Women in Business Q&A: Autumn Manning, CEO of YouEarnedIt

06/22/2017 03:36 AM ET

Autumn Manning is the CEO of YouEarnedIt. She has a passion for making lasting connections and partnerships with people and serves as an advocate for employee happiness. She has worked with Fortune 500 companies to create tools and systems to measure the ROI for people and organizational development initiatives.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today? 

I think there are two things an entrepreneurial leader needs to be successful. The first one is the ability to ask "why not?" or “why can't it be done a different way?” and challenge the status quo. The second is having an immense amount of resilience. I was raised in a very diverse household, moving around every 8 months across multiple states, and playing a big role in raising my three sisters - I didn't have an “easy way.” So I had to learn to figure everything out, which in turn, has helped me get very good at solving the problem in front of me and looking at risks or "problems" as just an opportunity to move forward and achieve more.

I was a first-time mother at 25, and I was also building a business at that time. So traveling with a newborn, being part of pitch meetings and nursing in between all of the things going on - you just learn to move, maneuver, and adapt and to still be present in the important parts.  

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at YouEarnedIt?

I've spent my entire career working with organizations and building products that help drive behavioral change. Everything I've accomplished in my career has led me to I do now with YouEarnedIt. Working with companies at scale, solving people problems through technology, through better systems and making sure that we step back and go "Is this really moving the needle?" I think my entire career has aided this. 

What have the highlights and the challenges been during your tenure at YouEarnedIt?

Seeing something from ideation to implementation and having it deployed into the real world has certainly been a highlight with building YouEarnedIt from the beginning. Knowing that you can hire the best talent out there and that they believe in your vision and are carrying its message forward is also a huge highlight. When I'm onsite with customers and people come up to tell me how much the YouEarnedIt product has changed their workday and their experience is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. Some challenges have been maintaining the strength of our culture as we’ve grown and scaled and knowing to make sure people are working well together - because that can make or break performance and focus. 

What advice do you have for women in your industry?

Having the confidence to step into the role is very important. There are a lot of things I didn't step into faster because I thought maybe I needed just a little more experience, or thought, "surely someone else is more equipped than me." Shifting my mentality to "why not me?" has been a really important change in mindset. I would also encourage women to gain as much perspective outside of people like themselves as they can. Who are they networking with? Who is mentoring them? Is it just women? Or do they have people - men and women - who hold some version of success in their eyes, that they are regularly meeting with and can be challenged by. 

Also, get crystal clear and always revisit your personal definition of success. My definition of success might be very different than someone else's, but at the same time, I don't need to worry about anyone else's definition but my own. Never underestimate the value of shooting way above where you think you should be or simply asking to connect with someone. Don't assume people are that different from you. We are all alike and everyone has been a first time CEO or a first-time leader at some point in time - and I am a firm believer that the most successful people are those who give more than they take and understand that’s why they are where they are. Most of the people I’ve connected with over the years are not in my industry - but the value has been incredible. Surround yourself with people who will keep you oriented to that north star and your own version of success.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?

To always listen to my intuition. It is very easy to look to everyone else to help you make the hard decisions, and I even find myself doing that now. But just having the confidence that you can make the decision and know that others will trust you to make the right decision will go a long way.

How do you maintain a work/life balance? 

You don't. You absolutely, 100% do not maintain a work/life balance. But, if you have defined what success looks like for you, you have to revisit, am I living up to that? For me, my children are my #1 priority and that I make sure I'm modeling and guiding two very productive, thoughtful, kind, smart, contributing members of society - which means sometimes I have to speak to them about my career, and why I am traveling, and also I want to build a company that totally crushes all the competition and paves the way to an entirely new industry. Sometimes that means I work more or travel more and I don't have a hard and fast rule on "I do not open emails on the weekends." You just have to revisit what success is for you. Another version is serving others - leaving it better in the world - and if that means we do it through the company we're building, then great. There are many times, especially as a single working mother, where you go home and cry and think "I can't do this anymore." But then you sleep for 8 hours and wake up refreshed and ready to go, and you realize all you needed was a good night’s sleep! 

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace? 

There’s a consistent level of doubt that’s created due to this “collective loudspeaker” that conditions women to think that they can’t move forward or lead. I’ve never thought that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough, but there is so much self-doubt that circulates because of the social messages that play through this collective loudspeaker. These are things that cause women to doubt themselves and take one step forward but two steps back professionally. These messages of the collective loudspeaker need to be tweaked so women can perform as they truly are and believe in themselves fully without this self-doubt affecting their performance and growth.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

It has given me a group of people that I can call and be myself with. It sometimes can be a bit lonely at the top, as cliche as that is, I cannot call anyone on the team and voice my fears – so it’s been so powerful to have the opportunity to speak to people that have been there before and can give insight and relate. Personally, having mentors to lean on when I’ve felt out of balance has been such a comfort and a great network to have.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

I admire leaders, period. Male or female. I admire leaders that understand that to build a good business they have to start from the beginning, took twenty years, and now they are where they are. I admire leaders that don’t forget or belittle the importance of that 20 years. I admire Angie Hicks from Angie’s List, because she’s humble and doesn’t push to build her own personal brand and let her ego get in the way. Michelle Obama is a kick-ass role model. You feel like you know her – she’s poised and articulate, and stands for something. She’s someone who can rally people around a cause because of the bigger meaning behind it — and I think that’s a huge sign of a great leader.

What do you want YouEarnedIt to accomplish in the next year?

I’d like to retain aggressive but healthy growth. It’s not easy to grow to where people are aligned truly aligned with the mission. As long as we keep growing and keep the company culture we’ve built, it’s a success in my eyes. We will have to do some things differently, of course, but I aim to make sure we’re still aligned with the who/what/when/where/why by the end of the year. I also hope that we continue to develop a culture of diversity, where people can show up every day and trust that they can be themselves. That is extremely important to me.