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Interview with the CEO of Dictionary.com, Elizabeth McMillan

           Elizabeth McMillan is the CEO of Dictionary.com; The world’s leading online dictionary with a reach of over 70 million + readers each month. Before Dictionary.com, Elizabeth was the SVP of Corporate Development at Ask.com and has had over ten years of experience with strategy and growth with IAC, which is […]

          

Elizabeth McMillan is the CEO of Dictionary.com; The world’s leading online dictionary with a reach of over 70 million + readers each month. Before Dictionary.com, Elizabeth was the SVP of Corporate Development at Ask.com and has had over ten years of experience with strategy and growth with IAC, which is a media and Internet company with more than 150 brands. She has also been a key figure in various acquisitions such as Ask.com’s purchase of About.com. With Dictionary.com, Elizabeth McMillan has helped to create a company that stands out amongst other companies in similar spheres and has helped shape it into the modern and relevant company it is today.

What leadership style do you think is the most useful to you?


“I believe that as a leader, it is imperative to be aware of the ripple effects that your actions and attitude have on those who you lead."

- Elizabeth McMillan  

“I believe that as a leader, it is imperative to be aware of the ripple effects that your actions and attitude have on those who you lead. Awareness of those ripple effects then leads to self-awareness of the impacts of every move you make. This is a great responsibility, and at times exhausting. I have found that the key is to approach each new ripple with a gentle openness to what might be on the other side."
"I also aim to strike a healthy balance between skepticism and optimism in all areas of my life. This applies to my habits as a leader and motivator. Optimism allows me to keep my head up and maintain energy and motivation to keep pushing ideas forward, but I remain skeptical enough to never take anything for granted and always question the status quo.”

What are some of your greatest accomplishments with Dictionary.com?

"Without question, I am most proud of the team I have built and the company culture that we have created together. I came to Dictionary.com with a vision for how this 21-year old brand could become relevant again. It has been incredibly rewarding to have a team that shares that vision and is willing to take the risks and make the sacrifices that are needed to get there. It is because of our team and our culture that we have been able to accomplish a turnaround of financial trends, deploy a new technology platform, launch a suite of editorial products and redefine what it means to be Dictionary.com. Coming to work every day with a group of people who are willing to learn and who teach me something new all the time, a team who shares a vision and is invested in each-others success. I couldn’t ask for more.”

How do new words get introduced? What is the process like?

"We believe that there should be separation of church and state between the business and lexicography teams. While both teams are supportive and curious about what the other is working on, having some separation is important to maintain integrity of the process of adding and defining words. That said, I am not very involved in the lexicography process. What I do know is that our lexicographers consume copious amounts of content. They are constantly looking for new words or new uses of existing words. Once they see that a word has a critical mass of usage and its meaning has become consistent, they perform research using a corpus of over 19 billion words. They take a scientific approach and the end goal is to describe how a word is being used rather than trying to tell people how they should use it.”

What have you learned while at Dictionary.com

“So many new words! If there were a superlative for least likely to run a dictionary in my high school year book, it would have been me… I am always mispronouncing words, using them in the wrong context, misspelling. It was very intimidating to step into this role and to think that everyone is going to be watching my words.”

“Well, the good news is I have gotten much more comfortable with these challenges. In part because I am learning new words all the time (and have a group of experts to test them out on) but also because I realize now that all of us have some anxiety about language. It’s not surprising since it is so core to our human experience. Which is exactly why eliminating anxiety with the English language is our mission.”

Which word has been the most interesting to add? Why? 

“It is so hard to pick just one! We have consistently been adding words related to gender over the past 3 years. Seeing the emergence of new language to describe gender is a true reflection of how the zeitgeist around gender issues is changing. As a woman, as a feminist, as a mother of 3 boys it has been inspiring and empowering. Seeing the lexicon change is incredibly exciting and speaks to the progress that is being made around gender issues.”

What are 3 tips you could give to other leaders?

1."Strive for work life fit: that our lives and our work should fit together in a way that benefits both.”

2. “Be wrong: be prepared to make decisions with imperfect information, be prepared to make mistakes, and own it when you are wrong. Create an environment where your team is comfortable with being wrong. If you always play it safe, you will never be wrong but you will also never be right.”

3. "Struggle is constructive, it is where learning happens. If you aren’t breaking some things along the way are you pushing hard enough and taking enough risks?”

*Originally published on Medium.com

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