Executive Voice: Lessons in Leadership

A panel discussion on leadership featuring founders and executives from the tech industry

Panelists:

Tami McQueen — Founder 31 SouthMary Becica — Director of Product Management — FlexportSabrina H. Eldredge — VP Product — POPSUGAR

Moderator:

Joey Rosenberg — Global Leadership Director — WWCode

The panel began with each of the participants talking about their career journey and what twists of fate led them to their current leadership positions.

Sabrina studied computer science in school, and her first job was as a programmer, and then as a UX designer. While doing that, she also maintained a food blog, which eventually parlayed into a position as a food writer for Pop Sugar. However, she found she gravitated more towards the technical side of things in the organization, and eventually took on a role as a product manager.Mary started off as an architect, and learned to code while in school for that. When she graduated she noticed that there was an abundance of jobs in tech, and started working in jQuery, and UI Design. Eventually she ended up at Flexport where she quickly rose to Director of Product Management.Tami had a marketing background but immersed herself in the tech industry early on, falling in love with B2B and SaaS in particular. “I immersed myself in the tech industry because I was looking for different tools to use in a marketing role.” After gaining experience at several different companies she started her own marketing firm with several partners.

The next question focused on methods of Prioritizing for Impact.

Sabrina told a story about her company, POPSUGAR, and how it actually has a wide variety of products being developed at any given time. She looked around and saw that they were working doing a lot of things, but doing them poorly. So she went to her boss and they figured out three things that she could focus on getting an A+ grade on. She also noted that, “One of the things I try to do is to make sure that what I and my team do aligns with the KPI’s of the company… Focus on what moves the needle.”Tami spoke about how early customers often drive the direction of the company. But she reinforced that you need to have a vision for the company, that also drives the decision you make. “Always serve the company’s vision and always serve the customer as well.” She also emphasized how this needs to be expressed through the entire culture of the company.Mary noted that when you are immersed in a team and in a problem, it can be hard to give yourself the space to step back, and choose which things need to be prioritized. She also told a story about how she had recently been in a meeting where the team was pushing for a decision to be made, but she had a gut feeling that something wasn’t right. Rather than acting immediately, she took a couple of days, and the decision they eventually made ended up being better for it. “Always giving yourself that space to sit back and think.”After this a throw mic was brought out, which was literally tossed back and forth among audience members so that they could ask the panel questions.

Q: Being the only person in the room with a different reaction to something can be hard. Do you have any advice for that person?

Mary spoke about the importance of building a true human connection between different people, in order to bridge that gap. She emphasized that you need to stay authentic to yourself, but also encouraged people to try and build a bridge of understanding as to where they’re coming from so they can understand where you’re coming from. She also noted, “One of my rules of thumb is: I don’t do any emotional labor without being paid for it,” and followed that up by encouraging people to understand when they are in toxic situations, and to sometimes “be luxurious with yourself.”Sabrina suggested that you try and find an advocate on your team. She emphasized that you should always speak for yourself, but also encouraged people to find allys within the organization to support their points of view.Tami noted that, being in the tech community, everyone is always behind a screen, and that can make it easy for people to be desensitized. Even while holding her phone and noting the irony of her words she advised people to take a break from their devices from time to time in order to read those nonverbal cues and “humanize your communications.”

Q: What if your company is not structure for you to evolve into a leadership position? How can you get someone to take a chance on you?

Sabrina suggested an exercise where you write down what you are most proud of accomplishing every two weeks. That will help not only your own self esteem, but to create a record of your accomplishments that can be shown to management. She also suggested helping out in departments where things are overwhelmed, and stepping in to do jobs that need to get done. By being a team player, she said, you can show that you have leadership qualities.Mary then noted that “By being a leader of WWCode you are being a leader … don’t discount all this work your doing, this work is leadership too.”

Q: In 5 words or less what advice do you have for this audience of leaders?

Mary: Invest capital in yourself.Sabrina: Don’t be afraid to ask.Tami: Be bold, intentional and resilient.

Originally published at www.womenwhocode.com.

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