Lead(H)er Board Q&A: Melissa Pepper

Each week we are going to post some advice from Lead(H)er board members in the form of answers to the same questions. We hope you can get something useful and inspirational from them either personally or professionally. To kick off the series we have to 'lead' (pun intended) with our fearless leader, Melissa Pepper.

1. When you were new to your career what was something you struggled with, or worried about, thinking it was unique to you, but later discovered is very common?

Early in my career, I thought that everyone else had a plan. A plan for their career, their social life, their finances...everyone was preparing for some big goal. I worried that because I didn't have a vision of where I would be in five years, I wouldn't be successful. It was refreshing to find out that I was definitely not alone in this. Your early 20's are for many a time of feeling a bit of lack of direction!

2. As a young professional, in a role without much authority, what should you focus on to develop as a leader?

Emotional Intelligence is a buzzword right now, and for good reason. Knowing how to respond to your own emotions and the emotions of others is a signature habit of great leaders. Another habit to develop, which goes hand in hand with emotional intelligence, is active listening skills. The best leaders I know make me feel like I am the only person in the room when we're talking. Avoiding the tendency to look around a busy room of people is something I continue to work on (and struggle to do well at).

3. Why is a mentor relationship important for growth?

Speaking from my own experience, my mentor is someone I feel safe asking questions about how to handle situations that I wouldn't feel as comfortable asking my supervisor. When we talk, I know she is listening to understand the best way to lead me forward, even if her responses are not always what I'm ready or eager to hear. Those two components --feeling safe and honesty in that safe place --make for some pivotal growth moments for me.

4. What are the biggest challenges women face in the workplace?

There are certainly obvious challenges (gender pay gap, unpaid maternity leave) that must be righted. However, some of the greatest challenges women face in the workplace we place on ourselves. When we compare ourselves to other women and their career trajectory, animosity and jealous can create a me vs. them mentality. I am a huge advocate for banding together instead. That's part of what Lead(H)er aims to do with (H)uddles; create a counterculture of young women building each other up to help each unique woman achieve the goals she sets for herself.

5. What are the biggest challenges young professionals face in the workplace?

Impatience! I am so guilty of this myself. I may be stereotyping here, but I think a lot of young professionals want to just get things done...generations with more work experience are not always apt to want to whiz through things (and often with good reason!) As young professionals, we need to work on our patience and cultivate a willingness to seek to understand.

6. How can you make a difference in the community? Why is that important to you?

I think in order to truly enjoy life in any community, you have to embrace it and be willing to pitch in to make it better. Part of my personality is "the connector," to use Malcom Gladwell's term, and I gain energy when I can connect people to new experiences or opportunities. It's the reason I started Lead(H)er; connecting people to fuel their careers and community engagement was sort of something I was already doing...now it's official!

7. Why are you passionate about Lead(H)er and its mission?

Have you ever thought about a time where you were really in your groove and time flew by without you checking your watch (or cell phone) every few minutes? That's how I feel when I am working on Lead(H)er in the evenings after a long day of work. Energized. Excited. Inspired. The messages I've received from women who are excited to be matched keeps me going. One young woman wrote me yesterday, "It has been a little over a year since school ended and I find myself really craving a connection with other women, especially young professionals who have the drive to encourage other women as well as grow in their career." Messages like these remind me that our mission will make an impact.

8. Why is Lead(H)er uniquely positioned to make an impact in the Quad Cities?

We are launching at a time when the Quad Cities is coming together to think regionally about how to grow as a community, to be cool, creative, prosperous, and connected, in the words of Q2030, the regional vision for the Quad Cities. Part of that vision is to attract and retain talent in the community. One of the aspects of Lead(H)er is to inspire more women to volunteer, run for office, or start their own businesses. The more engaged each young woman is in the community, the less likely they will be to leave it after a few years. we feel we can plan a role in retaining talent by engaging with young professional women, matching them with experienced leaders who care about their development, and fostering a sense of community through (H)uddles.