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The Partner Channel Podcast Episode #22
The Key Characteristics of Female Leaders
In part one of this special edition of the Partner Channel Podcast, for our Women in Channel Summer Series, Katie Martinez, Director of Customer Experience, sits down with Fiona Coughlan from AchieveUnite to discuss the key features of female leaders. Fiona also discusses how the past year has shaped female leaders and offers advice on how to become the superhero of your own career.
Katie Martinez: Welcome to the Partner Channel Podcast, the voice of the partner channel community. I am Katie Martinez, Director of Customer Experience at Allbound, excited to be here with Fiona Coughlan from AchieveUnite. Today we are going to discuss the key characteristics of female leaders. We loved this podcast so much that we’ve made it into 2 parts for our Women in Channel Summer Series. So welcome, Fiona. Thank you so much for being here with me. First and foremost, let’s just start off by walking through your background in the channel and how you ended up at AchieveUnite?
Fiona Coughlan: We would love to say, first of all, thank you for having me, my channel career started many, many years ago when I was so lucky to be given the opportunity to be the second person that Adobe ever recruited into northern Europe. We had to set up the office. We had to work out how to engage with everybody from customers, partners, distributors. And I decided that I wanted to focus on the channel because Adobe didn’t have anybody. And so I had to work really hard and I had to learn all the products. It ended up with me being responsible for distribution for them within about five years. And then I moved over to companies like Macromedia, did the same sort of thing there, was responsible for Essence Channel over in the UK. I have asically been in leadership roles my whole career ever since. I was always sort of frustrated with the fact that there was a lot of focus put on data and process, but not so much focus put on emotional intelligence. And I had been introduced to Theresa Caragol, who’s the CEO of Achieve Unite, and I went on this amazing program called Ace, and I was blown away because for the first time I was on a leadership program that really understood the value of emotional intelligence as well as intellectual intelligence. And really the rest is history. I started working with Theresa about two and a half years ago, now facilitate the program and lead the ACE initiative for AchieveUnite. And I’m so grateful for it. I feel really blessed.
Katie Martinez: That’s fantastic. So probably need to fill in folks to what Achieve Unite is what services are you guys providing, especially in the channel.
Fiona Coughlan: Theresa set up Achieve Unite about five or six years ago and she really, really believed and understood the value of true partnerships. So the whole company Achieve Unite is based upon the premise of equity in partnering. The company is responsible for providing programs and channel initiatives that drive real, true partner engagement through consultation, but also through education. And that’s where the ACE program comes in. So it’s leadership programs, channel programs that really drive partner engagement.
Katie Martinez: Perfect. Well, then you’re the perfect person to talk to today. We are talking about leadership in the channel and also focusing on your female leaders and the characteristics of those female leaders. So obviously and thanks for your history, it’s really, really interesting. But you spent a lot of time focused on elevating women in your career, specifically those in the channel, which, you know, is not necessarily super common. So what or who inspired you to kind of make this a focal point of your career?
Fiona Coughlan: I think my own experiences inspired me massively, but also I was really lucky to have an amazing female leader when we kicked off that whole Adobe adventure. And so I got first hand to experience what it’s like to be around a really inspirational woman who really empowered you to do amazing things. And then I also ended up becoming a mentee for an amazing lady called Karen Slatford that was responsible for global sales for HP for many years. And in fact, she actually mentored Theresa Caragol, who she subsequently introduced me to. And now I would definitely say that Theresa inspires me. So I’ve been around these amazing women and have these amazing experiences myself. Then also seeing other women who haven’t and other women who’ve really had very, very difficult times in a heavily dominated male environment, not have the same opportunities as me. And so when I see the difference, I really want to do something about it. And that’s really what made me make the leap and join Achieve Unite to really drive forward with the ACE program.
Katie Martinez: Yeah, I love that collective of good female leaders and I think that’s something that I took advantage of or didn’t know I was taking advantage of when I was younger. Especially if anyone is just getting started, is listening to this, don’t don’t take that for granted. So I think in in my first job, especially my very first job out of college, I had very strong female leaders around me and I didn’t really recognize it. I was young and naive and it was so heavily male dominated that, you know, to me being young, I just thought everybody was the same. I had very rose colored glasses on. Looking back years later, I recognize how integral some of those women were. I really didn’t recognize at the time how important that was. Even now I look back at the relationships that we had working or personnel and how much that still impacts me and my career today.
