For almost every professional, there comes a time when you must decide if you’re ready to take the step into leadership. We’re all leaders in our own right, but what I am talking about specifically here is being a people leader. For me, that came by way of Cisco’s SE Transitions and Leadership Development Program (STLDP) – a program designed to help grow careers and get talent on the leadership track.
This intrigued me, but I had no idea how many doors this one program would open for me as I discovered so much about myself, the business, people management, and beyond.
When I was accepted into STLDP, I was met with all those ‘first day’ emotions – excited, nervous, anxious. But by the time the program began, I was mostly excited about the opportunity to connect and learn from an incredible group of Cisco Systems Engineers (SE) and Architects.
We began by ‘meeting up’ in our Webex space, followed by a kickoff call where we were told that only about 1% of Cisco sales engineer get to experience what we were about to. What an honour (it took me a full minute to allow that to sink in)! Here was a group of high achieving Cisconians, all ready to take the next step in their careers and evolve into leaders. I knew a unique experience was about to unfold.
Next up, was selecting our preferred case study, and deciding our focus for the next eight months. We would be presenting a series of our case studies to our entire senior leadership team under Tim Carnes, and your selection would determine which team you would be working on developing your solution with.
Working in groups can often be difficult, especially when you haven’t (and can’t) meet in person – there are so many personalities, dynamics, and new relationships to form. But this was also one of the most rewarding aspects of the program too – the people I was able to meet and get to know better!
Part of the program includes many trainings. These trainings are focused around helping you develop your own skill sets in presenting, people leadership, empathy, emotional intelligence, and improv – yes, improv! They’re all carefully selected to help grow skills you may have some experience with, while enabling you to learn about other talents you never knew you had.
I was also able to upskill on Cisco Design Thinking, another lifelong skill to master, but one that really helped me re-evaluate how I think about day-to-day challenges. And as time went on, and I was able to lead the team as our case study progressed, the experience gave me the opportunity to flex muscles I would not normally get to – like conflict resolution, communications, and further project management experience (along with others) were all up for grabs to explore.
Finally, the program was nearing completion – and what an amazing journey it was in developing, growing, and enhancing my skills. There were new people across the business met, new business units explored, and parts of the business I never would’ve likely experienced otherwise. And, the best part, was that we solved real business challenges together – with the result being the presentation of our research and findings in our case studies.
Would it be enough to convince senior leadership that your proposed outcome is worthy of further investment? It was time to find out!
As we presented our findings and justified our proposed solution – it was wonderful knowing that I had the attention of our executive team to potentially buy into our project. The outcome would determine if we had executed against and exceeded expectation. The pitch had been delivered and all that was left was awaiting the feedback and outcome.
It was a YES! To get quotes from senior leaders like, “The best STLDP readout I have ever heard” and after another (who was not supposed to be in our session) joined and let the group know they had been informed, “You must join this STDLP session NOW!” – it was a truly humbling and uplifting experience. Eight months of work had hit the spot, been a success, and received this level of attention which all led to a “yes!” – I was so proud. From there, we were asked to continue to explore parts of the proposal after STLDP had officially finished.
For me personally, I learnt a lot about myself through STLDP. Some of these things I thought I perhaps might be good at but didn’t quite know at the time I received my nomination into the program. I also learnt a lot about the business, why things work the way they do (even many things we often taken for granted) and gained a broader appreciation for the machine that is Cisco.
But, of course, at the heart of this ‘machine’ – is our people.
STLDP gave me the confidence to lead a global team – and now, I do just that with a team of extremely talented Cisconians.
I can’t express enough how wonderful this program was, and if you are an SE looking to push yourself to the next level – then this is the program for you!
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