Ten Powerful Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team
This story originally appeared on Authority Magazine
How does a leader manage to harness the talents of a group without letting things descend into chaos? How does a leader give firm direction without stifling creativity and individuality?
In a series of profiles on “Women of The C-Suite”, we spoke with hundreds of female leaders about the most important ideas to keep in mind in order to lead a team. Here are ten great insights from 10 powerful women in tech.
These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
Jenifer Robertson (President, AT&T)
Serve your team by setting a clear vision, removing the road blocks that are in your team’s way and recognizing the outstanding contributions of team members. Engage quickly and regularly with the frontline members and managers of your team, and hear the feedback directly from those who serve customers and employees. And communicate crisply, consistently and often so the team has clear and frequent access to the organization’s mission, goals and results.
Diana Schildhouse (SVP, Mattel)
Communication is paramount. As you take on a larger scope of responsibility and team size, you’re less exposed to the day-to-day of each area, so you need to ensure that everyone is aligned and working towards a larger goal. I host annual offsites where we talk about our vision and the direction our team is headed. People need to know that their work is impacting Mattel and understand the role they play within our team’s vision and where the company is headed. This validates the importance of their work and keeps us all moving in the same direction, galvanized towards a common purpose.
Overinvest in building one-on-one connections with your team. Early in my career I set up coffee chats to make sure I was in touch with how the team was feeling while answering questions and discussing concerns. Women can be great at fostering relationships and excel at these one-on-ones. In my experience, women have a strength in emotional intelligence (EQ), as well as functional expertise. As my team has grown and calendar has become challenging, it’s taken on different forms — from scheduling fun team events like cooking classes or impromptu lunches where I get to speak informally with folks, to simply walking around the floor to chat at their desks. These touchpoints are valuable for leaders to keep their finger on the pulse of how their team is feeling — to keep them feeling motivated, recognized and part of something bigger.
Barbara Humpton (CEO, Siemens)
It’s clear that every business requires a variety of functions and disciplines. You need experts in many different areas. So I’m surprised when I hear someone talk about an organization and describe “the core business” and “support functions.” Too often when they talk about the support functions, they use the word “just.” I’ll hear people say, “Well, I’m just a support person.” But I think you can draw employees in and get better results when they understand that their expertise is essential for optimal performance. My advice is: Make it a central part of your communications to your team that every person, and every part of the business, is integral to the company’s overall success.
Yvette Hunsicker (VP, Honda)
A leader is one who influences a group toward achieving a common goal. A leader does not need to perform all the tasks or know every task in detail. They should trust the group and function in a manner that directs employees and peers based on a strategy to meet the business needs. A leader provides the motivation and serves as the director.
Zaida Nuñez (Director of Operations, Sprint)
Team — Together Everyone Achieves More — is really about focusing on the North Star that the team is working toward and then focusing the collective team to deliver against that target. Have [key performance indicators] that align the team toward the common goal and frequent touchpoint that show how we are tracking. Give the team the open communication channels to voice any concerns and/or support they might need in achieving the KPIs. Focus on adding value to everything you do. By focusing on how what we do adds value, we have been able to excel in delivering our results.
Amy Gowder (VP, Lockheed Martin)
The rubber meets the road with your first line leaders, and they are the biggest levers you can pull in a large organization. Mindfully delegating and connecting to them is key to pulsing your culture, identifying underlying issues and developing the next generation of leaders.
One major element I focus on is interpersonal communication. Leaders need to personally and frequently communicate with employees in new and meaningful ways. Recently, I’ve embraced technology to communicate better with our millennial population. I’ve made myself much more accessible to the larger workforce than previously in my career. This is hard with a busy schedule but essential to good leadership.
Our team adapted executive communications methods preferred by these employees and our data shows positive effects. We’re now using video messages versus long “manifesto documents” to drive more memorable, sociable conversations around subjects like our business strategy. A critical element is being approachable and adding humor where appropriate. A leader who can occasionally poke fun at themselves in a professional way comes across as open, honest and a leader you want to follow.
Also, it’s critical for all leaders to develop active listening skills. Specifically for women, there’s a balancing act between just listening and still having a voice in discussions among men. I think society gives men more latitude in that regard. As women practice active listening, the opportunities to interject and drive the conversation in a meaningful way become clearer. When you accomplish this, you set yourself apart as a valuable, insightful leader. This is key in building relationships with male colleagues, building your personal brand and driving success in business.
I concentrate on doing this in my meetings. Recently, I led a discussion where I had to ease my way into raising a difficult topic. I purposely engaged others in the room. In doing so, I made a direct connection to those who raised previous points on the issue connecting to their thoughts and emotions. In this way, I drew others in who were not actively contributing, showing I valued their beliefs and experiences. Having more of the team engaged made a difficult topic more productive to discuss. Women who use these skills very purposefully can stand out among their peers.
Christene Barberich (Co-Founder, Refinery29)
Leadership is about showing up, being present and being accountable for you and your team’s role in driving growth and success. It’s learning how to balance guidance, discipline and drive with compassion and collaboration. And at the end of the day, real leadership is trust — trust between you and your team, as well as trusting the connection your team has to the company and its mission.
Cara Brennan Allamano (SVP, Udemy)
It’s easy to check out when you don’t find meaning in your work, but you don’t have to be saving the world in order to stay engaged either. It’s about having the right attitude and being able to find purpose in what you do. I was struck by a recent New York Times article about miserable “elites,” which described a study into “why particular janitors at a large hospital were so much more enthusiastic than others.” When you lose touch with your “why,” your work loses meaning and can drag you down. If you’re low on motivation, get back to basics and remind yourself why you do what you do and who benefits from it. Reflect on what motivates and drives you. Connecting back to your “why” will help you get through those days when you find yourself daydreaming about a permanent vacation.
Michelle Carnahan (Head of the Primary Care Business Unit, Sanofi)
First and foremost: Be yourself and allow the team to bring their full selves to work. The one time I really failed big time in leading a team was when I tried to emulate my boss. We were entirely different people. His style was one that was very different than mine. I felt that to be successful, I had to be like him. I ended up losing confidence in myself and did not follow my gut and my head. The team sensed it and did not feel inclined to follow an inauthentic leader.
The world needs more than one type of leader. The biggest takeaway for me was that being someone else took away from what mattered to me: my team and my customers. It takes way too much energy to be someone who you are not, and you are probably not very good at it.
Which brings me to my second piece of advice: Make your customer your partner and your true north. In my business, the ultimate customer is the patient. When bureaucracy gets to be too much in our business, I often ask, “Would a patient with heart disease care?” I found that asking this one simple question got me and my team back on track.
Mehryn Corrigan (Associate Director, Sharp Imaging and Information Company of America)
In a large team, it is helpful to always have a delegate or two to back you up and be able to take on leadership responsibilities. In my experience, having two is helpful because each may have different strengths to bring to the table. I started my career on the other side of this equation, and it gave me motivation to grow. In a way, it set up a competitive environment, which is where I perform best. As a manager and even as a soccer coach, I’ve seen the other side, where some people enjoy and thrive in that competitive growth environment and some don’t. Either way, it’s important to understand where people are coming from and keep communication open and consistent.