Empower others: if you’re aspiring to be a leader, having the skill to empower others so that they can be the best versions of themselves will be paramount to your organization’s success.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joanna Trimble.
As Kira Systems’ Chief Revenue Officer, Joanna leads sales, customer success, technical solution consulting and practice consulting disciplines. She has over 25 years of experience working in the legal industry, and hasheld various sales and sales management positions at both large complex global organizations and startups.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I decided to go into sales because I enjoy people and honestly wanted to own my paycheck. I bought a house when I was 23 and single and loved the concept that the harder I worked, the more money I could make. I felt a sense of true accountability and ownership of my destiny. After several years selling, I began to have a shift in perspective as I started getting more energy from leadership opportunities and attempting to make an impact on a greater scale. This led me to various leadership roles within sales and sales strategy. I’ve had the privilege of working in both large matrixed global corporates and start-ups. At the end of the day, I’ve developed a love of helping others reach their fullest potential and making the biggest impact on the bottom line as much as possible.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
In January 2020, all Kira Systems’ employees came together in-person for the first time at a company retreat. The power of the comradery and the mission of our founders were a powerful source when brought together. It was a memorable moment for me because of the energy and alignment of everyone working towards the same goal, which is to enlighten the world’s enterprises through delivering the insights which are already within their contracts and documents.
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?
Not necessarily funny but definitely an epiphany: one mistake I made as a new sales leader is when I was listening to a call between a sales rep that I was coaching and a customer. I didn’t think the call was going well and I basically said “introduce me, give me the phone.” I couldn’t stand to watch him fail and this was the most important lesson of all — let people make mistakes and empower them with the lessons learned.
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?
When I was at LexisNexis I participated in a leadership program led by an executive leadership trainer, Dr. Linda Burrs. On the last day of the course the call to action was to find a great mentor and I decided that the person I respected the most was the sales VP, Tim Corcoran. So, I naively knocked on his door and I said “Hi, I’m Joanna. Will you be my mentor?” I literally did that. Luckily, he said, “okay,” and took me out to lunch once a month for a year, and what he taught me set me off on a leadership path that wasn’t as common back then. He focused on asking me hard questions so that I would examine my perspective more deeply rather than telling me what he would do. This shaped the leader I became and maybe even more importantly, taught me how to properly coach a person to feel empowered.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I took a course on executive presence and the impact of anxiety and stress, and how it clouds your ability to think and react in a proactive manner. Through that course, I learned how to relieve stress, centre my thoughts, and be mindful of my emotions. The course taught me tactics like deep breathing to avoid fight or flight and to think clearly. The impact of stress and anxiety on performance is substantial. There is a physiological reaction in your body which can constrict blood vessels, cause shortness of breath, etc. The science of it all really convinced me to start yoga and leverage 4–7–8 breathing when I felt my emotions were getting the better of me. With practice over time, this is now much more natural when old triggers crop up. I’ve been practicing yoga for over 10 years now and it has also played a key role in managing stress and ensuring my health is a priority.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
When you have diversity and representation within an executive team, you gain access to the best problem solving skills for real-life problems, as well as the right responses to situations that affect people differently. On the other hand, if the executive team is too homogeneous, employees within the organization could feel that leading is not an attainable goal. The power of seeing someone like you in a role that you aspire to is a powerful force to drive confidence.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
The first step is to identify any barriers that are preventing you from creating an inclusive, representative and equitable company. Increasing your awareness of these barriers and then strategically planning around them matters. The internal commitment to diversity also has to be real. Relying on performative displays is different from authentic commitments to listening, learning and evolving as a company, which are likely the most important things any company can do. The second step is to empower your employees with resources and stories to create a supportive culture that is informed of injustices, inequalities, cultural differences, etc. There is strength in knowledge-sharing and this is something that we focus on daily; it has also helped with recognizing privilege. For example, I remember driving at night through Idaho, rural Montana, and was cranky because I was so hungry and had to stop at a gas station for food — I felt safe doing this. The next month, my husband, who is black, did the same drive. He called me during the drive and said that he was paranoid because the area used to be a hotbed for white supremacists. He told me he was worried that if he got a flat tire that he might not be okay. It was that moment that I truly realized how privileged I was.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An executive ensures that the company’s overall vision and strategies come to life. They are also empathetic leaders who empower their employees by providing them with the right resources to grow.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
