Valerie W. Franco

This is my Story.

It was my first year leading Risk Management at a Fortune 40 company. It was my dream job and my worst nightmare. From week to week, I vacillated between “I’m going to quit” and “they’re going to fire me.” There were so many sleepless nights worried about achieving goals, engaging my team, and navigating rocky relationships.

In past jobs I’d been able to listen, observe and figure it out, but this time I felt out of my depth. I tried being the tough, take-no-prisoners leader – sending strongly worded emails and telling team members to ‘buck up’; but that was neither effective nor authentic.

Then I tried to become invisible, fly under the radar, hope no one noticed me – which accomplished nothing. I had to find a way to achieve big goals, truly engage my team, and influence change.

Fortunately, I was enrolled in a leadership course (which some referred to as “charm school”) that included a 360-assessment process and other self-assessment tools. The significant bit of feedback was a need to improve “executive presence.”

When I met my coach, she said after reviewing my feedback she was curious to see me in person. She wondered if I had a 70’s haircut or poor taste in clothes. She found neither of these to be the case, so we explored how I was showing up.

What I learned is it was classic imposter syndrome. I had lots of self-talk about how I’d already achieved more than I ever expected. How did this ‘girl’ from a small town in TN who attended a small, state college come to lead Risk Management at a Fortune 40 company? Who does she think she is?

This realization was a game-changer, but it didn’t transform me overnight. Once I acknowledged how this mindset was not serving me, I set out to change it.

I read 50 books, watched 100 TED Talks, and subscribed to a dozen new podcasts. This helped me become a continuous learner but not everything applied to me. I was tuning in to new ideas, but it was all theoretical until I tried it out.

I partnered with a mentor. I’m forever grateful for her insights and feedback. Turns out she had a day job so she couldn’t be there for every situation.

My company offered great training classes about leadership methods. Like the books and videos, they only help when you put them into practice.

I asked for ongoing feedback from my leader, peers, and team. Feedback is another helpful tool, and with a team of 75 people, it could feel overwhelming.

Some of this was helpful and some was a waste of time. Through a process of learning then applying, I was able to boil down the practices that made the most difference. Focusing energy on leadership helped me grab the reins. Giving myself credit for earning the role, and finding my voice allowed me to be a bold leader.

From that point forward, I became a continuous learner on the topic of leadership. It also required turning inward to recognize my strengths and acknowledge who I was not. That clarity allowed me to hire the right talent and inspire them to lead from their strengths too. I found people smarter than me and got out of their way.

Trusting myself and building a great team empowered me to propose significant changes and new programs with winning results. The unexpected side effect was increased joy. Watching my team members succeed made me so happy. And the high engagement scores let me know that they were pleased as well.

It took me years to find my authentic, effective system of leadership. If only I’d had someone to help me streamline the journey.

Seven years after meeting myself in charm school, I was ready for a change. I got back in touch with the same coach from before and uncovered my purpose for the next chapter: helping leaders find their path to greatness.

What I’m so passionate about now is helping people who are struggling as I once did. As a result of my experience and training, I have a proven set of tools to share.

Does my story resonate with you? Don’t keep losing sleep and relying on trial and error to figure out how to be an effective leader. If you’d like an outside perspective on your next step, message me and let’s talk. I can help you create a game plan.