2 Women Share the Defining Moments That Made Them Better Managers

Looking to step into leadership? Two women at Seattle-based companies offer tips for standing out.

Written by Eva Roethler
Published on Nov. 21, 2022
2 Women Share the Defining Moments That Made Them Better Managers
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When it comes to getting a promotion into leadership, people often reach for the low-hanging fruit to demonstrate their value. 

“Everyone always wants to take on sexy, cool or high-profile projects in order to look good,” said Shruthi Rao, chief business officer and co-founder of Vendia

But Rao has a better idea: “One way to stand out is to take on a project that no one wants. Go down the path less taken.” 

This sentiment drove Rao to make one of the most pivotal decisions of her career. She volunteered to try and get a contract with an “impossible” client. In working to garner a deal with ESPN while working in digital TV, she eventually realized her prospects were getting stuck on the perceived complexity of implementation.

To help them get over their skepticism, Rao went through installation training and then filmed herself implementing the tech in under an hour. Simple. Fast. Then, she invited the ESPN executives to watch the video — popcorn and all. 

It was a defining moment of Rao’s career. From that moment forward, her career trajectory shifted and she stood out as a tenacious, creative leader. It was also a demonstration of a quality she says is imperative to strong leadership: meeting people where they are.

Below, Built In Seattle connected with Rao and Ookla SRE Manager Mollie Gaufin to learn more about defining moments of leadership, and the lessons learned along the way, that aspiring leaders can apply in their own work. 

 

Shruthi Rao
Chief Business Officer and Co-Founder • Vendia

Vendia is a real-time data cloud company.

 

What should individual contributors be doing during their careers to prepare for a management role?

Develop your ability to manage up. Make it easy for your supervisor to know what is going on and how it’s going. Also, find opportunities to coach peers and people outside your organization.

 

Share a moment in which you did something that accelerated your career and helped you stand out as a leader at your company.

Early in my career at AT&T, while working on early digital TV called U-verse, I volunteered for an impossible task: getting an affordable ESPN deal. I kept pitching ESPN and following up on every one of their objections. Eventually, I got to the real source of their hesitation: they thought it would take too long to install AT&T’s new infrastructure in customers’ homes. 

I took the training on how to install U-verse in someone’s home. It was fun! Then I hired a film crew, did full hair and makeup, and filmed an hour-long video of me installing U-verse in someone’s home in under an hour — not the day and a half ESPN thought it would take. I rented a theater, complete with popcorn, and showed the movie to the ESPN execs. The result was a deal at 90 percent less than ESPN’s original offer. I earned a reputation as a creative thinker that gets it done.

Find opportunities to coach peers and people outside your organization.”

 

What is the number one skill a person should cultivate if they want to move into management?

Patience to meet people where they are today, not their potential. It’s the same as dating — you can’t marry someone for who you can make them.

 

 

Photo of the Ookla team.
Ookla

 

Mollie Gaufin
SRE Manager • Ookla

Ookla is a network intelligence software company. 

 

What should individual contributors be doing during their careers to prepare for a management role?

Before moving into management, I recognized that I am decisive, can ensure teammates are credited for their wins and can remove barriers and build morale. Being aware of these strengths ultimately supported my decision in moving into a manager role as I believed they could help me become a great leader. Similarly, I took stock of challenges I may come across in my new role.  

Everyone should remember that both individual contributor and management roles can be fulfilling. Not all successful individual contributors will be successful in management, and not all successful managers were successful individual contributors. It’s often difficult to know what a management role will look like day to day without actually working in that role. 

If you can, try to work with your team lead or manager to gain experience leading teams on a time-bound project, training new hires or facilitating cross-functional team efforts. This will help get familiar with some of the responsibilities you’ll have in management and prepare you to hit the ground running when you change roles. Make sure to avoid the pitfall of trying to do everything yourself, as that almost always leads to burnout and reduced quality of work. 

Avoid the pitfall of trying to do everything yourself, as that almost always leads to burnout and reduced quality.”

 

Share a moment in which you did something that accelerated your career and helped you stand out as a leader at your company.

My move into management came as a result of my former manager leaving the company. I expressed an interest to my new manager and I felt confident I could take on the additional responsibilities and lead the team after the departure. It was a tough transition, and I initially struggled with trying to do both my previous job and my new job, resulting in me working many extra hours trying to keep up. 

I learned that I needed to delegate, and that providing my team members the opportunity to work on new and challenging tasks was important for their professional growth, even if I might do the tasks differently than they chose to complete them. I also learned the benefit of building diverse, complementary teams. As humans, we naturally have strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve found that building diverse teams with a wide spread of experience and perspective gives us the greatest chances for success. 

As time went on, my team grew and I took on more responsibilities within the company, eventually being recognized with a company-wide award for leadership.

 

What is the number one skill a person should cultivate if they want to move into management?

Adaptability. In management, you need to be willing and able to adapt to different people, personalities, communication styles, situations and priorities. What one team member might need from me as a manager could be completely different from what another team member might need, even one with similar experience. Being adaptable allows me to meet that team member where they are and support them in the way that will be most helpful and impactful.

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Photos courtesy of listed companies and Shutterstock.

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