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Episode 3: Laisha Daley Woman of Badassery

Dr. Sarah Andreas interviews Laisha Daley. Laisha shares her leadership growth story.

You will learn:

Moving from being a stealth employee to someone who takes a lead.

Laisha shares her rags to riches story

You can find Laisha at


Dr. Sarah Andreas: My guest this afternoon is Laisha Daley. She is, by all accounts, an overcomer both personally and professionally. She is a master lattice climber when it comes to her career, and has evolved from a staff internal auditor to an executive director of Product Management. She's also the founder and creator of Woman of Badassery, which we are going to talk to her more about because that is such an awesome title. I'll include the link to her website in the notes.

She serves to help young female professionals transform from stealth employees to elite badasses at work. Laisha is also involved in her local community, volunteering her time and talent at church and serves on the Take Stock in Children Scholarship Committee in Pinellas County, Florida for the past 15 years. She has a full-circle story about her experience with Take Stock. She is married to a firefighter and they have two children, and a mini Goldendoodle named Rufus. Welcome to our podcast.

Laisha Daley: Thank you so much. It's great to be here and great to share my story with your audience.

Dr. Sarah: Awesome. All right. We've got to start with this founder and creator of Woman of Badassery. What is that about? How did you get started with that? Tell us all the details.

Laisha: Absolutely. The genesis and the story behind Women of Badassery, it's actually a little bit from my corporate world where I came up with the name. It's really about empowering and elevating young female professionals. For me, in my season of climbing the lattice at the company that I serve at, I was actually in this work session where literally all of the women, all of the influencers of the company were all co-located in an area.

I just looked at our group and I just said, "We are this zone of women of badassery." [chuckles] They just loved it and it just stuck. That was really the genesis to the name, and that was the inspiration behind the name. Really, the mission of what I want to do with Woman of Badassery is really to help empower and elevate young female professionals who they have aspirations of becoming a senior leader in a corporate setting or in their consulting firm or accounting firm.

That's a little bit where I started. What does it take to actually become a part of your senior leadership team and what are the traits, the qualities, and characteristics to evolve from where you might be today a stealth employee aspiring to leadership to actually arriving?

Dr. Sarah: I love that. The idea, especially for me when I think about that, actually, I just did a Facebook Live earlier today where I talked about a part of body language in meetings and how that you can make yourself invisible simply by how you're presenting yourself in a meeting. I love that you're saying, "Hey, how do I help you move from being a stealth employee to being someone that is actually taking a lead?"

Laisha: Absolutely. Executive presence is definitely one of those things we talk about.

Dr. Sarah: Very good. One of the things that I talk about often is this idea that everybody sees the leader as you're coming into the world and they say, "Oh my gosh, they came that way. They were born like that." Can you share with us, how did you get started? Where did you come from and how did you get to where you are right now?

Laisha: Well, I will say right off the bat in full transparency that I have that rags to riches kind of story. Just to put some context and some meat behind that. I come from a Hispanic community. We moved from New York to Florida back in the mid-'80s. We didn't have very much to our names. There was a lot of dysfunction. My father was an alcoholic. He rotated jobs. By the time I got to high school and my parents had divorced, my mom made $12,000 a year. $12,000 a year. To say that I came from nothing is fact.

Even though that was my family's situation, I aspired to do greater things. My parents really, even though that was dysfunction at the time, they still instilled having an education, that education was important. For me, how I viewed that, my education and getting good grades and getting scholarships and working my tail off to get as much free money as possible so that I could leave that environment.

For me, education was the ticket out and breaking the cycle of poverty in my family, to be quite honest. That's why I have this love for this scholarship program because that was one of the first keys to my path out of that environment. From there, I made enough grants, scholarships, basically created my own financial aid packet with the university I went to to be able to actually graduate debt-free.

For me, that was a big thing. Getting my education, getting good grades, keeping my nose clean, but being able to get my education without taking loans, that was something really important to me even as a teenager to be able to say that I graduated with cum laude, with honors, and absolutely no debt. Here I am at 21, going out into the real world and I don't have that financial burden of student loans and things like that.

Dr. Sarah: That's fantastic. Let me ask you this. You came from a background where it was a struggle where finances were really tight. You go to school, you graduate with no debt, which is just very admirable considering I'm still going to pay off student loans for the rest of my life. Congratulations. That's a big accomplishment. Did you notice when you graduated, were there a disconnect in skill sets? Like you had this education, but did you have those skill sets that you really needed to move into business and be a successful leader?

