Be humble and have gratitude. These two concepts are so simple and obvious and yet not often found. People do not leave companies, they leave managers. People do not want to work for someone who is pretentious, a bully, a micromanager, a fake, or someone that doesn’t care about them. If someone did something amazing — publicly acknowledge them. Show your appreciation. If someone didn’t do a job well, help them grow and develop, but do it as a private conversation. If you make a mistake, own up to it and apologize. Share in the mistakes and celebrate the milestones. If you want your employees to act as a team you need to show that you’re in it to fail or succeed with them.
As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing: Melanie McSally, Profit Optimization & Technology Expert, and WyzeTribe CEO/Founder.
Melanie McSally is one of the country’s leading authorities on streamlining businesses to maximize profits. She graduated top of her class in engineering school and in her Master of Engineering Management program and holds a number of certifications, including a Lean 6-Sigma Black Belt. She has helped top institutions transform teams and revamp processes. She’s written and delivered courses for top institutions like Harvard University, has worked across a number of different industries, has helped businesses at all levels, has been a senior executive at multiple top institutions like Eze Software, Berklee College of Music and Harvard University, and now runs her own business and speaks all over the world. Melanie learned early in her career how to navigate politics, accomplish goals, and become an accomplished and respected leader in technology. In her free time, Melanie sits on the board of three non-profits all with the common theme to help lift and empower others, she is a competitive triathlete, and she has a passion for helping those around her optimize their path to success.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Istarted my professional career as a pastry chef and while my stint was successful, I quickly realized that long hours combined with nights, weekends and holidays away from family, wasn’t the career for me. Starting my career in the service industry before going into engineering gave me the beautiful gift of being able to translate between business and technical folks. That gift, combined with my parents teaching me to see things as they could be rather than as they are, have driven my passion for streamlining, optimizing, and creating innovative solutions to complex problems. After doing this at Harvard University for nearly a decade and earning my Lean 6-Sigma Black Belt, I decided it was about time to pursue my life-long goal of being an entrepreneur. The time had come to share my gifts, expertise, grit, and passion with those that could benefit most; other entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Can you share the most interesting story that has happened to you since you began at your company?
I’ve always wanted to be my own boss, even from a young age, but I had this belief that you needed to go through a “broke” stage to get to the “success” stage of owning your own company and I never wanted to be “broke”. Working for others I knew I could make a bigger impact off on my own. I knew I could succeed and yet I wasn’t taking the plunge. That is until I turned it into a challenge. I decided to treat starting a company as a case study. I sought to see how fast I could make my first dollar. What a testament it would be for someone that specializes in streamlining. It took only 37 days from the moment I quit my job and set off to learn how to speak and sell from stage. I didn’t even realize it was so quick. I was so focused on meeting the right people, learning the right strategies, and putting all the necessary systems in place that I stopped counting. Ironically, the systems I put in place for myself are the very same systems I now offer as services to my clients.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’m a digital nomad so I fly from place to place to place. When I need a break, I fly to visit my parents, my sister, or some friends, but I’m always flying somewhere, and I do not have a physical structure anywhere that I call home. One time I was in Phoenix, AZ calling a Lyft to go to the airport and I put the airport code in for LAX. I preach to my clients to hire experts so they can focus on their area of expertise. This mistake taught me that I needed to practice what I preach. I was building the systems, processes, and workflows needed to scale, but I was also handling all the other tasks of running a business. Since then I’ve hired a team and outsourced to experts.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Most businesses are either struggling with attracting high-quality leads, converting leads into paying customers or engaging with their perfect clients. This is because they do not have the systems and processes in place to automate all their attraction and engagement workflows. Our vision is to empower businesses to maximize their profits by streamlining their business. We do this by looking at your whole ecosystem and then devising a customized plan that shows you how easy it is to course correct and have fully done-for-you, automated, and integrated systems.
