Women Of The C-Suite: “A leader needs to be an inspirational motivator”, With Jess Liberi, of eMoney Advisor

There is no one definition of a good leader. All too often I think people look to books, articles, videos and the internet to learn how to…

There is no one definition of a good leader. All too often I think people look to books, articles, videos and the internet to learn how to be a good leader. But leadership skills are unique to every person. There is no manual or how-to guide. Take inspiration from those around you and decide on the type of leader you want to be, or don’t want to be. Then figure out how to get there and how to incorporate those traits into your day-to-day. Even now I am working with an executive coach, and one of the things she has asked me to do is to give her two words that describe the type of leader I want to be. For me, it is “inspirational motivator.”

I had the pleasure to interview Jess Liberi, Head of Product at eMoney Advisor

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I first started my career in financial services in sales and relationship management and then progressed to product development. I often wondered if I was actually helping people; however, it became clear that people desperately needed financial advice and retirement planning, especially average people who grew up like I did. It slowly but surely became my passion to work with advisors and deliver solutions that enable them to not only help their clients reach their financial goals but provide peace of mind to their clients as well.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Soon after I joined eMoney in 2014, it was acquired by Fidelity Investments, and a lot of things shifted as they normally do during an acquisition. For many people, times of uncertainty can be very uncomfortable — understandably so — but I viewed it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. I then identified the need for a product management organization within our company and was empowered to lead the charge to build it. In just about two years, the product organization has grown to nearly 40 people. If I hadn’t been able to see the silver lining during a time of uncertainty, I probably wouldn’t be where I am now — eMoney’s Head of Product and a member of its leadership team.

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?

A few years back, I walked right smack into the sliding glass doors that are in the entry to the eMoney offices. I was going to meet with our head of technology and didn’t realize the door was shut, so I walked head first into the glass. There’s really no way to play that one off. He asked, “Did you just walk into the door.” I said, “I sure did.” There’s probably a better way to break the ice than almost injure yourself, but we laughed about it and started the meeting on a high note.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The “work hard, play hard” mentality may seem cliché, but we really bring those two things to life at eMoney. In a sense, they go hand-in-hand. For example, when we have a big product launch, we host a companywide event called “Appy Hour.” The whole company comes to together to learn about a new product going to market and then celebrates the hard work that went into the launch with drinks and apps. It’s a great way to display how all of our employees’ contributions matter and have fun in the process. The eMoney company values are passion, innovation, collaboration, integrity and fun. And we really do rely on those to drive our culture and keep our more than 600 employees engaged and motivated.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As I mentioned, eMoney’s core values are innovation, passion, collaboration, integrity and fun, so I’d like to think I am always working on interesting projects. Collaborating across the company to create new products and solutions is especially exciting. Sometimes they don’t make it to market, but knowing we have the freedom to innovate and pivot when needed is encouraging. For example, last year we developed a prototype that would allow our advisors to access our app through Alexa. It was really cool. But, after some research, we realized that was not what our clients need or wanted. So, we pivoted and now we’re close to launching a new in-app voice interface that will help our advisors be more efficient without leaving our app. A solution like this supports our commitment to help our clients streamline and grow their businesses so they can deliver more plans to more people. In addition, working with other departments to ensure that eMoney is a leader in fields that are so important nowadays, such as data security, is exciting too.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Your team will follow your lead, so be positive, be confident and be honest. Many people don’t share their opinions or expertise because they don’t want to “stir the pot.” Encourage your team members to be confident in their abilities and talents, and they’ll be engaged and eager to do their best work.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

All leaders should think a bit outside of the box and be open to hiring diverse talent — that is diverse in background, work experience, point of view, etc. They may not need to have specific industry experience or a traditional career path to get the job done. What they do need is ambition and the desire to succeed. I’d take motivation and drive over domain expertise any day. It’s also important to note that for these individuals to succeed, you have to give them room to grow and room to fail, but that they need to take what they learn and apply it to the next project. As they say, teamwork makes the dream work.

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?

