8 Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team

February 14, 2020

“It’s not always about the paycheck,” said Courtney Graham, chief people officer at Four Winds Interactive.

“I quickly learned that while people need to be paid competitively, it’s more of the intrinsic factors that make people stick around,” Graham said. For managers hoping to retain top talent, investing in their employees’ strengths and helping them develop their skills is a great place to start. 

Or as Ashlee Cloud from Zestful said, “Do your best to make decisions that support the people you lead and manage. Jobs are temporary, but the impact we leave on others can last.”

Trusting your employees and giving them room to occasionally fail helps them learn from their mistakes. It also allows managers to better understand their direct reports’ unique strengths and weaknesses. 

We talked to eight managers about how they developed their management styles and gathered advice for future women leaders. Besides investing in the team, they said embodying values like respect and authenticity were essential to their success.

 

Courtney Graham
Chief People Officer

Software by Four Winds Interactive powers the digital advertising signage customers see in their daily lives. To make an impact on her employees every day, Chief People Officer Courtney Graham said it’s important to “bring your best self, every day.” Asking questions creates transparency with your direct reports and builds trust.

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

It’s not always about the paycheck. In my earlier years, I used to think that as soon as you thought someone valuable was a flight risk, you should throw money at them. I quickly learned that while people need to be paid competitively, it’s more of the intrinsic factors that make people stick around. When you give people on your team opportunities for autonomy, mastery and purpose, the drive, commitment and productivity they repay you with is overwhelming. When you expect great performance and give people the space and resources to perform at their best, not only will you see results, but you will also experience unmatched loyalty and dedication.

Be present, ask questions and share your ideas.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Bring your best self, every day. Be present, ask questions and share your ideas. When I turned 40, I had just started a new job and decided that I was going to be intentional to show up as my authentic self. I purposely set free of previous inhibitions and decided that I was finally going to be comfortable in my own skin, ask questions when I didn’t understand, and allow my quirky personality to shine through. 

When I shifted my mindset, amazing things started to happen. Being open created transparency and high trust levels and I began to really feel the pulse of the company. Leadership is about showing up, being present and holding yourself accountable for your team’s role in driving growth and success.

 

Whitney Yang
Regional Vice President of U.S. Corporate Sales and Sales Development

Regional Vice President of U.S. Corporate Sales and Sales Development Whitney Yang said investing time in her team at Quantum Metric results in higher morale and better performance. To ensure she has enough time with individuals, Yang must manage her schedule wisely. 

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

I’ve learned the importance of supporting the desired career paths for my team members, whether through my own mentorship or finding other sponsors within the company. I’ve found that if your end goal is aimed at the success of your people, both morale and performance are higher on the team and people want to stay for the long term. 

For example, we’ve developed a career path for sales development reps ready to advance to the corporate account executive role and account management. Since the beginning of this year, we have already promoted two people from the SDR team to corporate and one person to account management. We are showing through example that outstanding performance will be rewarded and that we want to promote from within.

Your most valuable asset is time, so manage your schedule wisely.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Your most valuable asset is time, so manage your schedule wisely. Prioritize spending time with your team first and make sure they know you care. Be clear in your communication, transparent and fair. A quite simple and obvious starting place is getting to know your employees on a personal level, so you can understand both their personal and professional growth goals. Based on having these discussions, you will know much better what motivates team members, instead of making false assumptions around what they care about. 

 

Coryn Sturgeon
Sites Manager

“Time is one of the most valuable things you can give your team,” said Coryn Sturgeon, FareHarbor sites manager. Sturgeon said to make the most of hours spent with your team, it’s important to stop talking and listen.   

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

As people managers, we spend a lot of time communicating. Like most of you, I have had experiences with both effective communicators as well as challenging communicators, but one of the best lessons I have learned from these experiences is to stop talking and listen. When we stop talking and create space for conversations, we put ourselves in a position to ask better questions that allow for better solutions, delegation, and understanding. Let’s remember that we as managers are only as good as the people we manage.

Let’s remember that we as managers are only as good as the people we manage.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Protect your time! Time is one of the most valuable things you can give your team. The time you spend with your team influences and directs what they do for 40 hours a week. That being said, you also have to protect the time you spend focused on your own personal development as a manager. I love the saying, “You cannot give what you do not have,” because I have found it to be consistently true. Carving out time with a purpose is vital to the success of you and your team.

 

Veronica Collins
Chief Business Officer

Chief Business Officer Veronica Collins models the behavior she expects to see from her team mates at Havenly, a direct-to-consumer interior decorating e-commerce company. She said employees are always learning from their managers and it’s important to turn touch points into teaching moments.

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

Management is, at its core, a skill. And the wonderful thing about a skill is that it can be taught. I say this as a reminder that management does not need to come instinctively to an employee, but with the right coaching, many people can improve significantly at managing others. Nothing made more of an impact on me than learning from a great manager. 

Model the behavior you wish to see from your team. If there is a way you would like to share data, show your employees by sharing data in that way; if there is an ideal method to running a meeting, run all your meetings in that manner. As managers, we can become focused on gaining leverage from our employees in order to save time, and in those moments lose sight of the fact that they are always learning from us. In embodying the core values we wish to see from others, not only do we build trust and authenticity with our teammates, but we turn all touchpoints into teaching moments.  

