Simone Clancy, Director of People Strategy at Yellowfin, and Jessica Maree, Program Director at VICT4W, had the opportunity to interview each other about leadership and mentoring, and share some valuable lessons they've learned.
As part of our social impact programs, Yellowfin is a partner of not-for-profit organizations and women in technology networks. We aim to actively engage more women in the technology industry, and support STEM education from a young age through to adulthood to open up new opportunities for the next generation.
In last month’s mentor(SHE:) newsletter, mentors and mentees were asked thought-provoking questions to get a better understanding of each other’s unique work and career experiences. As part of our partnership with Vic ICT For Women’s mentoring program, Simone and Jessica kick the conversation off with their own personal experiences in their respective industries, making for some insightful answers.
The most difficult leadership skills to develop
A major leadership challenge Jessica has found is being able to manage up effectively.
People in a higher role generally can have vastly different management approaches. Some are naturally more collaborative, for instance, and like working as part of a team and scheduling group call catch-ups, while others are more analytical, get less out of meetings, and prefer working independently. No one approach is one-size-fits-all.
It can be challenging to provide feedback to someone you report to and make such a dynamic work well, particularly with leaders above you that, for example, are not as collaborative in a group setting, or use different workplace processes and systems.
Ultimately, being open in communication and taking that feedback process one step at a time is invaluable to helping develop skills in this relatively tricky area. As Simone noted, acknowledging each other’s different styles is not a luxury, but something that everyone needs to work through with their managers, and in the case of leaders, their team.
Why? Because it’s just as important to be able to work with and manage people who have vastly different working preferences, as it is to lead people you may naturally gravitate toward that have a similar approach to your own.
“I’m grateful to have this experience and be able to work through it, because it’s given me the skills to then adapt and look at how I can change some areas that I may need to develop to work more effectively. ” - Jessica
The most important leadership lessons learned
Clear, open, honest communication delivered in a timely way is paramount to providing and consistently guaranteeing good leadership, according to Simone.
Leaders have to spend the right amount of time to really think about their audiences, share the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind decisions you make to really bring people along with you in the journey and gain their confidence, and also not to set expectations that you cannot deliver on.
Typically in the earlier stages of being a manager or leader of people, it’s entirely normal to have the desire to look after people, do well by them, and commit to delivering results. But this drive to keep people happy shouldn’t mean you are afraid of sharing bad news with the team, either.
Being honest about the way things are, good and bad, is likely to enhance team engagement and commitment. It can be potentially demotivating and damaging to your credibility and their morale if expectations are unmet, and you lack openness and transparency on business performance.
Another lesson Simone discovered along the way is embracing your own authentic style. Having the confidence to be the leader you are, imperfections and all, without trying to be a perceived ideal leader, is more effective in the long-run. In short, being comfortable with who you are.
“It’s a hard skill to learn - to say no - because you want to do it and be part of it and deliver, but at the end of the day, if you can’t make it work, you can’t - and that’s okay.” - Simone
The challenge of a new role, and facing the dreaded 'imposter syndrome'
Many people never feel 100% qualified for a role they pursue and/or secure, and from a gender perspective, both women agreed it’s even more important to talk about this challenge. Studies show women are less inclined to apply for career opportunities they don’t feel they have all the necessary qualifications and skills for, so they don’t go for the role - a recurring roadblock for many today.
For Jessica, there were times she felt unqualified for the role and experienced the dreaded ‘imposter syndrome’. Overcoming this obstacle, she found, comes down to the way you work, being transparent with your team, and recognizing that, while there may be many ‘unknowns’ in any given role, it does not automatically mean you are unqualified or unsuited for the position.
The focus instead should be on planning a step-at-a-time approach, seeking help from relevant management, and consulting with peers to learn all you can about your role and corporate environment, whether that be specific processes and terminology.
In technology, this challenge can be heightened due to the fast-paced nature of the field. Even if you have the qualifications, unfamiliarity with jargon, for example, can lead to lack of confidence. But it’s all about the slow and steady approach: Be transparent, ask for help, have a plan in place to get to where you’re going to be, and shadow some of your key team members to understand what they do to help you apply your skills. Most importantly, be kind to yourself - it’s normal!
“We’re not always 100% qualified and nor should we; life is about learning. Be prepared that you’re not always going to be prepared for everything, and that there are many ways to learn.” - Jessica
The balancing act of receiving, managing and delivering feedback
As someone who is aware of their own sensitivities around perceived criticism, Simone has found it incredibly important to lead with kindness and empathy, be open and honest with people, put yourself in their shoes, and use the opportunity to actively listen to continuously learn from it. Managers should never be deterred in providing feedback; Yellowfin’s recent engagement survey revealed most people want it, so building a culture of continuous feedback is one of her primary goals for Yellowfin as an organization.
For Jessica, a recent challenging situation with a colleague highlighted the importance of balancing development opportunities with individual capability, when managing the workloads of your peers. When capabilities don’t meet managerial expectations, it’s just as easy for people to feel overwhelmed as it is for them to rise to the challenge, and it’s a fine line to balance. While there is no convenient ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer, being aware of this issue is one step in the right direction for your particular situation and workplace.
About mentor(SHE:) and Vic ICT for Women
Vic ICT for Women is the professional organization that is creating epic pathways for women in tech leadership, and mentor(SHE:) is one of the six amazing programs it hosts which supports women in STEM through mentorship, at all stages of their career or leadership journey.
Yellowfin joined the VIC ICT for Women community in 2017, and became sponsors of the GoGirl, Go for IT program in 2018. Having seen the benefits of mentoring and the key role it plays in supporting women succeed in our sector, we were delighted to extend our partnership with VIC ICT for Women as sponsors of the mentor(SHE:) program in 2021.
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