“A good leader is always evolving and growing” with Marne Martin

Don’t rest on your laurels. A good leader is always evolving and growing — you can never feel you’ve “mastered” leadership, you should always be expanding and sharpening your skills. As part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marne Martin, president of IFS Service Management and CEO of […]

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Don’t rest on your laurels. A good leader is always evolving and growing — you can never feel you’ve “mastered” leadership, you should always be expanding and sharpening your skills.

As part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marne Martin, president of IFS Service Management and CEO of WorkWave. If two impressive titles aren’t enough, Marne is also an award-winning competitive dressage rider and breeder (in her spare time!). She’s an avid supporter of girls and women pursuing STEM careers and uses her professional time to help IFS deliver top notch service management solutions by working with customers to uncover and solve business challenges.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us how you chose this specific career path?

Ibelieve that in life, one finds a career path and a career path finds you. Growing up on ranches in the western United States may not seem like an obvious starting point on a journey toward international software CEO, but in my case, it was. The stepping stones started when I was a child, after being exposed to successful business people and international travelers.

These influences then led me to Georgetown School of Foreign Service, London School of Economics, an international career, and my MBA. Along the entire journey I’ve been around inspirational business leaders and was lucky enough to have had opportunities presented to me that I was willing to say yes to.

Can you share the most interesting story that has happened since you started at IFS?

What’s been most interesting to me is that while IFS has been in the Gartner Magic Quadrant leader’s quadrant for three versions (the fourth just came out), companies that are a perfect fit to benefit from our solution still didn’t know the IFS brand. It may feel, since the global business unit was formed, and I was hired at IFS, that we came out of “nowhere;” in fact, we have been doing service management for decades and were already a leader — I and our entire team simply gave it a “push.”

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

IFS stands out because of our people: both employees and customers. We have incredible customers doing very cool, mission-critical things with our solutions, and we have the pleasure of learning their businesses and equipping them with tools to transform and grow.

The talent, knowledge, and skill, along with our culture of teamwork internally and with our customers, is inspiring. Our people go above and beyond. For example, we had a customer that had a critical meeting the next day and missed their flight. As they panicked about what to do and found there was simply no way to get another flight, and IFS employee offered to drive them overnight to their meeting. This paints the picture of how much our employees really care about our customers.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team thrive?

Leadership, regardless of gender, is about inspiration and creating a “multiplier” effect. I believe that women have, through their intuitive and generally collaborative natures, an advantage — but they also need to learn the skills to reach people of all genders, backgrounds, etc. You need to continuously put effort into building your “toolbox” to be an effective leader. I grew up and worked in very male-dominated environments, so that gave me an advantage. I also played sports and was part of high-performing teams of women. These experiences made me more versatile even at a young age of leading across gender, and I’ve worked to hone these skills throughout my career. I strongly urge leaders to hire the best talent and then focus efforts on motivating, supporting, and encouraging them to exceed expectations. Management is about meeting expectations; leadership is about exceeding them. Being a leader is about how you encourage others to outperform, not what you get for yourself.

Be positive, encourage trust, and build confidence in those that you interact with. Remember as a leader that people are looking to you not to tell them what they can’t do, but to show them what they can do.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Communication, alignment and cohesiveness of mission is very important in a larger team. With a large team you have a wider span of control, as well as more personalities and opinions, so you want to work to bring out the best from each member, but in ways that drive productive performance, not friction.

Large teams offer more and varied talent, but they must be brought together with a common goal and a clear result of what the team is working toward. Negative tension within teams, or where individuals aren’t working toward a common goal, will be a drag to performance.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

Yes, it was a friend of my grandfather. Mike Mansfield was a U.S. Senator from Montana and later, an Ambassador to Japan. He was very instrumental in my career at a time I was debating which direction I wanted to go.

After Mike retired from politics he worked at Goldman Sachs and got me a position at the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. While I didn’t go into investment banking or government foreign service or investment arms, it did crystalize that I wanted to pursue an international career rather than go back home to Montana and Wyoming, where I grew up.

My advice for women, especially in their 20s, is that this is a growth time for you. You will be pulled in many directions. Recognize that you need to get exposure and determine which way is right for you. There isn’t a right or wrong decision in absolute terms, but your late teens and your 20s are really where you should be focused on building the career path that you want to be on into your 30s, 40s, 50s, and later.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I work to bring goodness into the world through the conventional ways of being polite and respectful to those I meet, through charity, and so on. But I also seek to recognize every day that I have an opportunity to create a positive memory or a negative one in the minds of those I interact with — those I work with, family, friends, everyone. No one is perfect, and there are days that I might be tired or distracted, but I do work to live by the golden rule and be someone that people want to work with and interact with rather than someone that is negative, rude or unproductive.

What are five leadership lessons you have learned? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Lead from the front, but don’t micromanage. Micromanaging is done in an effort to control, but a strong leader doesn’t need to control every detail if you are setting clear objectives for the team and hiring capable employees.

2) Hire the best talent you can afford, and then trust and support them. Great talent is worth the investment and you must have confidence in their ability to perform.

3) Be modest. Believe enough in your abilities that you don’t need to talk about them — let your actions speak for themselves.

4) Don’t rest on your laurels. A good leader is always evolving and growing — you can never feel you’ve “mastered” leadership, you should always be expanding and sharpening your skills.

5) Pay it forward. Think about the opportunities that you were given that allowed you to achieve what you have and look for ways to provide similar opportunities to others.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Access to education and healthcare are statistically the greatest gamechangers to economic growth and personal development. I would love to play a part in improving and increasing the level of education around the world, especially for girls and women.

What is your favorite quote? How is it relevant in your life?

There was a quote that resonated when I first graduated from Wyoming, came East and started my international career. It’s by Milton Berle (someone many young people don’t know) and the quote is, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.”

Yes, it is great to have connections, but each of us need to own our own success and not accept anything less, i.e. build a door when you need to.

What is the funniest mistake you made when first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from it?

I don’t know if this is funny to readers, but I remember finding it funny when I was younger, and I was told that “nice girls” wear pantyhose or nylons. For me, comfort in the summer heat was more important, but I did wear them if I was meeting with generals or chairs of big companies. It’s an example of gender impressions that woman deal with as well as a general statement; the message that dress sends to all genders.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

A few people would be really interesting to have lunch with. One would be Christine Lagarde (IMF); the other would be Satya Nadella (Microsoft). It also would be interesting to have lunch with Bill Belichick to discuss his success rate, how he has developed and retained talent, and his thoughts on how to overcome outside pressures (the Patriots are the most successful team that everyone “loves to hate”).

Thank you for all of these great insights!

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