Leah Donahue Embraced Growth and Change to Become a Better Leader

“Set your sights on your goal, stay focused on the end results, and don’t let anything get in your way.”

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In honor of Women’s History Month, GreyCastle Security is highlighting some of the women in leadership positions at the organization. We are very proud to have amazing women in leadership positions here, and all the women at GreyCastle Security make valuable contributions every day.

Leah Donahue, like many of the leaders at GreyCastle Security, started in a boots-on-the-ground executional position and worked her way up to management. During her tenure here, she’s helped build and establish much of our messaging and policy, which has had a significant impact on GreyCastle Security’s success.

Leah gave us excellent tips on moving your career forward, whether you’re entry level or a senior manager. For professional development and career advancement, she recommends finding mentors, in or out of your industry, and developing long-term, productive relationships. She also says we should all be reading more – from short articles to long books – to keep on top of industry trends and to develop our skills. If you’re a manager, you should regularly praise and recognize your team members (when it’s appropriate and authentic) to encourage them to reach their full potential.

In her career, Leah has experienced periods of profound discomfort – like when she transitioned from an individual contributor to a team leader – and she has found that embracing the discomfort from change has allowed her to grow and succeed.

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Full Interview

What do you do here at GreyCastle Security?

I am a Business Development Manager. I run a team of security advisors who are essentially consultants for our customers’ holistic cybersecurity programs. Our team specializes in helping clients in the healthcare and technology industries.

What was it like moving from Solutions Advisor to Team Lead to Manager? What skills or qualities were valuable in getting there?

Going from sales to leadership, it’s like you take the skillset you’ve adapted your whole life and flip it on its head. I mean, it’s a completely different skillset. Before, you were thinking independently and individually, for the benefit of your client and your sales career. Becoming a leader of a team is a complete mindset shift and a whole new skillset you have to adapt. When I first came into the role a couple of years ago, it was a tremendous period of growth for me: learning how to effectively coach a team, giving effective feedback, and speaking to each team member in the way they like to be communicated with. It’s important to really be strategic; our team goes into the cybersecurity space to really understand the products and services and how they can benefit the healthcare and technology industries. It was a complete awakening and entire shift of my career trajectory, and I wouldn’t take it back for anything in the world. I absolutely love what I’m doing, and I love the team I’m working with. Getting to work alongside them is humbling because they’re truly amazing and passionate about what they do.

What are some actionable, tangible things managers like you can do to uplift and support their employees? It sounds like that’s something you enjoy.

Recognition is so important. It’s not constant praise for absolutely everything you do. If you’re complimenting everybody, it doesn’t really mean anything, but if someone truly does something, recognize them for what they’ve achieved.  Explain the positive impact they had on the client, the organization, and their colleagues. It’s important to be able to communicate that in a way they want to be recognized: some people don’t like the public attention and would prefer you take them off to the side and just privately say, “Hey, this was tremendous.” As long as it’s authentic and genuine, it’s important for your team to hear that feedback, so they can feel acknowledged, appreciated, and noticed. It’s so easy to constantly point out ways people can improve, over and over again. What motivates them more is to tell them, “This is something you’ve done that other people should learn from.” And when they see public recognition of their colleagues, they want that for themselves as well.

We also do some fun contests. We do phone contests, or I ask, “Who can learn this skill the fastest? Who can hit this mark the quickest?” Salespeople are competitive by nature, so we’re using that to everyone’s advantage. Of course, we reward them at the end of the day. It can be a tangible prize like a monetary reward, or it can be something like a Friday off to spend with family.

What advice do you have for women looking for management positions in male-dominated areas like sales or IT?

Stay true to yourself and believe in your capability. It’s so common these days for women to be comfortable taking a secondary seat. We almost expect it. You have just as much, if not more, to bring to the table as your male counterparts. You need to be comfortable and confident in what you bring to the table. It’s okay to be authoritative; it’s okay to speak your mind; it’s okay to be confident; it’s okay to have differing opinions; it’s okay to be true to yourself. As long as you are going into your role, knowing you’re going to do your absolute best, it doesn’t matter. Go into your role with blood, sweat, and tears, ready to work your ass off. Nothing else really matters. Keep climbing that ladder. Set your sights on your goal, stay focused on the end results, and don’t let anything get in your way.

What resources do you like to use in your career development? What have you found most helpful in moving your career forward and developing your leadership or sales or technical skills?

First, meeting with mentors. Meeting women in the industry and people who have been in the cybersecurity and IT world for years, learning from their mistakes, asking them questions. I’ve been really blessed; I have a handful of really strong, long-tenured mentors in this space. I’ve had two phenomenal mentors, not in the cybersecurity or IT industry, but entrepreneurial women. They’ve broken that glass ceiling and given me advice on how to do so myself. I’ve had mentors in the cybersecurity space, who helped me find my passion here. I wake up every morning and do work I love because of the mentors that have influenced me.

Secondly, obviously, literature. If you’re not consistently reading, you’re doing yourself a major disservice, whether it’s news articles or books. You need to stay up-to-date on industry trends; in cybersecurity, the threat landscape is constantly evolving. We need to be in front of it: that’s our job. We need to be educated so we can educate others. Continue to take classes – you don’t have to stop when you get your degree. Continue to set personal goals for yourself outside of your nine-to-five.

What are you really proud of in your career? Either at GreyCastle Security or before?

I’m proud of being as adaptable and open to growth as I have. I came from enterprise organizations in my past where things were already developed and where processes were already in place. Our roles were already defined. When I came to GreyCastle Security, there was this startup mentality. I’m really proud of being part of the team that helped define our strategy as an organization. We put processes and practices in place, like our quarterly business reviews and our sales process. We built language and messaging for each of our verticals and really helped develop GreyCastle Security. I didn’t just work in the organization, I worked on it, and I’m really proud of that. I feel like I took the bull by the horns here, and I was able to adapt to all the growth and change. Sometimes you’re up until midnight, but you’re making a difference and an impact at the end of the day. We protect people and their businesses from being attacked by “the bad guys.” What’s more powerful than that?

Something I’m also proud of is being able to be uncomfortable during my growth. It was very difficult for me, I won’t lie. Going from an individual contributor to a leader took a whole different set of skills. But I remained in that uncomfortable place, and I stuck with it. I didn’t go back to what was comfortable for me. I continued to grow. After a good amount of time, I found myself more comfortable in my new skin, and I really started to love and enjoy it. Now I’m continuing down this management path.