Maybe it’s because her grandfather and uncle were lawyers. Maybe it was her strong desire for an intellectually stimulating career. Whatever the reason, Becky Krauss has found her calling not just in the world of law, but in the pursuit of helping others in her field. Today, Krauss serves as vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary at New Mexico-based Sandia Corporation, where she plays the roles of adviser to the company’s senior leadership team and mentor to 16 attorneys in her division.
1. Always step up your game
At age 15, when Krauss moved from her laid-back hometown in a Chicago suburb to the “harder, more driving” pace in Connecticut, she recalls having to take on a “step up your game” kind of attitude. And since that transition, Krauss never looked back.
Fresh from law school, Krauss took on a position in private practice in Connecticut, initially working in corporate law, an area crowded with other new hires. But when an opportunity arose in a completely unfamiliar area—environmental law—Krauss eagerly volunteered. “I had no science background,” Krauss recalls. “I just thought it’d be new and exciting—and I could probably stand out from the crowd. It became the intellectual stimulation that I was looking for.”
After four years working in environmental law, Krauss started thinking that private practice wasn’t exactly her style, and that working as in-house lawyer would suit her more. “You’re closer to the client, and they’re supposed to come to you in advance of any problem, whereas a client in a private practice often comes to you after something has gone wrong,” she says.
In 1994, after searching all across the country, Krauss applied for a job at Sandia that perfectly matched her background: a lawyer specializing in environmental protection. “I told myself, ‘This job is such a perfect match, it will hurt not to get it.’ Fortunately, I got the job!” Krauss laughs.
2. Keep moving forward
Krauss isn’t one to sit still, and within a few years, the dynamic attorney felt the need to grow and asked several senior attorneys in different areas if she could help them with their extra work. Eventually, this head-turning foray into uncharted territory led Krauss to a series of promotions and finally landed her the position of general counsel in 2003.
Ten years later, Krauss has had lots of time to develop her own leadership style. As a devout reader, Krauss is especially fascinated by biographies and autobiographies, stories that challenge her to pick out the “nuggets of wisdom.” In fact, it’s by discovering how others succeeded in tough times, and also by taking the good and bad from previous bosses, that Krauss has crafted a bold and forward-thinking approach to her work.
3. Bring your whole self to work
If there’s one thing that stands out about Krauss, it’s her passion for her job. And inspiring passion in her colleagues is an important part of her role as mentor to the 16 attorneys in Sandia’s legal department. But it goes beyond sharing her enthusiasm—it’s about bringing your whole self to work. “You have to be authentic and let people see your foibles, your blind spots,” she says. “Leaders sometimes fear that they can’t show weakness. I disagree—you have to show your whole self and open up.”
As Krauss tends to be highly structured and organized, she says having her team understand her perspective helps her to see what she might be missing. “And if you’re authentic, people are more willing to approach you,” she adds.
When the work starts to weigh you down, that’s when it helps to have an optimistic and enthusiastic leader like Krauss standing by. But it’s not about playing the role of cheerleader. “That’s not authentic for me, and people can tell when you’re being fake,” she says. “Once they see that, you lose them and harm the passion you are trying to inspire.”
4. Show and tell: it’s all about collaboration
Krauss entered her role of general counsel with clear expectations, announcing to her team of attorneys that collaboration was now the name of the game. Krauss now holds monthly meetings with her legal team, wherein each attorney is required to share a current project with the group—something that wasn’t enforced by the previous general counsel. After all, if the boss is a stay-in-the-office kind of person, then the employees will do the same, Krauss notes.
“Sometimes the meeting goes very quickly, but sometimes we get into a long dialogue. I want people to be open to showing that they need help,” Krauss says. “And I expect you to get out of your office—you don’t have to wait for the monthly meeting. I see it happening now, someone walking down the hall to sit in someone else’s office.”
5. Lend a helping hand and open opportunities for others
As Krauss clearly puts it, “If there’s an opportunity, take it. If there isn’t, make it.” As a mentor, Krauss helps her attorneys by honing and developing their existing skills, but learning new skills is just as important, if not more so. By involving her attorneys in varied areas of the company, the attorneys interact with people who work outside their practice areas, and thereby better understand the facilities and overall mission of Sandia. “If a team is forming, it’s my role to say, ‘Hey, don’t forget about my lawyer,’” Krauss says.
To further enforce this philosophy, Krauss makes sure her attorneys are invited to the company’s annual leadership forum, where executives get together to discuss company issues and mission success, and also secures one spot for a lawyer on the forum’s planning committee.
6. Quality counts: push for diversity and inclusion
Along with her emphasis on collaboration, Krauss believes strongly in promoting diversity and inclusion. Krauss says she’s never been bored yet in her 19 years at Sandia, and that’s probably because this general counsel has a tendency to seek out new niches—like her role as executive champion for Sandia Women’s Action Network, or SWAN. SWAN has been around since the mid ’90s, “but I think I’ve given it a new focus,” Krauss says. “It was starting to die on the vine, and I gave it new life through leadership attention and by refocusing on the quality of the work environment for Sandia women.”
Krauss has also taken on the position of chair of the executive-diversity counsel—which she established in 2008. This all means that Krauss is taking on more responsibility atop an already heavy workload, including planning networking events and speakers. “But it’s really important to me, because if employees feel valued, they are happier at work,” she says. “It’s my new challenge to bring Sandia Labs into a more inclusive environment.”