Authentic Leadership: Lessons Learned at X

Sponsored by X, the moonshot factory

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Photo courtesy of Canva/Fairygodboss Staff.

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May 20, 2024 at 2:30AM UTC

At X, the moonshot factory, a diverse group of inventors and entrepreneurs get together to build and launch technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people. However, their positive impact doesn’t stop there — it expands to their own team, who X empowers to continuously grow and improve on their skills.

One example of this is X’s year-long leadership program for women called THRIVE, which enables women to acquire tools to be more authentic leaders. “This type of support and engagement demonstrates my company's commitment to fostering leaders who can navigate the chaos and uncertainty of building and scaling a moonshot,” shares Ngozi Kanu, the Partner Programs Lead at Mineral (a project at X working to scale sustainable agriculture by unlocking a new understanding of plantkind), who participated in the program.

And this is only one example of how X enables her to flourish. “My company has multiple programs for mentorship and sponsorship,” Kanu tells us, including, “opportunities to be mentored by different leaders in the company for a nine-to-twelve month period.” These opportunities truly helped Kanu and many others grow. For Kanu, having a mentor has helped her find, “someone to share my wins, my failures and my frustrations while also learning how to better navigate the chaos that comes my way,” she states.

It’s no wonder that Kanu says that her favorite perk at the company is, “epic leadership programs that focus on personal breakthroughs.”

Here, she tells us more about her personal career journey, how she’s evolved as a leader and her advice for others looking to take a similar path.

Ngozi’s personal leadership journey.

Can you identify anything you said or did that earmarked you as someone ready for advancement?

I took responsibility of my scope, regardless of how small, and treated it as if I was the CEO, and my manager and his peers were the board of directors. With this mindset, I was able to think beyond the tactical function of my role, show my potential, and find ways to develop tools and improve processes that could meet current and future demand.

What were your initial thoughts when you learned you were moving into a leadership role?

I strongly believe that the indicator of a successful leader is one who knows how to surround themselves and build the right team. I know that how a person hires can be a defining mark of a leader, and it’s important to me to hone that skill as I continue to grow in my career. When I took this new role, I was a bit nervous about the opportunities I had to hire great people, integrate and lead an existing team I was inheriting, and help my team identify opportunities for growth.

How has your day-to-day work changed since you went into leadership at your company?

I’ve spent the last six years at Alphabet working across a variety of roles including Financial Operations, Product Strategy and Partnerships. The last 2.5 years have been on Project Mineral where I developed the function of what a PPM is for Project Mineral which included onboarding new partners, building frameworks for partner engagement and iterating (and optimizing!) continuously. Over time, the number of partnerships, the complexity of each partnership, and the team grew and I shifted my responsibilities to include hiring PPMs, onboarding, and developing a culture for my team to flourish. 

As Mineral continues to grow, I’m standardizing processes for my team and aligning roles and responsibilities with cross-functional stakeholders so we can move faster as an organization.

Could you tell us more about how you support your team and help them succeed? What’s your leadership style?

When I think about my past managers, I’ve most admired individuals who humbly ask for feedback, ask insightful questions and are intentional about setting the right culture for their organization. Now that I’m a leader, I support my team by creating a space and culture where members feel comfortable asking for help and raising concerns before it becomes mission critical.

As for my leadership style, I believe it includes curiosity, empathy and trust — I seek input, suggestions and ideas from my team to understand their points of view, affirm that their voice matters and encourage knowledge sharing on the team. I care about each member of my team, what they find important and what blockers (professionally or personally) I can help remove. I trust my team to execute, communicate, and ask for help when needed.

What do you hope your direct reports are getting out of working with you? 

One of my leadership principles is empathy which I believe is critical for a function that must wear multiple hats and interact cross-functionally with the goal of delighting a partner. Empathy in a leadership context not only applies to how I treat my team, but how I collaborate internally and externally. I intentionally put myself in others shoes to understand their point of view, anticipate their concerns, and develop a plan that will address their top needs. 

Lastly, what’s your current leadership role entail?

The Partner Management team that I have the privilege of leading is effectively responsible for everything from onboarding our new partners to ensuring the Mineral organization delivers value to our partners to pushing our collaborative team to always test, learn and advance both our partners abilities and the Mineral technology. More specifically my team and I:

  1. Oversee field operations for Mineral’s hardware deployments. 

  2. Manage client relationships for Mineral’s customers, whom we intentionally call partners. 

  3. Collaborate cross functionally to deliver products and services to our partners, highlighting Mineral’s unique capabilities. 

  4. Own the voice of the partner, sharing insights from our partners internally. 

Top advice for growing your leadership skills.

What’s one strategy you’ve used when managing an individual or team that you think has been particularly effective? 

I’ve borrowed an approach from a friend and classmate, where my team and I start our meetings by rating ourselves on a five-point scale across emotional, physical and intellectual to build authenticity, community and accountability. As a partner-facing team, we have additional pressure to always be “on” with our partners. This exercise has enables us to lower our shields and ask for help internally so that we show up stronger externally

What is your No. 1 piece of advice for other women who are moving into or want to move into leadership?

Volunteer for projects both inside and outside of your team or organization where you can gain management experience before stepping into an official leadership role. Before Mineral, I led diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives for the entire X and Finance organizations. In both of these opportunities, I learned how to lead through influence and organize a group of talented individuals to achieve an OKR for the organization

What do you believe managers must do when onboarding new employees? How did your own manager support you during this process? 

Like most teams in the last 2.5 years, my team has faced the challenges of onboarding remotely and now working in a hybrid environment. It’s harder than ever to build trust and connections with a new group of individuals and I continue to empower my team to ask questions and provide feedback about me as a leader, our products, processes and even onboarding experiences. My own manager routinely set aside time to ask for feedback, which created more trust and opportunities to learn.

Working at a supportive company is key to growing your skills. Ultimately, how has X empowered you?

X attracts incredible top talent. And, Mineral is no different because I get to work with incredibly gifted and talented people, I learn something everyday, and I get to work at a company that’s attempting to make a positive impact on the world.

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