“True leadership stems from individuality that is honestly and sometimes imperfectly expressed ... Leaders should strive for authenticity over perfection.”
These words, spoken by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, ring true for the three women interviewed here, who have all emerged as sales leaders within CareerBuilder. Leaders aren’t supposed to be perfect, and in fact, those who show their vulnerability along with their strength often find the most success – and inspire others to achieve greatness as well.
We chatted with Meghan Musbach, Vice President of Healthcare, Lauren Nisbet, VP of Consumer Services, and Puja Rios, Vice President of Sales and founder of CareerBuilder’s women’s alliance CareerbuildHER, to learn about what it not only takes to survive in sales but to become a leader, and the lessons they’re passing on to the next generation of women sales trailblazers.
What has been your career path to date? How did you get to where you are now?
MM: I started at CareerBuilder as an entry-level sales rep two weeks after I graduated from Miami University. Walking onto that sales floor the first day was one of the most gut-wrenching moments of my life … My dad has been in sales my whole life. There was a distinct tone he used when he was on a work call. He was passionate, confident and unwavering. I stole that voice, and when I picked up the phone, I wasn’t the 22 year old with no experience – I was my dad – and eventually, the passion and confidence was my own. From that moment on, I never looked back. I worked my way up to being the best sales rep, then the best sales front line leader.
LN: I started out as a rep in a sales role selling newspaper ads with the LA Times. It led to a leadership role that I held for seven years. I then spent two years with the Solutions Architect group [at CareerBuilder] building up the data team and applicant tracking team. I knew I wanted to be back in direct sales, so when an area sales manager position opened, I jumped back in. From there, it led to director and now VP of consumer services.
PR: I spent seven years at Xerox Corporation and two years at PwC before coming to CareerBuilder. I started at CareerBuilder as a major account executive, and from there was promoted to national account execute, sr. sales leader, and area sales manager of Charlotte as well as Chicago. After that, I was promoted to director to start our healthcare division, then director of mid markets and now VP of new logo sales. In every role, I over-exceeded quota and so did my teams. This is what got me to where I am today.
What are the skills one must possess to become a sales leader?
MM: Grit, humility, vulnerability and curiosity. I think it’s natural, especially early on in a career, to think you can do something better than the boss. If given the chance, however, you quickly realize that decisions are not so black and white. That’s the humility part. Vulnerability is what you need to embrace the humility so you can learn from your mistakes. Curiosity allows you to understand before being understood. And lastly, you need grit to succeed in sales and to lead a sales team.
PR: I subscribe to the ‘servant leadership’ school of thinking. Your rep’s success is based upon the thought that you will do everything in your power as a leader to remove obstacles, show them where the opportunity is and then get out of their way!
Who has inspired you the most in your career and why?
LN: My mother is my inspiration. As a single mom, she put my sister and me through private school all the way through college. When you see selfless hard work, day after day, it makes it really easy to believe you can achieve anything.
PR: Indira Nooyi inspires me. She is an immigrant from India who worked her way up from a secretary to the CEO of Pepsi. During her tenure, Pepsi posted record profits, and she treated all employees and their parents as integral members of the Pepsi team.
Work-life balance is tough to achieve these days, no matter your gender or role. What are some tips you’d give to others for finding balance?
MM: I didn’t have work-life balance before children, and it’s very much a work in progress seven years later. Quality of time outweighs quantity … Owning your decisions is important. For example, last week I went to a special class at my three year old’s preschool. It was in the middle of an important weekly call, and it was a worthwhile trade off. I went to the leader of the meeting and was candid with him. I prepared the information he would need in my absence and walked him through it. I didn’t ask permission, because when it comes to occasions like this, it’s not fair to put that on someone else – be confident in your choice and deal with the repercussions when necessary.
LN: Make every minute count. That walk to the train? Listen to your book. The walk home from the train? Call your mom. Wake up an hour earlier and work out. Always say ‘yes’ when your kids ask you to play – they won’t remember how long you played for, but they will remember that you said yes. The little things add up to feeling connected and balanced.
How do you cultivate a culture of success within your team?
LN: I start off each week with a fresh set of goals and then focus on action. Getting things done starts with knowing the very next step.
PR: We hire people onto my team based on their attitude and work ethic. Once you have that on a team, the rest becomes a lot easier.
According to a study by Gartner, women hold just 1 in 5 sales leadership positions. What’s your advice for other women aspiring to a sales leadership role?
MM: I have an old post-it note on my desk from an influential leader I knew early on in my career. During a conversation, he took out a pen and wrote down this quote by Theodore Roosevelt: ‘I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character!’ Every week I look at that quote to remind myself of what really matters. When the going gets tough, do you roll up your sleeves and get in the trenches with your team? Are you passionate about what you do, say and believe? If yes, then the rest doesn’t matter. And when someone tries to make you feel inferior, that’s their problem – don’t let them project that insecurity onto you.
LN: I think it’s important to have a mentor that you can learn from. Put yourself in situations of leadership regularly, be a trailblazer, disrupt the status quo, set your goals higher than the No. 1 rank, and have confidence in yourself.
PR: Know the financials inside and out, and if you don’t, spend time learning via the classroom and from your finance co-workers. Your people are your most important asset, so treat them that way.
How have your life experiences made you into the leader you are today?
LN: I grew up with a single mom and went to an all-girls high school. I’ve been surrounded by females in leadership positions my entire life, which gave me early confidence that I can always achieve the next step.
PR: I am the first generation of my family born in the U.S. Both of my parents emigrated from India with $40 to their name. They instilled a work ethic in both my sister and me through watching them work to provide a better life for both of us. I use this with my sales teams every day. The more work you put in, the greater the output.
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