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Some Takeaways from a Fireside Chat with Amazon Leadership

A United State of Women Event

We were recently invited to participate at the United State of Women Summit, partnering with equallet and Amazon who sponsored our prize draw. We were there to conduct some live data analytics to explore the various challenges, mindsets, and behavioral blockers that were most frequently being experienced by women. During our time there, we were lucky to be invited to a fireside chat by Amazon’s Glynis Moore, with some of their female leadership – Miriam Daniel and Meeta Mishra. Their stories definitely resonated with the audience and there were many great points made – so here are some that can serve as good reminders for anyone!

The beauty of empowering moments

Meeta spoke to her experience working for Amazon Fire, which as many know, did not go as well as they had hoped. Failure, especially on such a public stage, can certainly stifle a person, knock their confidence out of whack, and become quite a challenge to move on from. But Meeta’s experience with this failure had some empowering reminders. When you fail, it is important to be mindful of how the failure arose. Being conscious of why things didn’t go well will aid you in not only learning from your mistakes, but applying them to future conquests. When researching what mindsets and associated behaviors contribute to the happiest, most energized, and productive people we found that being able to avoid rumination and to move forward not only empowers you, but makes you stronger due to the many benefits of resilience.

Miriam recalled back to when she was working on a project that could have gone in many different directions. The story had many facets, but in a simplified version, the CEO had a vision for the team to achieve for a product at a price point that was affordable for all. Miriam had the responsibility to tell the CEO that the desired implementation was costing too much and that many people wouldn’t be able to afford it. If they wanted it to be mainstream and adopted by everyone, there needed to be a much lower price point. For most, speaking to their CEO under any circumstances can be a bit frightening, let alone having to deliver some less than desirable news. At Amazon they have a meeting process where documents are written to discuss the topic in a way that “works back from the customer”. For this scenario, they spent two “working backwards sessions” comparing the options. She recalled feeling nervous at the time of her presentation, however, she soldiered on, making the points of both cases: a product that can appeal to everybody versus one that was more premium.

She made sure that she had all the data behind it. The result? The CEO agreed with the direction to make it more accessible to everyone. He said to go with it, get it out there, and test it with customers – while making sure that they didn’t forget the other case as there may be a place for it down the line. This was an empowering moment. The understanding that anyone could have a perspective and that “it doesn’t matter where the message or idea comes from,” made her feel empowered to talk about topics moving forward, in a data oriented, practical manner.

The topic of speaking to your perspective and using data and the proof points to back it up also came up recently at a panel on Executive Presence for Women at Stanford University. That explaining the journey that led you to your conclusions gives others the opportunity to better understand you.

Balancing it all

When it came to managing all of the many responsibilities employees can find themselves balancing, the role of management came up as a fundamental factor in employees being able to do their best work without feeling that they are sacrificing life responsibilities. They spoke of the “what can I do for you?” manager attitude. Managers play a large role in the culture of the organization: empowering employees to get their job done in the best way possible, removing roadblocks, and inspiring them are all characteristics of high performing cultures.

Both women spoke to the Amazon culture, where it appeared there is a good level of flexibility. When thinking about the multitude of responsibilities everyone has in their life – from work, to home, to everything in between, Miriam made a great point, “every phase of life brings you new challenges”. From having product launches, project deadlines, to children and caring for loved ones, there are different situations that we have to face all the time. It is important to “be creative with what you do, so that you can arrange your schedule in the best way”. Fondly recalling times where her teammates had supported her, she talked to having a sense of comradery and how greatly beneficial it can be to have a team that works together, as well as for one another.

This hit close to home for many. Having the ability to pick and choose how to best spend your time based on fluctuating priorities and needs is vital in enabling you to meet objectives in the best way. Sometimes work may need to get done and you have to miss something else, and sometimes you need to prioritize seeing a friend that needs you, or go to a child’s game or event at school. You can’t do it all, always, but you can give your all at different moments, to different things, and at different times in life – utilizing your focus, energy, and time management in the best way possible to allow you to manage the many responsibilities you face.

