From Learning to Leading: What I learned from being CEO

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So often, as young professionals, we wait for permission to make decisions, begin new projects or give our own opinions. Maybe you’re working on a project with team members who are older than you, or you’re the only freshman on a board of seniors, or you’re interning at a company for only two months; when we lack the experience that others hold, we often devalue our own ideas and opinions, believing our input is somehow not as valid. We’re put in positions where we discredit ourselves and neglect the value we can add to any situation. 

For me, my promotion from Intern to CEO (for a day!) shattered all of these misconceptions.

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When I first spoke to Sharon Kan, CEO of Pepperlane, I was so grateful to have been given the opportunity to listen to her insights and journey. Working alongside a company founded and run by women has truly been an invaluable experience, given the male-dominated business landscape. Knowing that Sharon was an incredibly successful serial entrepreneur and a strong female role model, I was eager to learn as much as I could. Near the end of my conversation with Sharon, I asked what her day-to-day as CEO entailed. I was expecting a regular answer with a list of responsibilities, a couple of meetings thrown in here and there, and some examples of projects she was managing. I was not expecting her to completely hand over her position to me. Sharon told me that the best way to find out what it meant to be CEO was to experience it firsthand.

So, why not give it a try? 

And that’s exactly what we did. I was given the title of CEO of Pepperlane on Thursday, July 2nd, 2020. Having been an intern for only 4 weeks, the idea of running a company was daunting. How do I prepare? How do I catch up on 20 years of startup experience in a couple of weeks? What if I make a mistake or the wrong decision? I was filled with nervousness, excitement, and curiosity for what was to come. There were many things I was unsure of, many things I could not plan, and tasks I knew would change—and there was no way to prepare for it. I was jumping headfirst into running a company, with no idea of what was waiting on the other side. The day before I was to take on the role of CEO, I was provided a Zoom background with my title and a brief rundown of my responsibilities—and the next morning my day began. With shifting meetings, constant problem-solving, and people checking in and reporting to me, I was on top of the world. I could literally do anything. For an entire day, I made the decisions, ran meetings, and voiced my thoughts. (And Pepperlane is still running smoothly, so I don’t think I messed it up.) 

 

Experiencing opportunities and challenges firsthand is the best way to learn and overcome obstacles. We must understand the importance of value that any one person can add to a situation. In a world where our every day is now mixed with uncertainty and we don’t know what’s to come, we all need an extra push in the right direction to make us take that extra step, take action, and not wait for permission but take initiative into our own hands. Being CEO for a day broke down the barriers of inexperience and uncertainty I had previously assumed. I learned you don’t need to have all the right answers, you don’t need the perfect solution to each problem, or to know every next step along the way. You need to listen, learn, and ask for opinions. Being fast on your feet and trusting your intuition goes a long way, and delegation is the key to efficiency. You don’t need to be a one-person power machine, and quite frankly, you shouldn’t be. Having a team that listens and being able to effectively delegate tasks is necessary for successful leadership. I was able to make decisions without second-guessing myself and the value I was adding. I was able to lead and learn from my co-workers and myself. In order to lead a company, sometimes you have to step off of the sidelines and stop following the rules to start making them.

 

Being 19 years old, a junior in college, and only having worked at Pepperlane for one month, I was granted the opportunity to break down the common perceptions of decision making and push the boundaries of executive structure. You can read here why Sharon Kan decided to give her job as CEO to a college intern and why women should be given formative experiences early on in order to encourage and cultivate leadership. Creating a community of support is a necessary step in setting women on the path to success. I was not only given the responsibility of becoming a leader at Pepperlane, but I was told to make my own rules in order to disrupt the foundation of doubt and traditional structures we so often fall victim to.

Written by Team Pepperlane

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