Women Of The C-Suite: “Encourage employees to take time off”, With Aimee Lessard, of Signafire Technologies

“Encourage a work/life balance — Americans have developed an unfortunate tendency to associate taking paid time-off with slacking off…

“Encourage a work/life balance — Americans have developed an unfortunate tendency to associate taking paid time-off with slacking off. Vacation time is important, and I think to combat this trend, leaders need to be actively encouraging their employees to take the time off they deserve.”

I had the pleasure of interviewing Aimee Lessard, Chief of Analysis at Signafire Technologies. Aimee leads Signafire’s global analytic efforts and provides specialist consultation, implementation, and training for public and private sector clients working to identify and solve complex global issues. Prior to her current position, Aimee served as a counterterrorism analyst and team leader within the special operations community. She is a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, the national intelligence community, and a current member of the OSS Society.

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

I first met and worked with the founders of Signafire many years ago. We were all in the process of coming out of government service and trying to figure out what came next. What I remember about them then, and what I still appreciate about them today, is their collective passion for what they do, whether it is engineering, development, or analytics. A few years after we first crossed paths, the CEO texted me to ask if I would like to join them and help the business grow. There was no question I would say yes. They had an incredible vision for the company, and an unmatched drive to do something unique within the field of enterprise analytics. I joined because I believe in this vision, and I trust the team to see their vision become a reality.

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

The most interesting thing for me about working at Signafire has been working with employees from a much younger generation. I’ve noticed that the younger generation tends to blur the lines between their personal lives and work lives. In my career, there was always a distinct split between our private and work personas. Who we were at home did not enter into the professional realm, and we kept our personal lives separate and private. Today, especially for the younger generation, that line has all but disappeared, and people now bring their fullest selves to work and expect others to do the same. Personally I think it’s a really positive development, as it opens up a more familial style of communication that is beneficial for collaboration and productivity.

I recently sat in on an internal meeting related to diversity and inclusion at Signafire, and the one consistent item that continued to arise, was that our employees wanted to get to know us on a personal level. They were genuinely curious about our military service and how we made the choice to join when we were younger. Honestly it was a great and welcome surprise and made me realize how much employees today value that kind of connection.

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?

When I was in the Marine Corps boot camp, one of the rotating requirements was raising the flag in the morning for reveille. As the Marines follow maritime tradition, it is customary to ring a brass ship’s bell a specific number of times to alert others of an upcoming activity, which in this case was the raising of the flag. My Drill Instructors were very clear about how I should ring the bell: pull the cord towards me for one strike of the bell, then push it forward for the second strike, and so on and so forth. This sounds straightforward, but I can assure you that what I did ended up sounding more like the dinner bell on a chuckwagon. Needless to say, I had an epically bad day that was only funny in hindsight. But what I took away from that day was a much broader, more poignant lesson: fear of failure itself can be your downfall. When faced with an imposing task, collect yourself and your thoughts, think through the task and the directions provided, and commit to it with everything you’ve got. All will be fine.

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

Every day, large companies are generating, collecting, and storing millions of terabytes of data. The ability to use that data effectively can mean the difference between responding to disastrous product failures or gaining a competitive advantage in their fields. So we’re using a big data management technique known as fusion, which helps these companies take large sets of data from all different places and types and bring them together in a cohesive way that their analysts can easily manage. In and of itself, the idea of big data management isn’t new, but what we’re doing is a truly unique form of it, and it is already proving to have an outsized impact for the companies we’re working with. It’s an exciting time to be in the fusion business!

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

What really excites us at Signafire, about the technology we’re building, is how applicable it is to all kinds of industries and business problems. We’ve done a lot of work in the auto sector, so I’m excited to start taking on some new challenges in parallel industries, such as aviation. I think we’ve all, at some point in our traveling lives, been on the wrong end of a “mechanical problem” delay, sitting in the terminal and waiting for an airline to find or swap in a different plane for our flight. Well these days, when airplane parts are all connected to the Internet and generating terabytes of mechanical data with every flight, that sort of delay in particular can be avoided, simply by collecting and analyzing the data in a smart way.

