I was only 22 when I took on my first leadership role. But it set me off on a path that I’m still following today.
It may only be February, but this year has already taken some exciting turns. Last week, I was honoured to take part in the Women In Tech event, organised by Angie Vaux. The theme of the event was ‘Progressing Into Leadership’ and I was on the panel. It was a pleasure to talk to the audience about my journey into leadership and share some tips on how others can make the leap as well.
I thought I’d write this article to share my story, in case you couldn’t be there.
My journey to leadership
My first job out of university was as an SDR, working for a fintech company. I’ve written about my early experiences as an SDR quite a few times in my articles, but as a refresher, it was basically just me and a phone. We didn’t have all the lead generation software and tech for outreach that SDRs get to enjoy today. (I know, I sound really old now!)
About 18 months in and I was performing well in my role. I was exceeding my targets. My managers were happy and I was happy too. Then it all changed.
The company offered me a promotion to AE level. In New York!
I was going to go out to NYC, relocate and sell a product that had never been sold in the market before. It was such an exciting prospect. Imagine that. 22 and living in New York!
Becoming a leader
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Account Exec isn’t a leadership role.
That’s right. I didn’t take the AE role. I didn’t go out to New York either.
Instead, I took a different role the company offered to me. It wasn’t as ‘glamorous’ as living the dream in New York. It was in London, being a team lead for a team in Europe and The Americas.
It didn’t matter that the team I was leading didn’t really exist. It was a leadership role, something I’d always wanted.
That decision, which may have seemed odd to many people, actually shaped my career. I went into management and built a team from zero to fourteen people in London and New York.
I stayed at the company for another five years after taking that decision, moving into a number of other leadership roles. Then, taking that leadership experience, I founded my own company, SalesWorks.
Overcoming the challenges
Of course, it wasn’t a totally smooth journey. Management isn’t easy and it isn’t for everyone. I’ve talked before about Rockstars and Superstars; how you need to build a team of consistent performers you can rely on, as well as big personalities that smash their targets but need a lot of managing. This was something it took me a while to get to grips with, especially as someone still young in my career.
There was also a question of credibility. How can someone in their early 20s be an effective leader? I have to say; this was never a problem for me. My view is that if you can do the job and have enough experience, people will take you seriously.
Mentors and sponsors
If you want to move into leadership at your company, no matter what age you are, I have one tip for you. Find a mentor and a sponsor.
Do you know the difference?
Mentors help their mentees develop by advising them, helping them build confidence and experience. Mentors are a sounding board, someone they can trust to steer them in the right direction. It helps if mentors work in the same industry as their mentee, but they don’t have to work at the same company.
Sponsors will work at the same company as their young proteges. They speak up for their charges in the organisation, helping them find success and earn promotions. They’ll use their connections and influence in the company to advance their proteges. They have a personal stake in their younger colleague’s success.
When I spoke at the Women In Tech event, I asked the audience how many people had a mentor. Pretty much every hand went up. But when I asked who had a sponsor, only a couple of hands out of 100 went up. So many people are missing an opportunity. How about you?
If you want to move into leadership and are willing to put in the work to get there, you can do it. Mentors and sponsors will help you get there faster, however. They will also help you make a success of it when you get there.