Tell us about the professional journey that took you where you are today. What major lessons did you learn along the way?
Looking back over 25+ years post-college, I have found my journey has a number of hallmarks
and lessons learned:
*lead and follow with your whole heart and mind, and with empathy and authenticity;
*always have a plan, but be willing to go off plan if something amazing comes your way;
*embrace serendipity and play in traffic to put yourself in the way of unexpected opportunities;
*say yes to opportunities where you have something you can uniquely contribute, you have
something to learn, and you have conviction that it aligns with your values.
As a history major with a passion for social service, no one could be more surprised than I
when, after graduation, I went to work for an industrial supply distribution company as part of
their management development program. How? The on-campus recruiter saw something in me
that I wouldn’t have articulated: my critical thinking skills and experience as a Resident
Assistant in the dorms translated to leadership. This was the first of many times someone tapped
me on the shoulder and changed my career trajectory, through twists and turns that led me to
executive search, software development, legal services, startups, and economic development.
As I look at my cork-screw of a career path, this approach has led me to work in non-profit and
for-profit, government and academia, in roles I never knew existed (and some I got to co-create).
It has expanded my imagination and deepened my empathy for leaders in every sector, and lived
experiences beyond my own. I’ve done my best to do the same, whether it’s for folks I’ve brought on to my own teams, or as an advocate, mentor, or connector cheering people on in their careers.
What motivates you?
I love helping people embrace their superpowers!
*For clients, I’m motivated to provide them with the peace of mind that enables them to focus on
their vision and mission. *For founders, I truly enjoy helping them find their voice and own their narrative.
*For colleagues, I love nothing more than creating an environment in which they can play to
their strengths and lean on a supportive peer network that fosters growth.
Who are your role models and why?
In 2006, I had just completed my MBA and entered a new chapter of my life and career: the “Seattle tech startup” years (still living it!). At that time, I was blessed with so many professional role models who were relatable and accessible, and gave me the confidence to forge my own path. Back then, I could count fewer than 10 women who had overcome institutional barriers and held leadership positions in the male dominated world of investing and finance (Phyllis Campbell, then at the Seattle Foundation; Susan Sigl, Seapoint Ventures; Lucinda Stewart with OVP; and Susannah Malarkey of the Technology Alliance, to name a few). They were mentors who paid it forward, and I deeply admired how they brought their whole selves to work. They materially and directly impacted my own career path.
Today, my role models include a new generation of leadership who holds their boundaries and defends their values: Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Serena Williams, to name a few. I will likely never meet them but know the world is a better place with them in it, and it gives me hope for the future, and for my daughter.
Last, and forever, my mom. After working incredibly long hours outside the home, her remarkable ability to be fully present, fiercely loving, and a supportive champion is a beacon to me as a parent and as a human.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I embrace the natural boundaries on my time:
*I have a one-hour block in the morning in to work out before my 14-month old daughter wakes up, then I get to spend two hours with her.
*I spend another 9 focused hours of working, during which I have childcare.
*Then another two hours with my baby before her bedtime, and another two hours of work after she goes to bed.
Every day, I seek to balance working “in” the business and working “on” the business.
*I love meeting with, supporting, and problem-solving with our clients and consultants, AND I also block out time for designing and implementing strategies for quality assurance and supported growth.
*I used to underestimate the importance of white space and deep work, and over-function on traditional outputs.
*Today, I lean into the peace and quiet while my baby sleeps to do mission-critical creative work that makes me a better leader and, I hope, brings unique value to our business.
Anything else you want our readers to know?
First, I tried to blend in. I gave myself an actual ulcer in my early 20’s, even changing the cadence of my speech hoping to fit in with the men with whom I worked.
Then, I was underestimated. Finding my voice in my 30s led to a series of discoveries, and I was encouraged to lean into the concept of an authentic, personal brand, which for me may or may not include floral dresses and a deep and abiding love for karaoke. Speaking at conferences or simply being introduced for the first time, I was often described as “bubbly.” It’s true– I’m neither shy nor apologetic about my passion for my work, and regardless of initial assumptions or descriptions, have now had the privilege to experience an appreciation for the substance I bring to the conversation.
Now, with age and experience, I would much rather stand out than blend in. I wish I could share that with my younger self!
Rebecca and her team at Denali hosted a virtual Roundtable sharing tips on successfully setting up your startup’s first Board. You can watch the replay here. Interested founders may also find a sample Board Meeting Agenda created by Denali for our community here.