Rising to the top: Insights from a millenial managing director
Three weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown, I found myself with more time than usual. I decided to leverage this time by scheduling virtual calls with industry leaders in the marketing and business analysis professions. I reached out to Ms. Roxanne Boyes (Managing Director, Vizeum Kenya) to request for the opportunity of a one-hour call to discuss her stellar career journey and anything that young people joining the professional world could potentially learn from her. Fortunately, she agreed to host a Microsoft Teams call. I will endeavor to summarize our chat into 5 main insights, which I hope will inspire you to take charge of your career, just as they did for me.
As we kicked-off the call I asked how she managed to become a Managing Director at a multinational company, after only four years in the workplace. She reported that as a Junior Strategist at Carat in South Africa, she would constantly ask her boss and herself “If you could achieve your 10-year career goal in one year, what would that look like?” Despite advice to be patient, she would always be reminded of and reference all those that achieved their goals in the shortest time possible, such as Tim Ferriss. Through their examples, she was determined to do the same.
She invested more time and energy than most. She was constantly reading books or articles, watching thought-leadership videos and volunteering for projects that were beyond her job description. For instance, when her marketing agency was pitching for the Coca-Cola, she emailed the project lead and offered to volunteer, paying for her own flight to Johannesburg from Cape Town. In turn, she learned valuable pitching skills which would be tricky to gain as a junior. Once on the project team, she assisted in developing the final presentation, which won the business.
Indeed, her proactivity paid off. Despite having just over two years of work experience at the time, she was promoted from a junior strategist to the Sub-Saharan Africa regional strategist on the Coca-Cola account. She emphasized that on many occasions getting a promotion has more to do with your proactivity than being the smartest person in the company. High-performers are willing to put in more time than the usual 8-to-5 to learn and perfect their craft.
“If you’re brave enough to take on a task, your company’s management is more likely to give it to you”, she pointed out. Thus, never shy away from projects that do not feature in your job description within your company, even if you are not too sure you have all the skills to hack it. That’s how you learn, grow, and stand out.
Add value to your bosses/leaders
To conclude her response to my first question, she also stressed the importance of adding value to your managers as another strategy for making yourself promotable within your company. She told me that while most people often go to their bosses to get answers or complain about their company’s problems, for one to stand out, they need to be different by approaching your leaders with ideas or potential solutions. As an example, you can share with your boss book recommendations and articles to help them grow personally and professional or even sit down with them to inquire about company challenges.
In her second year as a regional strategist, she spotted a business opportunity to offer tailor-made media planning solutions to SMEs. After sharing the opportunity with her boss who encouraged her to explore it, she dedicated some time to pursue it despite her other full-time responsibilities. After six months, the aforementioned business opportunity was converted into a fully-fledged new company that she was promoted to head.
“The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know” (Aristotle)
As the call progressed, I imagined that because she rose to senior management without several years of experience under her belt, most probably she must have experienced the imposter syndrome. The imposter syndrome is that persistent inability to believe that your success is deserved, and that you do not have all the necessary capabilities needed to manage the huge responsibilities that have been assigned to you. I wanted to know if she has ever felt the syndrome and how she managed it.
Shockingly, she acknowledged that there have been many times when she experienced the imposter syndrome. However, she stated that the imposter syndrome is natural because it is often a result of exposure. Borrowing from Aristotle’s famous quote, she noted, the more you are exposed, the more you realize how much you do not know. Because of the awareness of your ignorance, you may start questioning your abilities more so than before.
To deal with imposter syndrome, she advised me that I must be comfortable with the fact that I am going to be a perpetual novice throughout my career. Thus, I must be ready to learn and raise my hand when I do not know something. That way the continued learnings will silence this feeling.
Leverage internal PR
We had already spent more than one hour on the call, but I still had many questions bubbling in my head. This was one of the most interesting talks I ever had with someone in the professional world. It was authentic and honest. I wanted to hear more. So, I proceeded to ask her about strategies that one could use to make themselves promotable within their company. Here, she emphasized the importance of internal Public Relations (PR). Simply put, internal PR is about building your profile in the company that you are working for by nudging the relevant people to become aware of your hard work and the value that you bring to the company.
However, and she warned me, internal PR is not bragging. Examples of internal PR could be asking thought-provoking questions during meetings with the leadership team, involving your boss in your work or even sharing interesting book notes in your company’s WhatsApp group. Basically, building your reputation by adding value to your company as a thought leader.
Be flexible with your career plan
We winded up with the question of whether or not she had a framework that she used to design her career goals. She told me that despite researching the opportunities available within the industry and continual self-improvement through skill-building, it’s very important to have a clear idea of where you ultimately want to be. Your end game, essentially. While it is important to have a clear direction that you want your career to take, she said, it’s also valuable not to plan too much so that you are not stuck with an idea that there is only one path that can get you where you want to go. Be flexible so that you are open to the opportunities that might come unexpectedly while you are on your way.
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