Earlier this month, I was honored to be asked to present at the American Fuel and Petrochemicals Manufacturers Women in Industry event and speak to over 100 attendees on leading during uncertain times. My talk focused on what I believe are key leadership themes and what those look like when a crisis strikes. These types of crises will stretch and grow us, forcing us to make choices we never thought we’d be faced with, while determining the types of leaders we want to become.
When I asked the group what they think when they hear the phrase “leadership in times of uncertainty,” many used words like listening, empathy, communication, and inspiring. As women, we are leaders in our industries, communities, education, and family lives. Each of these areas of life are different, yet we have the ability to listen, empathize, communicate, and inspire in every single one. The group was spot on in identifying these skills as the cornerstone of how we lead through any challenge. Now, we must lean on those abilities more than ever while taking risks, building a healthy network, and communicating to drive alignment.
The first topic we explored was taking risks. When I asked the group what they picture when they hear the word risk, many said failure, danger, reward, opportunity, being vulnerable, and potential mistakes. All of these are true, and more than one can be true at the same time. We’ve all taken risks, for better or worse, and we’ve all failed. However, by taking those risks we acquired new skills and experiences, preparing us for leading in a crisis. Calculated risk taking is actually the foundation of a good leader.
When we look back at our lives, it’s clear we’ve all taken a series of risks to get to where we are today. We went out and got an education to enable us to succeed in traditionally male-dominated fields. We chose jobs that would give us the experience we wanted to reach career goals. All throughout this journey we’ve shared our ideas, and there is certainly risk in that. Beyond sharing what we think, we also navigate day-to-day risks, such as where we sit in a meeting and when we speak.
I took a risk by coming to Seeq and growing the Analytics Engineering team. One of my goals has always been to encourage my team members to freely share their ideas. That has proved to be an effective strategy as we’ve navigated the COVID-19 pandemic. When travel came to a screeching halt, we were forced to pivot our entire training model. The team sprang into action to create an incredible virtual training setup, enabling Seeq to reach our customers anywhere in the world, while accommodating their different learning styles. It was absolutely a risk, but we had to try—and our efforts netted success. We are on pace to complete just over 300 virtual trainings by the end of the year, with some sessions having as many as 50-100 attendees per session.
Another key element of leading during uncertainty is networking. While most people think of networking in the context of a social event, this type of networking is based on trust and energy. That is imperative for leading during a crisis.
So how do we build the type of network that goes beyond swapping business cards? It’s not easy and, when asked, many in the group said the hardest part is following up, keeping up with relationships, and interactions feeling forced. However, when we shift our mentality to focus on building trust and energy, we take the long view. Trust only evolves with time—from initiating a relationship, to developing and sustaining it. We build that trust by doing what we say we will do and showing that we have the best interest of everyone on the team in mind.
One of the best ways we can network to build trust is to be an energizer. Energizers create enthusiasm in part because they engage in a set of foundational behaviors that build trust. Energizers approach situations with a clear head, giving them endurance to lead. When you interact with an energizer, try not to worry that you will be judged, dismissed, or devalued. Without fear of rejection, it’s easier to share fledgling ideas or novel plans—to innovate, take risks, and think big. Energizers create trust, but trust isn’t all that they create. The real power of energizers is that they enable others to realize their full potential.
Communicating and Leading by Example
While taking risks and networking to build trust and energy are critical to leading during uncertainty, ultimate success hinges on combining these endeavors with effective communication and leading by example. We must align our teams (and our customers!) towards a common goal so we can make efficient and effective progress. In addition, we must be willing to take the risk of putting our own ideas out there for all the world to see. After all, in every crisis there is an opportunity to consider new and exciting ideas to pave new paths, elevate team members, and reap the rewards of hard work and ingenuity.
Many thanks to each and every woman who participated in the AFPM Women in Industry event. Your feedback and willingness to engage in discussion made the risk I took to speak pay off. The organizers did a fantastic job and it was a terrific experience overall. I am grateful for the opportunity and I can’t wait to see the impact each of you will have on your teams, your companies, and the industry as a whole.