I was once at an event talking to a woman about what my company does. She expressed to me that she was about to get on a flight and speak at an event where she would be selling from the stage, but that she had no support staff to help her. We sat down and chatted about what she wanted to sell. Then I called my team together and overnight we built her a mobile opt-in to product purchase. By the time she stepped on stage the following afternoon, she was able to send her audience members directly to a buy-now page from a mobile opt-in.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As mentioned earlier, most businesses are either struggling with attracting high-quality leads, converting leads into paying customers or engaging with their perfect clients. This is usually because they don’t know how to do it themselves or they can’t afford to hire the right team. With that in mind, we’re working on building out a fully automated and integrated, totally done-for-you customer acquisition system. This is everything from attraction and capture, to conversion and engagement, to follow-up and retention. We’ve launched pieces of this and have received great feedback so we’re super excited about what’s still on the roadmap.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No, of course not. I don’t believe it’s right that we still have this notion of “minority” in any profession. I know you asked about women in STEM, but what about men in nursing, women in sports, or male personal assistants — these are also still considered minorities. For real change to happen there needs to be awareness of the full spectrum of the problem, people need to be willing to admit there IS a problem, they need to take action to fix the problem, and there needs to be enough support that a movement is created. This is a massive mindset issue on a global scale. For people to change they have to want the change. For everyone to be considered equal, the people that are not minorities have to believe that the minorities can be equal to them without them having to “give something up”. Until people stop looking at this issue as a zero-sum game, until we live in a world where abundance means we can all “have” without anyone “losing” or “giving something up”, there will be no sustained shift on this issue.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge women face — period — is their belief in themselves. Men are far better at either having or faking they have the confidence. A famous Henry Ford quote sums it up nicely, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right,”. If you believe you can achieve — you will. If you believe you will be stopped by barriers — you will. Know that wherever you place your energy will grow, focus on your success and you will be successful. Focus on how other people are negatively treating you and more negativity will be attracted to you. You can’t control other people’s actions, but you can control your response and your attitude.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech? Can you explain what you mean?
Let’s see — you can’t be feminine and be an engineer; you can’t relate to anyone other than other engineers; or you don’t know how to be creative, only analytical. I don’t know, I’m struggling with this one because I don’t really pay too much attention to myths. People are going to believe what they want to believe. I choose not to focus on the naysayers, but instead focus on the people I can help and attract them to me.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
I’d like to provide a gender-neutral, industry-agnostic answer because I think being a leader is hard and the more people I can help become great leaders, the better off our companies or maybe even world, will be.
Lesson 1 — Put the necessary systems, processes, workflows, and documentation in place right from day 1 to ensure reproducibility, traceability, and proper equitability and communication. Being systematic about how you manage your team helps to keep everyone on the same page, gives your employees clear direction, ensures fairness across your staff, allows you to delegate more efficiently and effectively, allows you to properly hold people accountable, and gives you the ability to properly communicate to your bosses your roadblocks as well as your team achievements.
Lesson 2 — Develop yourself so you can be a better leader to others. Please don’t ever think you’re perfect or you know everything. The world evolves, people change, technology advances — why wouldn’t you? Strive to be the best version of yourself so you can help inspire and elevate others to be the best version of themselves. This means always seeking to continue to grow and develop.
Lesson 3 — Be humble and have gratitude. These two concepts are so simple and obvious and yet not often found. People do not leave companies, they leave managers. People do not want to work for someone who is pretentious, a bully, a micromanager, a fake, or someone that doesn’t care about them. If someone did something amazing — publicly acknowledge them. Show your appreciation. If someone didn’t do a job well, help them grow and develop, but do it as a private conversation. If you make a mistake, own up to it and apologize. Share in the mistakes and celebrate the milestones. If you want your employees to act as a team you need to show that you’re in it to fail or succeed with them.
Lesson 4 — Respond vs react. You’re going to have difficult conversations. You’re going to have tense moments. You’re going to feel up against a wall, maybe even defensive. Take a breath. Take a step away from the situation and give yourself the time you need to gain perspective and respond in a way that is authentic to you rather than reacting emotionally.
Lesson 5 — Use everything for your upliftment and growth. We all know that life isn’t all roses and sunshine; at some point, you’re going to have a bad day or you’re going to be challenged. It’s in these moments that you will grow and develop the most — if, you approach them as growth opportunities.
I have been in leadership for over 10 years and I am still humbled by the accomplishments of my staff and clients. I’m thankful every day that I’m surrounded by people that sore in areas I’m still working on developing. For me, growth and development are about being the best version of myself and looking at challenges as opportunities for further growth, rather than seeking to be all things to all people. I have a great team so collectively we can serve. Hiring, training, and mentoring is hard work. It takes compassion, time, and a ton of energy. Not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also way more efficient to treat people the way they deserve and inspire loyalty, then it is to react to turn-over. Two things I always ask myself when I feel like I might want to react emotionally instead of consciously respond is 1) what belief is causing me to feel this way, and 2) how did I create, promote, or allow this to happen. By putting myself in the captain’s chair of any situation it allows me to consciously shift into utilizing the above 5 lessons, rather than reacting in the heat of the moment.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
Ensure you have a well-defined vision, company values, and personal mission that you’ve properly communicated so your team knows where you are going, what you’re trying to achieve, and why. Ensure that you have the proper systems, processes, and workflows in place so that they can effectively do their jobs. Create streamlined communication channels so that members of your team can effectively and safely report issues and barriers to success. Provide course-correction and development mentoring in private and in a timely fashion. Champion and reword success and routinely celebrate milestones. And finally, let your people and teams be great. You’ve hired great people, so get out of the way; inspire instead of manage.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Hire and mentor great leaders. Someone once told me A’s hire other A’s, but B’s hire C’s. Great leaders know that it takes a village and so they build their team from the ground up. They hire the best because they want to deliver the best and they know they can’t do it alone. It’s more important to hire for fit than it is to hire for technical competency. You can train for technical competency, but if you have someone on your team that isn’t a good fit for the team dynamics or your company values, then it’s never going to work out, and the amount of time and energy you’ll spend figuring that out will be costly. So do your due diligence in the hiring process, be realistic on how technically competent you need an individual to be vs how much time and money you can spend training and mentoring them, hire for diversity of skills and competencies to have a well-rounded team, and put great leaders in place. Then once you have a great team and set of leaders, get out of the way. You hired great people, now let them show you how great they are.
