By Abigail Gibbons
“Achieved individual and team goals through self and group motivation.”
That’s the line I had on my resume after college graduation, but it still rings true today.
I believe a great leader is someone who is focused on the wellbeing of their team. It’s a person who believes that the only path to reaching personal goals starts with acting in the team’s best interests. When I graduated college, I had zero “official” professional experience, but what I did have was a background in leadership. Throughout my life as an athlete, I have had the opportunity to learn from those who have successfully embraced their roles as both a leader and team member.
I embarked on the journey of becoming a business owner by creating The AG Collective, a community building platform of networking and event series serving 20-something women and elite athletes. Through this, I have truly begun to see who I am as a leader and how we can lift up others. My business was created as a way to bring my passion and skills of relationship building and human connection to life. So, what does the AG Collective mean to me, as its founder? It means new collaborations and ideas. It means supportive environments that inspire and create actionable change. Most importantly, it means that I can accomplish what I put my mind to, find meaning in my career and realize I can actually create a positive impact in the world. As a leader, I want to show my peers the positive impacts risk-taking and change can have on our lives, and drive home that your career can have meaning and passion.
Leadership comes at all levels and an incredible leader lives within all women. We should never believe the misconception of “I am too young to lead a team.” With this in mind, we take a team-focused approach for how mid-level female professionals can be innovative in leadership.
- Build relationships with your teammates: And by teammates, yes, I mean your team of coworkers! In the pool, I was never the fastest, and I was never captain. But regardless, I took extra time to get to know the younger athletes, answer their questions and be a support system to them when they needed it. In the workplace, while I was the youngest on the team or the office, I never shied away from reaching out to older teammates or senior employees to grab a coffee and get to know them. Don’t know what to say? Try just a simple “Hello, I’m (name) and I am an (title) here at (company). I am passionate or looking to grow in (x), and I would love to find a time to connect with you and learn more about your path!” Boom. Now, no excuses – send that email or knock on their office!
- Be Fearless. Take risks, be creative, know when to take action, when to ask for forgiveness later and when to think out of the box. Quitting my safe, successful job in publishing to travel and volunteer for a few months in South America left my friends, family and peers a little uneasy. Having to fight the opinions of others and stay true to making decisions that were best for me was my first step of becoming a risk-taker. After finding success in my first major risk, it prepared me to take a second large leap of faith: leaving my full-time impressive agency job, with great benefits, to start my own business.
- Be transparent and accountable. When you make a mistake, own it and fix it to the best of your ability. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but instead is a sign that you know how to lean on your teammates for support. As a new business owner, it’s just me managing and creating all marketing efforts, figuring out my finances and taxes, building my network and learning how I can start making money. I have learned from trial and error about what people are willing to pay for and most of that is through transparent conversation. I lean on my team, my network of peers, and mentors who have supported me and given me feedback when I needed it. When I need help, I reach out to my mentors or supportive peers asking for feedback.
- Collaboration over competition. As you are growing your career, it can be easy to feel competitive with your peers. Like in a sport, you want to be the winner. It’s important to be conscious of healthy versus unhealthy competition. In healthy competition, you are practicing, you are pushing yourself and teammates to be stronger, better, faster, and when you got to compete, you work as one to achieve a mutual goal: winning. The same strategy goes in the workplace. If the employee you trained or your coworker has excelled into a position greater than yours, remember that you contributed to their growth and are a team in that sense. Their success is also yours. Now, make sure your success is valued and set yourself up to grow as well!
- Mentor younger coworkers and professionals, of all genders. You are never too young to mentor your peers, no matter the gender. Be compassionate and open when mentoring and leading those who are not as experienced. Personally, I have included a couple college-aged women to work with me as I grow my business. I create a mutual partnership, empowering women to take on projects and share their ideas to help grow The AG Collective, along with adding meaningful work to their resumes and portfolios. I ask them to reflect on their goals and then we create a plan to help them get there. I know I don’t know it all, and they can help me as much as I can help them. Honestly, in just a couple weeks I have learned an incredible amount from those younger than me. I encourage you to listen as well!
- Communicate based on your team’s preferred methods rather than your own. It goes without saying, communication is key in being part of a team and a leader. Know that your teammates will all have different preferred ways to communicate and receive feedback. Be aware and willing to adapt. (Remember #1: building relationships!)
Now that you have more tools in your leadership toolbox, keep exploring and developing your style. For example, map out 2-3 role models or leaders you have admired (ex: a coach, a family member, a friend) and write down the leadership qualities you admire. Then, take those qualities and reflect on which you would like to develop and take with you, and which you have already as a leader. Keep leading out there, ladies!
Abigail is the Founder of The AG Collective, a company providing services and community building platforms that empower 20-something women (womxn) and former elite athletes to take risks and be entrepreneurial through networking and event series. Developing future female leaders and empowering them to use their voices is a passion of hers, learned by the powerful women and men who have mentored her. Check out some of these women on her Woman Of The Week Series. Interested in chatting more with Abigail? Send her a note here!