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The Stakeholders: Perspectives on Leadership and Excellence. The stakeholders series features seasoned professionals sharing their perspectives on leadership, factors that led to their success, and what drives them to excel in life and career.

Photo of Zeemel Croft

Zeemel Croft
Senior Enterprise Account Executive

We are excited to launch KMA Stakeholders, featuring seasoned professionals who share their perspectives on leadership, the factors that contributed to their success, and what drives them to excel in life and career. We are kicking this series off with the one and only Zeemel Croft, SHRM-CP of Paylocity. Fun fact: Zeemel sold Kirby vacuum cleaners one summer and was the top salesperson! Thank you Zeemel for sharing your story with us.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I am a big believer in servant leadership. It’s easy to say that you serve others, that you put your team’s needs above your own, but actually doing it takes a lot of dedication and effort. Humans are inherently selfish so truly being a servant, first and foremost, and putting the needs of your team before your own…that is leading with trust. And if you achieve this, you have loyalty from your team for life.

What was the most difficult decision you’ve had to make as a leader?

The most difficult decision as a leader was to step away from my leader position at my current organization. I loved my job and I led a local team, and then a region, for almost 8 years. Truly, the best time of my life. But as life progressed, the timing and the responsibilities of that career path just weren’t working for me anymore. I was traveling 8-10 nights a month. I was away from my husband and two kids under the age of 10 and missing too many big events. Leaving that role was the hardest professional decision I have ever made because I loved the people on the team. I ended up learning a great lifelong lesson, that I cannot make decisions based on whether I am disappointing others. I learned to put my mask on first, like we do on an airplane, in order to help others. That holds true in so many aspects of life! I still count my blessings for this lesson…and, I also learned that you don’t need a leader title to be a leader.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out in your field?

Any salesperson, and I don’t care what you are selling, needs to understand that no one can push you more than you push yourself, and that growth/learning is an infinite game. There will never be a moment in time where there is nothing left to learn. I have been in my industry for 25 years and I still consume new information daily. Whether you are a leader or an individual contributor, the responsibility falls on you to achieve and challenge the status quo.

Do you have any daily practices that help you be your best personal and/or professional self?

As in everyone’s life, chaos surrounds us. Some is controllable but a lot isn’t. I need peace, or I should say, I crave it. The only thing that settles me is meditation. Sometimes I get two minutes, and other days I can find 30 minutes to get me grounded. But it’s daily and intentional. That’s the only way I can function in my personal and professional life. If you don’t know how to start, download the Calm app and start slow. That first step is difficult but once you feel that sense of calm, you will be hooked!

What’s one book you’ve read that changed your life?

I read Strengths Finder by Tom Rath and it changed my life! How many times do we look at our weaknesses and try to fix them? But what if you knew your strengths and focused on your gifts? We went through this exercise at work, and it helped us communicate more efficiently, understand the why behind our decisions, and learn to use our greatest natural talents to get the most out of life. I can’t tell you how much this has helped me, not only at work, but also as a mother, wife, friend, and teammate! It’s a life changer for sure.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned from a teacher or mentor?

The most valuable lesson was learned from a lifelong mentor, my dad. He was an immigrant and the work ethic that he taught his children was the best gift we could have asked for. The sacrifice that my parents made to come to this country and achieve what they did is admirable and I’m so proud to be a part of that legacy. Success is not for the lazy. That advice has gone a long way for me and now I am trying to teach that same lesson to my children (it’s a bit harder with this generation but I’m still trying)!

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a children’s book author. I have always loved to read and write. There is still time left so maybe I can get at least one book published!

If you could spend one week vacationing anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I don’t care where I go as long as there is the ocean, and I can see, smell and taste the salt in the air. I don’t need to be in the water, but my feet MUST be buried in sand!

What was your first job, and what lessons did you learn in that role?

My first job ever was selling vacuums. Yes, that was me, knocking on your door at 17 years old, trying to sell you a $2,000 Kirby. That was the hardest job I have ever had. The first day, half the team quit. By the end of week one, I was the only one left. But I wouldn’t quit. It was a summer job and by the end of the summer, I became the best Kirby saleswoman and sold 34 vacuums in 10 weeks! What I learned? That I never wanted to sell vacuums again. Sometimes, knowing what you don’t want is as important as knowing what you do.

What’s one invention you think we would be better off if it didn’t exist?

I’m still on the fence with the Internet. I remember a time when I worked at my first job without an email address, without a cell phone, without access to information at our fingertips. I think that was easier on mental health and time management!

Sweet or savory?

Sweet, no contest! I mean, chocolate cake tastes great for breakfast, right?