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

Maintain a consistently high bar, and develop a reputation for having one. You will attract the best and the brightest, the people most eager to prove their talent, and you’ll ensure that everyone on your team feels a personal desire to meet those standards. Any of us who have worked in large organizations can remember that one leader, that one person to whom you never wanted to present unless you were presenting your absolute finest work. That person was in that position because she/he maintained only the highest of standards, both from her/himself or others. I think female leaders in particular need to strive to be that person.

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

I cannot stress enough the importance of transparency in communications. Large teams are united by a knowledge of what’s going on outside of their own immediate tasks and bubbles, and only you can provide that knowledge in a way that is helpful for your team to hear. The alternative is gossip, which, accurate or not, feeds a mistrust in the sources at the top. So be open, give regular updates on the state of your business, and help everyone feel like they’re part of the team.

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?

There are two people that have been instrumental in my personal and professional journey. The first is my wife, Lauren, who has always been there to provide me with love, kindness, and support. Lauren has made a lot of personal and professional sacrifices in order to enable me to follow my dreams, and that means the world to me. The second person is my longtime mentor, David Whitmire. I met Dave many years ago while we were both serving within a Joint Special Operations Task Force. Dave’s genuine respect for the intelligence professionals supporting operations was inspiring, and he never hesitated to push all of us to our fullest potential. In the private sector, I had additional opportunities to work for and be mentored by Dave and I am so grateful for those experiences. His continued mentoring assisted me in my growth as a technical professional and executive.

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

I am big believer in volunteering and supporting worthy causes. Throughout my career and at all levels I have been very active in volunteering with animal rescue and environmental conservation. Even when it felt like I couldn’t afford to provide time or money towards a specific effort, I would try and figure out a way to accomplish something, even if it was at a smaller scale. Career success shouldn’t be a reason to bring goodness to the world, it just makes it easier sometimes.

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

  • Be empathetic — People in leadership roles can forget that each person on his/her team has their own personal goals, motivations, and lives. It is important to show employees that you genuinely care about them, and that you’re rooting for their success.
  • Establish transparency from the outset — When I think of transparency, I’m thinking about how comfortable my reports are challenging my opinions. When people up and down the ladder have the ability to voice their opinions, it becomes less likely a leader will make the wrong decision.
  • Lead from the front — Nothing garners more respect from a team than seeing their leader rolling up their sleeves and getting involved in gritty day-to-day work.
  • Encourage a work/life balance — Americans have developed an unfortunate tendency to associate taking paid time-off with slacking off. Vacation time is important, and I think to combat this trend, leaders need to be actively encouraging their employees to take the time off they deserve.
  • Recognize potential — Grooming existing talent is better than hiring new talent. When you spot a high performer, take steps to ensure they are constantly facing new challenges and a meeting a higher bar.

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. 🙂

As someone in the LGBT community, I feel a great responsibility to encourage young LGBT-ers to be their fullest selves in the workplace. The past decade has seen considerable strides in terms of LGBT rights, but we can do more to help those who feel like they are regularly forced to suppress aspects of their lives and personalities while they’re in the workplace.

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

I particularly love what is known as the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference.”

There’s a lot to unpack in there, and I’m sure different people see different things in that phrase. But to me, this phrase is a lesson in what makes a great teammate, and what it means to be the member of an organization larger than oneself. No one person can do everything. It takes a team of hard-working, dedicated people to accomplish things of any worth, people who are self-aware, understand their strengths and limitations, and who can legitimately appreciate the unique skills their teammates bring to the table. That’s the kind of team I want to be on.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I tend to be a fairly private person, so I don’t use social media. But I encourage your readers to follow Signafire’s Twitter handle: @Signafire

Thank you so much for these inspiring insights!

Originally published at medium.com

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