How I leaned in, put on a mask, and achieved my career goals
This story was submitted anonymously to the How We Show Up collection as part of the July SEEQ sessions.
My story begins about 20 years ago. I owned my own company where I offered dispute resolution and meditation services and also taught communication courses at the local college. I came to realize that I would likely not meet my personal or financial goals in either or both of my endeavors. I also realized that my temperament inclined me to be an advocate for positions rather than an objective neutral. I set the goal for myself that I would find a way to leverage my skills and education to become a negotiator of deals. That is not an easy area to break into. The place where most of that activity occurs is in corporate environments and it was seemingly impossible to identify and get hired into a business development/deal maker role without any relevant business experience. I had a connection at the leading local corporation and was able to get hired as a trainer in their IT University. This was a bit of a stretch in that I was not a technologist but I was able to rely on my general teaching skills and experience to get the job. I took the job with the goal of moving to a different part of the organization after proving my worth. I was very fortunate in that about three months into my job, a request came to our organization from the office of the CIO. He was concerned that the CEO did not have the necessary understanding of the internet ecosystem and its growing impact on financial services to be able to make well informed strategic decisions. It became my sole responsibility to design a curriculum to educate the CEO through a series of internal workshops with senior technologists, interactions with executives from our leading technology vendors, and engagements with leading academicians who were experts in futurism. I designed the curriculum and presented it the CTO who was my bosses, bosses, boss. He was very impressed with my work and complemented my by saying that I had done an excellent job and he was then going to give the project implementation to one of his project managers. I felt like I was best positioned to implement what I had developed, so I “leaned in” and said that I would like to be the one to implement the project. He said he would think about it and get back to me. Well, a couple of hours later I received a call from him telling me that I had the job. Very excited, and a bit scared, I left my comfort zone of curriculum design/delivery and entered into the role of business consultant. The program was very well received by the CEO and I developed a well respected name throughout the organization. After about six months, the project came to an end and I was asked what I wanted to do next. This does not happen often to mid level employees of very large corporations. Usually you have to apply for a job that has been posted, or you are identified as a high performing employee and you at tapped to fill a need. I was being asked what “I” wanted to do. During the project, I interacted with many technology companies and felt like this was my opportunity to make the leap into business development. I was given the opportunity to design my future role and fulfill my original goal when I joined the company. I said that I would like to work in internet business development where I would have the opportunity to work with early stage technology companies to identify ways that we could partner with them and potentially acquire those that were a good fit. I was given a team (I had never managered a team), I was given business manager responsibilities (I only took one business course in college) and I became the peer of high performing MBAs. Very quickly I realized that the only way I would achieve my ultimate goal of leading large deal development and negoations was to “fake it til I make it”. I began to wear a business managers “mask”. I taught myself their vocabulary. I taught myself how to use their tools such as excel spreadsheets. I began to read management books about leading teams. I learned to maintain an air of confidence what topics cae up that I was not familiar with. I was fortunate to surround myself with team members that I could learn from. Even though I was supposed to be the one with the skills and knowledge, I was actually relying heavily on people in junior roles to learn the skill sets necessary for me to manage the. I was successful and continued to rise through the organization. I created two other roles for myself and built a career which has led me to continued success at other companies. Every once in a while I still have to pretend but for the most part I am an authentic business developer/negotiator.