Ep #86: Case Studies from 3 Corporate Badasses on How They Became the Executive Ahead of Time
You’ve heard me talk many (many) times before about exactly what it’s going to take for you to show up like an executive-level leader – no matter what position you’re in right now.
And today, I’m going to show you exactly what this actually looks like in action.
I’ll give you a behind-the-scenes look at how my Executive Ahead of Time students have transformed their careers – and their lives – for good.
Each of these three guests is an absolute corporate badass AND a perfect example of what YOU can accomplish when you deliberately manage your career.
And before we get started, I want to make one thing absolutely clear:
These strategies are NOT designed to help you reach your next promotion, just one level up.
They are designed to help you get allllll the way to the top.
Join me as I sit down with three of my powerhouse Executive Ahead of Time graduates:
Laura McFarland: Head of Higher Education Sales
Coleen Matsuo: Technology Director
Kendra Cross: Senior Compliance Manager
…to discuss the strategies that helped them make major progress in their careers over the last few months.
I’m offering a free live webinar on “Why You’re Not Getting Promoted and the Blueprint to Fix It” If you want to develop the skills I teach you on my podcast so that you can finally get the recognition you deserve, sign up at stacymayer.com/getpromoted and learn how. There are limited spots, so don’t hesitate to sign up.
What You'll Learn:
- Case Studies of what becoming the Executive Ahead of Time looks like in action
- Why you need to 3x your vision for your career (and why it’s not as easy as it sounds!)
- How each of these women unleashed their inner corporate badass
- How getting out of the weeds is going to be a total game-changer for you and your career
- The power of community when it comes to showing up as that next-level leader you are meant to be
Listen to the Full Episode:
Featured on the Show:
- Laura McFarland: Head of Higher Education Sales
- Coleen Matsuo: Technology Director
- Kendra Cross: Senior Compliance Manager
- Ep #58: How to Lead a Team of Leaders
- Download my 7-Step Promotion Roadmap
- Connect with me on LinkedIn
- Join the next round of my 6-week group coaching intensive, Executive Ahead of Time
Stacy Mayer: All right, let's start with Colleen. Colleen, would you like to introduce yourself to us today?
Colleen Matsuo: Sure. Colleen from Atlanta, Georgia. I lead a group of about 100 engineers in the networking technology space today.
Stacy Mayer: Colleen, can you tell us a little bit more about why you joined Executive Ahead of Time?
Colleen Matsuo: I was feeling pretty stuck throughout my career - very accustomed to being acknowledged for nailing out projects and solving hard problems. And as I moved up the leadership chain, I had less and less opportunities to directly fix things. And I found that lack of recognition and visibility disheartening. So, I was looking for an opportunity to identify ‘what do I need to do, to not be the invisible person in the room’. And I came across Stacey and this program and sat in on one of the initial seminar sessions and just really loved the messaging on how I can actually take back control of my career and help it propel forward.
Stacy Mayer: And please be more visible. We need more Colleen - it's amazing. And I have really seen you transform since joining the Executive Ahead of Time and putting yourself out there in these bigger, bolder ways. And, you know, Lord knows you have the knowledge to back it up and you just needed the leadership skills to be able to communicate and start to become that Executive Ahead of Time. So, what was your experience like when you joined the program?
Colleen Matsuo: It was hard, right? These are skills and behaviors that I have not practiced; and in a lot of ways not had to practice because my success was based on other things. So, I found the community of participants so helpful to hear their experiences and how they were adjusting and growing in their spaces. The great realization was that we came from all different walks of life, all different areas of industry. And yet our experiences were so similar, and we could all collaborate and learn and grow together. And that was so nice to have that community of support.
Stacy Mayer: Yeah, that actually reminds me of - you work in technology, which is typically a male dominated industry. And I think that we could say, 'Okay, part of your challenges are because of that'. And the answer is ‘not necessarily’ because you meet all of these women who have female bosses, who have a whole team of women. And they're still experiencing the same challenges. So, one thing I wanted to share with everyone today, is, inside of Executive Ahead of Time, there are a series of milestones that the leaders go through to really start to know and measure: Am I becoming that Executive Ahead of Time?
