4 Lessons From SurveyMonkey’s General Counsel’s Climb To The Top
Eleanor Lacey’s prolific rise to SVP, General Counsel & Secretary at SurveyMonkey has been meteoric. She has been a key player in building the Silicon Valley darling, pushing for diversity and equality (an area in which the company sets a new standard both in and outside the Valley) and helping the company as it navigated through the sudden and tragic death of its revered CEO, Dave Goldberg. Yet, what sets Lacey apart is, despite any and all of her success, she has maintained a grounded attitude, sense of humor and relatability that is rarely seen among top executives. She attributes her professional success to a disruptive approach both in terms of how she’s built her department and to her commitment to learning and growing throughout her career. Interestingly, she also notes that much of her personal success required focusing on some of the same skills that she frequently credits her husband and two daughters for helping her learn. Lacey says her success is attributed to four key themes.
Finding Your Natural Fit
Few things matter to Lacey more than making sure her jobs feel like an extension of herself. This means understanding and always evaluating what is most important for her at a given point in time, and clearly stating which areas she wants to improve on next. “For all of us, there are things that are immediate strengths and that don’t feel like work, and a then there is a whole slew of challenges that we need to work on to help us grow both as people and professionals. The only way I can focus on the latter, is to make sure there is a substantial amount of the former,” Lacey explains. Lacey has always valued and been a natural mentor. “One of the many wonderful things at SurveyMonkey is that mentoring isn’t an add-on, but it is an important part of succeeding at my job.” Making your natural strengths a key requirement and metric of the job, guarantees much higher job satisfaction and success.
Going Against the Hiring Grain
While there are certain traditional paths for all careers, the lawyer’s path in-house has always been defined, and, in Lacey’s opinion, too rigid for too long. “This approach has created an effect where amazing and diverse candidates get lost because, perhaps, they didn’t go to the “right” school or stay on the predictable path. It also perpetuates hiring someone who has had the exact same experience you have — which means, you’re not going to create a diverse team,” says Lacey. In her commitment to disrupt the professional legal world, Lacey loves that her US team is comprised of Australians, Canadians, lawyers who’ve come out of a business background (something that she also spent years doing and credits as the main reason she can see the big picture at a company). “I have an unbelievably talented team where nobody looks like each other, they have very different backgrounds and that leads to all sorts of different approaches to solving problems. Some have nontraditional career paths leading to nontraditional resumes, but that was a huge positive in my book.” Lacey takes her commitment a step further. She wants to make sure to rule out her own biases and always has everyone on her team interview a candidate, select the final two and only then will she step in. As she explains, “My job is to know what the executive staff, board and CEO need, but my team always knows what the company needs since they’re closer to the action. They also know what they want and don’t want to do anymore and can better gauge which candidate will be the best for the role. You have to trust your team to know what they need better than you do.”
Always Take Responsibility for Your Actions
Lacey will be the first to admit that she has made hiring and other mistakes in the past, and her current approach reflects an evolution to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself. “One of the hardest lessons I learned as I progressed throughout my career was that I am responsible for the outcome of my decisions — even when the outcome was not something I could have anticipated. If I make a bad hire or a litigation matter doesn’t go our way, that reflects on me regardless of whether it was my ‘fault.’ Trying and being smart is not enough. The outcome, good or bad, is yours to own.” Lacey’s attitude is quite rare, yet she stands by the fact that you always must be aware of and ready to acknowledge when you could have done something differently or better. “Ultimately, though it was incredibly difficult to learn these lessons. I learned to slow down and try to learn from others where my blind spots are,” says Lacey. This level of ownership is what builds trust with the executive staff and board: they know Lacey thinks about her actions and will own their outcome.
You Are Not Your Mistakes
Lacey is quick to point out, “I want to be very clear in separating taking responsibility for your mistakes and outcomes and making the perceived failures who you are.” Learning how to develop that balance is key to making disruptive decisions and going against the grain – more often leading to success than failure. As Lacey explains, “A lot of lawyers (I have seen this more commonly in women than men) think skills are innate and, if you screw up, you’re fundamentally flawed and that leads to feeling devastated and paralyzed by imperfection.” One of the biggest ways Lacey has been able to continue taking risks is realizing she can usually fix things. This simple idea has been instrumental in turning her mistakes (which she used to perceive as giant personality flaws and therefore fatal) into something positive. “If you make a big effort to rectify a mistake, whether it is a personality flaw or the wrong decision when trying to solve a problem, people will often remember how you handled the failure much more than the failure itself. We can all learn things and improve our skills if the desire is there.”
It’s this type of attitude, constant introspection and drive to find a new approach and solutions to problems which has, undoubtedly, been a key reason Lacey is so well-respected and liked by all those around her.
This article was originally published on Above the Law.