7 Years and Lessons in Leadership
By: Day Rankin
Desirée Stolar waddled into the MLT office seven years ago. She was quite pregnant and expecting her first child, yet ready to find opportunities within the growing organization. At the time, MLT had fostered a community of 3,500 Alumni. Desirée, a Harvard Business School alumnus, had previously witnessed the unique interactions between MLT Alumni at graduate and postgraduate events. Seeing the way MLTers embraced one another was something that always stuck out to her. She wanted to be a part of those special connections, too.
In 2016, Desirée took an offer as MLT’s Director of Alumni Engagement. This was her secret way of joining in on the magic at MLT. Since then, Desirée has played a pivotal role in how MLT serves its now 10,000+ Alumni. She has spearheaded events and programs including the Alumni Summer Tour; the 15th Anniversary Gala & Conference; the Tech Equity Collective’s Tech Prep program; and the Senior Executive Leader Fellowship (SELF). Her legacy and leadership have had a long-lasting impact on MLT and its community of Alums.
As Desirée embarks on new endeavors, she leaves the organization with seven lessons she’s learned in her seven years at MLT. She finds these lessons are imperative to those who want to grow and be true leaders of impact.
1. Communicate with your team
Signal to your team as early as possible that you have the capacity and interest in leadership. Look for gaps, issues, or emergent opportunities.
Increase your visibility within organizations in order to drive impact. Look for gaps, issues, and emergent opportunities. What strengths can you bring to those opportunities that align with your know-how, energy, and leadership? Raise your hand. Sometimes you will only be 50% ready, but trust that you have enough of a foundation and the ability to ask for help to close the gaps.
2. Lean into what you do very well
Highlight something notable about your experiences or accomplishments. Own it and be accessible in sharing it with others (via speaking, training, and supporting).
We all have something that other people can value and benefit from. Take the call. Answer the email. Finding one thing that other people would like to learn from you and being accessible to them keeps you grounded as a leader. It can also be a reminder that you’ve done something special. Your successes may not be a big deal to you, but they can help inform someone who is trying to get to where you have been. Think about the things that bring other people joy that you can lean into and share.
3. Carefully and strategically build your team
Build your team for strength and growth, not for uniformity. Surround yourself with a team of complementary skill sets.
Look for people who want to deliver best-in-class work and those who embrace the hustle. All great teams are built on an ethos that people understand the job they were hired to do, but also have a growth mindset. They think about how they will help the team get to the next level. Hire people who compliment your weaknesses or are better than you in certain areas. It’s controversial, but you should be replaceable. You should have people on your team who strengthen your profile as a leader. These individuals can prompt you to think about doing things that have value in different ways than you envisioned. Hiring yourself only makes room for more comfort and blindspots.
4. Prioritize your mental and physical health
Protect your mental well-being in ways that matter to you. For many of us, time is the most limited luxury we have — optimize it.
Always assess whether you have the mental and physical fortitude to commit. Think about your time in order to create agency and control, maintain a sense of self, and serve others. Find out what works for you to minimize worry, overwhelm, and stress in your life. No one is perfect, but if you can control the fundamentals of your life (how you interact with your family, team, and organizations), then you can identify when things will be difficult and if you’ll need support. You can adapt and become agile. Self-care is a constant effort. For many of us, it looks like having ownership over our time.
5. Create a safe space for transformative conversations
Every conversation has the potential for greater understanding and breakthroughs. We are here to serve and listen. Create a safe space in small and significant ways (e.g., “How are you this hour? If you could look back a year from now, what do you wish you could get done?”).
Give people open and flexible opportunities to speak with you. By being genuine and asking people about their feelings by the hour, you can help them identify blockages, stressors, or even moments of gratitude. This can lead to breakthrough conversations and opportunities for people to be more open about personal and professional conflicts without judgment. Always show up without judgment.
6. Empower people early
Find ways to give people meaningful work that aligns with their strengths and growth areas. In turn, they will show up fully as colleagues and collaborators.
The days when most people stay at one company until retirement are few and far between. You should never assume someone is going to stay in an organization forever. Ask your team questions about where they are trying to go next. Create opportunities within their current role for them to get there. Have very honest conversations with people about why they are in the organization, what they are trying to accomplish, and how they can get the job done, while simultaneously creating exposure and opportunities for their future goals. Position them for what they really want to do. When you approach people this way, it lets them know they are seen and creates a sense of candor.
7. Align your strengths with what brings you innate motivation
I like to build experiences and programs that further people’s careers and performance. The seven years at MLT rarely felt like work.
Do work that makes you want to get out of bed in the morning, even on hard days. Ask yourself: “Do you care about the work? Can you work with the people around you for 8-9 hours each day?” Don’t dismiss those questions. There will always be times when things are stressful, get restructured, or are not always the way you want them to be. Find the place where, for the most part, the work excites, challenges, and creates opportunities for you and your growth.
Learn more about Desirée’s entrepreneurial journey and success on NBC’s Shark Tank. Read next: MLT Staff Feature – Desirée Stolar talks Shark Tank, Entrepreneurship, and Motherhood