It’s Not Easy Being Green: A Millennial’s Guide to Leadership

Big news, guys. This month marked my first ever work anniversary. There was blood, sweat, and more tears than I’d care to admit, but here I am, one year after signing onto my role as Intelligent.ly’s Content & Community Specialist. For most seasoned professionals, this is no magnificent feat, but my fellow Millennials (and Kermit the Frog) know that it’s not easy being green.

If television has taught me anything, it’s that most 23-year old Communication Studies majors are doomed for years of frustration and debt before having a job they love. I was one of the lucky ones, I guess. In hindsight, before joining Intelligent.ly, I was naive to the monumental importance of leadership. The simple truth is leadership can’t be taught in college; it’s learned from experience – and many of us don’t get direct access to learn from strong leaders early on in our careers.

After 31 Exchange sessions, 2 EMERGE workshops, and an endless supply of leadership inspiration from the Boston community, I’m by no means a guru. But I have learned a thing or two about what makes organizations and teams successful from 500 people across 50 startups:

Know yourself: This is Day 1 of Exchange, and it’s critical for us youngsters. In a sea of resumes, self-awareness can be the thing that sets you apart from the pack (Whitney Johnson calls this the “competitive advantage”). Knowing your strengths and your weaknesses will allow you to find areas you can really shine, and generate baselines for meaningful growth. It also helps to know how you like to be communicated with, and what truly motivates you.

And, know your team: We spend so much time working that our teams become like our families. To keep frustrations low and productivity high, it’s important to know what each member loves, makes them tick, and how they learn best. So many lapses in productivity are caused by miscommunication. Ask each member what they need from you, in terms of communication. You can use this blueprint to share each other’s quirks!

Conflict is good: Startup life can be emotionally taxing, and conflict is inevitable. Create an open environment with your team by being vulnerable, sharing your challenges, and consequently creating trust to ensure healthy conflict. This means everyone’s perspective is valued and team members are open to growth.

Ask for help: Spoiler alert: at 23, I still don’t have all the answers. And that’s okay. No one expects you to. Give yourself a break, and lean on others for advice and best practices. Our program, participants and guest speakers alike talk about the importance of having a meaningful network. At Exchange, we have participating managers ask their peers for advice. Create your own web of trusted individuals you can ask for help, and learn from them.

Lack of experience ≠ lack of leadership: This one was an eye-opener for me. I spent months diminishing my own opinions, firmly believing that those with more experience knew better. I’m still working on it, but I’m slowly learning that you can be a leader…even if you were born in the ‘90s. You were hired for a reason, and your opinion matters, if nothing else to provide a new perspective.

Create your own path: What I love about my role at Intelligent.ly is that it’s not set in stone. I’m young; I don’t know what I want yet. I have no 5-year plan. And startups are the perfect place for that. My role (and yours) can become whatever you want it to be, if you prove you’re worthy of the reward.

Whitney Johnson’s Secrets to Disrupting Your Career

When you find something that works, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut. But the most successful startups aren’t the ones that find a recipe for success and stick with it–they’re the ones that constantly aspire for more, iterating and innovating in powerful new directions that leverage their core capabilities to disrupt stale models.

According to Johnson, personal disruption is “the act of using a practice employed by companies—wherein a product deemed inferior by the market leader eventually upends the industry—and applying it to you as an individual.” Her concept of disruptive innovation is rooted in the S-curve (see image below), with three distinct parts: competence (gaining your footing), confidence (thriving), and mastery (comfort).

Whitney Johnson_Disrupt Yourself

The S-curve of disruptive innovation

Disruption is Whitney Johnson’s bread and butter. As an Author, Speaker, Advisor, and one of the 50 Top Management Thinkers of the World, she knows what it takes to harness the power of disruptive innovation to make amazing things happen. In November, Johnson joined us for Intelligent.ly EMERGE, a one-day leadership workshop designed to help individual contributors become effective influencers, for powerful keynote about investing in continuous innovation.

We caught up with Johnson to tap into her knowledge about how to stay fresh:

You’ve said that when things become easy and you’re not feeling challenged or learning new things, it’s time to jump to a new curve. Do you have advice on how to know WHAT to jump to?

Analyze how what you do well maps to what others want done by answering:

  1. Are there stakeholders whose needs are not being met? What are they?
  2. Are there a lot of people trying meet those needs (e.g. 50 people applying for a job), or has there ever been a job posting (e.g you’d create a job) for a need that isn’t being met?
  3. Does this need you want to meet leverage your distinctiveness (what you do remarkably, uniquely well)? As in, it’s so easy for you, you don’t value it because it’s as natural as breathing?

The whole point of disruption is to move up the y-axis of success over the x-axis of time. When you disrupt yourself you are making the conscious decision to move down the y-axis, on the premise that the slope of your next curve will be even steeper, leading to another period of rapid growth.

Jumping from secretary to investment banker to analyst to investor had to have been daunting. How did you channel fear to help you grow vs. letting it become a constraint?

