Tue. Mar 21st, 2023

What if you looked at your career not as a ladder but as a mosaic?

Adobe’s Vice President of Corporate Development, Direct Investing, and M&A Integration, Hannah Elsakr, has a unique way of looking at her non-linear career path. She likes to call it a “leadership mosaic.”

The concept came to her when she was creating a mosaic on the garden wall of their home. Working with her children, Hannah noticed that the mosaic brought together disparate materials, such as broken ceramics, colored glass, and natural stones. Up close, it was easy to see the beauty in each individual piece, but you had to step back to appreciate the impact of the mosaic as a whole.

“I think about that as a great metaphor on a professional level,” she said to me. “If you tie together a lot of the experiences in your life—the setbacks, the mentors, the skills and education—that all ties together into what I call my leadership mosaic.”

Hannah attributes her achievement to her non-linear career path. She has acquired a diverse range of talents that she brings to every role thanks to her mosaic approach. Five themes—a kind of unifying thread that ties everything together—have also emerged from the events that make up her leadership mosaic.

The first theme is to strike the word “risk” from your professional vocabulary. As a New Yorker and second-generation immigrant, Hannah was raised not to see limits to what she could do. She would rather be in the driver’s seat of her life, making decisions instead of sitting back and letting things just happen to her.

By removing the word “risk” from her professional vocabulary, she means she will not accept when someone tells her she can’t do something. Instead, she simply channels that into motivation to push through and succeed. As a leader, she models that mindset and behavior so that her team embodies that value.

The second theme is to use your head and heart when making decisions. This came from one of the best pieces of advice Hannah received in her career. Liz Smith was a CPG leader of Avon at the time, and she imparted wisdom to Hannah one day: “You’re never going to have enough data. You have to move on with 10 percent of imperfect data instead of analyzing yourself to death.”

The lesson worked. Smith encouraged Hannah to make mistakes because most of them could be easily undone. However, Smith also let Hannah know she would have her back despite those mistakes.

As someone from a mathematics and consulting background, that lesson helped Hannah see that successful leaders often take a leap of faith based on intuition. They hone their instincts and become attuned to their environment. While business decisions aren’t wholly based on blind faith, intuition or heart should be considered as important as rationality.

The third theme is to build something she refers to as your “learning agility muscle.” It requires a mixture of grit and curiosity. Grit is necessary because people need staying power to push through obstacles or when something is outside their comfort or knowledge zone. Curiosity lets you pay attention and see how what you’re learning fits into the world around you.

“That’s really important if you’re ever going to be a chief of staff,” she added, “because you’re not going to be an expert in every dimension, but you have to learn enough and be curious enough to stitch all of those dimensions together.”

Hannah built her grit and curiosity muscle by being a “question-asker.” She wants to learn and understand so she can tie things together. On her team, she has created an environment where everyone can ask questions and debate issues respectfully. Hannah pointed out: “That’s an important part of grit in this landscape; watching around the corner and catching what’s coming next.”

The mosaic’s fourth theme is embracing the diversity of thought and experience. There are many ways that Hannah incorporates this aspect into her leadership, but an example she shared was how she looks at employee performance. Instead of focusing on the input—like the hours of work or how each member of her team prefers to operate—she looks at the outcome. As a result, Hannah calls herself an “impact-driven leader.”

She acknowledges that her teammates are in different life stages and that a multitude of things are important to them, so their inputs will look different. Hannah explains her approach: “Let’s agree on the goal, let’s agree on the timeline for the goal, and then, with all due respect, I don’t care when or how you get it done.” It takes a lot of trust to lead in this manner, but Hannah has found that it results in a happier, more productive team because everyone works in a way that matches their strengths.

The fifth theme is to “pay it forward.” The concept can be interpreted in many different ways, but in terms of her professional life, Hannah is quite passionate about investing in others. “As a leader, we owe it to everyone in our ecosystem to teach what we know,” she pointed out.

People have bet on Hannah several times during her career, and she is enthusiastic about returning the favor and opening doors for others in a similar manner. Hannah is a wonderful fit for Adobe because of the company’s ethos, in which giving individuals chances and positions is simply seen as “good business.”

It’s my opinion that Hannah’s concept of the leadership mosaic is a very good bet.

Watch the entire interview below with Hannah Elsakr and Dan Pontefract on the latest episode of Leadership NOW.


Check out my award-winning 4th book, “Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters” Thinkers50’s #1 rated thinker, Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School, calls it “an invaluable roadmap.” Publishing in October 2023, a new book, Work-Life Bloom: How to Nurture a Team that Flourishes, (You won’t want to miss digging in.)

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By Samy