This is a reflection on my journey to the leadership position I’m in today. I’ve always had the drive to succeed as a strong figure not only in my career, but in my community, as a mom and a partner.
I was rising in my career at the same time that the digital agency phenomenon was on the rise in advertising. I was working crazy hours and was able to accomplish great things by my mid-30s — I was an EVP in a growing organization. But I soon realized that I had over 70 people within my capability and simply put, I wasn’t comfortable being the leader, even though the title was exciting (at the time). I wasn’t ready to make the truly difficult decisions. I was a young mother, and overseeing the success of these people was too much for me in that moment. I wasn’t quite ready for all of this intense responsibility, not to mention the ability to carry it out with grit and grace.
I have always been confident in my abilities, but I had lost my way. Being in this leadership role, I was no longer in the work, living and breathing it — which had been the fuel that kept me excited about my job in the first place. I was making decisions that would affect my team’s lives and I just wasn’t comfortable with that. I needed to find a new way to lead while staying in the work. I don’t know if I would’ve come to this realization if I wasn’t raised to be a strong woman who was able to reflect on what I want. As I grew up, I was often asked to reflect on myself, as well as others –and I would venture to guess I’m not the only woman who had this experience. It’s often a part of societal norms. But I would argue that as a result, we tend to be more empathetic, which is why we can be strong and thoughtful leaders.
So I took a step back. And now, seven years later I’m in a different leadership position. I am able to lead, coach and be in the work. And I’m finally accepting the fact that I will be uncomfortable at times—being truly candid and brutally honest can be hard. But I’m learning to provide guidance, feedback and be direct while still showing empathy — it can be a tightrope. Some days are hard, but some days are incredible and it is truly rewarding to see the growth and evolution of our team.
Every day is an exercise in being comfortable with being uncomfortable — making the hard decisions. And knowing that these decisions are right for the greater goals of the team, the work and the organization.
Most importantly, I’ve learned to take time for myself – so I can be a better leader. Whether it’s exercising, playing with my kids, having a glass of wine, meditating, traveling or simply putting the phone away.
It’s taken me this time to look back and understand my journey. I hope sharing this with others can allow you to find your path, your voice and know it may not be a straight line.
What’s your journey?
Author: Alyse Schwartz, SVP, Manging Director, Digitas