Determined to Lead: Fitting in isn't your job

Written by:

Katie Mehnert

“Manage your energy”, my then, boss said.

Meh. It wasn’t the news I wanted to hear. I was 22 and struggling in my dream job. At the time, I was single and had plenty of space in my life to build a career. I worked sometimes, 18-hour days to make her happy. For months I couldn’t comprehend why my dedication and rigorous work ethic wasn’t appreciated. I would bang my head against the wall and poke at my self-worth asking questions like “am I qualified” and “why can’t I do this”.

Fitting in isn't for troublemakers

What I learned with time (and many more jobs), as a progressed the ladder, is that I rubbed people the wrong way with my enthusiasm and energy for work and life.  A lesson that took me nearly 20 years to learn, I finally embraced a new paradigm: I didn’t need to change myself to fit it, but rather design and create a life and career that would embrace my energy to stand out. The world needs good troublemakers – that’s how we move wo(man)kind forward.

Finding my way

I also took up running. Because I have the energy to lead “unwanted projects: and do “hairy audacious things” and I’m a “force of nature” (words all given in past performance reviews by bosses and by my parents), I have learned I need outlets to channel my energy.

I also learned I need to find the right “crew” and create a village of people around me who are cut from a similar mindset. Don’t get me wrong, I am the CEO of a company that focuses on increasing diversity, so difference matters to me. But when you’re a woman on fire with things to do in this life, you must keep company that can appreciate your zest and will encourage you to keep leading. What and who you consume, along with vision, will and grit is the recipe for a successful network.

Leaders get lonely

I felt a bit lonely at times in my career. Sometimes I still do. It’s not easy leading change. The way I started to create a support system to help me was by finding people I admired and following their work. And I didn’t go small either. I began admiring presidents, heads of state, and others at a very early age. I’m a woman that believes you must surround yourself with greatness – both women and men.

Leaning into fear

One of my mentors, Sheryl Sandberg, former COO of Meta and Facebook wrote Lean In. Her words “What would you do if you weren’t afraid” rang true to me. Let’s face it we all have fears. After hitting the wall a few times in my career, always learning, my fear wasn’t failing again, but rather succeeding.   After meeting Sheryl, I would be inspired to start my own company and chart a career very different from the one I started. Most recently I also began to follow Ray Dalio, the billionaire entrepreneur who started Bridgewater Associates from his bedroom decades ago. His book, the Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order, is a 500-page bible that identifies metrics from our history that can be applied to understand today’s changing world.

The world needs differences and allies

This book, Determined to Lead is an invaluable resource to the game changers, misfits, and audacious forces of nature (yes, you) who need the reminder that the world needs us. We live in challenging times, divided by big needs. The world’s demand for energy is rising, economic gaps are widening between the haves and the have-nots, and our climate needs changing. The system isn’t working for many, and that’s why it needs something different. This system was built by men post World War II with an economic boom that has afforded the last two generations, tremendous wealth. But it’s excluded the other half of our world and intellectual power: women. So, I argue the new world order doesn’t just need historical data and principles by which we lead, it needs to harness the power of the feminists and allies in all of us. It’s our time to rise, take a seat at the table, and pave a new future for generations to come.

When author and colleague Nada Ahmed asked me to write the forward to her masterpiece, I was honored. This book is a no-nonsense, no-BS approach to how you bet and invest in the best stock you own: you. Nada and I want and need you to join us on this journey with many others who are changing the system, redefining the rules, and giving our kids the future, they deserve.

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