“You need a team and a self-care plan” With Melissa Boggs and Parveen Panwar, Mr. Activated

I say it starts with you, because when you embrace your own uniqueness, so will your team. When you demonstrate self-confidence, self-worth, and your strengths, they will feel the permission to do the same. When you tell your stories, so will they. At this intersection of strength, vulnerability, and uniqueness, that’s where thriving begins. As a […]

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I say it starts with you, because when you embrace your own uniqueness, so will your team. When you demonstrate self-confidence, self-worth, and your strengths, they will feel the permission to do the same. When you tell your stories, so will they. At this intersection of strength, vulnerability, and uniqueness, that’s where thriving begins.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Boggs.

Melissa Boggs is the Chief ScrumMaster for the Scrum Alliance. Together with the Chief Product Owner and the exceptional staff, Melissa seeks to fulfill the Scrum Alliance’s vision of transforming the world of work.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

It’s funny how a story unfolds while you are not even noticing, and the winding road we are on leads us from one significant moment to another. I graduated from Western Governors University with a BS in Information Technology and later an MBA in IT Management. But my career path definitely has not followed a straight line. Over the years, I’ve been a receptionist, trainer, stage manager, process analyst, salesperson, software tester, consultant, project manager, product manager, ScrumMaster, Agile Coach, and now, I am Chief ScrumMaster (co-CEO) of Scrum Alliance.

When I look back, my story reads a bit like the Choose Your Own Adventure books from the ‘80s’90s. When I look back, there are many crossroads where one different (or perhaps safer) decision could have led me down a very different road.

Professionally, I was a bit of a late bloomer, not finding my true passion until my late 20s. I remember being very apologetic about my resume because it read a bit like I was a job-hopper. I would spend a year or two in a job, then be enticed to try something different. I was definitely searching for something deeper. It was a pivotal moment when a female leader admonished me for apologizing and commended me for my kaleidoscope of experience. It was then I realized how each of those experiences wove together to provide me with something unique to offer.

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

The most interesting story to happen since I began leading Scrum Alliance has been the global pandemic. It has changed the face of business forever, nudging all of us to better understand our abilities as a business to pivot and change with the world. Truly, business agility has never been more important. While navigating business relationships, disruption to business, and economic downturn, I have also been keenly aware of the personal impacts it is having on our employees and their families. It’s a constant juggle of communication, priorities, sensitivity, and business acumen.

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 months into the job, I was meeting with an employee. I made a statement that I had made many times and to many others, “Here, let me take off my Chief hat.” I made a motion of removing a hat, and I shared my opinion on something. My intent was that by “removing my Chief hat,” they understand that my opinion was just an opinion. This wonderful team member looked back at me and said, “Melissa, I’m sorry. I know you mean well, but you cannot take off your Chief hat. You know that, right? No matter what you say, you still sign my paycheck.” We laughed, but it stuck with me.

As a leader, young in my executive career, this was a huge lesson learned. There is now a weight to my opinions that I cannot shake, no matter my intent. It causes me to pause before I speak. Is my opinion even necessary here? Do I want my opinion-based thoughts to be acted upon? If not, sometimes it’s enough to hold my opinions and allow the teams to carry on.

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?

I grew up in a musical family, and music is my North Star. I have a Spotify playlist called “Pre-Game” that I created for the express purpose of preparing my mind and body for an important event or meeting. It contains a mix of energetic and soothing songs that remind me who I am and what I have to offer. Along with my music, I make sure that I am aware of my body, my breath, and that I have done all I can to prepare for the moment.

The interview for this job was one of those moments. I have this vivid memory of looking out the window of my hotel room, literally minutes before going downstairs to meet with our Board of Directors. My phone was playing “High Hopes” by Panic at the Disco, and I was standing in a superhero pose. For three minutes and eleven seconds, I stood in that pose, breathing and taking in the lyrics. I walked out of my room with confidence and peace.

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers to fix this. We’ve started within our own community, asking a lot of questions and taking action, evaluating policies and talking about outreach. We cannot be passive in our search for that inclusion, representation, and equity, and that search does not end when the social media frenzy dies down. We should leave no stone unturned in our evaluation of our organizations, our teams, and ourselves.

