Kelly Hall, Vision Critical Chief Customer Officer, was recently named one of the Top 50 Women Leaders in SaaS of 2019 by The Software Report. Here, Kelly shares some wisdom gleaned over her 17-year career in tech. She offers her perspective on the upsides and downsides of being an executive, the traits required to be a successful leader, and what she wishes she would have known when starting her career. Read more about Kelly’s career journey and thoughts on leadership in her recent interview with Authority Magazine.
How I Got on the Career Path of Customer Success
I wish I could say I made a career plan early in life and executed that plan perfectly, but that’s not the truth. In my early 20s, I wanted to move to a new state and needed to find a job quickly, so I took an administrative position with a small computer reseller. Luckily, the technology field clicked for me because it was very logical. But I also wanted to feel like I was helping people. Over the next five years, I enjoyed working as a process and implementation consultant for a large software manufacturer. I wasn’t saving lives, but I made an impact on people and how they worked, which in turn impacted their quality of life. With the evolution of the tech industry and the advent of SaaS, I was naturally drawn to Customer Success. Although I have spent my whole career in the technology field, it’s not technology that interests me. It’s the people: customers, peers, and employees. Driving their growth and success is what gets me going in the morning.
How Are an Executive’s Responsibilities Different from Those of the Other Leaders in an Organization?
As an executive, you are rarely responsible for only one area. You wear many hats of various shapes and sizes. When visiting one of Vision Critical’s global offices, I don’t talk solely with the 100+ employees in my direct organization. I make a point to listen to anyone who wants to express their thoughts. My job is to understand what is working and what is not, and to share the voice of our employees with our Executive Committee. I feel that it’s an honor and a privilege to be an executive. A great executive is steward of all; not just those that report to you.
What Do You Enjoy Most about Being an Executive?
I know this won’t come as a shock, but it’s the people. I am very fortunate to work with an amazing group of talented people, some of whom haven’t had their true potential fully unlocked. Finding those people and helping them reach professional goals and fuel their soul with their career is my greatest professional joy. It fuels my soul.
The same holds for our customers. Knowing that the products, services, and guidance you provide enable success for your customers is incredibly fulfilling. To see your customers set the bar for the industry and be promoted and recognized for their achievement are why I do this job.
What Are the Drawbacks of Holding an Executive Position?
Tough decisions have to be made on a daily basis, and the reasoning behind the decisions can’t always be shared. You just hope and pray that the organization and customers trust you are doing right by them, even when they may not understand why you are making certain decisions.
What Is a “Myth” You’ve Experienced about Being an Executive?
That being an executive is an easy job. Ten years ago if you asked me my opinion, I would’ve told you that executives sat around talking while everyone else did the work. I can tell you now, I was very wrong. Being an executive is rolling up your sleeves and digging in when needed, then quickly pivoting and strategizing. No two days or even two hours are the same. The bottom line is, no matter what, you have to make it happen.
Which Traits Do You Think Are Required to Be a Successful Executive?
A great leader is compassionate, logical, comfortable with ambiguity, is willing to have tough conversations, possesses emotional intelligence, and can step back and see the bigger picture.
It’s also important to remember that no one is born a great leader. Rather, leadership skills are developed and honed with time and experience.
What Advice Would You Give Other Female Leaders to Help Their Teams Achieve Success?
- Build strong relationships with your constituencies. Whether it’s with vendors, customers, or co-workers, listen with a desire to help and show empathy. With this, healthy, ethical, and productive relationships can flourish.
- There must be total alignment across the executive level regarding what success means. Having a clear goal and defined success metrics allows each department to identify how they can contribute.
- Without customers, our businesses don’t mean much. Therefore, customer voice and experience must be front and center. It’s vital to clearly articulate this goal across the organization and to solicit customer insights that are shared organization-wide to meet that goal.
- Lead with passion. Passion for people, passion for learning, and passion for making a difference. Follow with empathy; put yourselves in your employees’ and customers’ shoes to understand what the goals and/or issues mean to them.
- Set expectations and meet them. Every. Single. Time. This is applicable for the tech industry, and every other industry as well. The key to success is being passionate about your work, having a situational understanding of the people around you, and meeting the expectations you set.
What Do You Wish You Would Have Known before You Started Your Career?
- Trust your gut - As a woman in tech, I have typically been one of the few females sitting around the table. That initially intimidated me and I was fearful to speak up, which I regret. Your gut instinct will rarely let you down, so listen to it. Your experience and wisdom are needed.
- Mistakes are part of the process - Embrace them and learn from them. Fail fast and pivot.
- Business is more art than science - There is no one “right” way to do things, so stop looking for it and, as always, remember to trust your gut.
- Ask questions - Don’t fear being the only one asking questions. If you have a thoughtful question, then ask it. You will likely help someone else in the room.
- Listen to hear, not respond - I am still working on this. In any given conversation, we innately listen to respond. However, when you listen to hear and understand, you’re more open to what someone is actually saying versus what you are interpreting they are saying.
What Do You Think?
What makes a good leader? Click the social icons to share this post and your thoughts on what advice you would give to others in your field to help them succeed or tag a leader that has made a positive influence on your life or career.