And one of the first milestones that I think you, Colleen, really started to own and accomplish was the idea of 3X-ing your vision. And I find this really fascinating because on the surface... What is a 3X vision? I'll just briefly explain that to everyone - is that we're not looking at where you hope to be in the next role and not even the role after that. It's like, where do you hope to be in the next, next, next role, three times from now? And it really expands both your vision, but then how you're making decisions on the everyday. So, you talked about your challenge of becoming more visible. And you can learn skills, but unless you know why, you need to become more visible. So, when you start to be able to 3X your vision, it's like, 'Oh, well, if that's where I'm headed, I better start becoming more visible now. I need to speak up. I need to take on these leadership traits.’ So, can you tell us about the process for you in 3X-ing your vision? Because it was a huge breakthrough for you, I think.
Colleen Matsuo: It really was. And it was hard. You know, it sounds so easy to say, 'hey, in three job steps, I want to be at this level or this title'. But going through the conversations and the exercises of really visualizing what that looked like to me, what I wanted that to be -not just the title - but what type of environment I wanted to work with, what type of people I wanted to be with, what type of projects and accomplishments I wanted to be making and impacts to organizations. I think I went through a dozen different versions before I finally started to hone in on what it was that felt true to me, felt true to my values, and I could really start to align my vision with who I am. And it felt so enlightening once it was there. It really dramatically actually changed how I started managing my team, because all of a sudden, I had much clearer insight and direction as to who and what I wanted to do as a leader.
Stacy Mayer: Oh, that is so, so cool. And, you know, I want everybody listening - If you hear something like 3X your vision, like, well, 'I could do that, I don't join a program to do that'. Colleen actually explained the sort of 'why you need to join a program to do that'; because I don't just let you say, 'Oh, okay that's great..’ Let's see, you're a director now. You want to become a VP or an SVP. OK, great. Done' No! It's exactly how she laid it out there. Why? Who are the people that we want to work with? What are the decisions that we're making now that aren't aligned with that future vision that we have for ourselves? And that's where the deeper work of both the coaching and the community inside of Executive Ahead of Time really elevates this process to that next level. So, thank you so much for sharing that. So, you talked before about these skills. Would you be willing to share with us something that you do different now than what you did six months ago?
Colleen Matsuo: Sure. I think the thing that I do most often, and it's embarrassing to say this after years in a leadership position, but I'm authentic with my team now. I'm not trying to mirror other leaders’ behaviors when it comes to talking to my team, talking to my peers, even talking to my leadership. I feel like I know who I am. And in order for my vision to be successful, I need to be true to that. So, every day I feel that kicking in. It's not comfortable every day, but it definitely helps me - it's kind of become my career North Star to say 'This is what I'm grounding on and this is how I'm going to make decisions and lead my team and help my associates get to the next level.
Stacy Mayer: Oh, my gosh. I love that. It's so, so inspiring. They're so lucky to have you Colleen.
Colleen Matsuo: Thank you so much.
Stacy Mayer: Thank you for sharing. Next up, we have Kendra. Kendra. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Kendra Cross: Sure. Stacey, thanks for having me on here today. It's very exciting and a great topic to explore. My name is Kendra Cross. I live in Wyoming. I grew up here, then left for college and different adventures and have come back because I love it here. I love the public lands. I'm very passionate. I started going to school here for political science. And one thing that I always noticed was there was not very many women in politics. So, getting women elected to office and women participating in politics has been a passion of mine, which led me for my formal education - I've also studied business. So that kind of led me to a position of more the business end of politics. Currently I am a political consultant for the campaign finance side of things, of political committees, PACs, and state party organizations. And it's a really exciting role because I get to help these committees stay really organized. I get to help them problem solve and be an ally in some of the plans that they're having. So, I joined Executive Ahead of Time. I saw a couple of ads from Stacy and on social media and just everything she was saying was hitting the nail on the head of how I wanted to grow into my own next level of leadership; and how I wanted to really be aligned in the work that I was doing. But also, in the work that I was bringing to my clients, to my colleagues, to my leadership team and to everyone that I was working with. So, in joining Executive Ahead of Time, I really felt like I got some incredible skills. I feel like I've grown a lot and I'm excited to be here and I was excited to be a part of the program.
