Knowing who we are and what we stand for, how it impacts others and our work, and how we adjust behavior with that knowledge is at the crux of so many workplace problems. Quartz at Work worked with Liz Armbruester, EVP of customer and compliance operations at Avalara, a tax software company, to discuss how she hones these awareness skills for herself and the many individuals she mentors.
Quartz at Work: Knowing our strengths is an important part of well-being and building self-awareness. How can we incorporate strengths into the conversation more?
Armbruester: Every individual brings unique strengths to their role and responsibilities. These various traits, across teams, not only help drive business success but also help create strong connections as employees across the company find commonality around who they are and how they work. At Avalara, we value:
- Optimism, passion, and adaptability
- Humility, curiosity, and fun
- Ownership, urgency, and simplicity
How do you honor the uniqueness of the individual while trying to align with mutual values?
How people demonstrate each of these traits shows up differently due to the nature of what they do. When I work with my mentees to find their strengths and navigate alternative work styles, I will ask what they think their talents and strengths are. Then, I ask them to share use cases or example situations. We also discuss where that strength may have been overused or otherwise become an impediment for them. This helps them recognize their work style and that of others, which opens up a dialogue about ways they may be doing more harm than good. When we learn to understand our styles and how they can be modified to work better, we’re more grounded and work better with others.
Where do they gain from this knowledge of self and others?
As much as we’d like to work alongside only those that are complementary to us for the rest of our careers, the likelihood is dim. I use this process to help them develop a plan for their career roadmap, asking what styles are particularly difficult or that they’re likely to run across. Being aware of your strengths doesn’t develop the skill, but at least it allows someone to pause between stimulus and response, a critical time to decide what and how to say something when navigating work styles.
What is an individual’s responsibility to the company?
A successful leader knows how to seek out people’s strengths and identify where people can naturally throw on their superhero cape. Self-awareness and other-awareness are super talents that strengthen teams and help build other awareness. Recognizing the commonality that binds your teams together and that it can show up differently is some of the best organic knowledge you can have to help you build and maintain a strong team.
When we know ourselves and take action that yields personal development, we’re helping those we work with and the company we work for. Being in charge of your development instead of waiting on something or someone to help you grow in your career is a requirement for growth. If you know what you’re good at and see where you want to go or areas you want to develop, it’s much easier for others to intersect and help you along your journey.
Can organizational awareness hinder individual success?
As leaders rise, they have to blend decision-making and influence with what is best for the business versus what is best for themselves. I can’t expect a leader to be successful if they are only thinking about what they own versus the trade-offs of what is better for the business with one of their peers. It is difficult sometimes for leaders to let go because this balance of I’m responsible for yet I’m also part of this bigger ecosystem is hard to achieve.
For example, assessments have confirmed that I’m drawn to and good at advising, coaching, and mentoring. Nearly every job I’ve ever held has afforded me an opportunity to help others, but I didn’t realize how much energy it gives me and how that helps balance the other work that can sometimes be challenging. So I began asking myself how to leverage that into my career. I found that balancing a healthy dose of supporting others made me better at my job. I get energy from it and don’t leave work feeling drained by this positive source.
Regardless of the personal or professional environment you find yourself in, it is critical to build organizational awareness. We can care for ourselves and the broader outcomes of the company. This awareness will help you achieve much more than others believe or think you’re capable of.
What do we get wrong when navigating personality/work style differences?
The biggest mistake is a trifecta of assumptions:
- Believing people are like me
- Thinking that I fully understand them
- A lack of awareness of our bias
I once had to mediate an ongoing dysfunctional relationship between two colleagues. The reason behind their conflict was they saw trust from two totally different directions. One thought trust comes inherently until it is broken, but the other thought trust is earned. Because of this, they had different expectations, and the relationship worsened before it had a chance to improve. Sometimes people naturally go to a state of assumption and anger. If people could lean into asking a question about how or why, or what expectations, it would defuse the fireworks going off in the room.
Being a leader brings another set of responsibilities and perhaps more pressure for awareness of self, others, and the organization?
Most of the time, we think about things personally, such as how I can contribute to a team and what I, as a leader, can do to improve the team dynamic. But we often forget a leader contributes to a team by demonstrating to their people how to bring to life their core strengths while highlighting how they individually add value to their team. Helping them become aware of their own strengths will help the team and allow each team member to grow professionally.
Liz Armbruester is EVP of customer and compliance operations at Avalara. With more than 20 years of leadership experience from a variety of technology sectors including software, media, and services, Liz is known for her strong track record of innovative problem solving, process optimization, and the ability to deliver automation for efficiency and scale. Her commitment to operational excellence and aptitude for partnering cross-functionally helped her drive value in prior roles with Vubiquity and Zilog.