A top-down approach to leadership may have less of a place in the businesses of our future, a growing body of research suggests. By allowing one employee (namely, the boss) to call the vast majority of a company’s or team’s shots, so many great ideas and growth opportunities are missed. That’s why work cultures that promote lateral leadership — like the one Maegan Smith has found at American Water — are gaining popularity instead.
“My team always works together to deliver the best result to our customer and to the business,” Smith, an Employee Relations Business Partner at the public utility company, said. “There is not one person on this team who is the sole decision-maker. As a diverse group, we all have different experiences, ideas and visions, but we always come together as a team and deliver operational excellence.”
It’s a democratic style that Smith has felt drawn to since the start of her career, when she discovered how empowering it was to work underneath a trusting manager.
“I was a 19-year-old kid, just out of high school with no experience or schooling in Human Resources,” she recalled. “Her believing in me allowed me to have the confidence in myself to be effective. She gave me the opportunity to learn by experience and never ‘told’ me what to do.”
Now, at American Water, Smith gets to continue modeling that behavior alongside a team of equals every day, solving for new and interesting problems in a way that keeps her on her toes. Those are just a couple of the reasons she calls joining American Water earlier this year her “best career move” yet. Recently, she explained that accolade in more detail to Fairygodboss, and she also shared her No. 1 tip to other women who are looking to make an impactful career move themselves.
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I’ve been in my current role at American Water for almost four months. Prior to joining American Water, I was a Human Resources Manager at a local manufacturing facility. Coming to this company has been the best career move I’ve made so far.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
The first and last thing I do at work is check my email and calendar, as it helps me prioritize my day and prepare for the next.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job or company?
Being in Human Resources, and especially in Employee Relations, means you never know what the day is going to entail. Every day is unlike the next! There are many different facets of Employee Relations, and most cases are never the same. It’s a great way to gain exposure to diverse situations and increase your knowledge base.
What’s something you’re especially good at at work?
I am good at listening, as well as being understanding, fair and consistent. In HR, it’s critical to have these qualities.
What about outside of work?
Being a mother and a loyal friend, and playing softball. My sister and I play in a women’s league!
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
I am happy to say that I am proud of all my career moves. Each time I made a change, I built new professional relationships and also gained knowledge, experience and ultimately better opportunities.
What do you love most about your job or your company?
There are two things I love about American Water. First, the company very strongly and consistently promotes inclusion and diversity in everything we do, and that’s extremely important to have in the workforce. The other thing is collaboration. My team always works together to deliver the best result to our customer and to the business. There is not one person on this team who is the sole decision-maker. As a diverse group, we all have different experiences, ideas and visions, but we always come together as a team and deliver operational excellence.
What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to?
Being a mother of 5- and 7-year-old girls, I don’t get a lot of “me” time, but when I do and since it’s football season, that’s what I like to watch.
What’s your No. 1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
Don’t get discouraged, be yourself and trust the process. There are opportunities that may not work out, and it’s for a reason. It means there are opportunities out there that are better suited to you.
Who is/was the most influential person in your life and why?
I would say my parents were the most influential people in my life, and there are several reasons why. They taught me things don’t come easily in life. If you want something, you need to work hard to achieve it; you must put in the work. They allowed me to fail at times and to learn from those experiences. Mistakes allow you to reflect and learn how to do things differently. They have also shown me what it means to be dedicated and loyal – two of my best traits.
What was the best quality of the best boss you’ve ever had?
My first boss had confidence and trust in me. I was a 19-year-old kid, just out of high school with no experience or schooling in Human Resources. Her believing in me allowed me to have the confidence in myself to be effective. She gave me the opportunity to learn by experience and never “told” me what to do. I was able to present problems and solutions to her and we’d collaborate to ensure the right decision was made. She gave me an opportunity that most people wouldn’t, and I will always be grateful for that.
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