top of page

Q&A with Allyson Zimmermann

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Allyson Zimmermann, CEO of the LEAD Network

What was your most challenging experience and how has it changed your mindset?

Early on in my career, I froze on a stage, I said good morning and then everything I was supposed to say simply left my head. I had to do the ‘walk of shame’ off the stage. It was incredibly shocking on many levels and after the event, I suggested to my manager that she let me go (seriously, who does that?). I did it because it was clear in my head that I was not cut out for the job because I failed at it in that moment. She said something I will never forget – she said: “I see something in you that you do not yet see” and shared the potential she saw in me. I did not see what she saw and secretly thought she was overly optimistic. She also apologized for putting me in something too soon that clearly I was not ready for. She asked me to stay on, but also suggested I seek help to tackle this newfound fear. I spent the next years working with coaches, mentors and anyone with some bit of expertise on this challenge, but the fear never truly left and every time I stepped on a stage I did it with some trepidation. Then something miraculous happened in 2014 when I was in Sweden speaking to group of engineers – all of the fear completely left my body, not even an ounce of nervousness was present. It was the most surreal, freeing experience I had ever had. After that, I spoke everywhere and to anyone who would have me speak, to audiences of 5000 and even on a live TV on BBC World and CNN Switzerland. I felt free - it was as if something heavy had lifted and I was free to be me and speak from the heart without my head getting in the way. I could align my passion with my voice.

How it has changed me is that I consistently look for talent and potential in the people I work with; just because one cannot do it now, does not mean one cannot do it later. What can be a weakness one day, can be a strength on another. We are not summaries of our failings, they are just stepping stones along the way. I try to always look for the potential in others, to help them see their own diamond in the rough, even when (like me) they cannot yet see it. And from my experience, everyone has something that makes them wonderful and unique. Sometimes holding that vision for others is all it takes until they can see it in themselves. It’s the most rewarding part of the work I do.

Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for an inclusive leader or manager?

I think it’s knowing you’re not always going to get it ‘right’, but rather lean into the discomfort and get curious of what you might be missing or what you can learn. Years ago, a

CEO of a large MNC told me he realized he wasn’t getting the information he needed from his direct reports, so he went much farther down the ranks and joined a network group to hear how the culture is really being experienced. This was eye opening to him and by using curiosity, he was able to get valuable feedback. Curiosity can be not being afraid to get to know your colleagues and understanding this is part of work, part of building a team. The simple act of curiosity can translate to care. Of course, it’s being mindful and discerning, but not being afraid to get to know your colleagues can build trust on a team, which is so critical to inclusive workplaces.

To have trust, one must first give trust. Sometimes trust means admitting you do not have all of the answers, being authentic and vulnerable. Employees can spot authenticity from a mile away, trust can be allowing your “humanness” to shine through, because you then allow others to be human too. It does not mean you are perfect, but rather focused on learning, growing and progressing. Trust can also be holding others accountable – saying and showing “I trust you, you got this” and not micromanaging. Sometimes an inclusive leader has to learn to trust and follow too.

What inspires you?

It’s when I see people making positive change in the world for others. It’s when I see people having uncomfortable conversations in order to learn. It’s when people are dialoging versus debating. It’s when feedback is given from a place of care and concern in order for someone to learn and grow (feedback can be weaponized too much, it should be helpful but not “crushing anyone’s inner butterfly”). I’m inspired by the authentic conversations and by people who continue to push forward during difficult times. And finally, I’m inspired by unexpected kindness.

148 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page