Candid Conversations

Faces of Leadership: Shai Littlejohn

AboveBoard | Jan 25, 2022

The corporate lawyer on honest and authentic leadership.

We kicked off our Faces of Leadership series to bring the unique perspectives of today’s top executives to the center stage. This time, we’re highlighting Shai Littlejohnn, Director, Corporate Counsel Global Supply Chain, Innovation & Commercial for Starbucks.

In her current role, Shai—who earned her Juris Doctorate and Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University—provides strategic legal advice for corporate initiatives and transactions involving food, beverage and equipment innovation, construction of new stores, roasting plants and distribution centers, external manufacturing, ethical sourcing, responsibility, and resiliency. Her daily work supports the company’s goal of being “People, Planet & Profit Positive."

Ahead, Shai shares her leadership style, the best career advice she’s ever received, and her prediction for the future of executive leadership.


How would you describe your leadership style in three words?

I would say my leadership style is honest, confident, and authentic. 

At this stage in your career, what does being a leader mean to you? 

Leadership to me means that you are working with a team where you give everyone an opportunity to contribute, and you delegate roles and responsibilities according to ability but you also try to nurture the ability of your team. 

“Leaders need to be honest. They need to be encouraging and motivational.”

It’s important to be able to recognize what people can do, and to listen to people about what they want to do, so that you can help them find a way to achieve their goals.

What are the kinds of qualities that make for good leadership, in your opinion?

Leaders need to be honest. They need to be encouraging and motivational, so they need to be able to give tough feedback in a very polite, inspirational, and motivational way. Leaders need to be able to set aspirational goals for their teams so that people have something to work towards. People need to feel that they are better working with you and growing while working with you.

And what does that look like going forward? What is your prediction for the future of executive leadership?

I think the future of executive leadership is going to require that managers, especially senior managers and executives, all understand that people are individuals. People don’t want to be treated unfairly. They want to be given opportunities that match their skill set, and they want to be respected. 

“The future of executive leadership is going to require that managers understand that people are individuals.”

I’ve certainly experienced situations, and been in offices where I didn’t feel like I was receiving assignments that matched my ability. The executives of the future are going to have a higher turnover because people are going to be less patient waiting for those opportunities. If you don’t recognize talent in them, they’re going to leave your organization.

What advice do you have for up and coming professionals, or people who aspire for senior leadership roles?

I had a difficult time finding leaders who would take an interest in my development and career progression regardless of how hard I worked for them and my organization. I received glowing recommendations post-project or position, but I never secured a mentor who was vested in my journey. My error was that I should’ve sought mentorship outside of my organization. I was working six or seven days a week, and I didn’t take the time to develop those external relationships. 

“It’s important to have a handle on your career, and not just be reactionary. Be assertive. Go out and get the experiences that you think will help further your career.”

So my advice is that all professionals need to be actively managing their careers. You can’t wait for an opportunity. You can’t always wait for someone to recognize how much you bring to the table. You have to find opportunities to deliver a little bit more, deliver a little bit beyond the expectation, and build a network, both within your company and outside your company so that you can always have opportunities. Sometimes people will come to you with those opportunities, but I think it’s important to have a handle on your career, and not just be reactionary to what comes to you, but to be assertive, to go out and get the experiences and positions that you think will help further your career. 

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