Case Study #4: Year 3


Julia walked out of the HR meeting and quickly found a bench in the hall. She tucked a loose strand of dark hair behind her ear, then proceeded to text Kevin, whom she still talked to regularly, even though he was currently with his partner in Hawaii. She just had to tell someone.

Just aced my salary negotiation!!! Next Monday, I’ll be project lead. 😀 Wish me luck!!!

She still couldn’t believe it. She was going to lead a team for the first time. In the past three years, she had developed an impressive portfolio working with consumer products in the technology sector. Now, it was really paying off, and she felt ready to take the next step in her career.

She still thought about those early days in the company, working alongside people who saw her more as a burden than an asset. Frankly, she could hardly blame them. She wasn’t nearly the consultant then that she was now; she recognized that. Still, before Eric had decided to leave for a different firm, he took Julia for coffee one day and apologized for being less of a mentor than he should have been.

Julia took a sip of her coffee, looked down at the metal café table, then looked him in the eye.

“I learned a lot when I worked with you,” she said. “The struggle, you know. It changed me.”

Eric fidgeted in his chair.

“Don’t worry ,” she laughed. “I’m not talking about you. I’m talking about learning from mistakes and trial and error and figuring out how to move past all of the things I didn’t know.”

Not much else was said after that. She shook Eric’s hand and never saw him again. Now, as Julia prepared to shift into the role of project lead, she determined to learn from her past. She was going to be great.

The following week, she flew to Boston to meet with the executives of a consumer robot company. During the team assignment, she had asked for at least one consultant with an engineering background.

Instead, the senior VP, who routinely disagreed with Julia’s belief that technical knowledge is required for working with tech clients, assigned her two consultants who had experience primarily with clients in the finance sector. Rounding out her team was a new hire with a PhD in Middle Eastern Studies. A little perturbed, Julia wondered, Why did they pick these people?

She must have seemed edgy. A flight attendant approached and joked, “First time flying?”

“No, more like the hundred billionth,” she returned with a little chuckle. Then she took a breath. “I’m actually meeting my new team in Boston, and I’m…I’m a little nervous.”

flight attendant said:

“Well, let me know if I can get you anything to make your flight more relaxing.”

Julia responded:

Can you get me a new senior VP who actually listens to me? That might help.

Over the next few months, Julia threw herself into her new role. To start off on the right foot, she decided that her team might benefit from a retreat to the Harbor Islands. While they stood together on the deck of the ferry, she challenged them to innovate and use their strengths to deliver quality work to the client and earn the respect of everyone in the company.

Regardless of how many books and blogs on leadership she read, Julia still found herself making missteps along the way, like texting her team members at midnight to check on their progress or even (a bit desperately) overpromising vacation time as motivation.

Nevertheless, she kept moving forward, trying to achieve her professional goals and continue learning so she could become the project lead her team could wish for.

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