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Renee Solorzano: Crafting a Compelling Career Story

Learn how to motivate direct reports and manage friends by leading with compassion and transparency with Renee Solorzano.

Renee Solorzano is the Director of Product Design at Faire where she passionately leads a team while helping them craft meticulous career stories. During this episode, Renee teaches us how to onboard, and coach our teams in a way that empowers them to do their best work while fulfilling their career goals.

Listen to this episode (or read the transcript below) to learn how to identify your direct reports ideal framework. 

1 Has there been a leader that has stood out to you during your career? 

Carrie Campbell was my boss at Airbnb. When she joined the company, everybody felt it. She was always asking questions and diving into why we were doing what we were doing, and she was always pushing us. At the start, I was intimidated because she approached leadership and influence so differently. Not only was she my boss, but I could also immediately feel the influence that she had over the organization. She was one of the best and most inspirational leaders that I’ve ever worked with. 

2 How did you operate while having different personalities? 

We didn’t clash, we complemented each other. She was able to push me and helped build my competence and taught me to speak up and push things where I would have probably just found another way to get the same thing done. In the end, we cared about the same things. We cared about authenticity, and about being true to ourselves and our team. We also deeply cared about our customers and figured out how to best represent them while weaving them into our work.

3 What were some mistakes that you may have made early on in your management career?

I first became a manager at a company called Chartbeat, which is a data analytics company that helps editors and writers understand the traffic to their website. I was hired as a designer, but my boss quickly asked if I was interested in a director role, and I was in the mindset that I wasn’t ready because I was still figuring out my craft. Ultimately, I wanted to bring someone in so I could continue doing what I was doing but I realized when we started to interview that I could do better, so I dove in and that’s how I started in management. 

One of the earliest lessons I learned was that I really had to hustle to make it work. A secondary lesson was that it can be complicated to manage relationships while managing. A lot of the designers I was managing were my friends. Because I was now their manager, there was tension, and it was difficult to create an environment that felt safe. I was worried that if I gave negative feedback, it would affect our friendship so that was definitely a mistake that I made early on. 

4 Do you have any tactical tips for someone that may be managing a friend? 

It’s really important to have a very straightforward, transparent conversation when the switch from peer to manager happens so you can set the stage for how you can build the relationship moving forward. Talking about it and putting everything out in the open is the best thing you can do. 

5 What can you do when you feel like someone has submitted a piece of work that doesn’t reflect their full potential? 

Start by understanding what decisions led them to that point, take the time to understand how they ended up where they did, and learn if they explored alternatives. Ask them if they explored other options or talked to customers. By asking these key questions, you will be able to identify gaps in their process and based on that information, you can direct them to dig deeper in those specific holes. It’s all about empowering your reports to fill in the blanks. I want my team to understand the questions they should be asking themselves while they are completing their work so they can use it as a rubric moving forward. 

6 Is it your job as a manager to motivate someone or motivate teams? Are there frameworks that you can apply? 

First, as a manager, you should determine what career growth looks like for your direct reports. Where do they want to go and what do they want to get to? The second part is understanding what they value as human and figuring out how the two pieces align in a matrix. 

7 What is a career story and why is it a better way of marketing yourself? 

Simply put, a career story is what your career journey has been and why you do what you do. Where have you worked? What have you learned? Why did you leave company A and join Company B, and so on and so on. If you look at a resume, those are all notches. I worked here, and I moved here but I think it’s really important to dig into and understand the motivations of why people have left and why people have changed and what they learned at each part of that experience. What’s important to you changes over time and you can only begin to understand that when you dive into someone’s career story. 

8 What are the things you look for within a career story? 

 It’s very easy to become the company story rather than your own so I definitely look for intentional decision making. It shows that you are in control of your career. There is a lot of intention in knowing yourself, knowing what you prioritize, and understanding how that is reflected in the decisions that you make. 

9 How do you advise people to be able to take feedback more gracefully? 

I think the most important part about that is letting them know when they’re doing it because a lot of people aren’t aware of the way they are reacting. You should be a mirror so you can help people understand when they are defensive and what that looks like. You want them to be able to understand how they can change their behavior in addition to understanding how their behavior may affect the company at large. 

10 Do you have any tips, tricks, or words of wisdom for managers or leaders that are looking to get better at their craft? 

I think the most important tip I would give is to build a support system for yourself. Leadership is very lonely and it’s something that nobody talks about. The more that you connect with others, the more support you build for yourself over time, the more people you have to turn to for advice or gut checking yourself. Having a group of people to turn to has made a world of difference for me. 

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Konstantin Tsiryulnikov

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