My mom has always been my biggest inspiration. She passed away nine years ago and has been my huge motivator to me as I progress through my career. Coping with her sudden death helped me prioritize what is important in life and in my career. And it made me re-evaluate what I needed from my career to be happy. It also enabled me to be more open-minded and consider taking more risks. My mom always listened and encouraged me to do anything I wanted to do. Nothing was off limits. She believed in me and gave me the courage to go after things I may have felt were out of reach. I apply this outlook to my work each day.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I truly believe that I help people through the technology solutions we create at eMoney every day. We work for the greater good by making financial planning more accessible and attainable to those who may need it most. It’s no longer a service for the wealthy. Our clients help people reach financial goals of all shapes and sizes.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Embrace change and challenges

As a leader, it’s critical to be the one who looks at change as a space for opportunity and embraces the challenges it presents. Change is hard for everyone, but people are looking to you for guidance and reassurance. My time at eMoney has been nothing but change. From acquisitions, new leadership, new products, agile transformations, organizational shifts, and so on — each change presented unique challenges and opportunities. I’ve learned it’s important not to shy away from change, even if challenges seem insurmountable at the time.

2) There is no one definition of a good leader

All too often I think people look to books, articles, videos and the internet to learn how to be a good leader. But leadership skills are unique to every person. There is no manual or how-to guide. Take inspiration from those around you and decide on the type of leader you want to be, or don’t want to be. Then figure out how to get there and how to incorporate those traits into your day-to-day. Even now I am working with an executive coach, and one of the things she has asked me to do is to give her two words that describe the type of leader I want to be. For me, it is “inspirational motivator.”

3) Having a vision is good, getting people to believe in your vision is priceless

Motivating others is one of the most important things you do as a leader. While you may be a voice representing the company’s mission, goals and objectives, it’s important that everyone feels as though they own a part of what’s to come — the vision. Getting people to buy-in to a vision and believe in it as if it were their own will pay dividends later. In terms of product, we’ve had projects where people didn’t feel as connected to the vision for the project and they didn’t see how it was going to help the company achieve its goals in the long-term. That’s an area that needs improvement from us as leaders. We should hold ourselves accountable for communicating the vision of a project and how our team’s contributions are integral in working toward that vision.

4) Delegate wisely

Good leaders know how to delegate and empower their teams to make decisions and succeed. But I think it’s important to add “wisely” here. When I stepped into a leadership role, I continuously received feedback that I needed to delegate more (and sometimes I still do). So, I started to delegate with reckless abandon. I was drowning people in work, not providing enough context and perhaps not giving them time to adjust, learn, internalize the work and succeed. There is a balance here. Yes, you need to delegate, but, more importantly, you need to set up people to be successful and you need to help them grow into the roles you’ve put them in. Those things will take time. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Challenge them, but help them. It will set everyone up for success in the long-run.

5) Don’t be afraid to hire people smarter than you

Often people are afraid to hire people with a broader skill set, stronger resume, or more credentials than they have. Don’t be. Put together a team of all-stars, and lean on them. No leader gets where they are without a team around them. Be open to their ideas, listen and ask for their feedback and input. Let them drive decisions. I’ve got a lot of really great people on my team, arguably some of the best out there. I strive to set up an environment where they all feel empowered to drive change and action and to make meaningful decisions. That doesn’t mean that I don’t give input or challenge their decisions, but they are the experts in their area, and I want them to know that. They’ll make mistakes and fail — as we all do — but that’s sometimes more important than making the right decision. The lessons learned in failure can be priceless.

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. 🙂

I’d love to continue to make financial planning more accessible and help people realize the connection between financial decisions and other aspects of life; for example, nutrition. Whether in school cafeterias or cook-at-home meals, this is an area where so much could be done to improve people’s overall health. And so many of these decisions are based on financial implications.

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

“Don’t worry about a thing, cause every little thing is gonna be alright.” My mom played Bob Marley for us growing up, and now I rely on these words to help me through stressful situations and uncertain times both at work and at home.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Jessica Liberi on LinkedIn

Originally published at medium.com

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