Sherice Torres, Chief Marketing Officer of Chargepoint (CHPT), describes herself as a servant leader. But don’t assume that makes her soft. Her approach to people-first leadership makes her a powerful leader who can make an impact in the first 90 days: building trust, setting a vision, and empowering the team to deliver.
The Value of Difficult Feedback
Prior to roles at Chargepoint, Circle, Google, and Meta, Torres had her first leadership experience at Nickelodeon. Upon receiving her first 360 review, she was crushed. The feedback was difficult, comparing her to various characters from the network, including Spongebob (cluelessly optimistic) and Angelica Pickles (pretends to be nice but isn’t really).
The sign of a good leader is the willingness to accept feedback and learn from it. That’s what Torres did. Her focus on personal and leadership growth paid off, propelling her to CMO positions at Meta, Circle, and most recently Chargepoint, which she joined earlier this year.
What you see is what you get
Introducing herself to the team, the first thing Torres told them is “what you see is what you get.” This was a direct learning from her early days at Nickelodeon where the team didn’t trust her. It has become one of the pillars of her leadership style: transparency.
In Torres’ view, transparency is how you build trust. It means there are no ulterior motives, no empty promises, and no facades masking the true person underneath. The key to transparency is providing context so the team knows not just what you are doing, but why. When the team understands the background, it reduces hesitation and malice, even if they don’t fully agree with the decision.
“Your job as a leader is to empower your team, not just give edicts from on high,” explains Torres. “I explain why decisions are made. And if there are times that I can’t give that context, I’ll be very direct about that as well.”
With less than two months at the company, Torres made the difficult decision to cancel a previously scheduled in-person meeting for the remote team. She told her team, “you just heard that we have a focus on gaining profitability in the fourth quarter. We announced that to Wall Street. I cannot in good conscience spend the money to bring everyone in and house them.” Although the team was disappointed, owning the decision built trust. One employee told her, “I knew I could trust you when you took accountability.”
The Fatal Flaw of Leadership
Just as Torres is transparent with her team, she expects the same from them. Without good information, she cannot be effective as a leader. “The fatal flaw of leadership, the biggest error, is when there’s nobody around to tell the leader the truth,” says Torres.
Torres builds trust with her team to keep her informed, even when it’s bad news. “I will never shoot the messenger,” she says. “I don’t even need you to come to me with the answer. But if you tell me the train is coming before it’s about to hit us, I will never get upset.” The only exception is if the team knows about an issue and hides it, delays, or tries to solve it without informing her. She expects a steady flow of good information, a critical asset for any leader.
Don’t Be the Smartest One in the Room
Teaching your team that they can be transparent with you requires trust. One of the most powerful ways to build that trust is to lift up your team. This lesson became clear to Torres early in her career. “My job as a leader is to meet company goals, whether that be OKRs, a broader vision, or financial results. I can’t do that on my own. There are not enough hours in the day, and I don’t have that full skill set.”
Success comes from empowering the team. “I am old enough and I would hope wise enough to know that as a leader, I don’t accomplish things by being the smartest person in the room,” Torres said. “I accomplish things by surrounding myself with people who complement my skill set and are subject matter experts in all the disciplines we need to meet our goals.”
Building Powerful Teams
Regardless of how smart the individuals are, the team must work well together to deliver on company priorities. That’s why a leader’s primary responsibility must be to empower the team.
The old style of leadership, top-down command and control, is out of date. The new style of leadership is focused on maximizing the impact from the team. As Torres says, “it’s the how not the what that makes the difference.”
“It’s not leadership by committee. How I lead is by empowering, supporting, coaching my team to get it done. The what of leadership: setting direction, making hard decisions, having the buck stops with me – that’s no different.”
Torres lives by the principle that empowering others will lead to her own success. In her words, this is true “servant leadership”. While many might see servant leaders as soft, Torres sees it as the path to being a powerful leader. You have to empower the other person to reach your business goals.
Servant leadership applies not just with your team, but with customers as well. It’s based on the principle that you win when your customer (or team) wins. Torres explains, “The way we succeed is for me to go in and listen and understand what are [the customer’s] business priorities. What’s their focus? Then help them understand how our business priorities help them meet their goals.”
You Don’t Have to Be Right
Being a servant leader and a powerful leader requires a shift in perspective. It’s not about having power over others, but empowering them. It’s not about having the right answer, but finding the best answer together. It’s not about being perfect, but building trust.
“I’m honest about the fact that I don’t have all the answers. People might say that’s not leading from a position of power. But it engenders trust. They know no one has all the answers, but you’re confident enough to say it out loud.”
All business is driven by people. An executive’s first job is to ensure the team they lead is effective. By leading with transparency, authenticity, and vulnerability, Torres builds a high-trust relationship with her team, improving information flow, alignment, and ultimately results.