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Women in Power: JCPenney’s Katie Mullen on ‘Trusting Your Gut’ and Taking Risks

As part of FN’s annual Women in Power issue, we asked more than 15 footwear execs who have stepped into prominent new roles this year to talk about overcoming obstacles and their advice for the next generation.

Katie Mullen joined JCPenney in January as chief digital and transformation officer to lead the growth of the retailer’s e-commerce business. She most recently spent nearly three years with Neiman Marcus Group, serving as chief transformation officer and then chief digital officer. Previously, she was a partner and managing director at Boston Consulting Group.

Here, Mullen discusses being her own biggest career barrier, trusting your gut, and how her mentors have influenced her leadership style.

My leadership mantra:

“My job is to deliver business performance by unlocking the potential of my teams. I believe people rise to the level of the expectations set for them.”

My biggest opportunity and biggest challenge:

“My greatest challenge and greatest opportunity are one and the same – ensuring our teams know exactly what problems we’re addressing for our customers and rallying the teams to solve them.”

The most significant career barrier I’ve faced and how I overcame it:

“In many ways, I’d say I’ve been my own biggest barrier – and I know I’m not alone. Whether that was not believing I was ready for the next challenge, not believing I could adapt my style and approach to the work that needed to be done, or not trusting myself to find the right balance between motherhood and my career – I often let self-doubt stand in my way or slow me down. Every day, I try to remind myself that I can’t control the circumstances I may find myself in, but I can always control my response to those circumstances. If I focus on what I can control, things that seemed very daunting suddenly become less so.”

Advice for women starting out in their careers:

“One of my mentors used to always remind me that ‘every opportunity starts from doing good work. There is no substitute.’ I believe that deeply. But I wish I had gotten more encouragement along the way to take some deliberate risks. Trusting your gut, embracing uncertainty and taking a big leap are never easy in the moment, but can lead to incredible growth and self-discovery. All of the progress I’ve made has been the result of a combination of hard work and making deliberate, big bets.”

The leader who has had the most impact on me and why:

“Hard to pick just one! Across all the mentors and leaders I’ve had the benefit of learning from, it’s those who were willing to be vulnerable and real that left the most lasting impression. The ones who shared when they didn’t know the right answer or the ones who genuinely solicited feedback and acted on it – these actions foster empathy and trust. I regularly step outside my comfort zone to be more vulnerable and open with my teams in hopes of creating connection and opening opportunities for more meaningful, trust-based collaboration.”

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