In light of #NationalBossDay we sat down with our boss, Meiko Takayama, Founder and CEO of AWE to talk to her about her journey to the top.
Did you always want to be a boss?
I became a boss because I saw a need in the market and very naively said to myself, “If I don’t do this, who will?”
In 2011, I was an executive recruiter and I was hosting events for local-based, senior executive women to connect and to share best practices. At these events, women repeatedly said to me, “I didn’t realize there were so many of us out there.”
I thought it was a strange comment because we represent 50% of the population - but then I began to understand that we aren’t physically ‘out there’ because we aren’t networking and we aren’t ‘out there’ in numbers because there are few of us in senior positions at companies. The number of women at the top hasn’t changed dramatically in over a decade and I knew I had to do something. I could remain in executive recruiting to try and influence clients with diverse candidates but I realized that I could never achieve great scale with that model. That’s when I realized that I could expand upon the events that I had been hosting and a business was born. (Having gone to a women’s college and working previously in non-profit didn’t hurt the fact that I was creating a mission-focused company supporting the advancement of women!)
A few months after creating the business plan, I learned that my father had cancer and he died three weeks later. I was able to spend almost the entire three weeks with him, my mother and my sister, and during this time, he told me that, at this point in life, he was the happiest that he’d ever been.
These words stuck with me after he passed, and I realized that he was able to say this to me because he had lived such a fulfilled life and was able to let go. My father’s final act was very zen and I believe that it was a gift to my family. I then realized that if I were to share this gift with my family, I, too, would need to be able to say to myself that I’d done everything that I wanted to do in this life. With that fire beneath me, I realized that I better really get started in creating AWE. One month later AWE was officially up and running.
You asked if I always wanted to be a boss and the answer is no. However, I was born with rebel genes - from a banker turned artist paternal grandfather, to an unconventional thinking father, to an independent mother who left her native country at the age of 25 and never looked back.
An amalgamation of life events led me here and I am incredibly grateful they did because I know that my team and I are changing the world for the better
What is your favorite part about being a boss?
We regularly get emails and messages from women and men who tell us that we’ve changed their lives - from a woman who got the promotion, to a man who better understands the challenges that his wife faces each day, to a former employee who has learned how to better manage and influence within her new work environment. That’s really fantastic and it’s so rewarding to be part of a great team that generates that kind of positive response.
I also love watching the relationships that have been built amongst the AWE team. When I started the company, I never thought that I would create a place that would be the genesis of lifelong friendships.
What has been the biggest challenge?
There are so many! My biggest challenge is also related to the people I lead. My true strengths are in business and sales. I am a visionary and I love strategy, but a great boss needs to be able to flex her leadership to adapt to the diverse perspectives, interests, behavioral patterns, and learning styles of the people she works with. This is no easy task - and as a founder it’s especially difficult because you feel personally responsible for the lives of the people that you employ. There’s so much more to being a great boss than simply knowing how to run a business or make sales. I am fortunate to have surrounded myself with trusted partners who push me to flex into the spaces of leadership that are more challenging for me.
You mentioned that there’s so much more to being a great boss, than simply knowing how to run a business. What are 5 top qualities that you've noticed great bosses have?
In the thousands of executives I’ve talked to in my career and in my own experience - these are the areas that I like to improve for myself each day:
Know when and how to let go. This is something that I am still working on, but it’s so important. Great bosses acknowledge that they can’t do everything. They delegate where they can and trust the talent they hired. By relinquishing control they create space to strategize on a macro scale. Which brings me to my next point...
Think big picture - on everything from operations, to people management, to how to stay relevant in the marketplace. The world is changing faster than we can keep up, the most effective leaders that I’ve met keep their heads up.
Be an effective communicator. Great bosses grow their network and build strong relationships before they need something. Additionally, they value and can deliver smooth, concise, and compelling stories.
Roll up your sleeves. While delegation is crucial, teams trust and respect a leader that is willing to get in the trenches with them.
Have the WOW factor. Everyone has had a smart boss, but being led by someone who you admire and are inspired by, that’s something special. Great bosses have a keen ability to inspire and unite a team around the vision.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to the aspiring bosses out there?
If you are ruminating on an idea, a title change, or a raise, go for it! Don’t wait until you feel ready. That’s the biggest mistake that many people (especially women) make. They think that they need to be 100% prepared before taking that leap, when men often take the leap knowing that they are only partially qualified. Let go of the fear of failing and of everything that tells you that you’re not good enough because you are. Imagine what the world would be like if all women had the same confidence of an average white man.
Last, remember that just because you can’t see it, doesn't mean you can’t be it.
Connect with Meiko here.