Episode 006: Alisa Bonsignore–Growing as a Leader Show Notes
Alisa Bonsignore is the principal of Clarifying Complex Ideas, a strategic communications consultancy in the Bay Area with clients around the world. We discuss thought leadership, volunteering, the leadership journey, and career growth.
- Twitter: @ClearWriter
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- Thought leadership
- Career growth
- No single path to Leadership
Thought leadership can take a lot of different forms. You could be a blogger. You could podcast…. It could be about personal topics that are of interest to you, that help you to just make a connection with the reader somewhere. Maybe you’re a technical communicator by day, but maybe you also have a certification as a wine expert that you write about, and that could be something that a potential client or a potential employer reads about you own is like, “Wow, this person has a level of depth that I didn’t know about!”
I think it’s easy to look at someone that you see as a leader and you think they have always been a leader
But none of that (career growth) would have happened if I had just sat back and been the quiet one. I had to look for new approaches to my career, where I had to find those alternative leadership opportunities, where I could influence laterally instead of just being placed in a leadership role.
How are you going to prove your worth if you come in the first day doing X, and you leave five years later, still doing exactly the same thing? You need to grow and develop and learn things as you go…. And I think it just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience, because you can’t expect (that) you’re going to take a slightly new role or take on a project and it’s going to change your life radically overnight. It’s a gradual process that builds over time as you are exposed to more and more.
[Whatever your path is and whatever you might be thinking and whatever you’re stressing about, there is no right or wrong way. There is no one path. You just have to find the thing that works for you.
Resources or Products Mentioned in this Episode
- Society for Technical Communication
- Rochester Institute of Technology
- Clarifying Complex Ideas
- STC Intercom magazine
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Ben: We’re continuing our conversation with Alisa Bonsignore. Today we’re going to talk about her role as an influencer or as a leader. Alisa, can you talk to us a little bit about in what roles you’re an influencer or a leader and what that’s like for you?
Alisa: Sure. We’ve already talked previously about speaking, which obviously is a leadership thing in its own right, but I think for a lot of people, speaking ties in very closely with teaching. Some people will do it in a classroom. Some people will do it more in terms of conferences or annual speaking engagements, which is really a form of thought leadership. I’d like to think that people were coming to hear me talk because they liked my ideas, and that there is something useful that I have to say.
Alisa: And thought leadership can take a lot of different forms. You could be a blogger. You could podcast. Here’s an example! You could write a book, you could contribute are articles to Intercom. (We’re always looking for articles in Intercom, but it doesn’t even have to be limited to professional topics. ) It could be about personal topics that are of interest to you, that help you to just make a connection with the reader somewhere. Maybe you’re a technical communicator by day, but maybe you also have a certification as a wine expert that you write about, and that could be something that a potential client or a potential employer reads about you and is like, “Wow, this person has a level of depth that I didn’t know about. This is very interesting. I want to know more about them.”
Alisa: Mentoring is a great opportunity for guiding others. I’ve tried to mentor some people throughout the course of my career. I’ve been mentored by some wonderful people. I think that’s a really great way to influence and give back, but volunteering–as we’re both on the board of directors for STC.–volunteering is a large role in my life. But, you don’t have to be again, in a professional capacity. It doesn’t have to be for a professional society. You could be a volunteer at your local community park. You could be a volunteer for the soup kitchen. I mean, whatever it may be, something that helps you to be seen as a leader in a way that you might not be seen in your day-to-day professional work.
Ben: Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting point and an important point, because in my professional capacity working in higher education, there isn’t really a career path in the area that I’m in. I’m a program manager in the information security office. I’m responsible for awareness and training. I manage a lot of the initiatives we do, but my step up is to be an information security officer, and that’s a far different role, and that role has a lot to do with incident handling which can come in at any hour of the day or night. So there’s some real–maybe some pluses–but there’s some minuses with it as well.
Ben: So I think that whole idea of finding leadership opportunities outside of your immediate workplace is really, really important. If I had only pursued what I could pursue within RIT, I wouldn’t be doing this podcast. I wouldn’t have run for president of an STC local chapter. I wouldn’t have run for the Board. I would probably not have been able to get engaged in mentoring relationships. My other leadership opportunities again, are through Educause, which is another nonprofit organization, where I’ve led one of their working groups, and I present regularly at their conferences, and I’ve–they’ve even thought some of what I’ve said has been thought-worthy–I’ve been asked to participate in podcasts about things that we’re doing here at RIT. But again, there are things that I was able to start, so I think understanding that your leadership path and your influence path is both within and outside your workplace is really important.
Alisa: Yeah, and especially as an independent. I don’t have a career path per se. I mean?what am I going– I’m the only one in my company–What am I going to be? I’m going to be the president. Oh, I am the president. Okay. Well, I’m also the writer. I’m also the administrator. I’m also the ITperson. I’m also–There’s no growth path here. I can change my clients. I can change the focus of my work, but it’s not like you’re going to see a progression in title or anything like that, so my leadership approaches have to be different. They have to come from a different place than in your standard “rising through the ranks” type of leadership.
Ben: So another thing about leadership that we’ve talked about, and we can pick it up in a couple of things, but one thing that you’ve mentioned to me in conversations in the past is that leadership is a journey. When we see leaders around, it can be, “How did they get to that point?” or, “They’ve always been that kind of person.” I know for me personally, my leadership path probably started many years ago, that I’m not really aware of, but it didn’t really start actively until about eight years ago. What have you found in terms of what you observe with others around leadership paths? What has yours been like and what recommendations would you have for introverts especially who want to become influencers or leaders?
