Sara Rosso, Director of Product Marketing at WordPress.com, on building leadership skills, career growth, and lifelong learningFeatured
@sararosso is the director of product marketing at WordPress.com. She has previously worked at Visiant Spindox, Ogilvy and Mather, and HP. She has over 20 years of experience in technology and digital strategy. When did you know your career was your calling?I don't believe in callings. And I don't really believe in a single career - in 5 or 10 years I might be doing something completely different and I think it's important to be open to completely reinventing yourself. :) With that being said, I've always been very interested in communication, emotional intelligence, and understanding others, and those are major building blocks for both collaborative work (useful for pretty much any career) and focusing on the customer (for the marketing & product work I do now).What is your best advice not just for building networks but more importantly for maintaining meaningful networks?Give first. Give yourself, your knowledge, your time, without expectations. Or rather - build a relationship, not a network. Be respectful of other people's time by using your time to do research, ask thoughtful and specific questions, and don't ask them for a job until they offer. I've written a lot about networking because I really believe forming good relationships your entire life isn't difficult if you're genuinely interested in people - two I recommend are "Networking is for everyone" and "How to talk to strangers." (https://whenihavetime.com/2014/03/20/networking-is-for-everyone/ and https://whenihavetime.com/2014/10/07/how-to-talk-to-strangers-aka-networking/) What is the most surprising thing you have learned about leadership?True leadership is validated when people don't have to follow you because they're being paid to do so, but because they want to. This is likely due to charting a vision they believe in but also because you've made a promise to them that their time is valuable and appreciated. Some of my most rewarding leadership positions have been leading groups of volunteers. At any moment, they could choose to be somewhere else, so it's really a gift when they give you their time and effort. I detailed some of things I've learned about leadership and how being a successful leader also means actively planning for your obsoletion in What I’ve Learned as a Serial (Community) Founder: The Community Life Cycle: https://whenihavetime.com/2015/01/27/what-ive-learned-as-a-serial-community-founder-the-community-life-cycle/. How did you identity and strategically utilize your main strengths?More important than strengths I think are my motivations - there are many things we can do but not all of them we want to or should do. I spend more time now thinking about why I do or do not want to do something and how that might drive me to completion or prompt a distraction or procrastination. I also believe that you need to combine passion with purpose - passion / interest is not enough to sustain us alone, and combining your interests with purpose also helps you understand where your gifts / strengths can make an impact on the things that excite or interest you. I recognize now that I get a lot of purpose from leading groups or organizations around a common goal, vision, or product. That's not a strength I would have been able to identify earlier in my career. The book Great at Work is a good read to delve further into combining passion and purpose, and Designing Your Life is also a good one for starting to look into motivations and purpose.How do you make sure your voice is heard, especially in teams where you were more junior in areas you were less familiar with?Ask questions. Ask good questions. Do a little research yourself and then ask a question that will show you've put in some work and are respectful of the senior folks' time. Be curious. I've been told I have the ability to ask "good questions" but it's about practice, not being afraid to admit you don't know everything, and then seeking out that knowledge. Sometimes your questions can help someone else have a breakthrough. Also, seek to build up, not down, at any level. When I have to offer some critical feedback, I often try to take it a step further and propose new paths forward, or questions which could lead us there. Aim to contribute a fork in the road and be a part of a solution instead of a stop sign or a blocker.How have you felt yourself change through your career?I've worked on two continents (in Europe for over a decade, and now back in the US) so I feel like I'm continually re-adjusting culturally and contextually, but I've definitely shifted to focusing on the impact my work makes across the organization, products, and customers and how all the pieces fit together. This means I might shift from focusing on the financial impacts of product changes to researching customer insights to reporting a product bug as I run through the product all in a single day. Being a good collaborator across the organization means you can show empathy not just for the customer, but for your colleagues and their deliverables and priorities.