Kimberly Baker | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Kimberly Baker

Background:  

Founded in 2004, RedSeal helps government agencies and Global 2000 companies improve their overall security posture, accelerate incident response, and increase the productivity of their security and network teams. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been using RedSeal to visualize access from disaster sites and rapidly address any configuration changes that cause security, performance, and network uptime issues. RedSeal is headquartered in Sunnyvale, California, and has offices in the United Kingdom and Japan. Kimberly Baker is based in Maryland and RedSeal’s federal business unit operates in the Washington, D.C. area.

The Mistake:

The mistake I made involved who to seek professional guidance from.

Early in my career I was working for AT&T. As a young woman in the telecommunications industry I was feeling like I was working very hard in my sales position and I was doing the things that were part of my job description, but I wasn’t getting the kind of coaching and direction that I felt I needed to adjust course along the way.

I had a manager who had been in the industry for a long time, and when I would approach him and ask for advice and counsel he pretty much said, “Sell the product line, deliver results against your quota, and I’ll sign your expense reports.” Go away and figure it out was the message I was receiving.

I kept coming at that question looking for a whole lot more engagement from my manager and a couple of other managers. My mistake was I kept going back to my boss and other people that did his job. They knew what they wanted for results, but they didn’t understand how to coach and how to bring me along.

I finally went to my dad, who had been in the telecommunications industry for a while. I was complaining that I wasn’t getting the support I needed. I was going to sales meetings and asking questions and getting the same feedback. I didn’t feel like I was succeeding, and I wasn’t putting numbers on the board that I needed to as a salesperson.

My father came back with some gems of advice that I’ve taken to heart for the rest of my 30-year career in building high-performing sales teams.

The first was that you learn more from the managers that you work for that you don’t like, than you learn from the ones that you do like. If you listen to yourself, you can understand that. He told me to keep a folder of the list of things I’m never going to do when I’m the boss.

The other advice was that if you have a manager who isn’t giving you the things that you think you need, to go find people in your business that you can get guidance from. Those people are called mentors. It’s a proactive thing that you as an individual, if you’re looking to succeed and make a contribution, need to do.

I took his advice, and from that day on, I realized that I didn’t need to depend on my boss for my success in business.

Be proactive and create your own network of successful people that can mentor you.

The Lesson:

The lesson is, don’t depend on your boss in your direct chain of command for giving you the leadership and the counsel you need to be successful. Be proactive and create your own network of successful people that can mentor you. Use that community of relationships as your foundation for problem solving, and for learning and for information sharing, and for all the challenges and opportunities that you run into along the way.

Look for people you admire in your business, they may be within your company, or they may be in the ecosystem you work with, partners or other companies you do business with. But ideally you find a couple of people that you really respect, then you proactively ask them if they would be your mentor.

It occurred to me that after having some success in this area of having people as my mentor, that I too could be a mentor for others. I could proactively look at people I admired that were coming up in the business and offer to be their mentor. I have particularly paid attention to reaching out and mentoring women in the business, because there’s a relatively small percentage of women working in the industries I’ve been a part of.

This has been something that’s been very rewarding for me personally. I’ve clearly learned a lot from people who have agreed to be my mentors, but I’ve probably learned just as much from the people I’ve mentored and continue to mentor in the business.

RedSeal is on Twitter at @RedSeal_co.

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