Our Industry Person of the Week is Ashley Wheeler, an Organizational Development Leader.
Q: How did you get started working in your field?
Ashley: I became a single mom in early 2003, with a nine month old and a two year old. I’d been in K-12 and higher education since my early twenties and loved it but as the years passed and I was still single with two boys, I just wasn’t enjoying it as much.
Eventually, many friends began to encourage me to go into the “business side” of coaching, training and development. After having kids, I also realized that I was essentially fulfilled on the “kid development” side (but I’ve been volunteering in some capacity with kids in education ever since), plus being in higher education many years helped me recognize my passion for adult learners and in particular, in the manufacturing and industry sector.
My very first door that opened for me was a leadership development position working for a Caterpillar subsidiary that built locomotives globally. Talk about being “out of my league” or feeling like I might’ve “bitten off more than I could chew!” The first challenge was building a stellar Leadership Development Department and program from the ground up for a company of ten thousand employees. It was a gruelling several years of sixty to ninety hour weeks and I definitely eventually found myself burned out from not taking care of myself but I plugged on.
It was a leap from a job field perspective, and many times I questioned myself in those early years not only about my decision to change careers but also about my having moved from being in a female-dominated career field to a male-dominated manufacturing industry. I am ultimately so thankful that door opened to me being able to work in manufacturing and industry. I have truly experienced getting to work with some of the most hard working and dedicated people I have ever met.
Q: What do you love the most about your job? What are you most proud of?
Ashley: I love the people. I know that sounds cliche but I truly have a heart for people and for helping them become the best version of themselves professionally and personally. I also love helping them figure out how to navigate challenges and rise above situations, most all of which relate to learning how to navigate working with others well.
I was most proud of building a Leadership Development Department from scratch at Caterpillar from an accomplishment standpoint because it became globally recognized and the thousands of employees that went through these programs I customized wanted to come back for “seconds.” That said a lot to me about impact.
When covid hit, it took our entire department with it and I ended up two and a half years ago, selling my house and moving across the state to enter the oil and gas industry. It took me a year to find a job.
Again, my passion and enthusiasm is for coaching and developing people. Having come from a female-dominated education career into a male-dominated manufacturing and industry field, I can say too that I have a passion for coaching and developing and connecting with the hard-working ladies that are under-represented but growing thankfully in numbers working in these areas. This is my heartbeat.
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering this line of work or new to the field?
Ashley: You won’t find a better, harder working or more passionate group of people anywhere.
Generally, I feel those in these fields become far more than just co-workers but often close friends. It’s not “easy” work but if you are looking to be challenged in numerous ways and seeking to grow yourself and your capacity to thrive through challenge, then here’s your sign. You will find that typically the pay is fair most places and the work is never boring.
Here’s my own “off the cuff” list of suggestions:
- When you have a question, ask it. There are no dumb questions.
- If you don’t know, admit it and go find out the answer.
- Find a mentor and make sure the relationship is beneficial to both of you.
- Listen more than you talk and give your full attention to others when listening. This is a life skill that will only benefit you always. (But also speak up when you need to!)
- Develop yourself continually and learn all you can. Build your skillset. Observe. Watch what “to do” and observe what “not to do” and how “not to be.
- Remember the people in your life who influenced you positively. Emulate those things about them that drew you to them.
- Find your tribe and make sure they align with your values and there is “value add” for all of you. They should challenge you to be more, do more and achieve more.
- Give yourself grace. You will mess up. Give yourself grace and always apologize when necessary. Mistakes are nothing but growth opportunities.
- Give people more grace than they deserve, even when they are rude or unfair to you. No one is perfect but you catch more flies with honey.
- Never, never, never give up. Grow your resilience. Bad days will always pass.
Go for it! Go after all you want. Dream it and take small steps to achieve it.
Q: Can you talk about a project you recently worked on?
Ashley: I’ve been doing quite a bit of speaking over the last few years and I can say that this is a passion that has really grown exponentially for me. I literally spend many hundreds of hours developing a single one hour presentation and so it requires a great deal of focus and discipline, from the gathering of articles and books and reading them all, to determining the objectives I hope to achieve sharing my heart, to putting the presentation all together and then practicing the resulting work.
I have had challenges with focusing at times and often challenges with negative self-talk and have battled perfectionism at times when creating these presentations. I believe that self-care and just putting one foot in front of the other…”baby steps” is key to making progress on any daunting project work you may have. Breaking projects into more manageable goals or parts has also been very helpful in focusing my often ADHD mind when it comes to planning these projects far in advance and often simultaneously. Finally, having courage in spite of fear and being able to envision the finished project or “light at the end of the tunnel” is imperative.
I do a lot of reading and listening to audiobooks and my next project is to begin to be more focused around writing my first book, which I have aspired to do for probably thirty years. I have had probably three to four people tell me in the last 5 months or so to “write that book! Just do it!” So I guess that’s MY sign.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
Ashley: Embrace every single day as a new day to begin all over again. Look for the good and find things to be thankful for every single day. Look in wonder at the beauty in the world and give grace abundantly to others including yourself.
Connect with Ashley on LinkedIn.