Stacy Mayer: You know, I wish that I could have recorded you introducing yourself like I don't mean to out you, but I wish I could have recorded you introducing yourself before you joined Executive Ahead of Time. Because the way you just introduced yourself, I was like, 'oh, my goodness, Kendra, that was good'. So much passion behind the work that you do, and you can just hear even in how you introduce yourself and why you do the work that you do. It was just your values were so clear the way you defined your leadership. So, I'm super proud to hear that introduction. I don't know - if four months ago - if you would have introduced yourself that way.
Kendra Cross: Yeah, four months ago, I was definitely in a different headspace.
Stacy Mayer: Can you share with us a little bit about why you joined Executive Ahead of Time? Besides just hearing my message and wanting to define your leadership. But what was actually happening for you at the time?
Kendra Cross: Yeah. In my career, I felt like I was kind of coming up in a situation that I had been in before. I had been working really hard, working long hours. A lot of the feedback that I got from my management team was, 'oh, you're you know, you're a perfectionist. You work more than anybody else does.'' These things - it felt like, you know, 'hey, I'm on the right track. I have this work ethic', but I was stuck, and I feel like I wasn't growing. And I knew there were transitions happening within the current company I was at, that I feel like that was happening around me. I wasn't a part of it.
Stacy Mayer: Yeah.
Kendra Cross: And so, it was 'I'm working really hard. What's going on? Why am I not a part of a bigger part of these conversations?' And so, I felt like I have been in that position before. And I was like, I don't want - I want this to be a successful resolution. I want to be a part of this conversation. I want to advocate for myself. I want to communicate better to my leadership team that I do want these more challenging roles. I want promotions. I want to be able to lead some of the newer associates in our company. And I'd like to be able to have my ideas; have an opportunity to bring these ideas to life within our world. And so, I knew I needed help and I just felt I was at a really critical part; time that I needed good guidance and I needed good feedback and I needed tangible steps to help. And I also needed someone to be real with me in saying, 'hey, this is what you're doing wrong, and this is what you really need to work on so you can do it better'. You know, when we started with the ‘getting out of the weeds’, which is one of the first kind of topics that we talked about, that just was a game changer in itself. I do need to have more of a work life balance so that I'm investing in myself so that I feel more passionate about the work that I'm doing, so that I can bring a better energy to the work that I'm doing instead of being tired all the time. And so, I mean, just the thought process of coming out of the weeds just made even the difference, like learning those skills and learning how important it was to not always have your nose just to the grindstone, but to look up and look around and see where you're going and where you want to be. So that was even really pivotal.
Stacy Mayer: Oh, so good. Yes. And one of the milestones that I feel like you exhibited really well inside of Executive Ahead of Time is being very proactive about building relationships at your organization. And I think you might have had a new boss at the time. And really how you're communicating with her and some of the other executives at your organization to really say, 'oh, you know, I'd like to be a part of this conversation, pick me', but 'no, I am a part of this conversation'. Can you speak to that transition?
Kendra Cross: Yeah, and it was a really big transition. Like I was saying, I felt like conversations were happening around me that I wasn't a part of them. And then - just it was all of a sudden, it's like, 'hey, I've been doing a lot of this work. I've been here. I have a lot to say about processes and how I think some next steps in development might be really helpful'. So, yeah, it was kind of like the veil was lifted or like the fog was lifted. It just all of a sudden became not about everybody else, what everyone else was doing; I felt like I came back into myself in the sense of 'I want to be here. I love doing this work, and what I have is valuable. what I have to bring to the table is valuable'. And I think that's what it was, is having that. Realizing I wanted to grow, so having that growth mindset and really getting aligned with my value is who I am and the vision of where I want to go - that was all a really big transition.
Stacy Mayer: And she did all of this in six weeks everyone - this is amazing. But it's true. You've done this in six weeks.
Kendra Cross: Yes, you know, being surrounded by such an incredible group of women and seeing these women that to me are superstars going through these same things and having the same struggles in these moments of questioning and all of those things. And it's just like, 'hey, they're doing this, why can't I? But I can.'
Stacy Mayer: And oh, and maybe I am a superstar, too.
Kendra Cross: Exactly. I also kind of feel like I was learning, you know, humility is really important, but what is humility? Humility is like being grounded. And I think it means actually 'being of the Earth, being humble'. But it was almost like I need to value what is special about myself and was exceptional too and balance those things. Being humble - know that I'm fallible, but I also know what I have is valuable. And so that - I think - that was the biggest mindset shift that's happened through the program for me.