Laisha: No. I would say there are a lot of things that I've learned in my 20-year career outside of college that there are some intangible things that you just don't know until you're in the working environment. A lot of it is on the job. They will teach you the fundamentals and financial principles and all the things you need to note book-wise in the field, but the leadership track is a totally different ballgame.

A lot of times, what you'll cover-- when I was a business major, I was in finance in management because I figured, "Well, if I want to go and do something in the corporate world, I should know something about business." Those softer skills, the interpersonal, how do you communicate? How do you work effectively in teams? Then, how do you go from that worker bee and how do you inflect?

Because they're really good at producing the worker bees, but how do you inflect from a worker bee to a manager, from a manager to a leader, and a leader to a visionary? They don't teach that [chuckles]. That's where I've definitely learned so much in the workforce to evolve my career. That's why I even started in one field and I have even taken different moves and navigated my career to go from audit which is a heavy accounting finance background, into project management consulting, to program, to then product management.

All of those things require leaps, and that's not a ladder because for me, I thought I would start my career and I would become like a partner in some prestigious accounting firm. That wasn't my path, but I've used those skills and those experiences to create this beautiful tapestry of a career to then be able to say, "Okay. Well, now where I started and where I am currently as an executive director, my office is three doors down from the CEO." The kid whose mom made $12,000 to having that access level, that takes intentional work.

Dr. Sarah: I love that you used the word "career lattice." It was surprising to me. I did that. That's the kind of career that I've had. I've done the lattice, but the first time I heard that word was actually last week in a meeting. A young lady sitting beside me said, "Hey, I think we need to talk more about the career lattice and not the career ladder," and I'm like, "What in the heck is a lattice?" I think that is so cool that you've already said, "Hey, this is how I got to where I was going. I moved jobs and did some lateral where I didn't get more money or something, I got skills."

Laisha: Yer. There were other key decisions that I made. While I started in one firm and I spent a decade in that firm and did climb up position-wise, there was a point in time where I had to make an intentional decision about my personal values and what was important to me and my family, and my family to be. I didn't have kids at that point, but I knew I wanted to have a family, and so I ended up making intentional choices that to some back then would have been preposterous. For me, it was the right thing to do at that time. I continued to grow and develop. I would say the last seven, eight years have been some really interesting stories about that journey to where I am now.

Dr. Sarah: What would you say has been the hardest and biggest leadership lesson that you had to learn?

Laisha: The biggest leadership lesson, "It's not all you [laughs]. Your career is not necessarily all you." One of the big takeaways that I would have, especially for young professionals, is having a champion. I make the distinction of champion versus a mentor or a boss because your boss will be like your immediate supervisor and, yes, they are an advocate for you, but I really believe in the power of champions.

Champions are going to be the ones who are in those closed-door conversations when they're talking about talent assessment and succession planning, and who's a high potential or a HiPo. When you're not in the room [laughs], you need people of influence to be able to fight for you, to be able to champion you and just say, "Hey, this person has potential, and here are the qualities, and here's what makes them so unique."

Here are the unique skills that they possess that nobody else on the team has, that if we were able to develop this person, she or he has the potential to move into those senior ranks. You can't always have those conversations yourself. Sometimes, it is having a champion go into the map for you.

Dr. Sarah: How in the heck do you get a champion?

Laisha: For me, there's some qualities to that. I've been very, very blessed and very fortunate to have both male and female champions, and there have been multiple in my career. Part of it is, it is the other person that-- do they care about you as a person? Do they take the time to invest in learning about you, learning what you're passionate about, what your aspirations are?

Sometimes, it's somebody who just takes the time to hear you out, and then you start to build this rapport. I would say seek that out because sometimes, it's not your boss, but sometimes, it's another leader within your corporate structure or within your organization, a nonprofit or whatever industry you serve in. It's not always going to be your direct manager.

Sometimes, it's somebody in a different position, but they have influence and they have responsibility. Being able to align yourselves with those types of people, not in a creepy, politically-charged way, but really in an authentic way that you are building a relationship. For me, my types of experiences have been, I was working on a critical project and I wasn't the lead project manager, but I had developed a rapport with the key sponsor for this initiative.

