What is “A Moment With”? The Women’s Business Development Center is pleased to share with you our new series, “A Moment With” where we will periodically highlight some of our greatest supporters and partners, sharing their career experiences and advice. This month, we are thrilled to introduce you to Robert Steiner, the District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Illinois District Office.
Meet Robert Steiner: Robert Steiner is the District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Illinois District Office, leading the SBA’s operations across the State of Illinois. Robert strengthens the entrepreneurial and small business ecosystem by supporting the efficient delivery of capital, comprehensive technical assistance, and access to government contracting. He is also a Navy veteran, having served 10 years in the United States Navy as a commissioned officer and naval aviator. We are proud to highlight and celebrate Robert during National Veterans and Military Families Month.
We asked: Tell us about a piece of advice you received from a mentor that has helped you succeed.
Robert shared: Earlier in my career, a mentor told me “Luck is the combination of preparation and timing.” To me, this meant always challenging myself in my work and pushing myself outside of my comfort zone with the goal of improving my professional skillset. Over time, this approach has borne fruit. When career opportunities presented themselves at the right time, my focus on building skills and experiences positioned me to be competitive and to be able to demonstrate that I could be effective in positions of increased responsibility.
This approach has worked for me in both the public and private sectors. I continue to challenge myself in my daily work as I look to further develop my skillset and prepare myself for those opportunities that may arise. I encourage my team to take this approach as well. I support their efforts to take on additional responsibilities and seek developmental opportunities so they can own their growth. The results are two-fold. First, they’re even stronger contributors within my organization. Second, my team members open up new doors that may not have been available to them previously.
A Turning Point
We asked: What advice would you share with someone looking to change their career?
Robert shared: First, know yourself, your strengths, and what you like to do. Then, use this information to focus your efforts on a career where you can take advantage of your strengths, and more importantly, what you’re passionate about. When I transitioned into the public sector, I looked inwardly at my career at that point, evaluating the skills I had developed, and the experiences that brought me the most satisfaction. As a veteran, I appreciated the sense of service I felt by serving in the military and realized this was important to me and a fundamental need to my sense of self. I also recognized the leadership and general management skills the Navy had offered me the opportunity to develop.
With a clear vision of who I was and what I enjoyed, I was able to apply laser focus to the objective of serving in the federal government. There I could apply my knowledge, skills, and abilities to the benefit of my country and its citizens. Using this knowledge, I was able to secure a position first with the Federal Protective Service and then with the SBA. I’m grateful to be able to do work that I’m passionate about where I feel I can make a difference. This was the result of my personal “deep dive” that helped me clarify and understand what I wanted my career to be.
We asked: What are the most important characteristics of a leader?
Robert shared: One of the most important traits a great leader can have is ownership. To me, ownership means taking responsibility for yourself, your team, and your organization, and moving forward despite not having absolute control over the circumstances or all the resources necessary. Ownership means being resourceful and innovative in the face of unforeseen or novel challenges to move toward your objectives and not making excuses.
Due to the pandemic, the normal products and services that businesses sold either couldn’t be delivered or weren’t a priority. These businesses didn’t wait, they took ownership of the situation to pivot their business. This meant they figured out a product that was in demand (such as brewers making hand sanitizer) or evolved their services (restaurants fully revamping their “to go” service offerings). This trait is invaluable for any leader as they look to overcome challenges they and their team face. They are owning the situation to meet their goals.