This past May, the CEO of Sedna Consulting Group, Neha Arnold, conducted a webinar about leading with authenticity. At the end of the webinar, an open Q&A was held for attendees to seek advice and learn more from Neha about her perspectives and experiences with leadership. The following is a transcription of the Q&A.
Which style of leadership do you think is more effective in a technological organization or tech entrepreneurship for that matter?
N: That’s a great question, but there isn't one leadership style for a particular industry. I think it really depends on what your goals for that team are, and what your role is. I guess sharing a little about my role as CEO of a tech consulting firm, I think I sort of play all of these different roles. There’s times where I really need to lean into the visionary leadership style. At the beginning of the year or end of the year, when we’re brainstorming and reflecting, I really need to create an environment that people are gonna be inspired by, and show them that vision that they want to move towards. As the year goes on, or as projects and certain things come up, I find myself leaning more into the democratic style, which I think is personally my leadership style, I would say, between that and coaching. Just because my leadership style is coaching doesn’t mean that, when I need to have difficult conversations with people or be direct with people, I’m not able to do that. I don’t think there is any one leadership style that is specific to technology or tech entrepreneurship.
Do you have any specific recommendations for women who are trying to be leaders? I feel like we have our own strengths, but we also have a lot of weaknesses and things that are not really working in our favor in a corporate environment. What would you recommend to women specifically trying to rise up?
N: I think there are a couple of different things. I think one is identifying, what are those challenges or barriers? What is preventing you from being able to rise up and take that next step, whatever your goal is? So thinking about, is this something that’s internal, or is it something that I could be doing differently as an individual to overcome those challenges? Is it something around me—is it a team that I’m part of?
I’ll share the example again of the group of developers I was with. I was part of that team for 3 years, and I found myself that anytime the role to be a team lead in that group came up, I was never considered, even though I had been the longest-standing member of that team. I was the first developer of that team. Even when we’d grown to the size of 20, I found that there would be new people coming in, and they would have the opportunity to step in and take on those leadership roles. I went to my team leadership, and I said, hey, I’ve noticed that all of these different folks are getting an opportunity to step up. What can I do? And I said it in a way where it was more inquisitive and wasn’t coming from [a place of] hey, why didn’t I get this role, why did this other person? The goal is not to put that other person down, and the goal isn’t to step on other people, but to really understand: is there anything I could be doing better, or differently, that would set me up for those positions?
If you find that the answers you’re getting don’t really make sense, or don’t seem reasonable to you. For me, in that case, it was more of a political thing. I sort of decided to change projects and to step away, because I felt that I had put in the time, I felt that I had demonstrated the skills required to step into that next role. I had solicited feedback, and the answers I was getting, I was not really satisfied with, and I decided to take that step on my own. I think understanding, asking for feedback, and then thirdly, relying on your network. I think that’s a huge piece of not just being an authentic leader, but just navigating your career as a whole. Going to my mentors and talking to them about the situation, saying hey, this is what I’m struggling with, what do you advise? I’ve always found conversations with my mentors, or other individuals that I trust, to be extremely helpful in navigating that situation.
I’m representing Women in Cybersecurity, and I’m working with all genders, all the ages. As president at university, one thing I’m not able to handle is too much curiosity. As I’m graduating, and I’m working for Microsoft, apart from talking about the point of cybersecurity... instead of asking, “What are you working on in cybersecurity?” [students] just ask, “How did you get this Microsoft job?” ... I love teaching people and guiding them, [and] I love being a visionary leader, but too much curiosity I cannot handle, curiosity about our personal things.
N: You made a comment about someone asking about things that might not seem personal to them, but are maybe personal to you, or you don’t feel comfortable discussing it. I think that’s where setting those boundaries—and I think that’s a big part of being an authentic leader, letting people know that, hey, these are the things I’m comfortable sharing about myself… if you want to talk, either we talk offline, individually, or maybe I can direct you to someone else who can give you that information. So I think when you show up consistently and people get to build a relationship with you and get to know what are your limits, or what are your buttons, what are things you’re comfortable talking about, I think people learn to adapt, and it varies from team to team. I’ve been part of teams where some of the social impact work we did, we were working on things that were really personal. It was hard, in those teams, not to get personal. I’ve worked with human trafficking survivors. So, when you’re working on a topic like that, and you have conversations and you’re problem-solving, you kind of have to let down your guard, and you have to have difficult conversations with your team. And then on the other hand, I’ve been part of teams where my boundaries for what I wanted to talk about were very different, for one reason or another. I think just setting your boundaries and communicating those will actually help you be a more authentic leader.
What recommendations do you have [for]... when you have ideas for how to lead, but you don’t want to overstep? No one is taking charge of a project, but you’re not the most senior team member.
N: I obviously think it depends on your organization and on the team. But, when I’ve been in situations like that, I’ve just had a conversation with the person who was the most senior person, and presented it as not that I wanted to take charge, but that I have some ideas, would you be open to me sharing those ideas with the team? Or, here's something specifically I think we could do that would help make all of our lives easier, [and] would help us accomplish this goal we have. So I think if you frame it in a way that presents your ideas or what you want to do as helping the team, and not necessarily stepping on anyone’s role or anyone’s title—and again that’s why I said that really depends on your company culture—I think that could be a way to approach that situation and to take control.
Many thanks to Neha Arnold for conducting such an in-depth webinar, Q&A, and networking opportunity, and for answering questions related to authentic leadership and women leaders, especially in the modern tech industry. For more information on and insights into leading with authenticity, Sedna Consulting Group, and the tech industry as a whole, check out the blog at sednacg.com!