Fiona Coughlan: Yeah, and absolutely. You then realize when you look at the other side of the coin and you realize when you see leaders that aren’t authentic, that don’t empower you, that aren’t their true selves, how uninspiring it is and how actually it locks you down and it keeps you down in your career. And that’s really the most massive change I’ve seen over the last kind of like twenty five years of my career, is that you were expected to kind of cover yourself with this shield of behavior. And there was these expectations of how you were meant to be. And many, many females that had huge amounts of potential just didn’t feel able to be themselves. So they couldn’t function properly. Whereas when you’re given a leader, male or female, but particularly when you’re given a female leader that recognizes your talents and nurtures those, then great things can happen. And so I really believe that there is already a shift, as we know, in the industry. And if we can continue to work with that shift, we’re just going to unlock all that talent and all that power that’s available that could be used to really drive a much better place and industry going forward.
Katie Martinez: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And I think watching someone navigate that is sometimes the best experience or tool, you know, you can interact with with people you can they can tell you how to navigate it. But firsthand, watching someone do that, I think is at least for me personally, totally change the way that I think I’ve approached every every role ever, because it just it gave me that blueprint. It showed me that it is OK to be assertive and have a space and have a place. You were talking about [the pressure] to be a certain way and have that shield on and you can kind of toss that to the side. And it’s OK to be authentic because that is what is going to get you. Not only you personally, really great career and success, but I think for me I think about who else is watching, who else’s is kind of taking taking audience of what I’m doing. And sometimes it’s a little overwhelming.
Fiona Coughlan: But, you know, you raise a really, really valid point. Because being a great leader and being a female with an industry, we’ve all got a responsibility to create followership. And you do that by setting a great example. And if you do that, then naturally you’re inspiring people to want to be the best selves. And for some people, that is leading. For other people, it’s not that’s absolutely fine. But for them to actually just be able to turn up and be their best selves and deliver on their potential is what’s going to drive great results. And that’s really what partnerting is all about. That’s what the channel is all about. It’s enabling great relationships to be created that deliver great results and that comes from trust and collaboration. And that’s why really Achieve Unite are all about the essence of all of those things coming together.
Katie Martinez: Yes, so talking about, you know, kind of that leadership development and doing training, especially specifically for women. What do you see in these workshops as just one of those main ways that women tend to feel a little held back in their role?
Fiona Coughlan: I think we’ve touched on it. It’s that kind of like imposter syndrome where they haven’t necessarily felt that they’re able to get their voice heard because they don’t think they’re necessarily good enough. You know, there are many studies that sort of show that there are innate differences between the genders. Now, that’s a big generalization. It doesn’t always apply. But generally speaking, females are wired differently. And so they feel they’ve got to watch how they behave or how they respond to things. And they’ve got to fit in a certain way rather than taking ownership of their talents and realizing that actually some of their innate qualities, i.e. empathy, is one of the strongest tools you can have in terms of being able to engage and connect with people. And in order for you to be successful within the channel, you need to connect with people so, you know, rather than them seeing this as something to be worried about because they might consider a bit more sensitive on the showing too much emotion, actually, if they embrace it and realize that that’s one of their powers, then they’re going to create much, much better trusted relationships. And that’s been my experience throughout my career, definitely.
Katie Martinez: That’s great. So we kind of are delving into my next question, but conversely to what holds back women. What are those pieces or what are those elements, in addition to empathy, that make women feel empowered in their roles?
Fiona Coughlan: I think definitely realizing what motivates them, realizing what they inspired by, realizing what strengths they have and what their natural capabilities are, helps them blossom. I mean, it helps everybody blossom, but it’s not something that women normally give themselves the right to do. Women are often very much about the tasks and getting the job done and moving on. And, you know, you’ve only got to look at what’s happening with the pandemic. And if you get time, check out the McKinsey report for 2020 and it shows you the impact that the pandemic has had on many women because they are responsible often for bringing up their children, for trying to manage a career, and more and more so for looking after elderly parents. Plus all of the worry that’s gone around recently with the pandemic. And so they don’t often give themselves that time to actually invest in themselves. But when they do, that can really, really make a huge difference and give them those superpowers and give them the right to be able to be their true self. And that’s really what helps them succeed. And I see in the ACE program all the time, the more they actually recognize they’ve got these strengths and these capabilities, that’s when they start to blossom. And that’s what’s just so wonderful about facilitating the program.
