Apr 18 / Priya Santhanam

Are You a Leader?

"Leadership is not about a title on a piece of paper; it’s a state of mind."
Are you a leader?

Would you say yes or no if I asked you this question?

Pause and think again before you read further: Are you a leader? You probably had one of three responses:
  • “Hell yeah! I am a leader!”
  • “No, I am not a leader.”
  • “Umm, I’m not sure!”
I want to speak to those of us who had one of the last two responses.

Did you think this because you don’t have “Lead” or “Manager” in your title at work? Does it matter?


I had an excellent first boss at ExxonMobil. He was this perfect balance of friendly and wise, always a mentor first and then a boss. He was also a huge advocate for diversity in the workplace.

He taught me what I consider to be the single most important lesson for early career advancement:
"Leadership is not about a title on a piece of paper; it’s a state of mind."

I didn’t fully get what it meant until a few years into my career (I might’ve probably done even better in my career if I had the headspace to get it right away!). In my opinion, this may be more challenging for women given our dear friend imposter syndrome might be around reminding us we don’t belong in the first place, forget being a leader!

Some of us have an attitude of crushing the job from the beginning, and I salute you if you have that! I didn’t. I started with all the stereotypes shadowing me and believed that I was not a leader. I didn’t have a formal leadership role until around 4-5 years into my career.  

So how did I practice what my boss taught me and made my own way up? I believe much leadership begins with initiative and volunteering. I want to share three distinct experiences in my early career where in my head, “it wasn’t my place.” However, a push from an individual was essential in driving successful project completion, and I’m glad I had my boss’s voice swimming in my head and forcing me to be that individual! I hope the stories help you identify areas in your work RIGHT NOW where there is a lacuna and desperate need for someone like you to step up and be the leader! 

WANT TO LEVEL UP YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Check out Pinkcareers' Incubator Leadership Accelerator, our 6-months program for new (and aspiring) female managers who want to level up their leadership skills and own your career success.

Join us in the Incubator program before 19th April at 11:59 pm EST and use code BONUS1000 to get $1,000 OFF your enrollment in the program.

Save your spot now before we get sold out!

How I learned to be a leader

Story 1: Just an engineer waiting to do my job! 

You may have read my post about working in operations. One of the stories was about when I went to do inspections at a plant for the first time. Turnaround is a complicated project management problem. There are a million sequential things that need to happen for an engineer to finally be able to climb into the equipment and do our inspection job! It was my first time being at a plant with this purpose. While playing the waiting game for 2-3 days, I observed a lack of communication between the maintenance team and the contractors.

I had two choices:

A) Be a bystander, tell myself “this isn’t my job,” and enjoy the additional hours of waiting and chilling time, or

B) Step up and help establish the communication to keep things moving so I could do my inspection ASAP and help the overall turnaround goals (and get back home to my baby).

I chose to do the latter. I asked myself, “what’s the worse that could happen?” Someone might get mad and remind me to stay out of it, but would that be so bad? The leadership at the site appreciated this initiative, and I won major brownie points towards my career growth that year.
Initiative matters!


Story 2: Can I do this? I can do this! 

I had just switched jobs to a team and was asked to shadow the advisor to learn about the software we were building to do equipment design. My task was to assist him with information as needed so he could lead the effort with the product team. I did this for some time but noticed the advisor was getting pulled in multiple directions and was super swamped.

I volunteered to lead a couple of discussions for him so he could prioritize other work. That allowed me to prove my mettle as someone capable for the project, and I ended up with the product manager role for the software. This experience taught me the importance of making my own way into the leadership role I want.
Volunteering time beyond the “day job” matters!


Story 3: What does this mean? I want to learn! 

We were in a large group meeting with over 30 participants. My manager said he really needed to work on an IP Strategy for the technology program but couldn’t find the time to prioritize it. It was at a stage in my career when I neither understood the word “IP” nor the word “strategy.”

I raised my hand to be the person to help build it. (I was a lot crazier when I was younger!) Little did I know what I was getting into; it was one of the biggest challenges I’ve had in my career and yet such an enriching experience. That led me to get the role of IP coordinator for the larger group and eventually played a huge part in helping me land a job at Amazon.

Once again, initiative and volunteering - best friends to help early-career leadership!
“It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.” 

“Looking funny” was a major mental hurdle for me. I know my stories come across as brave and superb examples of early-career leadership, but believe me, these are few and far between. Most of that time was “I don’t belong here,” “It’s not my place,” “I don’t have what it takes to be a leader,” doing the rounds in my head.
The way to get over these inhibitions and own your career is simple: just do it!

So how are you going to be a leader?

Ask for that promotion, ask for that coveted role. If you don’t get it or you think you aren’t ready, just volunteer. People love people who volunteer for stuff. It practically means you are doing it for free! (In addition to 100% of your time devoted to your day job). Now who would say no to that?

What are you going to volunteer for at work? What are you going to take the initiative on to help your team? You got this 💪🏼


If you have a personal story and lessons learned to share about how you’re owning your career, write to us at richa@pinkcareers.com.

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Priya is a chemical engineer by training. She received her bachelors degree in India and masters and PhD in the US. She has held a gamut of roles at ExxonMobil Upstream Research Company over the last 7 years including working in the lab, troubleshooting and designing for operations, building strategies for business development, software product management and teaching technical courses to early career engineers. She currently works as the Sr. Program Manager of IP Operations at Amazon. 

Priya has published over 10 scientific papers, holds 3 patents and has presented at over 20 technical conferences.

She is a mom of two young children and is constantly hustling to find that coveted personal life - work life balance! In addition to engineer and mom duties, she loves to read, write and watch movies.

Find her on LinkedIn here.
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WANT TO LEVEL UP YOUR LEADERSHIP SKILLS?

Check out Pinkcareers' Incubator Leadership Accelerator, our 6-months program for new (and aspiring) female managers who want to level up their leadership skills and own your career success.

Join us in the Incubator program before 19th April at 11:59 pm EST and use code BONUS1000 to get $1,000 OFF your enrollment in the program.

Save your spot now before get sold out!
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