Time for a change

In relationships, they say that people get an itch every seven years or so to make a change or shake things up.  While I am not sure what the standard timeline is for jobs or careers, mine seems to be about 2 years.  The last few years it seems about 2-3 years I seek to shake things up and put myself in a new role/position – one where I will be challenged in a new way, and pushed out of my comfort zone.

Tomorrow is an exciting day for me: it is my first day at Decide.  Tomorrow is a new beginning, a new journey, and a chance to start all over again.  And I love fresh starts, and tomorrow feels like a brand new sweatshirt, when it is soooo soft on the side and you just can’t wait to wear it – and I can’t wait.

Like all beginnings, though, in order to make the most of them, one has to learn from the past and adapt accordingly.  So tonight, let’s reflect on my past 2+ years….

The awesomeness that is SEOmoz

For the last couple of years I have been working as the VP Engineering at a wonderful company.  It has been a wild ride.  We moved from consulting to just selling SAAS software.  We hired an amazing team of people.  And we built a solid platform that we used to launch several great seo tools.  It is one company I have worked at where the people truly walk the walk of the company’s values, and I hope one day to setup a similar culture in my own startup.  I honestly, cannot say enough great things about the Moz and my tenure there.  I woke up every morning and was excited to go to work; the person who they hire for my old position is really one lucky duck.

Of course while the last two years were certainly successful for the company, the whole experience also helped me grow and become an even better version of myself.

What I learned

As I think back and reflect, here are some of the more prominent lessons:

Push status and provide more updates and information then you think would be necessary.

When you start a new job, project, or initiative and you are really busy sometimes the last thing on your mind is communicating status.  In fact, it is so easy to focus on the task at hand, that making sure everyone is on the same page can easily fall on the back burner as less urgent.  However, even if it means things taking slightly longer, the overhead of communication is well worth the effort.

My first year at Moz, I was so focused on building the first version of the web app and hiring more help (and anyone who has built a team knows that the first few hires are the hardest) that I would consistently put status as a second priority, only sending updates when something launched or went awry.   However, by the second year I had help and started sending more updates, including weekly status mails with my own personal updates.  This helped tremendously with company wide knowledge of what was going on, and didn’t just make engineering (and me) look good, but helped everyone (pm, customer service, etc) do their jobs better.

My biggest take away here was that status should always be a top priority.  And even if you manager or teammates don’t request the information, you should send it anyway.  Leadership is keeping everyone on the same page.

Learning to influence without power

I like to think that I have always been able to influence other people, help drive consensus and ensure that the best outcome happens.   However I think the last two years have really helped me hone that skill.  In a small company or start up, it is important that the members of the executive team pay attention to the big picture (not just their area of responsibility) and that means providing feedback to peers, or other employees not on their team.

Since I have a lot of opinions on pretty much everything, learning to deliver my opinions in a way that was useful, not confrontational, and would improve (not hurt) my relationship with the person was a big focus of mine.  One day I want to be the type of leader that when people talk to, they walk away better and feeling like a rain of sunshine – not like I just rained on their parade.  For me, this meant changing several things about my delivery, as well as my own emotional needs surrounding getting credit for my ideas.

First, I learned to ask questions instead of just telling.  So if I have an idea, I feel is superior to someone else’s, instead of just throwing it out there, spend time asking them questions about their idea, the motivations behind it, and asking them about potential alternatives.  This involves thinking of good questions to ask, being patient (since it can take time for people to come around), and learning how to suggest (one thing I like to do is send links to articles about alternative approaches or ideas – and in the text of the share I will put a question like “You idea seems better in this way, but what do you think about the ones in this article?”, putting them in a position of defending or examining the alternative).

Second, I learned to stop caring about getting credit for anything.  I was always good at this when it came to my team (since I learned this early in my career), but when it came to my peers it was much harder to see them lauded or praised for something I brought to their attention.  Once I recognized the emotion though, and realized it was childish and my own insecurity, I was able to let go, and find satisfaction in their success.  Seeing my peers achieve greatness wasn’t a threat to me, it was awesome for them and the company (BTW, admitting this on my blog is kind of hard for some reason).

The moral of the story on this topic is that you don’t need power to influence others; you just need to focus on their success and help them own it.

Be yourself, because you are awesome.

One of Moz’s company values is being authentic, and for me, being me has always been a struggle.  While I was growing up I was such a misfit, and my whole life all I wanted was to fit in, be a part of the in crowd.  I was the kid in school that was teased so mercilessly that the faculty let me eat my lunches in the teacher’s lounge, playing bridge with them while I hid from the other school children.  Growing up I wanted to be anyone but me.

Into adulthood, you would think that I would have shed those childish notions, but if anything as the years progressed I perfected them.  I lost a lot of weight (going from 185 pounds to my current weight of 122 pounds), I started brushing my hair and wearing makeup, and I read books on how to make friends and conversations.  At work, I would try to appear all buttoned up, like I had everything under control, and if I made a mistake I would do everything I could to cover it up and hope it went unnoticed.  However, in the last 3 years or so I have stopped trying to be perfect and project the image that I thought people wanted to see.  I have embraced myself, in all my flawed glory, and people seem to like it a lot better.

It is much easier to just be you.  I don’t have multiple social network accounts and don’t try to maintain a separate image for my professional network – I accept friend requests from anyone on facebook, I don’t censor what I post on my blog or on twitter, and I don’t care if people learn that I am not perfect.  In fact, I have the opposite approach – I make tons of mistakes.  As a manager and leader, I have screwed up so many times, and if you sit me down I will tell you all of them – because I want to help you not to make those same mistakes.  What you see is what you get, and if you don’t like it, well I like to think you are the one missing out 🙂

If you are one of these people who try to be someone different professionally, I totally get it, since that is how I used to be.   But I will tell you, that by being more authentic and embracing “me” I have been more successful, and it takes a lot less energy.

So what’s next?

In addition to the big lessons above, I also learned a lot about marketing and SEO; which was one of the key reasons I took the job in the first place (I had seen startups run by brilliant technical and product people, that just didn’t understand marketing, and didn’t want to make the same mistakes when I went to start my company).   I started public speaking (which I had never done before), and in less than a year since my first talk people are asking me to speak at events (although I still find it shocking that people find so much value in what I have to say).  And finally, I also learned the importance of defining and living a great company culture, something Mozzers do so well.

Tonight, I am working on the start of my game plan for the next couple of years, and tomorrow I will start on another journey.  Wish me luck!

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