Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable | Straight Talk


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Develop your personal brand by taking on new challenges

Today, I manage a portfolio of 450 applications for Turner and the new Warner Media Corporate IT functions. These include applications that support both media business operations, and enterprise functions. I oversee 250 people at multiple locations globally and I am responsible for a budget of $50 million a year.

It’s a challenging job, but I have an incredibly talented team who make extraordinary things happen.

A Memorable Mentor

I’m thinking in particular now about one of my early mentors. When I was at IBM, I was fortunate enough to encounter Cassandra, a senior African-American woman in a male-dominated field – a CIO at a time when there were not a lot of female CIOs.

Through her actions, she taught me an important lesson: Don’t be afraid to step into a situation where you may not have all the information or all the answers. It not only forces you to learn but it allows you to show others how committed and passionate you are about the organization. 

She was not just a great role model, she was also a very effective mentor and coach. In particular, she gave me a lot of advice about the importance of understanding your strengths and your passions and then trying to fit those qualities to your organization’s needs – in other words, to find what we would now call your personal brand.

Knowing Your Strengths

Early on, as a developer, I noticed that I was always saying, “I’d love to explain this to the business. I’d love to build you a prototype. I’d love to help you understand how technology can enable the business.” As I thought about it, I realized that what I could do better than a lot of people and enjoyed most was acting as a technical advisor – a person who understood the business, understood technology, and knew how to marry the two in a way that met the needs of the business.

From that point on, I started homing in on the things that I thought would help me be more successful in that role. This led me to take on different projects, join different organizations with different cultures, and take on different challenges. At the same time, I kept working to sharpen my leadership skills and staying abreast of new trends, not only in technology, but also in management. I challenged myself to learn something new every year. Never stop learning!  

Once you feel you have defined your brand, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment. I spend a lot of time encouraging women to not let themselves be boxed in, to think that they can only work in a similar role to those they’ve held in the past. In my own career, before I joined Turner, I had the good fortune to work across numerous industries, and that gave me a good overview of all the key tech roles. I worked as a developer, a project manager, a business analyst, and a business strategist – and each of those roles helped sharpen my understanding of business, technology, and in the end, of myself.

Opportunities in Setbacks

Not all of this is easy. I have run into situations where, for example, my perspective has not been readily heard, but I’ve tried to see these moments as opportunities to sharpen my communication skills, my influence management skills, and my negotiating skills. When I get through something hard, I try to take those lessons and share them with my mentees, so they may have an easier time of it. For example, here are a few lessons I have learned that may be helpful for women technology executives:  

There are no failed experiments. You don’t have to get it right the first time, you don’t have to have all the answers, and it’s okay to admit that you may have stumbled or been uncomfortable. What you learn from those difficult projects that didn’t go as planned may be more important than your successes, particularly for teaching you how to be resilient and how to take risks.  

Change the culture. No one expects you to solve every problem yourself. Besides looking for mentors and coaches, you can also work toward building a more creative, accountable, and proactive team. For example, offshore service providers are now a tremendously important resource. It used to be that a new priority would automatically push something else further back in the queue. Now, we are often able to keep moving ahead by having some of our partner organizations take on some of the workload. These relationships have now bloomed into real partnerships that allow us to be flexible as the business evolves and changes, and ratchet up more support whenever it’s necessary. They also give us another set of eyes, and help us look for new opportunities with our applications and systems.

We also run a program based on a book called, Change the Culture, Change the Game by Roger Connors and Tom Smith, which has made it a lot easier for the technology organization to serve as an effective partner with the business. Over 2000 people in our organization have taken the course based on the book, and it has dramatically improved our productivity. Through this program, we have developed a common set of values and beliefs, opened an honest communication channel between the business and the technology organizations, and taught ourselves how to be more deliberate about how we encourage, reward, and train our staff.

When you get down to it, however, the most important thing is to keep challenging yourself. As I tell my mentees, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and take on a new job or a new project that will make you stretch. It’s true that you may encounter people who are not supportive of you or may not see your value immediately, but don’t accept their snap judgment. Think of it as an opportunity to keep learning, keep growing, and ultimately, to shine. If you want to succeed, you have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. 

The Takeaways 

To succeed, it’s helpful to understand your unique strengths and then look for opportunities to cultivate them.

Make career choices that will accentuate the abilities you have identified.

Failure can be valuable. Treat your failures as learning opportunities.

Large-scale cultural programs can make it easier for technical teams to work with internal and external customers, and offshore tech services can give you much more flexibility.