As part of Real-time Perspectives’ ongoing blog series focusing on millennials, we sat down with Grand Rapidian Anna Bullis, 30, director of operations for Brightly.
RTP: What do you spend your days at work “doing”?
Anna: I lead our project management efforts, accounts, sales coordination … so I ensure that we have a sound customer experience. I also work internally on our finances so I’m responsible for keeping tabs on our accounting and internal project managing like hours and budget tracking. It’s always a lot of hats in a small organization.
RTP: How did you meet Barbara?
Anna: I first met Barbara when I went through the Rising Women Leaders program through the Center for Community Leadership as part of the class of 2011. She was the facilitator. We met monthly for 9 months and I also got to hear other female professional speakers who spoke on different topics. Then I was part of a small group – many of us kept in touch, would have lunch with Barbara, and then organized a small group of women who met monthly for a few months to do some ongoing group coaching.
RTP: Did you have any misconceptions about what it would be like to work with an executive coach, or to work in a group setting?
I really didn’t because I had already experienced her working style from the Rising Women Leaders program. But what’s really attractive about group coaching is you get to learn from the experiences of others so it’s more efficient – you explore your own personal issues but you also listen to and identify with other people’s work issues that Barbara offers some guidance around. So the group piece was not intimidating to me. I have sought out some mentorship and leadership coaching in my career so I very much value the outside perspective in that way.
I know Barbara often says she’s not a therapist so there might be a misconception that you have to go and divulge a lot about your personal experience to get professional development benefits, but I think what she does translates – it definitely crosses between personal and professional lines, but it’s in no way intimidating or intrusive.
RTP: What’s it like to work with Barbara? What’s unique about her?
Anna: I think Barbara takes a tough love approach and I appreciate that about her. She’s not going to sugar coat or spoon feed you answers, but that’s probably why she’s so successful – she lets people find their own answers, she just guides in the right direction. And that has a much greater probability of success.
RTP: What’s an example of something you’ve changed – a habit, a communication tool, the way you think about something, — since working with Barbara?
Anna: I feel like I’m a work in progress so that’s difficult, but in group settings it was interesting to get several outside perspectives and have the time and space to have open conversation and understand how people might perceive your communications, to understand how different communication styles can be interpreted. So I’ve learned not to take for granted that what I’m saying is clear – it could come across very differently. Barbara’s approach is to be very explicit, set boundaries, model how to manage a team and give very direct guidance.
RTP: You’re a millennial. What do you think your generation is doing particularly well, professionally?
Anna: I think our generation doesn’t just accept something as a fact and we challenge the status quo of how something is done; in fact, I think that’s where a lot of innovation around technology comes from. I notice that there are so many different apps and systems and programs – those all come from people saying, OK, we can do this but we can do it better. But at the same time we probably don’t spend enough time appreciating the way things have always been done. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Our generation can become a little bit too gung-ho to change things.
RTP: What advice would you give to other millennials looking to move ahead in their careers?
Anna: I would suggest finding a good solid mentor, someone you can meet with and speak candidly with. I’ve had several wonderful mentors who have provided guidance around skill sets I should seek out, as well as just good advice around business and communication and best practices and how to be a professional woman and a mom. Finding someone who holds you accountable for things you’re setting out to do will give you a good sounding board when you need it. I think group coaching can partially fill that role. A lot of our conversation was around what it means to be a female professional, how do women and men communicate differently in a professional setting, so it definitely was a good way for us to come together and learn from each other’s experiences. You also build personal relationships so a lot of us have kept in touch and still connect one on one beyond the coaching time. Barbara helps that happen in a wonderful way. Even just putting a lot of people in the room together is a great start.