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It’s already been a crazy and good ride. Reflecting on my first 100 days at Slalom DC, one statement summarizes it all: I came out guns blazing. Precisely, with a lot of energy, enthusiasm, determination, force and noise.
I have to give credit to a team of brilliant consultants that laid the groundwork for me before I even arrived. A few weeks after joining, they presented me with a judiciously crafted and thorough study: market research, size & trends, competition, evaluation of our body of work and carefully curated recommendations for all things digital at Slalom DC. It was some of the most impressive work I had seen in a long time. This insightful masterpiece was now mine to mold, to consult and make something out of, to leverage and decide on a course of action. I am not gonna lie, I was a bit intimidated. My boss upped the ante: “Build a business.” She had given me permission to do exactly what I wanted to do for a long time: do it my way. It was GO time.
Yet, I remember thinking at the time: take your time. But it wasn’t long before it all came back to me: this business of consulting, I know. This digital game, I have been playing for a long time, in fact, for my entire career. Having the opportunity to visit 2 other Slalom markets in my first 6 weeks on the job was mega helpful in getting my groove back. In October, I returned to Detroit to collaborate with my automotive industry colleagues: I got a feel for the Slalom way to go-to-market. In November, it was San Diego to attend the digital experience management summit: there I came across the Slalom way for practice development. In deep discussions with these collectives of like-minded individuals, I felt confident again.
All the while, my free time was often consumed with intense ingestions of super helpful content that came out of our global HQ in Seattle, Washington. I listened to the podcast episodes, I watched the videos, I read the books, I embarked on the learning journeys, I checked off the on-boarding checklists, I downloaded and used all the apps. I even crashed our annual conference, R4. A few months into my career at Slalom, from the State to the District, the message was very clear: Slalom and its DC market were on an accelerated-growth trajectory; I needed to be a catalyst for building on and enhancing our already strong foundation and impressive results.
I needed to find the place where I could add the most value, quickly. I got a mentor in Seattle. I asked for an executive coach. I continued to build my Slalom network. In Tyson’s Corner (our office isn’t in Washington, DC proper, rather in its hip Virginian suburbs), I asked questions and I listened to anyone who would talk to me. I inquired about our local growth strategy, past, present and future, with every single individual I spoke to. I learned the names of as many consultants as my brain possibly could retain.
I also stepped out into a market I hadn’t worked in for more than 7 years, catching right back up where I left off since my Volkswagen days. I pitched and won. I integrated myself in a delivery team. I went to client sites and meetings every time I was invited. I deliberately selected my priorities and spent a lot of time and energy focusing on them. And most importantly, I partnered with my boss to work on developing our relationship, our trust in each other. And to learn as much as possible from her and from the rest of our talented and inspiring leadership team.
See I was neither going to lead a practice nor industry or account. I was hired to do something different: to be a disruptor, a challenger, an insurgent. One connection at a time, the entire office became “my team”. I documented a vision for digital in DC, defining digital as the facilitator of experiences that connect and boost people’s lives so that together, we can grow with purpose both as individuals and as a collective. I aligned a strategy, laid out a plan and committed to some tactics. I gave the program a catchy name and on Friday December 13th, I stood in front of the whole office and shared all the deets with all the colleagues. In January, the execution began. Soon, our digital strategy will be in market. I’m even building a small team. Look out!
I declared the kind of leader I want to be: an influential leader. One who partners with people who, in turn, choose to follow her because they believe in and trust that she can guide them to a desired outcome. Someone who teaches and empowers people. Someone who drives behavior changes. Someone who celebrates individuals and brings them together as a collective. Someone energetic, visionary, and focused. If some of my humble early results are an indicator of my performance for the year, I am already proud of my accomplishments.
And I am aware that I am growing: letting go of doing the things I already know how to do, like leading large accounts; choosing rather to discover how to lead in a culture like I have never experienced before – one of consensus-building; cultivating patience for everyone’s opinion to be heard, while at the same time continuing to satisfy my sense of urgency, feed my insatiable craving for change, drive my call to innovate. In said culture, I am learning to finesse my inquisitive communications and direct delivery style as to not give anyone the impression I don’t completely admire all of their accomplishments.
This transition has been the most difficult of my career. Joining a leadership position at Slalom I am told is, by design, and I paraphrase, a sink or swim experience. It’s been an unexpectedly difficult landing; apparently also a challenge for many that have preceded me over the last 3 years and remain on the DC leadership team. I console myself that I am not alone. Yet ironically, my leadership on-boarding experience feels like the opposite. In a place where you can “choose your own career adventure”, I have reveled at the gift of choice and imagined an exciting journey that takes me to Europe. But so far, I’ve often felt on my own, alone. I realize now that my expectations about joining the office’s first team were too high. I continue to work to calibrate them everyday as I remind myself to keep looking for the equanimity between one and team.
I’ve already made mistakes, opened up my mouth when I should have kept it shut, made assumptions based on the bag of experiences I carry with me, miscommunicated my intent, cried uncontrollably and likely been a pain in the ass to some of my colleagues. I own those as they are also part of my growth. Borrowing Elon Musk’s words brings me solace: if I am not failing, I am not pushing hard enough.
See the thing is disruptors, they disrupt; challengers challenge and insurgents eventually revolutionize.
I am still discovering how I can maximize my impact to Slalom’s and my own growth, but I know I can for sure contribute…
By doing me, the best me I can be.
By remaining humble and curious.
By being an ambassador of discipline and focus.
By intentionally using my voice, that of experience and my power, that which comes from my instinct and confidence.
By doing what I love and am good at: helping others find and maximize their strengths.
By following my intuition, one that has never let me down.
By staying present and basing my decisions in facts, while honoring my emotions.
By leading by example and respectfully provoking to spark the change we seek.
And by retaining my resilience and uniqueness while honoring legacy and enhancing the Slalom way.
Someone asked me recently: “Are you happy with your choice?”
My answer, a resounding: “Absolutely!”
As the 2020s begin, there is no doubt in my mind that I made the right decision to join Slalom, in DC. Sometimes you have to know precisely where you have been and stay exactly where you are to get where you dream to be.
On my 90th day or so, I got an email CEO Brad Jackson, welcoming me to Slalom. While I am sure it was stitched together partly generically and likely sent by someone on the executive support team, there was a sentence in there that was uniquely for me. An intimate passage that showed me deep authenticity, all the way at the top and left me with a hopeful glimpse into my future, with Slalom.
To be continued.