One of the best things about my company is the effort to build a community among our employee base and give them an opportunity to find greater purpose at work. One way we do this is through a number of affinity groups employees can join, each with a goal of promoting diversity, inclusion and opportunities for all. The SEI Women’s Network has contributed many great things to our culture over the past 12 years. This year, they created a campaign featuring a series of interviews with employees to share their stories, discuss what has contributed to their success and inspire the greater SEI community. They call it #HERSTORY and it’s brilliant.
One of these stories is from a colleague of mine, Bridget Keeley, and I asked her to share it here. Bridget is a critical ingredient to our marketing efforts and the strategy and execution of our blog. I deeply trust and enjoy working with her, and she keeps me humble. But her biggest job, and the one she is most proud of, is being the mother of three. I asked Bridget to share some of her #HERSTORY because aspiring and existing leaders alike could benefit from her refreshing candor and advice.
Being inspired is the first step to inspiring others
When I was asked to participate in the #HERSTORY series, while I was certainly honored, I also was out of my comfort zone. After all, I’ve built a career in a role where I get to write the stories—not be the story. But when I started reading the stories that preceded mine, I became inspired. Some of them were from colleagues I’ve known for years and some were showcasing employees I have yet to meet. All of them gave me a different perspective to consider as I continue to progress my own career. I realized how powerful an initiative like this can be. Inspiration breeds energy, enthusiasm and, often, action. And, yes, I wanted to be a part of that!
My story was long. Again, I’m a marketer; we thrive on details. And while I’m not sharing the whole thing today, some background you should know is that family is my passion. It’s what grounds me and propels me. I’m a mom to three amazing kids (9, 7 and 2). I’m a wife, a sister and a daughter. I’m an active member of my community and a dedicated employee. Being all of those things is not always easy. It’s also not at all what I thought I would be when I grew up. I was going to be a stay-at-home mom. But I found a way to build and grow a career where I believe I’m as respected and happy at work as I am at home. Plus, I haven’t had to trade too much on either side.
Leadership roles are complex. Being a good leader shouldn’t be.
Twenty-plus years into my career, the following key strategies have allowed me to achieve this integration in life and leadership.
1. Get a village. As a working parent, I have to list this one first. People always say it takes a village to raise a kid and that’s no joke. That’s why it’s easier for me to do what I do at SEI because I have so many people to help me on the outside (or even on the inside, my SEI family is most definitely part of my village). You can’t be everywhere all the time. Between family, friends, community, neighbors, whatever it is — if you really want to take on more professionally, it’s so much easier if you have a network or village of people to help you along the way. And side note, the kids love it because they get more time with their friends if they’re carpooling, etc. So don’t make yourself feel unnecessarily guilty when you can’t be everywhere, doing everything,all of the time (this last part took me too long to figure out).
2. Be authentic. You have nothing to gain by being someone you’re not and people will see through that quickly. Just be who you are and be proud of who you are. Unless you’re a jerk—then maybe yes, be somebody else.
3. Lead with your strengths. I’m a big fan of CliftonStrengths. Know your strengths but also know your limitations and then make decisions that play to your strengths as you progress your career. If you’re looking to be successful, the more you can rely on those, the more you’re going to be happy, fulfilled and generally better at what you do. In case you are not familiar, the StrengthsFinder assessment tells you about your top 5 natural talents and applies to all aspects of your life. It’s not just for work. Knowing them means knowing who you are as a person and it’s critical to greater fulfillment in life in general. The more you really understand strengths and invest in yourself to get to know how they work, the more you’ll be a better leader, professional and human. (For the record, my top 5 are: Maximizer, Developer, Positivity, Arranger and Achiever.)
4. Know the difference between self-awareness and self-assurance. They are not the same thing. You can be self-assured without being self-aware and that can be a dangerous combination. You need to recognize how you’re being perceived because it helps balance you out. Make sure you read the room, listen more than talk, and understand how you’re coming across to your audience (large or small, formal or informal). There’s no age limit you’re going to reach where self-improvement isn’t necessary. You can always get better, but you have to be willing to be really honest, be open to self-reflection and see yourself through the eyes of others.
5. Be fearless. People don’t ask questions or don’t talk to managers about things that would help them be more successful because they’re afraid. But until you ask the question, you don’t know what the answer is. Be yourself, be fearless, take the risk, ask the question, and go with your gut. I think that will open more doors for you than if you just sit there and think, “I don’t think they’d go for it so I’m not going to ask.”
6. Get to know the people that work with you on a personal level. With you, for you, above you, below you, your clients, and your partners — whomever it may be. We are at work so much more than we are anywhere else and we work so closely, especially at a place like SEI, which has such an open and collaborative environment. Ask people more about themselves than just what they’re working on. That makes or breaks a leader; those are the people that you want to work with and for.
Learning through sharing
These are the strategies that genuinely help me stay true to myself and enjoy this life I’m living. They work for me and maybe they could work for you. But more importantly, what I’ve learned through the #HERSTORY series, and reading four new stories every month, is that unique perspectives breed a culture of learning through sharing. I love that my colleagues are embracing the effort and being very candid. I’m learning from each and every one of them. I would love to learn from all of you. What strategies have helped you become the leader you are today?