Stacy Mayer: Oh, that is so beautiful. Thank you. Thank you so much, Kendra. I appreciate it. Laura, welcome. Take a second. Introduce yourself.
Laura McFarland: Okay, I'm Laura McFarland. I am in Washington, D.C. I am a sales leader for a facilities assessment company that works in a lot of different verticals. But I'm focused on higher education, and I run the sales team that sells our products and services to colleges and universities around the US.
Stacy Mayer: Well, thank you so much for being here. Before we get into more about your experience with Executive Ahead of Time, I want to bring on Laura for a minute. I actually ended up - I was so impressed with Laura and her leadership - that I ended up bringing her on as one of my first facilitators. So, as you know, I'm building a team. My company is growing. And I saw Laura's leadership and I wanted her to be more a part of Stacy Mayer Consulting and the world that I'm creating. And so, Laura is actually leading our roundtable discussions that we have as part of Executive Ahead of Time. And it's been super cool to watch her; And she's going to share with us today how she grew and her own leadership through Executive Ahead of Time. But also, to see her lead the discussions and to really start to inspire other women to be their best in our Friday roundtable. So, I'm just very, very grateful for you, Laura. Thank you so much.
Laura McFarland: Oh, thank you. It's been - as Colleen kind of said - the six weeks was just a wonderful experience. And to continue with it and the Friday facilitations, it's been a blast. But it's also been a responsibility and something that I was petrified about, which is just sort of, you know, when you talk about it, it seems kind of goofy. On the other hand, you've got to be there, and you need to show up. So, it was a lot of fun.
Stacy Mayer: Well, I am super proud to be able to push those buttons.
Laura McFarland: Exactly - yes you did.
Stacy Mayer: So, tell us about where you were at, when you joined Executive Ahead of Time. I think it was last year in 2020 when you came on board. So, tell us a little bit about what was going on for you and why you decided to join us.
Laura McFarland: Okay. Well, I was working - happily working, but not exactly over-extended working - at a nonprofit. In my industry, great people; But just I was I was looking - actively looking - to make a move back into the corporate side of things. I do like leading sales teams and exceeding and excelling and all of that, that comes with that on the corporate side. And I have a very close friend who I worked with many years ago, and Stacy is her coach. And so, Jen is - as Colleen knows, and Kendra knows - a very enthusiastic person just period. A normal day - she's over the top enthusiastic; But when she talks about her work with Stacy, well, it's just a whole nother level. And she can talk all she wants, she's now a senior vice president of sales at an International Travel Company. And continuing to excel - just amazing. Just the transformation - it's just been stunning. And so, when she talked about the six weeks Executive Ahead of Time, it was a really good time for me personally, because I was looking - I was interviewing. So, it's a nice program because you don't have to be at a certain place. You can be, I assume, unemployed of course. And most people were in careers and most of them were looking to grow with where they were. But we had a few in our group that were looking, also to make a change, or consider if they needed to make a change to make a move upward and expand their career.
So, it was a great time for me (and in the interview). And it was nice because we had such different perspectives, different industries, different parts of the country, different places in our career, although most of the women were experienced enough to be managing people. And so, the way I put it is, you know, I found my people. It's nice to have people. It's nice to have people in your company, in your industry. And this is just a great group. It was a great time. And even though I had a friend who was in the group, that was really sort of relevant because we both wanted to talk to other people in the group and different inputs. And so, it was a very good time for me, I don't think there's ever a bad time, because at least for me, it's it allowed me to ... part of it was just like a reality check. 'Yeah, I know what I'm doing and yeah, I'm coming up against issues'; but guess what, so is she and so is she. Different industries, and so it was a great cohort, and it just really made a real impact on my ability to kind of step back and see where I was, and where I can go, and what's possible. So, it was a great experience.
Stacy Mayer: So, another reason why I wanted to have you on here today is because you hit what is considered to be the ultimate milestone of Executive Ahead of Time, which is called getting a promotion. That's ultimately what this program is set up to do is - because I'm looking for results like I want us to feel better - certainly feel more confident. And then I also want us to get paid. And get the promotion on the other side of things. So, you're an example of somebody who actually got promoted after the program. So, can you tell us a little bit more about that process?
