From left to right: Catherine Dahl, CEO and Co-Founder; Tracy Thompson, CXO; Tracy Huitika, VP of Engineering; and Meena Sandhu, SVP of Growth
At Beanworks, diversity and inclusion are at the heart of how we see the future of technology. In 2012, when we introduced an AP automation solution to accounting and finance professionals, it was important for Catherine Dahl, our CEO and co-founder, to offer career and growth opportunities to a diverse workforce. We hope to inspire more women to join the industry that they are passionate about and serve as aspiring role models for everyone around the world. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we did a quick Q&A with some inspiring women we have at Beanworks.
What advice would you give to aspiring leaders?
Catherine Dahl: To become a leader, you have to be an observer of great leaders in the past and an observer of the leaders you admire today. When I worked at CBC, Liz Hughes – rest her soul – was a great leader. I still look up to her. She had fantastic people skills, displayed humility, and was calm all the time. There is a lot of reverence for her. The book, Extreme Leadership by Jocko Willink & Leif Babin, does a good job of explaining leadership. Leadership starts with humility. You have got to be a good follower to be a good leader. If you can’t follow somebody, you definitely cannot lead anybody. And you can’t become a leader overnight. You can start to work your way there but it doesn’t happen quickly. In my experience, and I’ve been managing people since I was 19 years old.
To gain the respect of the people that work for you, you need to be humble, caring, and inquisitive. You can get to degrees of leadership when you’re younger, but to really hone your skills, keep reading books, look back at history, and pay attention to the people that you’re inspired by. You have got to be a keen observer of human behavior.
Tracy Huitika: I think people who are meant to lead naturally gravitate toward leadership – if you’re nominated (and self-nominate) to run things, you’re going in the right direction. I think your goal as a leader is to delegate yourself out of a job; to encourage, support, and grow your team members to take on more and more responsibility so that they can eventually run the team without you.
Meena Sandhu: For a lot of us that are in leadership roles, we naturally fell into them or transitioned into leadership roles. Peers and leaders around us recognize our ability to lead and push us towards leadership positions. For those that are aiming to become leaders, I recommend understanding the stages towards leadership. We each start off as individual contributors and hopefully over time start thinking from the perspective of the team. Team oriented thinking can get you to a successful middle management position, but to get to executive leadership, you must think from the perspective of the company. When you can make decisions and represent the company as a whole and not just yourself or your team, you’re ready for senior leadership.
Another element of leadership that’s important to understand is what type of leader you want to be. There isn’t just one leadership type. I have always believed that it is my duty as a leader to bring the best out of everyone that I work with. I don’t expect people to adapt to me, I expect to adapt my leadership style to each individual and help them be as successful as they can be.
Lastly, be confident in knowing when you need to make a decision on your own, when you need to delegate, and when you need to make a decision by committee. If every decision is by committee, you’ll never get anywhere.
Do you have a favorite inspirational quote?
Tracy Thompson: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
Tracy Huitika: “Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you’ll be able to see farther.” – J.P. Morgan
“It’s important to know that you have the power to persist or retreat.” – Melanie Dancer
Meena Sandhu: “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.” – Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson
What books would you recommend for developing leadership skills?
Catherine Dahl: Extreme Leadership is a really good leadership book. I’m listening to, Talking to Strangers, by Malcolm Gladwell right now and it’s quite interesting.
I’m trying to understand better how to interact with people, how to access situations, and how to be able to build your leadership as you go further in the tiers of leadership. You could be leading a small team, you could be leading your coworkers as a team leader. People naturally gravitate to you because you’re decisive. There is also a big component of leadership that you just need to be able to make decisions. Some people just are not that and they get analysis paralysis.
As a CEO, and with the pace at which we’re growing, I have to keep reading books that educate myself on the next layer that I need to be able to see, and new perspectives that I need to have.
Tracy Thompson: Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.
Tracy Huitika: If you’re just starting on your leadership journey, take courses on team formation, situational leadership, giving feedback, and resolving conflict. This will give you a solid toolset to start with.
Meena Sandhu: My recommendation on content is to always be searching for new content, new learnings and take every business book you read with a grain of salt. Take a critical eye to what you read, just because it’s written in a business book or podcast, it doesn’t mean it’s true to fact and what you are learning may be missing a lot of nuance that would be relevant to your current situation. There is a lot to be learned from reading, but we need to be active readers and listeners, we must question and discuss what we consume.
As a leader, I have always found the area of behavioral psychology to be very helpful. Step beyond the standard business book and try to understand human behaviour and behavioral psychology.
Can you talk about your journey of becoming a leader in the tech industry?
Catherine Dahl: It was accidental how I got here. At the start, I was focused on how to get the company’s profile up. I had to go promote the company and that meant accepting invitations to everything. At first I had to learn. I went to events where people were demonstrating leadership on stage. I networked with a range of individuals. People would hear our story or they’d ask, “There are so few women in this role, why don’t you sit on our panel?” And I’d accept the invitation. For the first four or five years, I said yes to every event.
I also wanted to promote the company in other ways. I would write articles or guest blog posts so people would learn what Beanworks is about and we would gain some brand recognition. It’s hard to sell into the accounting space when no one knows who you are. I was focused on lifting our profile up so people would start talking about Beanworks. I always like sharing my experiences. I’ve learned so much from others, now I’m just giving back.
Meena Sandhu: My journey has been very intentional. I began my career in fintech and had a deep interest in the tech sector. I engaged myself in community events, volunteered on boards, ran conferences and other events to insert myself into the industry and learn as much as I can. Little by little with every day of growing experience, I began to establish myself as a leader who can deliver results, as someone who is revenue and growth focused. I continue to give back by speaking, teaching, and mentoring and in turn continue to learn and grow myself. I have loved working in tech/SaaS. The pace is invigorating and it’s an industry that welcomes people that are willing to work hard and learn quickly. It’s not about your degree(s) or your GPAs in school, it’s about what you can deliver. I’ve been fortunate enough to lead marketing teams, sales teams, customer success teams, and now product teams. How? I’ve been diligent, I’ve delivered results, I’ve earned praise from my teams, but mostly I’ve met other leaders in the industry who believe in me and are willing to take a chance on me and give me varying responsibilities and opportunities.
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