I’ve been told I have a gift. I actually don’t think that’s true. What I have been blessed with though is a series of formative environments and experiences that have developed a special set of skills and knack for communicating clear solutions. That’s it, plus a joke or two.
All of this started at a very young age. I honestly don’t know how many of my childhood experiences my parents purposefully engineered versus how many I just got myself into. My sisters turned out normal (by normal, I mean they were teachers and are now great mothers) but by and large would have been exposed to the same things as me. So, I have to think I’m the Oddball.
[Let me address now amidst the feminist groan that I LOVE being the Oddball. I’ll capitalize it because I f*%king love it. Why am I Odd? Simply because I stick out. Since business school, I’ve worked in businesses where women were in the minority. And, I usually have a different perspective on issues, a different quantitative approach and a different set of jokes than everyone else at the table. Being Odd has been my strength.]
Some of my Oddness is clearly due to nature and perhaps genetics. My two earliest memories of my father are 1) of him coming home in a business suit after some kind of long trip and everyone being SO EXCITED to see him and 2) my mother taking my sister and I to the airport (this was the 80’s, airports were fancy) and being SO EXCITED to see him coming off the plane in a business suit. The feeling the airport pickup brings back is strong – it’s a mix of excitement (see the world!), wonder (where are all these people going!) and curiosity (why so many suits!). Twenty years later, these scenes would play themselves out again with me feeling like a bad*ss walking through airports in suits. I’m sure some people remember their dads at the dinner table, teaching them to play sports…I remember the awesomeness of the suit.
My obsession with winning the middle school science fair should have been a predictive indicator of my Oddness. The middle school science fair was my shit. Yes, I love winning. But, this was a formative experience because using the scientific method on crystals and rotten potatoes would become the foundation for my post-secondary education and career. The scientific method is the way I solve strategic problems today. We research and understand an issue, define a problem statement, devise hypotheses, test them, interpret the data and draw conclusions. It is the most important framework a strategist should master.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to a few mentors. But first, let me acknowledge a few anti-mentors in my first job out of college – otherwise known as RA’s (Real As*^holes). Thank you for showing me how not to be. If it wasn’t for you, I never would have had to work to find the likeminded set of Oddballs who shaped my approach to problems and communication early in my career. I was lucky to have great mentors early in my career – Alex Gershman, Jennifer Burns Dell'Orto, Kate Pinkerton and Diane Richmond Knox – who showed me how to minimize analysis to maximize results, tell a story and manage a client. THANK YOU. It is so important in your first years in a new career stage to work with more experienced people who make time to teach you.
The experience that had the greatest contribution to my skill growth was the time spent at The Boston Consulting Group. There were too many lesson packed into those years to fit here. The work ethic, the frameworks, the rapid insight generation, the professionalism, each deserves their own write up. The environment created by working with literally the smartest and Oddest people in the world is a pressure cooker for skill development. To be successful in that environment, you must learn to distill solutions down to the most important drops that will impact a company’s growth from inside a crucible of data and ego.
And so, I entered my fourth decade thinking I was the sh*t. And then I was given the most challenging job of my career.
No framework or method had prepared me to lead the strong personalities of a large corporate team through a turnaround in a commoditized market. We did it though. I was lucky to have a talented set of direct reports, led by three strong Directors -- Mita Malhotra, Daniel Massey and Daniel Mendez -- who worked hard to adopt and teach their teams a new analytical approach. Together we created a vision and a strategy and slowly created buy-in for our new way of thinking across the organization. We applied the scientific method, quantitative frameworks and simple tactics that differentiated us in the market. We argued for our plan and built support with the finance team and sales leadership.
While we grew the business and accomplished the task, I expended myself in the process. I did not take control of my time. I did not find a group of mentors with whom I could call on for guidance. I absorbed too much of the stress for my team. Most importantly, I kept busy adjusting the plan instead of using my position to shape the culture. This experience taught me the most valuable leadership lessons of my career to date: You must balance the needs of the organization with the needs of the business. You may not sacrifice yourself to reach someone else’s goal.
I’ve walked a unique path that has blessed me with a wide set of experiences, a method for approaching problems and a knack for seeing creative solutions. But I wasn’t just “given” this ability – I worked hard at it for years and was influenced by every person I worked with along the way. I am excited now to use my experiences to help others grow and succeed. I would love to share what I’ve learned with you.
Want to talk about how I can help? Shoot me a line or leave a comment below.