Emily Alexander has worked at ZS for most of her professional life. After starting as an analyst, she’s held a number of positions during her decade-long tenure with the professional services firm. During her time there, she acquired an MBA, and worked her way up to her current position of Manager. She recently told Fairygodboss, “We always say at ZS that you are doing the role before you get promoted and that’s definitely true of leadership.”
ZS prides itself on its Women’s Leadership Initiative. Part of its broader commitment to inclusion and diversity, the Women’s Leadership Initiative helps women at ZS build successful careers by enabling professional growth and fostering an inclusive work environment. Alexander shared with us what keeps her at the company, and how the support she has received helped her develop her own management style.
Tell us a bit about your job. What’s your current role, how long have you been in this role, and what were you doing previously?
I am a manager at ZS. I help clients solve sales and marketing issues, specializing in go-to-market strategy and commercial transformations for clients in the financial services industry.
I’ve worked at ZS the majority of my career, but my role has grown here. I started as an analyst delivering work for clients, and through three promotions and some time off to get an MBA, am now a manager. This means I get to lead teams of people to deliver engagements and own client relationships to build more business.
What about your work do you find most exciting?
I’ve been at ZS for nearly a decade because of the people and the problem solving. I love working alongside smart, down-to-earth and fun people everyday, and now getting to take a bigger role leading and developing the next generation of ZS'ers is so rewarding.
I also love solving tough, unstructured problems for clients. They hire us when they need our expertise and it's rewarding to roll up our sleeves with them, look at the problem from new angles and form a real solution.
How has your day-to-day work changed since you went into leadership at your organization? What about your overall approach to work?
We always say at ZS that you are doing the role before you get promoted and that’s definitely true of leadership. I have loved becoming a manager at our firm, as it has formalized many of the things I was doing (and enjoyed doing) before. Instead of mentoring more informally, I now have professional development coaches that I work with to help shape their careers. I have larger teams of people that I manage to deliver client work and I get a seat at the table to spearhead development programs, like the Women’s Leadership Initiative, office learning and development and onboarding new ZS’ers.
Managing people — especially if you’re new to it — is not easy. How has ZS helped set you up for success?
ZS utilizes an apprenticeship model across many aspects of our business, so my success as a manager I owe to the amazing managers I’ve worked with from observing them and their methods. However, it has been important for me to figure out my own leadership style and what is authentic for me, and I’ve done that by working with a lot of great people and drawing on individual aspects of what they do to stitch it into something that works for me, playing to my own strengths.
I also receive 1:1 coaching from several partners that I work with to help me refine my management style, work through dilemmas and improve how I support my teams. In many cases they are the very managers I draw inspiration from, but they are always supportive of me finding the style that works for me, and not telling me what to do or what they would do.
How is this kind of support reflective of the overall culture at ZS?
Supporting this individual style is very much in line with our culture and one of my favorite things about working at ZS. We are very rarely told exactly what to do or how to do it, instead encouraging entrepreneurship. This doesn’t mean that we are on our own though – whenever I ask if I can try something new or start something the response from the firm is almost always: Yes, and how can we help?
What’s one strategy you’ve used when managing an individual or team that you think has been particularly effective?
When I first started overseeing people as an associate consultant, I was taught the concept of situational leadership, and I still use that today and even coach my reports on it now! I think the concept is critical – you need to individualize how you support each one of your people and teams. My role as a manager is to support my teams how they need it. Sometimes that means rolling up my sleeves and helping do the work, when other times it means taking a back seat to let them shine. I need to have all these tools in my toolkit, and also constantly revisit what is needed by each person and situation.
What is your no. 1 piece of advice for others who are moving into leadership?
The best advice I’ve received and now give is to be a manager that people want to work with. In consulting, the teams we work with are fluid – I don’t have dedicated reports and the people I engage with change from project to project. I can’t always control who works on my projects, but I can build a culture and reputation, so people keep wanting to work with me, and I do that by investing in them and creating a positive experience.
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