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How to unleash your superpower by embracing your authentic leadership style

Michele Lada, Senior director of sales

Michele Lada, the senior director of sales in Northern California for Equinix, works with a team of seasoned sellers, managing some of the company’s most strategic client relationships. She joined the company about a year ago, with two decades of technology sales experience — and an inspirational personal journey to leadership.

“As someone who did not have a woman mentor or role model for most of my career, I was reluctant to get into people management for the first 15 years of my career,” Lada tells Fairygodboss. But then, “in 2015, I was fortunate enough to have a female director who saw my potential and found ways to inspire me to come out of my introverted shell and realize how much more I could contribute,” states Lada.

Although Lada recalls initially pushing back at the idea of going into management, “during the one-on-one meetings I had with that director/mentor, she told me that I was a natural leader of people by the way I coordinated my global team and rallied my peers for the good of the organization,” Lada explains. “She taught me that it is okay to focus on your personal brand management and, by gaining more respect and responsibility, you can have a greater impact on an organization and your clients.”

When her mentor left the company, leaving her in charge, Lada found herself quickly stepping into the leadership role and finding more fulfillment in the mentoring and coaching aspect than she ever had closing a deal as an account executive.

“I jumped into the role wholeheartedly and made enough of a visible impact that I was promoted to lead other sales directors as our organization grew,” Lada shares. “My visible passion for problem solving, client experience, executive positioning and consensus building helped me gain the respect of my peers and senior leaders and continued additional responsibility.”

Here, we caught up with Lada to learn more about her foray into sales leadership. Here’s what she had to say.

Managing people — especially if you’re new to it — is not easy. How has Equinix and your own manager helped set you up for success? How is this kind of support reflective of the overall culture at Equinix?
People management is a huge responsibility. You hold another's livelihood and, sometimes, happiness in your hands. When I first became a people leader, I had no playbook to follow and learned a lot by my mistakes on the job. These weighed heavily. Since joining Equinix, I've been afforded a wealth of resources when it comes to personal and professional development.

We have access to one-on-one coaching, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. My coach really helped me understand how I could leverage my own style with many personality types while maintaining authenticity. My leader here is also a great sounding board and offers a safe space for me to be vulnerable, but also for me to offer him constructive feedback. The Equinix culture allows us a safe space to ask for help while offering the leeway to develop our own leadership styles.

What’s been your most valuable career mistake in your leadership journey?
When I first became a sales director, I thought the way to success was doing things the way my boss did. If I could make him look good, make my number, and not create any waves, then I was doing my job. It really didn't feel good and took a physical and emotional toll. I thought I wasn't cut out for management. It took a while for me to understand two things: there is a big difference between being a manager and being a leader; I wanted to be a leader.

Secondly, authenticity is the most important part of being a leader. I don't have to have the same strengths as my managers. In fact, complementary skill sets are more important when building an organization. Once I felt comfortable that I could define my own leadership style, not only did my career take off, but my mental and physical well-being righted themselves. Equinix allows me to flourish in a way that wasn't possible in other organizations.

What’s something you’re especially good at work and outside of work?
I have spent my years as a leader practicing the art of listening even to those who might not be speaking up. I try to foster an environment where anyone, regardless of whether they work directly with me or not, can come to me for advice or just to vent. If we take the time to really get to know what motivates each individual, we can help them bring out their own personal superpower, which benefits all of us. 

Outside of work, I love hosting people and doing dinner parties whether extravagant or just Taco Tuesday. Creating an environment where people can relax and share the best of what they have to offer always makes me smile. I'm also pretty proud of my prolific rose gardens.

What are you trying to improve on?
As my own worst critic, I am always looking for areas of self-improvement. Over the past year, I am working on saying "no" more, which has been a lifelong challenge. I can't say that I am successful yet, but I've become much more aware of my time limitations and the impact of taking on too much. I find it much easier to coach others on this topic but am continuing to make a conscious effort to choose the bigger impact versus the sheer number of tasks.

What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
I almost didn't apply to Equinix for a few reasons. First of all, I was only nine months into a new job that I still enjoyed and felt an obligation to “stick it out.” Secondly, the job I applied for was an executive level that I wasn't sure I was ready for at a company as successful as Equinix.

I am proud of myself for taking the leap on what I thought was a stretch goal to see what could happen. I knew I was leaving my former company in a better place than I found it, and though I didn’t get the role I originally applied for, I was able to move into an extremely fulfilling leadership position at a company I love. I still remember the weekend I almost made the decision not to apply and that inspires me daily to never count myself out.

The original article was published on Fairygodboss.

Posted by Michele Lada, Senior director of sales on Aug 19, 2022

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