In her role as chief people officer at Getty Images, Lizanne Vaughan keeps her finger on the pulse of the global media company’s diverse workforce, helping to execute its human-resources strategy and aligning it with Getty’s vision and fast-pace growth.
Vaughan, who is based at Getty’s Seattle headquarters and part of Getty’s executive team, previously served a vice president and corporate counsel for the company. Getty creates and distributes still imagery, video, music and multimedia products to business customers in more than 100 countries and operates offices around the globe ― including in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles London, Paris, Hong Kong, Sydney and elsewhere.
Getty has some 1,800 employees worldwide, with more than 400 in Seattle. As chief people officer, Vaughan is focused on aligning the company’s human-resources strategy with its corporate culture while also helping to ensure it propels Getty’s growth. Vaughan, a Philadelphia native, earned her law degree from Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated? Over the course of my career, as an employee and as a manager, I’ve both observed and experienced good and bad traits in the leaders I’ve encountered, all of which have served as a learning experience for me, shaping me into the kind of leader I now am.
As far as the good, there aren’t many surprises there: empathy, vision, vulnerability, kindness, honesty and accountability. As much as a leader should often be the decision-maker and viewed as an authority figure, taking the time to create space to learn from others while demonstrating compassion for them is incredibly important.
On the flip side, overrated leadership traits include charisma, brand, polish and vision. That last one may feel like a bit of a shock, given that I also mentioned it as a good characteristic, but sometimes you don’t need to have a glorious vision about the field or your team. That’s overrated and often over-valued. Truly, you just need to know what’s important and what’s not.
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader? In my experience, the most significant barrier can be yourself. We get in our own way, doubt ourselves and our talents. And we hinder our own growth.
Personally, I lacked the confidence to appreciate early on that I could or should be a leader. I doubted if I had “what it takes,” and too often was focused on what other people thought of me, instead of owning what I knew I had. I had to grow that confidence, and it took time. It still takes time.
As far as external challenges and barriers, those vary based on industry, but the heavy hitters tend to be access to information, opportunities and mentorship, as well as constructive feedback. All are integral to growth, and yet we at times must fight and push for them. Like feedback — feedback itself may not be hard to come by, and may be hard to take, but we need as much of it as we can get when it’s actionable. That’s the key piece: It needs to be something we can internalize and actionize. Feedback you can act upon, and act upon promptly, is truly a special gift.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations? This all hinges upon cultivating opportunities ― as many of them as you possibly can. It’s my belief that we, as individuals, create just as many, if not more, opportunities than are presented to us. It has also been my experience that sometimes things don’t happen on my timeline, and I have learned that if I put it out in the universe, good things usually come back around.
So, it’s important to not get discouraged when something doesn’t happen the first, second or even third time. Keep practicing recognizing opportunities. For instance, if you see a need and have the skills and interest, jump in and fill it. If you have the interest and passion, but not the skills, figure out how to build them. Give it your best shot and see what unfolds.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you? Be gracious and assume good. You can never know what burdens people are carrying, and if we start with the assumption that everyone is trying their best (even if that’s not true), it will make each of our days better. I’m not saying I get that right every time, as patience is not my strongest suit, but I consistently try. The second-best piece of advice I have gotten is to sit up straight, lean back and look like you belong — because you do.
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders? Have fun. I didn’t appreciate that fact when I was younger. I thought that in order to be taken seriously, I had to be serious all the time. And although you do have to be mature and exercise good judgment, a sense of humor is a gift, and you should try to enjoy the journey as much as you can.
Here’s one more: Say “yes,” professionally-speaking. My career has brought me to so many different places — physically, mentally and emotionally — and has tested me during times of uncertainty. But in these moments, I tried to think, “Why the heck not?” Saying “yes” brought me to where I am today. But this isn’t to say that saying “yes” is always the answer. Know your limits and know your strengths. Be open where you can.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts? To be honest, I’m terrible at this as I’m by nature an introvert, which means networking is exhausting to me. With that said, it’s incredibly necessary, and something that you should put effort toward. I have learned that you will not succeed in life or work without your tribe. So always take care to find your people, ask for help, offer help and, again, have fun.
What would you do differently in your career? If I could do it differently, I would not have taken so much so seriously and been so afraid of failing. Of course, that’s also a bit like asking me not to drink water. It’s a natural tendency for me and part of who I am, but I wish I could have allowed myself to have a little more fun along the way. While it’s important to take your work and responsibilities seriously, joy is equally essential.
I would also make it more of a priority to consistently show up on time, as it’s an impression that lasts. I am perennially late and am aware that this is far from a good thing. But hey, we all need something to work on!
Where will we find you on a Saturday afternoon? Anywhere my kids are. My ideal Saturday afternoon is spent at home, either in my garden or in my kitchen. If I’m off on an “adventure” of sorts, I’m probably running a trail, wandering aimlessly at a farmer’s market or running errands with my kids — all moments spent in valuable ways. After all, you can’t get this time back, and I’ve said it before: Enjoy the journey.
What would be the title of your autobiography? My first option is definitely not printable, so maybe “OMW,” a sort of ode to my eternal lateness and the most frequent text I send by far, I hate to admit.
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Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.