Inclusion, representation, and equity make us better. What I have come to realize and accept is that we have been missing a tremendous opportunity. Sitting right in front of us has been this wealth of knowledge, perspective, and creativity; and, we must pursue that. While I am disappointed that we didn’t see it sooner, it makes me optimistic for the future when our strengths are all brought together to bear.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

The primary difference is the holistic view an executive is required to take in connection to the organizational mission and strategy. While many leaders will passionately advocate for their team or department, the CEO is responsible for synthesizing the many streams of advocacy, understanding the needs of the present and future organization. This shows up daily in both the tactical and strategic decisions a CEO must make.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

Myth 1: CEO = Unlimited Power and Authority

This world is ever changing, and if every decision was laid at the feet of the top leader, very little would get accomplished. Modern leaders know that our job is an endless juggling of organizational priorities, educated opinions of those around us, and working within constraints. There is no magic wand handed to us when we gain the title.

Myth 2: CEOs know exactly what they are doing all the time

Last week, I jokingly referred to myself as a “baby CEO” to a fellow CEO/friend who had been in his role for 19 years. He laughed, but admonished me a little, too. “In the midst of a global pandemic and civil unrest, we are all baby CEOs. We are all just working this out as we go,” he said. The world is ever changing, and while education and experience can certainly help us navigate, no one has all the answers all the time.

Myth 3: All CEOs share the same glamorous experience

This is an umbrella that can cover many other myths, such as “CEOs all have private planes or fly first class” or “CEOs all play golf” or “CEOs sit in an ivory tower and make decisions.” None of these are true of every CEO, and some are just true of the CEOs portrayed by Hollywood. Just as businesses and budgets vary in size, CEOs also have very different experiences based on their business environment, Board of Directors, business size and budget, and just personal preferences. I personally only upgrade on International flights, have never played golf, and I find ivory towers boring.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The world is conditioned to imagine a masculine CEO. There is a stereotype or image of the top leader at a company that has been shaped by our shared experience. Women executives will be constantly faced with replacing that image with their own, whether that bias be conscious or unconscious. This shows up in a number of ways:

  • Comparison to male counterparts, whether present or past
  • Risk of being misunderstood, misperceived, or misrepresented
  • Assumptions about strength or intelligence
  • Misattribution of accomplishments or work

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

When I was standing at the window of my hotel room in my superhero pose, I never imagined this job to be easy or glamorous. The most striking difference is the rollercoaster that it’s been, particularly given the current world circumstances. I could not have imagined how rewarding or how challenging this would be.

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

It starts with you. It’s not about being the loudest in the room. Your strength lies in recognizing your unique experience, your unique strengths, and leaning into them wholeheartedly. I spent so much time trying to be everything to everyone. I became successful in my career when I stopped doing that and started leaning into what I alone could bring to the table.

I say it starts with you, because when you embrace your own uniqueness, so will your team. When you demonstrate self-confidence, self-worth, and your strengths, they will feel the permission to do the same. When you tell your stories, so will they. At this intersection of strength, vulnerability, and uniqueness, that’s where thriving begins.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Our organization’s vision is a world where work is joyful, prosperous, and sustainable. We help organizations see how agile principles and practices can do that for them. I set out to make that vision a reality for the people of Scrum Alliance first, and that is a journey we will be on for years to come. In the meantime, I use my platform to tell our story, hoping to inspire others to examine their own way of working. I believe that if work can be more joyful, prosperous, and sustainable, then we have a shot at making the world a better place.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Find Your Tribe. In any job, it is incredibly beneficial to connect with others in your shoes. Only other CEOs will understand the depth and breadth of responsibility, urgency, and empathy that you carry for your mission and your organization. When things are tough, it helps to hear that others are experiencing it too.
  2. Being a woman executive IS different. Even if you’ve never experienced sexism before, you will now. Sometimes it will be overt, and sometimes it will be subtle. It will originate from men, from women, and from yourSELF. Do not allow it to put you on our heels. Do not slip into fight or flight mode. Know your worth, advocate for yourself, and keep doing the work.
  3. Things move slower here. There is very little instant gratification in this role. The things you are working on could take years to accomplish. Have patience with yourself and with others.
  4. Clear is kind. Being liked is not the same as being respected. Establish kind and clear boundaries. Make obvious what is up for debate and what is not. Ask if you have been clear and provide clarity if not.
  5. You need a team and a self-care plan. Surround yourself with trusted mentors. These are your inner-circle people who will tell it to you straight but will also cheer your small victories and biggest risks. Find a coach. And a therapist. Create a plan to care for your own mental, emotional, and physical health. You must put on your own oxygen mask before caring for others.

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

In Frozen II, there is a moment where Anna is overwhelmed by her circumstances and the journey before her. She sings a song called, “Just Do the Next Right Thing.” In executive leadership, and in life really, it is really easy to become so overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done, fixed, or accomplished that we become (pardon the pun) frozen in our tracks. This quote has served as a reminder to me to prioritize, focus, and take the first step. We can’t do everything at once, but we can always do the next right thing.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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