When you look at an executive from a different organization you create a narrative around what they do, what they’re capable of, and assume that they know everything; that they have this indescribable gift that allows them to take on everything without going through barriers. But, that’s’ just not correct, and it wasn’t until I began working with some amazing executives and mentors that I realized this.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Being assertive to make your ideas and opinions heard can come across as overly ambitious, or even as aggressive. This is a double standard that exists in all industries. During my career, I felt the need to filter my words so that I wouldn’t be perceived in this way, but I’ve realized that it’s important to feel comfortable in your own skin. So, I started to care less about what others think by owning my words, being authentic, and leading with purpose.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
You can’t do everything by yourself. I love creating data-driven reports and putting them in motion, and to do that I need a strong operational leader by my side managing follow through. With the appropriate amount of data and analysis your decision making becomes accurate. In many respects, my job is putting the right people in the right roles to deliver the best results. Many leaders make the mistake of hiring in their own image and this really limits growth.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Authenticity is a key for any successful executive in my view. Understanding your market, your customers and having a vision for the future are important but if you are unable to rally the company through a genuine approach, it can be a real challenge to achieve true buy-in.
There are people who desire to climb the ladder to gain power and those that lead through fear. Although that can work in spurts, long term success and full engagement from a team come from finding your authentic voice as a leader. Most people can spot a fake from a mile away. Our internal motivation and drive creates this massive amount of energy so it’s important to not underestimate the power of a strong, healthy culture to drive performance.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Help employees identify their strengths; empower them to do things that they didn’t even think were possible and to find their purpose. Throughout my career, I’ve been able to bear witness to these results and seeing employees succeed is my fuel to keep leading.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I have enjoyed mentoring youth and young adults and hope that their confidence and motivation to be their best makes the world a better place. The other area that I think can make a big shift in the world is the fact that kindness is not weakness and although we are not in business to make friends, when we are honest and kind in our approach it can unlock an underlying alignment that is a force to be reckoned with.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Find a mentor: search your network for someone you believe is a powerhouse in your industry or company, and ask them to be your mentor. When I did this at LexisNexis, I was taught real life lessons that put me on a leadership path. It also helped with stepping outside of my comfort zone.
- Focus on professional development: I’ve taken a lot of courses focused on leadership and learned about practical techniques that, in the end, helped me get to where I am today. The power of learning, at any stage in your career, should never be undermined.
- Be authentic: as a female leader, authenticity has been key to my leadership style. When I’m authentic, I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin.
- Network: I did an exercise a couple of years ago during this women’s leadership course, and it really helped me. I wrote down everyone that I could think of within my network, and divided it into different groups. For example, people that could help me with my job, people that will help me get promoted, people that could help me when I’m feeling unmotivated, etc. Then, after completing this diagram, I realized that I have a powerful network of people who can help me overcome different challenges. This was such an amazing tool to have and I still refer to it when I need help with something.
- Empower others: if you’re aspiring to be a leader, having the skill to empower others so that they can be the best versions of themselves will be paramount to your organization’s success.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire a movement it would be for leaders to embrace the idea that kindness is not weakness. Addressing mistakes and failures of our own can be a powerful catalyst for those we lead to do the same. As a leader and a mentor, I try to teach the concept of radical candor and bring it to life. Show that you care personally, and be absolutely honest and direct.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A goal without a plan is just a wish” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. This quote has always resonated with me because it speaks beautifully to the importance of being committed and setting up a roadmap to reach success.
We are very blessed that some very prominent 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? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been an incredible source of inspiration to me. Especially her tenacity to never be discouraged in spite of the odds. This has shaped how I think about challenges when the odds are stacked against me personally but also generally trying to channel a mindset of perseverance when faced with adversity. She has some great quotes but one that sticks out is that “you can disagree without being disagreeable.” Honestly, this has not always been easy for me.I’m an extraverted passionate and direct person, and the reason it resonates for me so much is that when I can pause and channel my energy and listen, I’m a more effective leader.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.