Career development and growth

Both ladies gave several great reminders regarding career development. Meeta talked about “reaching a plateau”. That when she felt there was not much more for her to learn in a place, or in a role, that’s when it was time for her to move on. She mentioned how this was a personal thing for her, and how while some people may like comfort, when she, “feels that comfortable feeling, it’s time to move on and keep learning”.

The importance of continuous learning is also something that came up from our leadership quotient research. It has been found that many of the most successful people spend time each day learning – reading, listening to informative content, and challenging their perspectives.

Speaking of making the move between different roles and domains, for example moving from engineering into product management, Miriam spoke to the importance of sponsors, saying, “find people who are your sponsors, who will pull you from where you are into the next phase of your career”. She made an important point stating that these people may come from any chapter of your life. It could be someone you met or worked with long ago, but comes back because they remembered you and your expertise and so considered you for a professional opportunity.

This definitely resonated, and interestingly was another similarity in topics that were raised at the Executive Presence panel at Stanford. It reminded me of a CEO I once had. He used to tell me about having a “bench”. That group of people you know can deliver and that have a certain expertise, those people that have demonstrated clear value, and that you bring into new opportunities when they arise.

Miriam also made another point, that sometimes you make a sideways move before you go up. Often times you can make a lateral move that will expose you to new experiences and challenges, as well as cultivate the skills that are needed for the leadership roles you desire. “Take a bet on yourself, take a risk. Sometimes you consciously plan, sometimes it shows up and you need to take the opportunity,” she said. It is important to be open to opportunities when they come, as much as it is to look for them.

Meeta noted the importance of “getting outside your comfort zone” as you will always learn something new because doing so always leads to new discovery. Getting outside of your comfort zone is a guaranteed way to learn more about yourself and start a journey down a path to wonderful new experiences. When using our leadership quotient to help close the confidence gap and work on executive presence, we’ve found that many women tend to feel greater discomfort with the unknown and taking risks in general. The reasons behind this hesitance are numerous, varying from corporate policies, to social environments, to behaviors and mindsets that have formed over many years of experiences.

Confidence and candor

The confidence gap is a topic that has been much discussed, and a gap we are working on closing. Miriam spoke to the importance of knowing your subject matter expertise, saying, “if you are confident in who you are, if you are the SME, never ever stop and think I’m a woman”. Coming full circle, she ended on giving the advice that you should try to “speak with data, and if it is a perspective then say it, or if you are confident then say it, say you think [this] because of [x, y, z]”. Being confident in your points was yet another similarity to the topics that arose during the Executive Presence panel at Stanford – that being able to articulate the objective data-driven points behind your point of view can give you confidence.  

There were other parallels between the panels too. For example, Miriam spoke to the fact that even, “the most confident person questions their inner self,” a topic which was also covered during the Stanford panel. At the end of the day we all have that voice inside. Many times that voice is something to listen to as it is flagging things that stop and make you think, or highlighting things that make you feel uneasy-usually for good reason. However, for some, it can also serve as an overly critical, overly worrisome voice that keeps you stuck in place and limits your abilities. The key is understanding when to listen to it and how to manage it so that it serves you in the best way possible.

They also spoke about the importance of candid relationships with your team, talking about unconscious bias, and being open with how challenges can be overcome. An important point raised here, was that leaders should lead by example. For instance, if someone is cut off in a meeting, then circle back and bring them into the conversation.

In Summary…

Firstly, a big thank you to all the wonderful ladies from Amazon that hosted the event. Many great reminders to take forward:

  • Take moments that may be scary, nerve racking, or challenging and see them as empowering moments of growth, learning, and opportunity.

  • Throughout life, there will be different challenges and responsibilities that may take priority. Understanding what is important when, and combining this with your peak moments of energy and clarity, can help you to manage your schedule, objectives, and responsibilities in the best way for you.

  • Make sure you place importance on continuous learning, expose yourself to new experiences, and people. This can help you find sponsors who will remember you, and pull you into new challenges that can stretch and grow you.

  • Be open to opportunities, think about them, the impact of them, and do not let fear of the unknown be the only reason you pass up on it.

  • Be clear in your communications by stating when you are confident in something and why you feel confident in it, and when something is a thought.

  • Lead by example and demonstrate the behaviors that make workplaces productive and fulfilling for everyone.

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