Laura McFarland: Sure. Yes. So, during the program, we went into so many - as Colleen and Kendra said - the whole 'getting out of the weeds' thing. I do everything really, really well, so I might as well just keep doing it. Yeah, no. But again, you sort of know that. But it's almost like giving yourself permission to be much more of the executive and really look further out. So, when we finished up the six weeks, I was interviewing - a couple of places, actually - and was able to leverage the experience. The nonprofit was great - great experience; not exactly executive pay, shall we say, but just a really strong experience and relationships. And so, I took that and moved into this senior leadership position at a corporation that isn't higher ed. So, they wanted my experience in the industry. They wanted my sales leadership experience. And they are paying me a salary, commission, bonus. All the opportunities that come with that type of senior sales leadership position. And I love it.
Stacy Mayer: It's a great fit.
Laura McFarland: It's a great fit. It's a great group of people. It's just a great opportunity. I had to laugh because I've been there five months. I still don't quite know my comp plan. I don't really - of course I care. And every month the check is bigger and bigger and bigger. But it drives me, but it's much more getting my team organized and sort of meeting their needs so that they can grow the business. And yes, I am rewarded for that. At some point I will figure out exactly, but I'm not selling which product, depending on how much anybody makes it’s what's good for the client. And it's a very client focused relationship type of sale. It's what I'm used to, and there's transactions, but by and large, it's really about the relationship and what the client needs on their campus. And it's really nice to be doing good work and to be paid to do so.
Stacy Mayer: Oh, I love that so much. Yeah. Laura actually inspired one of my podcast episodes and I'll link to it in the show notes. But it was 'how to lead a team of leaders' because, once we do get that promotion, we have other challenges in front of us. And so now she has this team of exceptional leaders. And what are the things that she needs to do to kind of step up and lead them and be the best executive that she can be? I love that. So, were there any surprises once you joined Executive Ahead of Time, was there anything that you didn't expect but that you gained out of the experience?
Laura McFarland: Coleen and I - we talked about all these things, but I don't think I expected to be able to find so much white space to make change - positive changes. I've been doing this a long time and I've been in enough different companies. Some of the people in the group had been with their organization for quite some time. I've had a 10-year tenure at one place, but still enough places to feel like I kind of know what's going on. And I don't think it was a surprise to me that you really can make significant changes in your viewpoints and how you go about doing work, how you view yourself, and how you view your opportunities. And part of it was just that, 'yeah, I know what I'm doing. Let's keep doing it. But what shouldn't I do anymore?' And how you work through that. The idea that I've got a monthly plan that needs to be reviewed every month is huge. And holding yourself to that is a challenge because it's easy to slide.
Stacy Mayer: And she's referring to a monthly plan that we create as part of Executive Ahead of Time. And then you can review it every single month and say, 'am I hitting my milestones?' What you're describing as being intentional. And really just asking yourself, am I headed in that direction or am I just kind of showing up and doing my job?
Laura McFarland: So, I was surprised in a six-week intensive program, still the amount of potential increase or just change; or opportunity to view things so differently. I like the group interaction a lot and really able to bounce things off. And it was a very strong experience for me - very positive. And like I said, it came at a good time. So now I'm doing a job - that would be great. So, yeah, it is a nice opportunity for all sorts of different people.
Stacy Mayer: Do you have any practices that you still do? Obviously, you talked about reviewing your monthly vision statement, but what other practices do you still do regularly?
Laura McFarland: Well, I've got little things all over my wall. Actually, I had about, I don't know, maybe ten or twelve of the pages from the PowerPoint that we went through each week. The most important ones as far as I was concerned. And I'm down to three only because the others - sort of - I got ingrained. But, you know, I just look up there, it's like, the three things leadership needs to hear from you. Boom, boom, boom. There’re just things to really remind you, just shut up - in my case - 'Stop talking'. And make sure that you're really hitting on just what you need to and no more.
Stacy Mayer: Do you mind sharing your little post-it that you showed us?
