Sharon Lynch is managing director of solution ownership and quality engineering at Slalom Build, which provides clients with custom-built software solutions and technology products.
Slalom Build is part of Seattle-based Slalom LLC, a business consulting company with some 6,000 employees in 27 cities in the U.S., United Kingdom and Canada.
Lynch previously worked in management positions at software company Tribold and at consulting company Accenture ― where she focused on projects related to communications and technology. She graduated from Washington State University with a degree in management information systems.
Lynch reflects on her career successes and the challenges she’s faced, her mentors and views on leadership, and shares some advice for women starting out in their careers in the latest Daring Women interview.
What are the most important characteristics of a good leader and what leadership traits are overrated?
I think one of the most important characteristics of a good leader is being able to communicate everyone’s role in the larger mission. Our GM [general manager], Mike Cowden, is really great at that. He has that innate quality to create the feeling of belonging, and I think that’s one of the things that makes working at Slalom Build so great, everyone here knows that they are an important piece of a mission.
I think the most overrated trait is public speaking. There are a lot of “leaders” out there that can talk well but lack the substance to successfully lead. Sometimes, people can’t tell the difference between someone who is great on the stage and a great leader.
As a woman, what is the most significant barrier to becoming a leader?
One of the challenges that I think about continually is that I don’t want to be branded as the only woman. Although I am often the only woman in the room when meeting with clients, I don’t want that to be my defining characteristic. And I think overcoming that perception is a challenge, not just for me, but for many other females that feel singled out or different in male-dominated industries. I want to change that and help other women feel more comfortable, especially if they work in fields that are still far from gender-parity.
How can women achieve more prominent roles in their organizations?
I think women need to actively reach out to other women in the space. It is incredibly important to know that there is someone out there that you can talk to. Not every woman will respond to you, but some will. I think of it as a pay-it-forward model. People did it for me, and now I do it for women who work with me. I spend a lot more time mentoring my female coworkers than I do men and that’s intentional. My only hope is that one day they will do the same thing when somebody reaches out to them.
What key lessons did you learn from a woman who has inspired, mentored or sponsored you?
There have been so many, but the one that springs to mind is my dear friend Heather Anderson. I met her about four years into my career when we collided working on a project for Microsoft. It was my first interaction with someone so honest and willing to openly talk about problems. I met Heather 17 years ago and we are still incredibly close.
What inspires me about her is that she is truly fearless in her problem-solving approach. Regardless of the situation, Heather never has any doubts in her abilities and that is truly inspiring. Heather helped me gain more confidence and taught me to trust myself. To this day, when I am having doubts about the decisions I am making, I ask myself: What would Heather do?
What advice do you have for the next generation of female leaders?
I would say, figure out what your strengths are early on and figure out what gives you joy. It is important to do both of those things because they will allow you to be more authentic. I often think that people, especially early on in their careers, tend to put forward an image of how they want to be perceived rather than being themselves. That almost never works.
I know that from my own experience. Every time I tried to pretend to be someone else, it didn’t work out for me or people I worked with. My career became truly successful when I learned to be myself. I just decided that I am going to own who I am, which is vulnerable, at times not confident and often in a learning mode. The interesting thing is, when I show up like that, people respond to me better.
How important is networking and how do you expand your contacts?
When it comes to external networking, I might just be the worst networker in the world! I have no social media presence at all. I rarely attend conferences or networking events. I think I just don’t approach networking the same way other people do. Having said that, within Slalom, I do actively meet and get to know as many people as I can. I do believe that personal connection is the best way to keep our momentum moving forward and drive faster decision-making when we need to.
What would you do differently in your career?
I don’t think that if I had a do-over I’d do anything differently. That is not to say that I haven’t made decisions that I regret, but every experience that I had taught me something and led me to where I am now. I believe that I was born to be a consultant.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
“Being Yourself” – I think it’s the most important thing one can do.
We’d love to hear from more women across all industries who are challenging the status quo. Does it sound like you? If it does, click here and fill out our questionnaire. Feel inspired? Join us for our second Daring Women event on May 21, 2019.
Daring Women Q&A responses have been edited and condensed.