The power of positivity: This Commerce leader personifies the benefits of maintaining a steady outlook
“Your gifts and your talents will make room for you.”
That’s something Michael Pulliam’s father, a pastor, frequently told him when he was growing up. It instilled in him an understanding that doing good work and focusing on the greater good, rather than on himself, would serve him well.
“I try to put the needs of the organization ahead of my personal needs,” says Pulliam, a portfolio management team lead at Commerce Bank. “That philosophy has always turned out well for me. If I take care of the company, the company takes care of me.”
It’s a mindset that helps him maintain a consistently positive outlook on everything he does. “I’m well-aligned,” he says. “Commerce’s core values are my core values, and that makes for a happy and fulfilling work environment. Part of my career philosophy is: like what you do. Love what you do. Life is too short to go through it unhappy.”
Pulliam says that while he has enjoyed most of the roles he’s held at other companies during his career, he loves the work he’s doing today. “I probably said that about my previous employers as well,” he says with a laugh, “but it really is a truer and deeper love with Commerce. I’m big on always trying to do the right thing, and Commerce has a long history of doing the right thing. We can always be proud of the decisions we make and the interactions we have with customers.”
Susan Kalist, a business banking division manager at Commerce who has worked alongside Pulliam for several years, says it’s obvious he enjoys his work. “I’m sure he’s had bad days, but I’ve never been able to tell,” Kalist says. “He always has a positive energy. I often hear him quietly whistling or singing to himself as he works, without even realizing it. He’s very good at it, too. He’s just a happy person.”
Part of Pulliam’s appreciation for Commerce comes from his role on the bank’s commercial lending team. “Early in my career, I knew I wanted to be on the commercial side of banking, but my biggest professional challenge was making that happen,” he says. His years of effort paid off, and by the time he joined Commerce in 2014, he had long established his credentials in commercial lending.
His own experience now reminds him that in business, sometimes it’s wise to take a chance on people, just like others took a chance on him. “I’m very aware that there are people who may not be obvious candidates but may ultimately be the right choice when we’re adding to our team,” he says. “You have to look at a person’s raw materials, so to speak. If you look at their skills, you can understand how that might translate to a different type of role.”
Pulliam also enjoys his team’s relatively flat organizational structure, which provides him frequent opportunities to interact with Commerce’s senior management. “It’s beneficial because it helps you understand how the work we do every day impacts the bank overall,” he says. “It’s important for people to know how their role helps the organization.”
He notes the concept of accessibility works both ways. “I always leave my door open for anyone who wants to talk to me,” he says. “At my core, I’m a teacher. I enjoy sharing what I know. Teaching and guiding is part of my role as a team lead, but it’s more than that. I like to help the people around me.”
Kalist agrees that Pulliam is a positive influence on those who work with him. “Michael is super smart,” she says. “The way he shares information is never condescending. Even if he’s explaining a concept that’s completely new to someone, he’s able to do it in a way that fosters learning.”
She adds that there’s a good reason Pulliam is such an effective teacher. “He cares about people first,” she says. “He’s conscientious and is always thinking about the other person. He guides people to answers, rather than just handing them the answers. It’s fun to watch him, and he does it without thinking; it’s simply how he approaches people.”
While teaching is clearly a passion for Pulliam, he is eager to note that he’s a constant student as well. While some of that learning comes through formal training, much of it has come through the simple act of attentiveness.
“I’m an observer,” he says. “I watch people, and if they’re doing something that’s successful, I try to understand what characteristics they display that might be beneficial for me. I take tidbits from everybody.” His constant desire to learn has not only helped him improve his effectiveness, but as Kalist notes, it has molded him into someone who is very self-aware. “I envy that about him,” she says. “He knows his strengths and his areas of opportunity, and he acknowledges both. He’s very transparent.”
In addition to everything else, Pulliam is very easy to work with, Kalist says. “He has opinions, but he can also get on board with decisions that he doesn’t initially agree with. I respect the heck out of that.”
In summary, Kalist notes, “He stands apart.”
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