Alisa: Well, I think it’s easy to look at someone that you see as a leader and you think they have always been a leader, right? You–you assume that these were the people who were the class president in high school. They think they’ve just always been in that leadership role and I was never that person. That wasn’t my personality. That wasn’t who I was. I didn’t really meet you. Look back on my career, I–it’s worked out beautifully and people say, well how did you put all this together? How did you have this plan? And I’m like, “Yeah, I had a plan. Right. Okay.” Because I had started out in healthcare years ago, like 20 plus years ago, and then when we moved to California it was during the first dotcom boom and there was no healthcare work to be had. It was all tech. I didn’t know anything about tech. I’d never done anything in tech in my life, but it didn’t matter, because there was such a shortage of available personnel that I got hired at a dotcom, because I had a pulse, basically. [laughing]
Alisa: I mean that was the only job requirement, so I ended up going from doing taxonomy and content at a startup which were a couple of network security companies. And broadening my horizons there on topics that I knew nothing about a few years earlier; and then ultimately getting back into healthcare, which is where I wanted to be in the first place, but, having the opportunity to get back into healthcare. But then that’s all dovetailed over the years to be Healthcare IT–all of the security, all of the security concerns surrounding HIPAA, surrounding personal health information, and people go, “Wow, it’s so amazing that you’ve planned your career this way, so that you find yourself in this healthcare IT arena.” And I’m like, “I planned that. Absolutely,!” [laughing]
Ben: And it’s interesting because 20 years ago some of these things didn’t even exist.
Alisa: Well, exactly. And it all seems like a series of seemingly random choices at the time. Right? When I was first graduating from college, I wouldn’t have imagined that some day I’d have my own business and be serving on a board of directors. I mean, who would’ve thought that? I-I wouldn’t have guessed that I’d have multiple international clients in Europe, or that I would have speaking engagements a few times a year, both domestically and internationally. But none of that would have happened if I’d just sat back and been the quiet one. I had to look for new approaches to my career, where I had to find those alternative leadership opportunities, where I could influence sort of laterally instead of just being placed in a leadership role. But it was more of the types of things like project management where I was influencing across groups and building consensus, and all things that work with my personality, but not necessarily things that I would have known about or would have sought in my natural tendencies.
Ben: Let’s say I’m a new practitioner. I’ve been a technical writer for a couple of years, or I’ve been a security person, or I’ve been in any kind of industry. It’s not really just confined to these industries. What advice would you have for me in terms of becoming an influencer? Becoming a leader? Is it important for me to become an influencer? Is it important for me to become a leader. How would I go about that?
Alisa: Well, I think it is important in terms of wanting to get some more visibility for yourself. I mean how, how are you going to, for, for lack of better explanation, sell yourself within the company? How are you going to prove your worth if you come in the first day doing X, and you leave five years later, still doing exactly the same thing? You need to grow and develop and learn things as you go, and in the process, you get exposed to a lot of different things. And so I think the part of the thing that you need to do when you’re young and that I did without realizing it, was taking on opportunities that were a little uncomfortable. That didn’t feel like they might’ve been a natural fit for me, because I only saw sort of what they were on the surface. But that really worked well with my personality type, because, as I said, project management–it may not be the thing that I want to do all day every day.
Alisa: But the skills that I learned in some of the more project management type roles that I did, have had a tremendous impact on what I do as an independent, and how I manage my projects, and how I manage clients, and how I balance work, and how I understand how the flow goes, and building consensus across groups and across language barriers, even. There’s a huge difference there from where I was 20 years ago to where I am now. And I think it just takes a little bit of time and a little bit of patience, because you can’t expect these things are going to–you’re going to take a slightly new role or take on a project and it’s going to change your life radically overnight. It’s a gradual process that builds over time as you are exposed to more and more.
Ben: I found that was the case for me as well. There are times I’d say, “Well, why couldn’t I have been doing this 10 years ago?” Or, “why didn’t I think…
Alisa: Right, because you weren’t in this place at the time.
Ben: I could not have done that because it’s that sum total of everything that has come up to this point in time that’s enabled me to actually do these things, and also even has provided the interest. Twenty years ago I didn’t think about personality types or temperaments or introverts or extroverts or even leadership at all. As I mentioned, the leadership progression for me is fairly new, but I found that I’ve become really passionate about it and passionate about helping other people become leaders, especially introverts, who often feel like there’s no place for them. So it’s really interesting the way–as you’ve put it–it’s all of these things that have come together to enable us to take these next steps. The other thing I thought that you said that was really important, was being willing to take steps that are outside of our comfort zone.
Alisa: Yeah, and it’s–I mean it’s so easy to say, “Well, I was this at my last company and I’ll continue to be–I’ll look for the same role in my next company,” or under the new management re-org or whatever it may be, but stretch a little. It’s good for you! Even if you decide that’s not the thing for me, I want to go back to what I was doing. You’re still taking the skills that you learned and bringing them back and it’ll make you better at what you were.
Ben: Anything else that you would like to pass on to our listeners?
Alisa: I think you just need to know that whatever your path is and whatever you might be thinking and whatever you’re stressing about, there is no right or wrong way. There is no one path. You just have to find the thing that works for you.
Ben: Great, so I think that’s wisdom and I thank you so much for sharing it with us. Thanks Alisa for sharing your thoughts today. We look forward to having you join us for another podcast in the future.
Alisa: Thanks, Ben. It’s been good to be here.
Alisa has a Twitter bot that is sometimes hysterical. https://twitter.com/alisa_ebooks