I started out my career in the Futures Program which is a 2-year executive management training program that allowed me to rotate through different functional areas of the company every 4 months. This experience taught me how to get dropped into a different body of water every quarter and teach myself to swim. In just 4 months I had to learn a new subject matter well enough to quickly deliver value and to navigate an enormous corporate setting to get the job done. It taught me that your network – external or internal – is your secret weapon. I still nurture the relationships in my network and don’t hesitate to pick up the phone to ask for help. They know they can do the same in return.

After the Futures Program with Franklin Templeton, they hired me in various communications positions and even re-hired me years later when I boomeranged as a senior PR manager. This once again affirmed the value of having and maintaining a network and leaving friends (not enemies) behind as you take steps in your career. Leave every job as gracefully as you entered. You never know what the future holds.
A special thank you to my Franklin Templeton mentors: Amy Gordin, who was my first manager turned mentor, Maria Font-Farragut, who celebrated me and encouraged me to pursue roles in communications, and Lisa Gallegos, head of global comms, who re-hired me years later and gave me many opportunities to shine.

A stormy moment in my career was a brief stint in an investment management firm who I shall not name here. Just as a good manager can help you rise to levels you never thought possible, bad management can deflate you in ways you never thought possible. It was a dark season and I will say this: if you are in a toxic work environment, just get out. I feared what a short duration on my resume would look like but I also knew that staying would ultimately do more harm than good. Not only did it not impact the trajectory of my career, but it led me to a rich chapter of work at W. P. Carey (where I fraternized and met my husband…what a bonus!)

My experience with W. P. Carey was quite formative in shaping my career today. Given the difference in company size, I was allowed to me to wear many hats across many communications functions (PR, Corp Comms, Internal Comms, Exec Comms, Marketing, etc) and I quickly learned how to manage, inspire and scale a team in a fast growth environment. It solidified my passion for developing and nurturing talent around me. I was also given access and a seat at the table with company leadership which strengthened my executive communications skills and strategic thinking. A special thank you to Susan Hyde, who gave me the opportunity and to Guy Lawrence, who was a master at media relations and whom I learned so much from.

After having spent the majority of my professional career working in Finance, I felt the itch to be challenged again. The tech scene was fascinating and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Despite the obvious differences of Wall Street versus Silicon Valley, I saw a lot of parallels. Both industries are competitive, fast-paced and house many type-A go-getters. My years of working on Wall Street gave me a steely spine and prepared me to jump into the tech world feet first.

My experience in Financial Comms led me to apply to an open position at Salesforce to work on earnings/financial results. I was hired by Chi Hea Cho who looked at candidates outside of the tech mold and gave me a chance.
I had the opportunity shortly thereafter to extend past my work in financial comms and try something new which was real estate. A special thank you to Elizabeth Pinkham who has been an incredible mentor, champion and friend to me. She made working on real estate PR exciting and we were able to create a powerful real estate and culture narrative for our Salesforce Towers worldwide. And that led to my growth and eventual oversight of several other portfolios. During my tenure at Salesforce, I have been entrusted with the communications strategy for the company’s corporate social responsibility, equality, real estate, financial results, employee success and sustainability initiatives.

I will admit it there was a transition period though it was more cultural. It took exactly 2 years for this New Yorker to wear jeans at work, and 4 years later, I still wear heels every day and can’t get myself to wear a hoodie – ever.
Looking back, every step I took positioned me well for the next as I gained the right mix of experience and skills along the way to help me succeed. But I would be lying to you if I told you it was all strategic planning on my part. When we were in school, we were often taught about long-term planning and got asked: “Where do you want to be in 10, 15, 20 years?” The reality is I focused on shorter-term goals, “what do I want to do in the next 6 months, 1 year?” It allowed me to pivot faster when unexpected hurdles came my way since my long term plan wasn’t completely derailed. I stayed nimble and just had to rethink my plans for the next 6 months. It sounds clich√© but trust the process, work hard and take opportunities when they come your way. Hesitation will slow you down. Carmela Soprano once said, “More is lost by indecision than wrong decision.” Actually, Marcus Tullius CiceroI, the famous Roman philosopher said it first. He said “More is lost by indecision than wrong decision. Indecision is the thief of opportunity. It will steal you blind.” I agree.

What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday?

A day trip to wine country with the whole family (husband, toddler and pup!). I have discovered many family and doggie friendly wineries since entering this new parent chapter – happy to recommend some if interested! A close second would be brunch outside on a sunny day with the same gang.

Favorite app?

Pinterest. It’s the devil. I have a board full of crockpot recipes. I don’t own a crockpot.

Favorite place to vacation and why?

I’ve been lucky enough to travel to amazing places around the world and yet I maintain that there are fewer things more relaxing than a Mexican vacation. The country is beautiful, the people are friendly, the service is unparalleled and really, what could be better than laying on a chaise with a margarita and guac? Exactly.

My leadership tip is…

Empower your people, believe in your team, pour into others. They will always rise to the occasion.

My mentorship tip is…

to LISTEN. Sometimes you need someone to just listen and let you talk out your plans. Providing too much guidance as a mentor can be inhibiting sometimes.

Every mentor is…

BUSY! Don’t forget that mentors are busy people. Don’t sit and wait for a mentor to find you or set up time and don’t overextend them either. Make it easy for that individual to invest in you.

Lesson that took you the longest to learn

…trust the process. I wanted to be in control of every single step in my journey but forced change always resulted in beautiful things for me. And it will for you too, don’t be scared!

Habits in your daily routine that strengthen your leadership skills…

Sounds counterintuitive but I try to take care of myself. You know the whole airplane rule, put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others? It is true! And it became even more important when I became a mom. Your wellness extends to not just your team at work but your team at home too. You’re a better version of yourself and can be a better leader if you take personal breaks. I try to carve our moments for quiet reflection like waking up early to have “me” time with my cup of coffee or heading to bed early with a good book. Or enjoying a trashy TV show (hello Bravo) with a glass of wine and a good piece of chocolate!

Three things you do to inspire and encourage teamwork…

  1. I let my team run with a project or portfolio and have full ownership — including the glory that comes with it.
  2. I still recognize individuals on the team rather than say “great work, team.” I take it a step further to recognize the value and super power each individual brought to the table, “Annie, I love how you added this” and “Anna, that was a smart move” and “Benny, I appreciate the quick thinking on that one.”
  3. You can always count on me bringing the party to a meeting! I try to bring humor and fun to all team settings. Life is too serious as it is and creative juices flow better in relaxed settings when the pressure is off.
Cheryl Sanclemente is the Senior Director of Corporate Communications at Salesforce with over a decade of experience in corporate PR and executive communications. During her time at Salesforce, she has led the communications strategy for the company’s corporate social responsibility, equality, real estate, financial results, employee success and sustainability initiatives. Cheryl earned her B.A. in Mass Communications and Philosophy from the University of South Florida. Cheryl lives in San Francisco with her husband Josh and is the proud mom of a two-year old son, Mateo and rescue yorkie mix, Brodey.