Katie Martinez: And it’s interesting that you bring up the pandemic and just how how that is impacted almost every minute and second. Hopefully we’re kind of on the other side of the worst knock on wood, cross fingers. But how much that impacted, you know, women in general, families in general, and the different sort of roles that all of a sudden people had to take on, like I myself, very lucky don’t have children and did not become a teacher in the pandemic, thank goodness. But I think that was such a key piece to success is recognizing that. We are all very human and that there was a lot of things people had to pick up at the drop of a hat that sometimes we’re naturally inclined to and sometimes we’re not. And, you know, watching those two things balance with business and work, especially the stressors that were happening with business and work at that time. So looking forward, you know, weeks, months, years, whatever the “end of the pandemic” looks like. What what do you think are some of those long term effects, especially for females, as we come out of that, is there going to be some big shifts and change?
Fiona Coughlan: I hope that if you look at what the McKinsey report says, it’s really made people really reevaluate what matters to them. And it’s kind of both a pro and con to that. But I think we should be concerned about one is that it will make us all more human, more forgiving, more open. And by being more open, we have the right to show that vulnerability to create that connectedness, which I think women will embrace. Equally the pressures that you talk about that make women so powerful because they are so adaptable and they’re such multitaskers and they can do all this great stuff, hopefully they’ll start owning that. So that is a positive. The downside is that we risk what’s happened with the pandemic of kind of taking us back a few years, because a lot of the women that are in very senior positions are actually considering taking a step back because it just became too much pressure. And what that then does is it reduces the amount of diversification within the workforce. And it means we also don’t have as many great female leaders to kind of like fill some of the senior positions and some of the CEO positions. So as a result, what you have is a boardroom is kind of looking through the lens of, you know, the typical heterosexual white male, which we know is not reflective of the world we live in. So we have to be careful to continue to nurture these female leaders. And when I say leaders, yeah, I mean the senior leaders, but I also mean the other leaders that can be individual contributors that are very influential. We have to nurture them and invest in them to make sure that we have that funnel of great talent so that in 5 or 10 years time, we have helped the people that can fill those top spots so that we do have that diverse view of the world and that will impact industry. So it’s really important.
Katie Martinez: So with some of those individual contributors I like talking about I love building people. Right. It’s not just an element of like training people it’s building right. It’s based on their inherent being and talents and personality and traits and all of those things. So with that in mind, are there key characteristics that tend to be present or visible or experienced, maybe not in those senior leadership roles, but down to the individual contributors that start to suggest great leadership or characteristics that, you know, with some nurture, with some guidance and mentorship can lead to two great female leaders?
Fiona Coughlan: That’s a great question and I mean, there’s lots of characteristics, but for me. I think it’s curiosity, so always being curious about everything around you and all the people around you, particularly, I think being able to be adaptable so that you have the ability to respond no matter who your audiences. And I think it’s about being intentional. So, you know, if you know that you your purpose in life is X, Y, Z, which a lot of people don’t know. And that’s that’s a that’s a difficult thing sometimes for people to even think about. But if you’re lucky enough to know that, then being really, really intentional about, you know, fulfilling a role in your life that enables you to live that purpose that you’ve identified will just create natural energy and passion and that creates inspiration, that that drives inspiration of others. And then that will make you a natural leader.
Katie Martinez: Fantastic. So any young females that are looking towards those leadership roles are listening right now, what is some advice? What are some things that that we can share to help them in that next one three, five, seven, 10 years, whatever that looks like? From the smallest little things. But what are what are some motions? What are some activities or just things to think about or start to invest in personally as as a human that they can do to set themselves up for success?
Fiona Coughlan: Yeah. So I think starting to network with people that you admire, especially women that you admire and really working out what it is about them that kind of piques your interest. Ideally, if one of them can become a mentor and there’s many, many women out there that want to pay it forward, so get a mentor that can really help you. I know if I hadn’t had the influence of the amazing women in my early career, I definitely wouldn’t have had the opportunities I had. If you if you’re not sure about what your purposes, try and find that out and you can do that. There’s there’s lots of books you can read. There’s there’s the ACE program that we do that’s all about helping you find out your why. Because once you know that, then that gives you kind of a target goal that is the highest the best place you can aim for. And then from that, you can kind of work out what little steps that you can implement to get you there. And then that really creates your story and takes you down the direction that you need for your journey. And then it’s up to you what you do with that. So would I would suggest those two things, a mentor and try to identify what really motivates you, what you really love to do with your life.
Katie Martinez Thank you to our guest Fiona Coughlan from AchieveUnite. And thank you to you the listeners for joining us here at the Partner Channel Podcast. If you like what you heard, make sure to tune into part 2 of this podcast.