4 strategies to develop your leadership skills

Insight from women technology managers @ Workiva

Workiva's Kristen Bevans, director of engineering, Marie Yue, director of engineering, and Mari Acosta, manager of solution engineering, with heading saying: 4 strategies to develop your leadership skills

Marie Yue, Mari Acosta, and Kristen Bevans all showed an aptitude for leadership from a young age.

During our Empower Her: Advancing Women in the Workplace and Beyond summit, Kristen reminisced about her early attempt at organizing fellow students, a bold move that got her booted off the school bus at seven years old. Meanwhile, Marie found herself promoted to shift leader at her high school’s local bagel shop after just one month. And Mari felt an innate desire to help those around her before fully understanding what “leadership” entailed.

Yet, these three women’s journey toward leadership didn’t end there. Today, they manage teams at Workiva, the world's leading cloud platform for transparent reporting, and have learned a thing or two about breaking glass ceilings.

At Empower Her, we asked Marie, Mari, and Kristen to share their top strategies for advancing as women in leadership — and here’s what they had to say.

Pinpoint your leadership style

Mari’s work is guided by the saying: People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

“So figuring out my leadership style early on was critical,” Mari said. “I sought out 360-degree feedback and ways to increase my own self-awareness… This helped me identify that I have a servant leadership style and prioritize the needs of others.”

Similarly, Kristen found early on that she finds motivation in impact, and the greatest impact comes from putting people first. “That really positioned a lot of the decisions I made around the types of roles I chose and the people that I supported in the organization.”

Kristen encourages you to utilize assessment tools like Myers-Briggs and Emergenetics to help guide your own self-reflection.

Leverage mentorship networks

By surrounding herself with advocates and role models, Mari has successfully navigated challenging workplace situations and developed as a leader in the process.

“Mentors have continually provided me support and exposure. They share similar values and typically have strengths in the areas that I want to grow in as well,” she explained.

Thanks to the impact on her own career, Mari piloted a mentorship program in Workiva’s solution engineering organization. “90% of participants felt they achieved at least one goal, and it was great building a trusted relationship to talk about personal and professional life.”

For Kristen, mentorship comes in various shapes and sizes. “It’s unreasonable to assume there’s a single person who will provide all of the insight you need… There’s a place for mentorship, sponsorship, and advocacy in your support toolbox.”

Even more, mentors can appear in places where you least expect them.

“The most interesting place I found a mentor was at the gym,” Marie laughed. “We have different jobs. She’s a chief people officer and I’m on the back-end engineering side. But, we mentor each other a lot, and we just clicked. That’s important: Find someone you fundamentally like, and a great mentorship relationship can turn into a really good friendship as well.”

Adopt a growth mindset

One of the best pieces of advice Kristen received early in her career was that she could learn from anyone.

“I’m very driven by personal development and growth. Knowing that there are learning opportunities all around me is really reassuring. I know I have people I can support and that will support me as I step into different roles as a manager.”

In the same vein, Mari encourages you to harness your curiosity and dig into surface-level answers to increase your understanding.

“Ask more questions,” she said. “There’s likely a deeper ‘why’ to the behavior.”

At Workiva, team members are invited to leverage a myriad of professional development resources to develop their skills, including focus groups, round table discussions, and coaching.

Lead with empathy & grace

When Marie feels overwhelmed by a situation, she stops and takes a couple of deep breaths. In those moments of silence, she’s able to give herself and others grace.

“I try to always assume the best in people and in myself,” Marie shared.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” added Mari. “Empathy is a superpower.”

But, what if I don’t want to be a manager?

“Congratulations,” Kristen says to anyone who elects an individual contributor path. “What a huge world of opportunity in front of you.”

Management is not the only way forward, and Kristen has seen firsthand how a fulfilling career can stretch across new departments, individual contributor tasks, and leadership responsibilities. None of these are a step back, but rather opportunities to continue expanding your knowledge.

“At Workiva, we have a growth path for both individual contributors and managers,” added Mari. “I’m a firm believer that leadership has nothing to do with your title. It’s a responsibility to help lift others up — and it can be shown no matter what role you’re in.”

To hear the full conversation with Marie Yue, Mari Acosta, and Kristen Bevans, you can watch "Strategies for Women's Leadership Advancement" here.

And if you’re interested in developing your leadership skills with the world's leading cloud platform for transparent reporting, explore career opportunities with Workiva here.
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