Early in my career, I was focused on being a perfect performer. Not only did I learn that’s impossible, I discovered that leaders who advance have experienced and navigated failure. It’s critical to remain a high performer, but the ability to enter into difficult situations and improve them trumps perceived perfection. That was an epiphany for me.
Gaining that experience is risky. Failure—even other people’s failure—is difficult to manage. Embarking on tough and unpredictable situations often means leaving behind great, high-performing teams. Yet it’s a prerequisite to becoming a true leader.
I was forced to reframe how I think about failure. Most of us consider every failure catastrophic and every success the pinnacle. But that kind of thinking doesn’t serve us well. Failures and successes can distract us. Eliminate your ego to see them clearly. Examine them and learn from them, then move forward enlightened and empowered.
Young women, in particular, often think if they perform perfectly they will be rewarded with leadership roles. When I became a partner, I realized that leadership is much more than a title and certainly not a destination. Leadership is more about how you show up than what you do. Leaders are deliberate and bring constructive energy to a set of challenges. I call that intentional leadership.
There are three questions intentional leaders ask:
Am I being attentive to the business or client needs? Do I have enough perspective to make considered choices? Am I giving people what they need to perform at their best?
Intentional leaders are aware and listen to the context underlying conversations. They realize that someone may need direction, someone else may need to be energized and inspired, and yet another person may need to feel heard.
Careful listening and responsiveness are what make intentional leaders inherently inclusive leaders. I believe inclusiveness is greeting vulnerability in yourself and others with empathy. Together, vulnerability and empathy create a safe place—an inclusive environment—for differences to be explored, valued, and celebrated.
I’ve always been a firm believer that you have to start by leading yourself and that followers must be earned. To do that, you must be intentional.
Is there a role model who has had a profound impact on your career and/or life? What did he/she motivate you to do?
I don’t have a single role model. I have what I call a mosaic role model. There are many people whose actions I observe. Through them, I’ve learned how to make tough decisions, operate with integrity, honor my values, and demonstrate work/life effectiveness.
What advice would you give young women building/preparing for a career?
Networks matter. What you know is important, but who you know is more important.
Sponsors, mentors, and coaches are critical, but sometimes you outgrow the people in these roles. You need to continually replenish your advisors. But you need to earn their help by doing exceptional work for them. This includes using their time with you seriously. Prepare for those conversations, just as you would for any significant business meeting.