It’s pretty easy to talk about this after the fact. So, what I’m about to say makes these moves sound much tidier than they were. That said––A constraint simply defined is something that you bump up against, and in bumping, you get information. Like a skateboarder. They learn quickly because they receive fast and useful feedback. Fear is typically characterized as a foe, but it’s also a friend. Follow your fear and you’ll know what matters to you. In this way, rather than a check on your progress, it becomes a tool of creating you.

Regarding pursuing market risks (vs. competitive risks) – is this possible to do inside an established company? How can individuals pioneer a new idea effectively?

Even inside of a large company there are ideas people haven’t had and projects people don’t want to take on. These are opportunities for taking on market risk. Think about Intuit’s Fasal. When they wanted to make a difference in India there were lots of routes Intuit could have taken. Instead they sent three engineers to rural India for three weeks and said figure something out.

One day during a torrential downpour that found themselves at a bus stop with local farmers. As they chatted they discovered the farmers didn’t have access to commodity prices. Having found a problem to solve, they could have now thrown a lot of money at it. But they didn’t. They just started manually texting price and buyer information, iterating their way to a solution. Notice how this process was so low-cost, so low-risk, so where -no-one -else-was-playing, the odds of it getting quashed, were practically zero.

Because Intuit encouraged its people to play where no one else was, which also included very few resources––until they knew they had something that worked––today there is a service known as Fasal, a sophisticated text-messaged based platform, helping farmers get the best price. Over 2 million users who enjoy more than 20% increase in their bottom line.

Boston has an “Innovation District,” and is increasingly becoming known as a leading city for innovation. Do you think the word “innovation” is becoming overused? What do you want people to understand about the meaning at its root?

In my experience, when someone uses the word innovation, they are signaling they want to try something new. Wanting to improve, to do better and be better, is always good. Always. Where I think we get tripped up is when you and I attach different meanings to this word.

My definition? Innovation is about moving from stuck to unstuck. There are lots of ways to do that. The frameworks of disruption are one. Which is why I wrote Disrupt Yourself. I wanted to convey that companies don’t disrupt, people do. Here’s how. In 7 steps. My hope is this: That I have made a strong enough case around the ‘how’ that we can move forward together on the ‘do’.

Ready to invest in developing innovative leaders inside your company? Enroll in the next Intelligent.ly EMERGE workshop on March 9th!

4 Ways to Drive
Your Career Forward

Innovative startups all have one thing in common – they’re disruptive. Whether they’re revolutionizing inbound marketing like HubSpot, improving the way fundraisers connect with their donors like EverTrue, or pioneering cloud security like Carbonite, Boston-based companies are practicing disruptive innovation now more than ever.

Disruption should be Whitney Johnson’s middle name. Author, speaker, advisor, and one of the 50 Top Management Thinkers of the World, she is a leading force is conveying the power of disruption to transform people and companies. On November 12th, Johnson joined Intelligent.ly EMERGE, a one-day leadership workshop designed to help individual contributors become effective influencers. Through a powerful talk delivered to some of Boston’s top companies, she reminded the group that behind every great company are innovative leaders who turning new ideas into reality.

When she left Wall Street at the height of her career, everyone thought Johnson crazy to abandon prestige and stability, in favor of a new, more emotionally fulfilling challenge. It certainly wasn’t the usual corporate trajectory; but, it was a disruptive course, that would fulfill this need.

Her theory of disruptive innovation is simple: the most successful innovations are those that create new markets. They play where no one else is playing…yet.

We asked emerging leaders who attended the EMERGE workshop what they took away from Johnson’s talk, and how they (and you!) can put them into action:

Sam Diters_EverTrue Exploit Your Superpower
Sam Diters, Strategic Customer Success Manager, EverTrue
It’s important to understand your strengths and take calculated risks. We can all fall victim to complacency. Whitney helped remind me that striving to grow through challenging myself is one of the only ways to reach my ultimate goals.”

 

Push Yourself Beyond Comfortable LimitsLauren Stenstream_Carbonite
Lauren Stenstream, Senior Accountant, Carbonite
The theory that both failure and lack of fulfillment in your career can be driving forces for innovation and success inspired me. Focusing in on areas where I can provide the most value has been critical in strategically planning my future.”

 

Kate Connors_MetisTake a Risk – A Market Risk
Kate Connors, Senior Account Executive, Metis Communications
Whitney Johnson not only challenged me to be disruptive in my career, but also to help my clients become more disruptive in their industries. I’m challenging myself to find industry needs that aren’t being filled and help my clients address them with a tone and approach tailored to reach the members of their audiences.”

 

Amanda Iglesias_HubSpotFind your Other Half
Amanda Iglesias, Product Manager, HubSpot
“In order to accelerate the progress of some of the projects I manage, I am evaluating them to determine what skills are required to make them successful. My goal is to identify folks who I partner with across our business who bring other strengths to the table.”

Want more strong insights from Whitney Johnson? Stay tuned for the release of her keynote!

