5 Tips to my Younger Self
GUEST POST: By Stacey Maher – Stacey shares her journey and insights for up and coming executives
I have recently been fortunate enough to be able to pause and reflect on my career thus far. I have had an amazing 20-year career adventure that has been filled with so many great business opportunities and challenges, highly dynamic environments, rich experiences in transforming businesses and product portfolios while making a lot of great friends and connections along the way.When you reflect on the past it generally leads you to question if you would have done anything differently to change, enhance or reinforce the path that you took, and you wonder if sharing these learnings with others would benefit those starting out in their career. So I have compiled a few thoughts around what I believe are the Top 5 Tips I have learned along the way and would share with myself if I were starting out again.
Growing up I was raised to be curious and always ask questions – not just to seek clarity but to understand how things work and fit together in general. I was always challenged to be curious with a single word ‘why’ and have learned over time that the more you are curious about the environment you are operating in the more you learn. This not only builds your general knowledge but can open your mind to new opportunities, new networks and potentially may pave the way for your next career move.
When I was a kid I was given a Pentax SLR camera. Can’t say I did much with it back then – I mean I snapped a few flowers in the garden and took some shots of my cat (much to his disgust) but that was about it. About 20 years later I found that camera and started playing with it again (yep garden flowers here I come). This however sparked a renewed interest and I ended up doing a part-time four year Associate Diploma in photography. I did this because I was curious about how the process of photography worked – not for any career objectives. Today when I reflect on all the portfolios, fashion shoots, studio stills, nature walks and the odd wedding I shot as part of my development and experience I continue to have a real appreciation for the craft and feel proud of the work I did. Fair to say if you saw those portfolios I produced you will agree that I’ll never make a career of it but it was a fantastic aside to the rest of my life and something I still love today. Coincidently it did help a bit in my early Marketing career when we were shooting TV Commercials and images for media (eg: framing and composition) but again that was a happy extra bonus.
In our busy working lives, it’s easy to sometimes avoid asking questions or taking the time to be curious as you just want to get the meeting finished or you have other things in your day you really need to get too (like the one-hundred outstanding emails in your Inbox), but taking the time to be curious can sometimes lead you in unlikely directions and potentially open up unexpected opportunities and ideas. I challenge you to try it and see where it takes you!
TAKE TIME TO PAUSE & NETWORK
It’s easy to just get caught up in the day to day activities of your job – you know the one you are paid to do every day – the one that has the big KPIs you need to deliver in order to be seen performing your job successfully. As a result, you often don’t put your head up and see what is going on around you and more importantly how what you are working on fits with the bigger picture.
Take time to reflect on what you are working on. How do your activities fit with the wider picture? Is what you are working on aligned? If you understand the bigger picture you can look to see if you can add further value not just to your work but also to where your work might intersect with other parts of the business.
Take time to grab a coffee with someone who works outside your department to learn more about what they are working on. Often you can take these conversations and actually enhance the work you are doing and you never know where these networks and connections can lead too – it’s a small world out there and everyone knows everyone.
Don’t limit your networking to being purely internally either. I have found over the years that people are more than generous with their time and happy to provide any information, advice or tips if you just take the time to reach out and engage. Again you never know where these conversations will take you.
JUST SAY YES AND BACK YOURSELF
The word YES is such a small word on its own but can lead to such big, unexpected, life-defining moments. Leaning in and saying YES to opportunities has been fundamental for me personally, but it’s fair to say at various points in my career I have had any number of the following thoughts flash through my mind when opportunities have come up – so here is my summary:
Say YES to opportunities as you never know where they will lead….
- Even if they don’t seem logical at the time…
- Even if you think you are too busy…
- Even if you really are too busy…
- Even if you don’t really know why you were selected or given the opportunity…
- Even if you think someone else would be better qualified or experienced to do it…
- Even if you are not sure you can do it…
- Even if you don’t see how it adds to your career and seems like a giant waste of time…
Say YES to everything big or small, and this is my case in point: early on in my career I was working as a Marketing Manager but due to growth within the business I was given the opportunity to become a Product Manager. I didn’t know the first thing about being a Product Manager. The concept of building business cases, managing P&L’s and defining product roadmaps were totally foreign to me but I said YES and silently prayed to myself ‘I hope I can pull this off – really what’s the worst that can happen to me?’ This single YES has lead me on a journey where I have since gained valuable experience running large P&Ls and have developed a real passion for working across businesses that have defined my career to-date – just by saying YES and facing into the unknown.
YOU DO NOT NEED TO MASTER EVERYTHING
This follows on from the previous tip of saying yes and backing yourself when opportunities present themselves. As a high achiever, starting out in my career I thought that I had to master everything in my chosen field in order to be truly considered for any new opportunity. Even though I was actively being asked to apply for roles which must mean I was seen a competent right – in my mind I was thinking ‘how could I take on a Marketing Manager role when even though I have over 7 years’ experience across Digital, Traditional Comms, Social, Brand, Agency, GTM, and SOME experience with PR & Internal Comms I didn’t have DEEP experience in PR & Internal Comms’ so how could I apply for the role? Knowing yourself comes with time but a few years later I was offered my first General Manager role and instead of saying ‘how could I possibly take a General Manager role and manage 40 people when I had only ever managed 7 people up until then’ – I said YES and jumped right in. I have since held various General Manager roles and gained invaluable experience at running businesses as a result.
Thinking you need to be master of all things is limited thinking and you can’t master everything so save yourself the time, say YES and just jump in and back yourself. After all what’s the worst that can happen to you – right?
Starting out in my career I thought leaders had to be somewhat serious and dominate through knowledge rather than through collaboration of ideas and people. I tried to emulate what I thought were successful leadership traits (you know the cliché work persona – Hollywood movies are made of this stuff). The thing is if that isn’t who you are deep down then it doesn’t actually work and you don’t connect or resonate with those around you. Again knowing yourself over time and working out that trying to be someone else doesn’t actually feel authentic and doesn’t quite fit to who you really are and therefore prevents you from really shining through.
I stopped trying on other leadership styles and developed my own style and became a leader who is loyal, transparent and energetic and drives for collaborative quality work and output from everyone. Over the years this has resulted in me working with some of the best high performing and engaged teams that have built some amazing products and transformed businesses while having a lot of fun along the way. It has also resulted in team members openly wanting to work together again in the future should an opportunity arise (or as I refer to it – getting the band back together) which is great reinforcement that being yourself really works!
So stop looking at what everyone else is doing (or not doing) and try being yourself – you might actually like it.
These are the tips I would reinforce to myself and openly share with others in the hope that they may be of some value. Some of these things I didn’t do starting out, some I forgot along the way and needed reminding and some were values I felt strongly about and wanted to live by — but all of them have shaped, enhanced and evolved who I am today as a leader and have set the foundations for the next step in my career journey.
Stacey is an energetic and confident General Manager with over 20 years’ experience running large commercial P&Ls which has consisted of developing teams and growing and optimising businesses to deliver commercial results. Having worked for companies such as RACV, Australia Post, and Sensis, Stacey has developed expertise in Business Strategy, Digital & Customer Transformation, AGILE Product Development, Strategic Marketing, and is passionate around Team Development and Coaching