Shellye Archambeau Transcript

Shellye Archambeau is the former CEO of MetricStream, a Silicon Valley based governance, risk, and compliance software company, and the author of the new book, Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms. She also serves on the boards of Verizon, Nordstrom, Roper Technologies, and Okta.

Under her leadership MetricStream was recognized for growth and innovation over the years and was named in the top 10 of the Deloitte Technology Fast 50. Shellye was named the second most influential African American in IT by Business Insider. She was ranked one of the “100 Most Influential Business Leaders in America” by Newsmax and she received the NCWIT Symons Innovator Award from the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT).

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Shellye Archambeau is no stranger to roadblocks and barriers. All throughout her career she has encountered them.

But one thing she learned early on was that life is not fair, you’re not always going to have an easy time. The good news is, you can do something about it. Shellye realized she had to be intentional about everything that she did and every decision she made in order to improve her odds of being successful and reaching her goals.

She knew that if she just did what everybody else did, she probably wasn’t going to get much out of life.

In her new book, Unapologetically Ambitious, she shares some of the biggest lessons she has learned throughout her career and what she had to do to reach the goal she set in place as a 16 year old.

Why you need to set goals

At the age of 16 Shellye decided she wanted to be a CEO. With that goal in place she worked hard and she always knew which direction to go. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do at a young age, but you do have to be able to set goals for yourself. Even if it means just looking forward to a goal next year or in 6 months.

If you don’t set goals, you don’t know where you are trying to go, you don’t have anything specific you are trying to achieve. If you don’t have a goal in mind then it doesn’t matter what you do next or how you make decisions. You have to know what you are aiming for to know what actions to take.

As Shellye shares, “Setting goals is really all about picking that objective in the future. And honestly, if you can only think two years ahead, then that’s better than nothing, right? I don’t care how far ahead, however far ahead you can pick, just pick that goal. Ask yourself, what has to be true for you to achieve that goal? And then ask yourself, how do you make that true? Which is basically the plan. What has to be true? And then how do I make it true? That’s how I think about everything. And that’s how to make the plan.”

When setting goals it is also important to let others around you know what your goal is. Tell your boss, your mentor, your spouse, your coworkers. People can’t help you if they don’t know what you are aiming for.

And while it can be easy to give up goals at the first sign of hardship, don’t give in. Figure out a different path, but don’t change your goals. Make sure you stay focused on them and keep working to get there.

Few people make consistent daily decisions that get them to their goal. That is the key to success. Shellye says that’s where the real power lies. Make every decision and every action count in your journey to your goal.

How to create your own luck

In this world you have to create your own luck, especially when it comes to your career. Shellye explains that creating luck means positioning yourself so that when an opportunity shows up you actually have the ability to take advantage of it.

Planning can improve your odds for good things to happen. After you set your goal, that’s when you get to work. Figure out what skills, experiences, and knowledge you will need in order to reach your goal and go after it.

When you set a plan Shellye says you have to assume it’s going to happen and get ready for it. If that means you have to take a course or read some books or learn a new skill get to it. Don’t let yourself get to the point where the opportunity arrives but you miss out because you aren’t prepared.

Do your homework, always keep learning. Don’t go into a meeting to learn something, learn what you need to before the meeting so you can contribute. You have to be proactive every step of the way.

Shellye also advises people to take the time to let people know what it is you actually do. Don’t just give them your job title, titles are useless. What that job title means inside your company could be completely different inside of another. Explain what it is you do so that when somebody is looking for a person with a specific set of skills they will remember you.

Dealing with imposter syndrome

So many leaders deal with imposter syndrome, that voice in your head that says–what makes you think you can do this? Wait until they find out you don’t have the skills to do the job.

You may never fully get rid of it, but you can deal with it in order to make sure it doesn’t stop you from succeeding. Shellye says the first thing is to realize that almost everyone (if not everyone) deals with this at some point in their life. It’s not just you. Understand that although the voice sounds real, it’s not.

Also realize that you would not be in your current position if the people around you felt like you didn’t belong. So if you can’t believe yourself when you try to quiet the doubts, believe the people around you.