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? Can you share a story about that?
I am grateful to all the people, whether managers, peers, employees, friends, or family that were hard to be around, that offered a significant challenge in my life, or acted as a naysayer. Like I mentioned earlier, we grow and develop most from the challenges in life. I had a boss once that, at the time, I called the devil. She was a delightful human being, but our work styles did not mesh well and the work environment was secretly making me miserable. I was feeling the pressure, acting like a protective layer to my large team, and so I tried everything in my tool belt to improve our working relationship, to no avail. In the end, I left the organization. I grew immensely from that period of time. I wouldn’t be the person and leader I am today had I not gone through that experience. In fact, that relationship set my path to entrepreneurship in motion. I learned many lessons from that relationship, but two come forth as the most significant: 1) you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others, and 2) not all battles are worth fighting. Within 6 months after leaving that job the majority of my staff moved outside the department or left the organization entirely. As hard as it was to leave them all unprotected, I know I made the right decision.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I feel the goodness I bring to the world is empowering individuals by elevating their confidence in their ability to deliver their expertise and share their greatness with the world. Sometimes when a person feels inept at something, they inadvertently bring energy to that feeling; it bleeds into other aspects of their life and soon their overall confidence is lower. Technology is a big component of starting a new business and one that a lot of people struggle with. My approach is to meet people where they’re at and help them get where they want to be with compassion.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The obvious answer would be the movement that ends the inequality issue we have in this country, but I want to peel back the onion even further. Everything we do in life, every reaction we have, every direction we take, are all driven by the beliefs we hold, whether conscious or not. However, beliefs are formed and solidified before the age of 7. That means we technically did not choose our core beliefs on our own. I want to start a movement where people re-evaluate their beliefs on a regular basis and decide for themselves whether or not they are still serving them. As mentioned earlier, I try to do this whenever I feel triggered to react emotionally in a situation. I ask myself what belief is causing me to feel this way. I decide in that moment if that belief is still serving me, and if not, I choose a different response. I truly believe if everyone in the world did this, there would be a lot more compassion, empathy, and inclusion in the world. I’d like to recommend the book The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. He provides a fantastic framework for re-evaluating your beliefs and choosing which to keep or let go of.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
That would have to be “You must do the thing you think you cannot do” by Eleanor Roosevelt. What resonates most with me is “You must do”, rather than “you can do”. I have long been a competitive athlete, which provides lots of tools and skills to get through challenging moments. I also have a very logical mindset, which does not lend itself well in certain situations. Like for instance, I was competing in a race; I don’t even remember how many thousands of feet of climbing there was on the bike, all I remember is the point at which I had absolutely nothing left to give and 19 miles to go. I had just come off being hospitalized, followed by nearly a year of recovery, and I was in no shape to be doing this race, but still determined to get back on the saddle — literally. So here I was 37 miles into the race, climbing a hill and going so slow from pain and exhaustion that I thought I was going to fall over. The tears were running down my face from the throbbing in my legs. I went into this mode of “if I can push one foot down, I can peddle”. At that moment “you can do it” wouldn’t have worked for me because my brain would have instantly retorted with “but why” or “but I don’t want to”. However, “you must do it” meant reclaiming my health, my endurance, my athleticism, and my power! Every time I face a challenge in business, I know I must keep going. There is way too much genius that needs to be shared. There are too many people that need help putting the systems and processes in place to be able to share their genius. Who knows, maybe the next person I help is the person that starts the movement to end inequality.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders 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? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Oh man, this would be a toss-up between Ellen Degeneres and Michelle Obama. Both of these ladies stand in their power and defy any naysayers. I believe they do this because they both know that their mission is greater than any obstacle in their path. I believe they are successful because they focus on their road to success rather than giving energy to the naysayers. I try to do this in my every day; however, I admire their ability to stand in their power and execute on their purpose on such a grand stage. I would be honored to have the opportunity to meet and learn from both of them.