Ready to help your team become effective influencers who drive innovation? Send them to the next EMERGE workshop on March 9th, and follow us on Twitter for a daily dose of leadership inspiration.

Quick Guide:
Owning Your Leadership Role

Dave McLaughlin WeWorkLeaders face all kinds of inner conflicts: projecting confidence without appearing arrogant; being humble yet strong; being agile, but firm in their vision. Exceptional leaders are masters of this balancing act, as WeWork City Lead, Dave McLaughlin showed us during a recent Intelligent.ly Exchange session.

Before joining the WeWork team in May, Dave was the CEO and Co-Founder of Vsnap, a video messaging system for sales reps who need a quick and effective way to create face time with their customers from afar. Adding to his list of impressively original professional journey, Dave was also Marketing  Director for Mayor Menino, and Writer of the feature film “Southie,” starring Rose McGowan, Amanda Peet, Donnie Wahlberg, and Will Arnett. Besides having a genuine interest in how his journey unfolded, we’d also heard that “Dave is the best manager” from a handful of friends, so we were anxious to sit down with him to learn how he supports the success of his team.

Here’s what we learned from Dave about how to build teams effectively:

Have Humility…And Bulletproof Confidence

Successful leaders are open to the opinions of others, and incorporate feedback to complement and enhance their own ideas. Be open to understanding (and asking for) your team’s perspectives, but when push comes to shove, great leaders don’t shy away from making executive decisions. Leaders need to have the confidence to be bulletproof under fire, in order to maintain their stakeholders’ trust and make the best decisions for their teams in the long run.

Here are three things to consider when asking for feedback from your team:

  • Carve out time to sit down with your team to ensure that they understand your values, inspiring trust for open communication
  • Incorporate a touchpoint to gather feedback during the process of developing new ideas. Encourage the team to speak up, and if need be, challenge you, to get the best possible results
  • Don’t let your ego get in the way of learning new things.

Know Your Team- Well Enough to Appeal to THEIR Interests:

Your leadership narrative for your team needs to be authentic; if you want people to follow, you’ve got to believe in where you’re headed. Ask your team lots of questions to get them to affirm what they believe in and care about, and use this as leverage when forming the vision. When the whole team can own the vision, you’ll be more cohesive, productive, and proud of your outcomes. Want to hone your authentic leadership skills to learn how it relates to influence and gaining buy-in from others? Enroll in EMERGE.

Be clear and intentional with how you create culture:

Company culture consists of more than grabbing drinks with your team after work. Culture begins with  a set of explicitly stated values. Having clear values is one of the most pragmatic things you can do. These values give employees a roadmap for navigating tense situations when they do arrive, and help create cohesiveness throughout the organization. Leaders should be sure to circulate values within everyday conversations so they become natural touchpoints.

Want one actionable piece of advice you can implement today? Ask yourself what is the thing that, when you’re doing, you lose track of time? That’s what you’re meant to be doing, so be great at it.

Ready. Set. Change!

Kristen Yerardi- WordStreamCompanies are like kids. They grow, they get messy, they change, they make you laugh, and cry. Sometimes, all at the same time. Like kids, companies don’t stay the same, and eventually you just have to accept and embrace that. Kristen Yerardi, VP of Customer Success at WordStream, has grown her department from 4 to 45 since joining the founding executive team in 2010. Throughout her 15-plus years experience providing customers with excellence, Kristen has led teams of all shapes and sizes, so we asked her to join Exchange to share about HOW to embrace organizational change.

Spoiler alert: it’s all about adapting and evolving!

Listen, listen, and listen some more:

Kristen helps her team grow by showing empathy, sharing her personal experiences, and letting them learn from her mistakes. WordStream is known for its culture of transparency, so Kristen encourages each of her team members to be completely honest with her. She believes that a leader’s most crucial responsibility is listening in order to help the team make the best decisions. Have a “whatever happens within these four walls stays here” philosophy and allow your team to share openly what they need from you to do their jobs better.

Pass the baton:

You can never have too many direct reports, right? Turns out, you can from Kristen’s experience. She’s observed that truly effective  leaders can only meaningfully coach and support six to eight people at once. As your team grows, scale your leadership style by choosing your second-in-command, giving them a couple direct reports of their own so you can delegate more. Kristen takes the time to empower her team to be self-sufficient, providing them with growth opportunities that lead to higher levels of employee retention.

Go above and beyond:

Kristen’s job is to help WordStream grow, and that means growing with the company herself. To continue learning, Kristen says she constantly surrounds herself with people she can learn from, whether it be through an online forum (like LinkedIn), or by cultivating new mentor relationships with people she meets in the community. It’s all about  taking advantage of every opportunity you have to stretch your skills (and network)!

WordStreamWordStream Inc. is a provider of software and services that help search marketers maximize the performance of their PPC and SEO campaigns, driving traffic, leads, and sales for lower costs. Our easy-to-use PPC management software facilitates more effective paid search campaigns by increasing relevance and Quality Scores in Google AdWords, automating proven best practices, and delivering expert-level results in a fraction of the time.