Model the behavior you wish to see from your team.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Practice managing teams by learning how to build influence among your peers without authority. For many roles, being effective requires building trust with those in tangential capabilities and then leveraging those relationships to achieve your goals. Understanding how to motivate those around you against a common goal and achieve it is a core tenant to managing others and is a great way to practice (and demonstrate your value) until you have direct reports of your own.

 

Ashlee Cloud
Head of People Success

Zestful’s allowance program lets companies give their employees an allowance to have more fun. To keep work fun, Head of People Success Ashlee Cloud said it’s important to stop micromanaging and empower direct reports. 

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

Don't hold onto things tightly. There’s a lot of freedom and enjoyment in letting go, and this applies both personally and professionally. Letting go of control, at its base level, enables you and everyone around you to enjoy the work. Even if it’s not intentional, the more you hold on, the less fun work is and the more stressful it becomes for everyone. When I let go, I can see and feel my team is empowered, and that’s a really cool thing to watch.

Always sit at the head of the table during important meetings like the boss you are.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Always sit at the head of the table during important meetings like the boss you are. Understand you have a privileged position as a leader and that you can make a lasting impact on someone’s life, good or bad. Do your best to make decisions that support the people you lead and manage, not just the company as a whole. Jobs are temporary but the impact we have on others can last.

 

Suzanne Willard
Director of Engineering

Director of Engineering Suzanne Willard said future women leaders should look back on their favorite and worst managers to learn from their mistakes. While managing a team at Respondent, a platform that connects researchers to participants, she caters to the individual strengths of her team members.

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

To enable someone to do their best work, you have to figure out how to encourage high results and exceptional behavior and how to deal with low results and bad behaviors. If you start with the underlying principle that you want to make each team member successful, then learn how to help them achieve that on an individual level. This will give you a highly functional team. In order to accomplish this, you have to be a servant leader. Approaching every situation as a servant leader allows you to meet the needs of individuals and of the team.

Approaching every situation as a servant leader allows you to meet the needs of individuals and of the team.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

Identify your favorite and your worst managers. Examine what they did that made you look at them in this light. Was it personality traits, managerial style, approachability? Understand which of these mattered the most to you. Apply these learnings to your own management style. Learn from your own mistakes. When you see something is not working, quickly adjust. It’s OK to handle a few things incorrectly, as long as you are truly learning from the experience. Think of yourself as an equal member of the team with different job duties and act that way. The team will respond to this.

 

CJ Jacobs
Vice President of Product and Technology

Adtaxi Vice President of Product and Technology CJ Jacobs focuses on the manager-specific duties of her role. By sticking to her job description, she said she can avoid redundant work and let her employees perform their jobs to their very best abilities.

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

The best advice I received from an executive-level mentor early on in my management career was this: “Do the things that only you can do.” The inverse of that statement, and the implications of it, are that you — as a manager — should not do things that others on your team are better suited for and already empowered to do. If you are performing the same work as the people you manage, you are not setting the team up to be self-sufficient. 

If someone on your team can or should be doing the work, your job as a manager is to make sure they have what they need and empower them by providing resources, tools, access, coaching, prioritization and workload help. There is definitely work that only a manager should be doing, like non-repeatable executive and strategic tasks that require a quick turnaround and broad knowledge to complete. Managers should focus on optimizing and improving their team so they can work self-sufficiently. 

Finally, your job as a manager includes individual mentoring, coaching and development while championing your employees’ and team’s accomplishments to improve their visibility within the company. As a manager, your role is to do the things that only you can do and add unique value beyond what your team is capable of alone.

The biggest lesson I learned was to not try to do everything.”

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

The biggest lesson I learned was to not try to do everything. You'll never be the expert because, as a manager, you're farther away from the work and the actual doing than anyone reporting to you. If you accept that you’ll have to rely on your team to support you, you'll be comfortable in your role and your team will be happier since this mindset removes the temptation to micromanage. 

The key in this mindset is setting up a system. Make sure you have a clear responsibility assignment matrix with roles and responsibilities and areas of expertise clearly defined for those on your team. You should not be owning any of those areas of expertise, unless they pertain to the duties surrounding managing people and management tasks (like reporting, budgeting, etc.) that cannot be delegated.

 

Lauren Owen
Vice President of Analytics

Vice President of Analytics Lauren Owen said it’s okay if you don’t know all the answers, as long as you’re willing to ask questions. When managing her team at digital consultancy Blue Moon Digital, she takes time to understand and care about what they do outside of work.

 

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned in your time as a people manager, and how has that made you a better manager?

People are whole, and cannot be split into two compartmentalized parts. There is no ‘work Lauren’ and ‘home-life Lauren’, there’s just Lauren. In striving to provide the best environment possible for team members, you need to make sure you have a broader perspective beyond what you see at work. Taking the time to understand and care for how someone is doing outside of work and what motivates them as a person can yield the best answers for how to help someone achieve more autonomy and mastery in their role.   

The ability to help others grow is not predicated on perfection.” 

 

What advice do you have for other women who manage teams, or aspire to?

You don’t have to know everything or have it all figured out in order to help other people figure things out, learn and grow. The ability to help others grow is not predicated on perfection, but rather the openness to accept that we all have room to grow. Never let the feeling that you don’t know 100 percent of the answers keep you from moving forward with bold ideas.

 

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