Laura McFarland: Yes, my sticky note on my monitor says, 'what would Stacy say?' Actually, there are two. I'll share the other one. The other one says, 'stop and celebrate'. I think that came more recently. The intentionality you talked about is so important because you can get through to Friday afternoon and look back on the week and go, 'Huh, I’ve let things happen'. And so, what do I want to do? And I think that's probably one of the bigger changes for me is to stop. It doesn't have to be Monday morning or Sunday night, but just stop and say, 'okay, now let's look at what's coming, what do I want' and plan it.
Stacy Mayer: You can't celebrate if you don't know what you did. It's like, 'what do I want? Oh, and I actually did that'. So, so good. Thank you. So, I want to reconnect with everybody again. If you guys have any words of advice to someone who is looking to advance their careers, looking for what's next for them, what would you share to other listeners of this podcast as your personal words of advice? Laura, let's just start with you if that's okay.
Laura McFarland: Yeah, All sorts of things come to mind. You know, a big fat piece of advice would be ‘don’t doubt yourself so much and just trust yourself’. I find that needs to be reinforced in our society, in my company, in my family. I mean, it's the confidence. I think that helps tremendously - the control of what you're doing. You got this. You can do this. And I think, also it's so important to share that back with somebody else, with other people - the positive reinforcement. I often text my friend Jen, who you all met, Jennifer, 'you got this girl, you're the corporate badass'. Being there for people, having people there for you - I find having people really, really important. It sounds sort of funny, but because we all have people. But I mean, people you can depend on for - in this case - professional support, insight, and haranguing and venting. But it's nice to have people and that at least gives me the confidence that keep things positive and moving forward.
Stacy Mayer: I love it. Thank you so much, Laura. Kendra, what about you? What are your words of advice or wisdom to somebody who's looking to move up in their career?
Kendra Cross: I think I would say that if you're in a situation where you feel like you are stuck or you're coping with how things are, that that is a really good sign that there's something more – and more aligned - with your passion and your purpose. There's something more available to you. So, if you're having those feelings that you're ready to grow and listen to them and take those steps, if that means starting, joining Executive Ahead of Time, and getting a coach to help you out. Or finding your support system or applying to other jobs or taking classes; that feeling of impetus, of you wanting to grow, is important to listen to and it means you're ready to take your next step. So, take the next steps for your growth. I encourage you. It changes your life. It changes your quality of life. It can change everything, from your job, to where you're living, to how much money you're making, to your friends; Growth can be hard and it can be tough, but it's worth it.
Stacy Mayer: That is such a beautiful point of view. I love that. So many people that when they feel stuck, they're like, 'What is wrong with me? What am I doing?' But you just totally flip that. You were like, 'this is a sign that you're ready for something more.' I love it. So good. Thank you, Kendra. Colleen, what about you? Words of advice.
Colleen Matsuo: Based on my journey so far, I would say don't go at it alone. Don't just rely on your boss's feedback or development and growth. Please. It's so important to build a community of people. And if it's coaching and seminars - that's great. But build your personal board of directors, build your allies within your organization that can provide not just insight as to where you need to grow, but can root and cheer for you when you have an accomplishment, or even when you're having a rough week. For me, that has been a complete game changer and really helping to trust myself, trust my instincts and be willing to step outside of my comfort zone and take the risks needed to progress in my career.
Stacy Mayer: I love it. Thank you all so, so much for being here and being such an example of what is possible when you start to deliberately manage your career and your life and the success that you guys have brought to the corporate world; and the changes that you're going to make for the next 20, 30, 50 years. I'm so glad to have you. Laura's like 'I ain't working for 50 years'. I meant legacy people. You don't have to keep working. Thank you guys so much.
Laura McFarland: Thank you.
Kendra Cross: Thank You.
Colleen Matsuo: Thank you.
About Your Host
Hi! I'm Stacy Mayer, a Certified Executive Coach and Promotion Strategist on a mission to bring more diversity to the leadership table by getting 1000 underrepresented corporate managers promoted into senior executive positions each year worldwide.
I help undervalued executives scale to the C-Suite using repositioning strategies that build your confidence and visibility, so you can earn the recognition and support you need from key stakeholders while embodying your unique leadership style.
My podcast “Maximize Your Career with Stacy Mayer” tackles topics like executive communication, getting more respect in the workplace from challenging bosses and team members, and avoiding the common mistakes that sabotage career advancement.