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How to be a Protagonist and Use Your Leadership Skills to Help Others

by Rachel Murray, 20 June 2019

At our last Women’s Tech Focus event – WTF is…Leadership? we had the first person outside of 101 Ways take part in our WTF Standup initiative. That brave woman was Aj Wilson – QA Engineer, unicorn and all-round champion of women. Oh, and did we mention she can also deliver babies?

Her talk focused on leadership and how you can take the skills you’ve learned in any job and use them for the support and betterment of others. So inspiring were her words that she very kindly agreed to share them in a blog post for us.

Take it away Aj!..

Leadership style is a highly personal thing; everyone’s style correlates to their personality type and their experiences climbing multiple career ladders to get where they are. Luckily for the world, there is more than one leadership style. For me, a good leader offers genuine care to those around them, where and whenever they can. Essentially they make sure people feel good.

Many of the key steps in my technicolour career involved doing things that terrified me. I got into tech through working in customer service (I know…scary right); I was fed up of the bad customer experience with a particular technical service and being fobbed off by the support team. So I started investigating for myself why things were going wrong and it spiralled from  there. Turns out, the Google-fu was ‘strong with this one’.

Leadership Type

What’s that got to do with leadership you ask? Well, I discovered my ‘type’ once I progressed to Test Lead.  I would support up to 20 software testers at one time across multiple projects, whilst also line managing anything from 2-14 people. I decided the easiest way to help pair them with a mentor or coach would be to do some personality testing.  Some of you may have heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. After I took the test, I learned that my personality type is ‘Protagonist’.  Sounds very romantic…but alas I am no ‘Ms Darcy’ I am something better (in my opinion).  

Those that fit the protagonist profile are considered to be  ‘Natural-born leaders, full of passion and charisma’.  Even better is the good news that I am part of only 2% of the population that fits under this personality umbrella, fulfilling roles such as coaches and teachers. The bad news is that the personality type also lends itself to those likely to become politicians (shudder).  I ran with the good news, of course; 2% means I am rare. Did you know only 2% of the world’s population has red hair? You can more easily spot a redhead in a crowd than a blonde or brunette. In leadership terms this essentially means I am a (self-proclaimed) ’leadership unicorn’ that ‘Uses skills and passion to guide others, working with people to improve themselves and their communities.’  Which turns out is also true of me, what is not to like!?

Extending your Reach

I get more joy out of helping and guiding others than helping myself so to have this confirmed felt validating.  In almost every tech role I’ve held so far, I have always been a kickstarter/member of Women in Tech’ communities, and / or a mentor. Being part of a community allows me to use my skills and experience to help bring people up who might otherwise be forgotten about, and champion their progress. This could be the mothers working night shifts that do not normally get access to technical training, or the women wanting to transition into a tech career, but don’t know where to start.

Some of the things you can start or shape as a protagonist leader can be small – but every little helps. Some examples of things I’ve done are:

  • The Gathering – Advancing women by gathering them together.  I helped set up a ‘Women in Tech’ Café event where the community or potential members can all meet face-to-face. This has been so successful at my current workplace.
  • Casual Collisions – Last year I used Slack to create a ’casual collision’ mechanism in the community called ‘Coffee Roulette’, where you randomly connect once a month to another member, in person or online.  Some of your community might work from home, part-time or just not know who else is out there that they can meet or talk to. This can provide an opportunity to maybe gain a mentor, a friend, an ally or simply meet other like-minded people. 

Building a Women in Tech community is important, and could extend its  reach outside of your office or even the UK. Coffee Roulette has been great for new starters to build connections and has also recently been adopted by Just Eat Tech.

Be an Advocate

I would love to be able to say I do this work because you’ll never find a queue for the ladies at a tech conference. But the truth is, I love being an example of someone who did a u-turn on their career from medical to technical. I actually trained to be a midwife so my experience of psychology coupled with the social aspect of various lifestyle-supporting (shopping) bar jobs has really helped me over the years. Especially with the patience part (sometimes having been the only woman in an office of 500 people), just proves that all skills are transferable in some way. I get to help advocate for and shape positive change in our environment as a woman in tech.  Let’s face it the stats aren’t on our side, so now is the time to roll up our sleeves and change them. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Even if your designated leadership style, isn’t a protagonist, you can still behave like one to help develop the leaders of tomorrow. Remind yourself of what you have learned in life; barriers can be overcome when you ask for what you want and are prepared to go out and get it. Then remind yourself that any career choice is not forever – ‘fail fast’ as they say – you have the power to change and grow when you want to. Finally, share all the other amazing things you have learned the hard way or read in the current best-selling feminist book, so the women in tech of the present and future don’t have to suffer in the same way those before them did.

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