And Shellye says, worst case scenario, just fake it until you make it. Act like you are comfortable and confident, even if you aren’t. Because eventually you will figure it out and realize you belong.

Fostering self determination

Self determination means you believe you are in control of yourself. You have confidence in yourself that you can go get things. But you also need relatedness, a feeling that you belong.

So fostering self determination is really about creating an environment in which you feel you belong and that others care about you. So how can you do this? Shellye suggests joining groups, starting a club, getting people together around a hobby you are passionate about. Create that community for yourself where you belong.

Forget about work life balance

The phrase work-life balance has become very popular over the past few years. It is a very hot topic, but Shellye actually hates the term. She believes it just sets us up for failure and disappointment.

Because in a true work-life balance both sides should be equally balanced at the same time, and life is too tumultuous for that. It is almost impossible to balance both, one side will suffer or the other side will. And trying to pretend we can have it all while staying sane is not healthy.

Shellye likes work-life integration instead. You have to prioritize and deal with what needs to be dealt with no matter what side it is on. Especially these days in the pandemic when we are all wearing so many different hats. Life and work are blurring while we work from home with our kids and families. Don’t worry about being balanced, just get done what needs to get done on all fronts.

Embrace your limits

Most of us have gone through our strengths and weaknesses at some point in our career. We are usually pretty aware of what we are good at and what we struggle with.

But what usually happens is people tend to focus on their weaknesses and they try to work on getting better. If you already know what you are good at, wouldn’t your time be better spent making your strengths even better? If you take an hour to work on a weakness you have you might improve a tiny bit, but if you could work for an hour on something you are already great at, think of how much more you could achieve.

You are known for your strengths, so strengthen your strengths. Focus on those areas and really push yourself. And then lean on others around you to fill in the gaps where you have weaknesses.

Learning to swerve

So many people are having to swerve in their careers now with Covid-19. With all of the shutdowns and restrictions businesses and individuals have had to figure out how to continue to grow and thrive.

Being able to swerve in your career means you can move around the roadblocks you can’t move. All of us are going to face roadblocks from time to time. Some that you can easily get around and some that seem impossible. You have to learn to go over, under, around, whatever you have to do to get past them.

Roadblocks can be a boss who doesn’t see your potential, or a coworker who tries to push you down, or an organization with no new opportunities. Whatever it is figure out what you can do to swerve.

As Shellye says, “The only difference between a roadblock and a stepping stone, is how high you lift your leg. So don’t let anything stop you.”

Never say die

One of the values that was added to the MetricStream culture back in 2008 was never say die, which meant never give up. It’s all about resilience. They had to figure out how to fight to keep the company going when the economy crashed and they did. Shellye says it is so important that you don’t stop just because life gets hard, keep going, keep pushing.

The most important thing they did in the middle of this storm was to focus. As Shellye explains in hard times everyone in the company has to be pulling in the same direction. Communication is critical so that everyone is on the same page and knows what is important. And the whole company focuses on what really matters and all the extra stuff falls away.

During these times leaders also have to have a vision and they have to share that with the company, because when you are going through dark times it’s easy for people to want to jump ship. Leaders have to have a vision and they have to inspire everyone to keep moving forward. Life is hard for everyone, the key is to not let those circumstances affect your drive and motivation. Keep pushing forward and never give up.

How Shellye takes risks

In order to grow and move up in your career you are going to have to take risks. As Shellye says, you can’t get opportunity without taking risks. But risks can be daunting. What if you fail or fall on your face?

Shellye has been taking risks her whole life and what she does is she asks herself a few questions before making a move.

  • What is the likely outcome?
  • If I do this, what is the upside?
  • What’s the worst that could happen and can I live with it?

Most of the time people walk away from risks without even considering them because they are afraid. But if you take the time to understand what it is you are afraid of, you may find it’s not that scary after all.

There are some risks where an outcome could be a long term negative impact on your health or it could mean your family ends up on the street. But usually if you think about the worst that could happen it’s not that dramatic. There are a lot of outcomes that you can live with. So when you are faced with a risk really look into it and what could potentially happen. You never know, it could result in the best decision you have ever made.

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