THE BLOG
01/28/2015 05:04 pm ET Updated Mar 30, 2015

Stepping Into An Executive Role: The Things I Knew, the Things I Learned and the Things I Changed

Brand New Images via Getty Images

About three and a half years ago, I stepped into my current role managing hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue across seven countries in Northern Europe. It's been a wild ride. Recently, I took the time to reflect on this period and wrote down my key takeaways. One of my mentors, who happens to be my current boss, taught me to always present things in "threes"... so here goes:

The Things I Knew:
Surround yourself with the best people: You can only be successful if the teams behind you are the very best. I've changed my team several times in the last few years and will continue to hire the best we can. With the best talent, our success has proliferated.
Expect excellence: The executive I worked for 10 years ago taught me the most and shaped who I am today. He always told me, "Stephie, never drop your expectations of excellence."
Give back and promote talented women in the workplace: Being a founder of the AT&T EMEA Women's Network and supporting GirlUp.org are among my greatest accomplishments. The founding CEO of the EMEA Women's Network, a woman I helped to hire into the company almost 15 years ago, has recently joined my leadership team. In the six months following her appointment, she's made an enormous difference to the quality and output in our region.

The Things I Learned:
Network religiously, inside and outside your organization: There's more opportunity to network inside your organization. But making the time for networking outside your organization requires more thought, especially as most of us have such busy lives. I have recently been very lucky to attend a prestigious conference featuring the next generation of future women leaders. One of the speakers, a prominent executive businesswoman on Wall Street, drove the point home on how risky it is to rely solely on your internal network and the extreme importance of networking outside of your company. In listening to her, I was thankful to have practiced that very kind of networking in the tenure of this role. (I think my professional contacts have doubled to 1K+ on LinkedIn in this period.)
Reflect before jumping to react: I have a reputation of being tough, extremely fast, and brutally honest. These are good qualities, but they are also flaws. I now sit back on potentially explosive topics before jumping in. As my mom taught me, you catch more bees with honey.
Skill and competence don't replace experience: My skills and competencies helped me land this role, but taking on an executive-level position required a huge learning curve. You need to be patient and remind yourself that practice makes perfect.

The Things I Changed:
Moderate your leadership style when needed: I have been warned by my team that, at times, I get ahead of the process. So, I need to slow down. But slowing down does not mean that I compromise my demand for excellence. Rather, it avoids the isolation caused from unrealistic results and it ensures that I am in step with the team's progress.
Don't doubt your own capabilities: One of the few people who didn't believe in my abilities to succeed in this role was me. Self-confidence is essential.
Warning - never work to exhaustion on things that can't change: This has been my most painful, personal lesson to learn thus far. Markets change; customers don't buy as quickly, expense controls get put in place. These factors result in enormous pressure on a sales organization as growth objectives stay high. External factors can be managed but not always overcome. I tried to take on gaps personally, and fill holes that were not going to be radically changed to my own detriment. It was a painful lesson, but one that strengthened me as a leader.

There is not a day that passes without me trying to apply at least one of the above to the challenges that come along -- be it personal or professional. It's "My Little Guide" to keeping my head above water while trying to push forward. Another very influential mentor, former boss and great friend always told his teams to "be confident, but stay humble." I believe the tips above helps me to achieve that balance.