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Sarah Gulbrandsen: “Be a resource, not a manager”

Offer consistent nurturing and verbal praise. I’ve mentioned this one before, but that just goes to show how much I believe in it! Team members that feel valued are more likely to crush goals and have greater work satisfaction. When is the last time you told your team you trust them? That they really nailed […]

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Offer consistent nurturing and verbal praise. I’ve mentioned this one before, but that just goes to show how much I believe in it! Team members that feel valued are more likely to crush goals and have greater work satisfaction.

When is the last time you told your team you trust them? That they really nailed that presentation? If you don’t pour encouragement into how you lead, you won’t be very encouraging. Seems obvious, but it’s all too easy for leaders to forget.


As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a large team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sarah Gulbrandsen.

Sarah has spent the last 15 years helping companies tell their story. As RingPartner’s President, she leads day-to-day business operations, develops company strategy and oversees RingPartner’s growth across departments. Sarah has worked in a variety of roles leading marketing communications strategy, including at digital marketing companies, a Fortune 500 retailer, and also a brief stint in television. Her uplifting and outgoing personality not only gets things done but motivates others to do the same.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

My career has had many twists and turns, but the one thing that has stayed consistent is the ability to choose roles that cater to my strengths. When people work from a place of strength and passion, it makes everything that much easier & more rewarding. I first entered into the digital marketing space about 15 years ago when I was given the opportunity to be part of a start-up that was eventually sold to a public company. It was there that I also met my current business partners & realized that I loved marketing & helping brands connect with their potential customers. After the start-up was acquired, I spent some time working with some amazing teams in San Francisco. After a few years in the Bay Area, I realized that I wanted a change of pace and decided to move to the west coast of Canada. That’s when I started working with RingPartner and held a variety of different roles. Ultimately that’s what led me to my current role as President & leading the daily operations at RingPartner.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

There are so many stories that have happened since I began leading the RingPartner team. All of these stories revolved around either the people on my team or the clients that we work with. Our business is all about connections, both connecting our clients to untapped consumers and connecting our team members with opportunities to grow both personally & in their own careers. I would say one of the fondest memories I have is of our company entering our new workspace a few years back. The leadership team stayed all night to get the space ready & personalized. The next morning, we did an official ribbon cutting and one of our team members was actually in tears because he was so excited to be there in our new space. It was worth the sleepless night for sure.

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 once hit the dreaded “Reply All” to a large group of people at work (300+ people). I replied with a very personal answer and didn’t hear the end of it from my team for months afterward. Lesson learned the hard way. Now, I triple check before I send anything out.

Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on the best way to retain great talent today?

RingPartner’s greatest achievement has been our commitment to investing in our people and creating a powerhouse workforce. We offer opportunities for our team members to take on new challenges and are not afraid to move them into a role that better suits their skills and interests. Internal promotions are the norm around here.

My greatest advice is to make time to celebrate and recognize the efforts put in by providing verbal praise, and do it often. The driving force behind RingPartner’s culture is celebrating the little wins, and driving forward towards success as a team. Every morning at 10:07 the team huddles to share good news, challenges, and recognize the deserving. If major company goals are reached, leaves work at noon on a Friday to celebrate as a team. We worked to make sure our team members feel like they are appreciated — after all — we wouldn’t be where we are today without them!

How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?

This may seem cliche… but communication is key. A solid vision, deadlines, point people, and communication methods all need to be established from the get go. That way you can ensure everyone is on the same page and nothing gets lost in translation.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)

  1. Build your employees. Job evolution, or lack thereof, can also contribute to an unhappy workforce. People get stressed and bored when they feel they are stuck in their role. Play to their strengths, and help them work towards their career goals. You’ll find your employees will be more loyal and motivated.

RingPartner often has team members in hybrid roles or projects to support growth and keep doors open for movement or change. We also lean on the Clifton StrengthsFinder, the Four Tendencies and KOLBE tests to help us identify where each individuals’ strengths lie and where we can help them grow

2. Offer consistent nurturing and verbal praise. I’ve mentioned this one before, but that just goes to show how much I believe in it! Team members that feel valued are more likely to crush goals and have greater work satisfaction.

When is the last time you told your team you trust them? That they really nailed that presentation? If you don’t pour encouragement into how you lead, you won’t be very encouraging. Seems obvious, but it’s all too easy for leaders to forget.

3. Be a resource, not a manager. In the tech industry, we are often testing new ideas and building solutions and part of the process includes failure. It’s important to build a work culture that encourages trying new things and taking the reins on new projects to see them come to fruition. I see my leadership style as a kick-start for ideas and getting things going, and then I move into a role where someone else can take the lead and I can support their project as a resource rather than a key point person. This provides opportunities for other people to grow and challenge themselves and gives me the space I need to oversee the company.

I encourage leaders in my company to do the same: enable innovation, facilitate forward movement, and support the initiatives in the role of a resource rather than a point person.

4. To drive forward is to be relentless, no excuses, own it, and figure it out. By facilitating an environment where grit is celebrated and resilience is built, our team members get energized instead of drained when it’s time to problem solve. It’s one of our core values at RingPartner, and we work to embody it in all we do.

Whether we’re gathering in the kitchen to eat kiwi fruit with the skin on, researching a new product offering, or presenting in front of a large group for the first time, stepping into the unknown is encouraged and celebrated across teams. This allows room for each person to have an appetite for risk and a tolerance for failure without feelings of shame or guilt that can often accompany trying new things.

5. Give your employees autonomy. Life doesn’t compartmentalize itself with work in one drawer and everything else in the other. As much as you can, allow your team to build their schedule to balance their work/life commitments in a way that works best for them.

At RingPartner, we recognize that peak productivity doesn’t land at the exact same time every day for everyone, so we implemented flexible hours to give people the freedom to structure their workdays as they see fit. This means a schedule that works for work, family, and other responsibilities that don’t always fit into a typical nine-to-five workday.

What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?

I would encourage a certain amount of transparency when leading your team. Yes, there are times when you will need to suck it up & put on a good face, but it’s important to also come across as human and share what information you are able to. Most people are not looking for a stoic leader that keeps their cards close, but rather a real person that can help them achieve their own goals.

You are a person of great 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. 🙂

This has been a topic of conversation globally for the last decade or so. I would incite a movement that makes corporate employers and the workforce examine whether or not the antiquated 40 hours, 8 hour a day work week is the most impactful way to accomplish work or even necessary. There are ways to structure one’s days so that work is accomplished more efficiently while still allowing for a fuller life outside of work.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for,” Oprah Winfrey. You have to start somewhere and give whatever it is you want a shot. Ask yourself what that worst-case scenario could be and based on that take action. Be brave enough to ask for what you want.

Thank you for these great insights!

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