I was just bringing myself to the table, I was just doing my best work trying to show up, deliver value, doing the right things for the right reasons, calling out risks, taking leaps of faith or being courageous in sharing not-so-great messages, but being able to do that in a one-on-one relationship. By doing that, by bringing my own gifts to the table allowed me to have more influence.

Actually, one of the projects that I had, I started out like a single project manager working on a very small portion of the project to then ultimately leading it within a matter of months. Being able to demonstrate that and made that sponsor of the project made her look to be a hero, she continued to bring my name up for more strategic projects. She was the one championing for me for other types of opportunities.

Then, being able to take that relationship and then multiply that with different executives, it actually strengthened my network of champions within the firm to then be able to take on different roles and do that in a very calculated way.

Dr. Sarah: That's awesome. Laisha, you said something and you've actually said it multiple times, "my gifts." Tell me about my gifts. How did you recognize what your gifts were?

Laisha: I actually had a coach myself this past year. For me, I would say where I excel. My whole thing about my unique gifts is actually from my coach because I went through a season where I said, "I'm working myself to burnout." I had to change my mindset on a lot of things.

One of the things that she advised me to do was to journal, and she talked about your unique gifts. I ended up using that type of language in my journaling. At the end of the day, I'll say, "Okay, instead of the thing that I did like I really did a nice job making this PowerPoint presentation," instead, you reframe that to say, "I leveraged my unique strengths of perspective to inform the audience in a certain way, and this was the outcome of that."

It's really been by relationship with my own career coach to use that and to reframe my own mindset. Now, every time I show up or even how I talk to my team members, it's, "You are unique. You bring a unique skill set, you bring a unique perspective to the table." I'm always talking to people about their uniqueness. I will even call out their own gifts that I see in them. That's just how it's evolved [laughs].

Dr. Sarah: That's cool that you do that for people that you work with. What I've discovered is, a lot of people don't see their own unique gifts, and it's hard for them to even accept a compliment. They're like, "No, that's not--" or they just brush it off. I love that you do that for your team. That's awesome.

Laisha: What was really interesting is, I had my annual performance review with my VP. What was really strange, to the point that I asked [unintelligible 00:18:50], I said, "Did you read my journal?" Because a lot of the words that he used, it was "her perspective her, her perseverance, her resilience." All of that, he actually used in his summary about my review. I said, "That's so interesting that you are using the same words that I was using in my own journal [laughs]." There's a power in journaling and talking about how you leverage your unique gift.

Dr. Sarah: What advice would you give a young professional who is trying to grow, is trying to move themselves to their next level in their career, and they're feeling stuck?

Laisha: Actually, I had this conversation with somebody last week because she said the same thing. She was in a healthcare field and she was saying, "I feel like I'm stuck. I'm so specialized that if I were to try and do something else, do I need to go back to school or do something?" I said, "Listen, there's probably two or three things that you need to do. One, which is, if you love the field that you're in, look at the industry trends.

Don't necessarily look at what your company or your organization is doing, which is very internally driven, but look outside." For her, I said, "Well, what about the healthcare industry excites you if you want to stay in that? If you're staying in more of the regulatory route, could you build your own personal brand around that?" Then we also talked about, "Well, what are your unique skills? What are your unique gifts, no matter if you're working in this position today, that you could leverage into a different role in the future?"

Because that's really what I did, I've looked at what are my skills and how do I bring my skills and experiences from one position to the next. How does it build off of each other? Or if it's a totally different field or type of position altogether, then allow yourself grace to learn [laughs]. Because even as you step into leadership roles, there is this period where you don't feel as confident and you are not as competent in the role yet.

There's this X and Y axis of your competence in the role and your confidence in the work that you do. If you're going to make a step out into a different type of industry or position, allow yourself grace to go through that journey of learning, and have that love of learning while you're at it because you're not going to get it right from day one and nobody really expects perfection when you do something like that.

Dr. Sarah: Wow, that's fantastic advice. Thank you so much for showing up today and sharing with us your experiences and your growth.

Laisha: Thanks so much again.

Dr. Sarah: I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Leadership Snap Shot. If you'd like to hear more podcasts that are very similar to this, please make sure you subscribe so that way, you know when a new podcast comes out. All right. Embrace your journey and I'll talk to you next week.

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