Awards and Events
Profile of a People Leader: Vicki Tisdale
This interview took place shortly after we announced our 2019 People Leader of the Year awards. Vicki won the award as a sales leader and was one of three recipients of the award. If you’d like to read more about the awards and find the other recipients’ interviews, you can head over to this story.
Both the awards ceremony and this conversation took place over Zoom due to office closures as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We had the opportunity to get to know Vicki better and discuss her leadership philosophy, how she measures success as a leader, and get some fun insights into the things that drove her to become a leader.
Qualtrics Life (QL): Tell me about your career journey and how you came to Qualtrics.
Vicki Tisdale (VT): I got my first job at the height of the recession in 2009. I worked for a financial printing company, which no one knows what that is, nor did I at the time. [Laughing] I worked there for 4 years and then was recruited to join a global consulting firm by my former mentor.
I worked for her for about 5 years as basically a business development manager and was promoted from a manager to a director role over time. There’s only so much one can do as BDM in an accounting and consulting firm even with a terrific mentor and boss, so when I was looking for a different opportunity to grow, Dan Watkins (from Qualtrics) reached out to me. I actually missed his first two messages, but the third one caught my attention because it started with, “Vicki, is the third time the charm?” I was like, “who is this guy?” It was clear from the message that he had taken the time to actually review my profile and even mentioned some of the women in leadership organizations I was involved in in the Bay Area. Because of that, I replied and said, “Alright, Daniel (he’s Daniel on LinkedIn) you’ve earned 30 mins of my time.”
He recruited me specifically with the mindset of getting me to the position I’m in today as a sales manager. But, at the time I didn’t have any direct sales management experience. I had managed a couple of analysts but not really anything like what this role needed. So the proposal was to come here as an individual contributor, work the business for a bit, learn it inside and out, and we’ll focus on getting you to that manager role. While it felt like an ego blow to enter at a lower title, [laughing] I had a lot of conversations with people in the organization and ultimately decided it was the right company and move for me.
I moved into my current role as a manager in April of 2019. I kind of love an underdog story, and a lot of people didn’t think I would be successful as a manager. I struggled somewhat as an IC. My book of business was not the easiest to break into, and most of the success with it came after I passed it over. So a lot of people felt like I wasn’t going to make it, and I wanted to prove them wrong. I wanted to prove I could do this and could be really great at it. And with the support of great mentors, managers, and my team, I guess I did ok. [Laughing]
QL: A little better than okay!
QL: Did you always know you wanted to be a people leader or was it something that developed later on?
VT: I’ve always had the ambition of owning my own business, being like the CEO, or whatever. I’d actually even pursued opening a brewery with a friend of mine for a while in SF (I still want to do that someday) So, being a leader has always been what I wanted to do one way or another. It’s funny because when I was first preparing to become a sales manager all of my friends were like, “why would you want to manage people? Everybody gets so needy,” and they’d really harp on the not-so-fun parts of leadership. But, every time someone would talk about the “negatives,” I would get excited and respond, “That’s why I want to do it! That sounds awesome. I get to be strategic, help people build their careers, and we get to win as a team. Hell yeah, that’s exactly what I want to do!”
Also, I think some of it was that sales leadership seemed like a natural next step. Sales are such a huge piece of running a business, so it’s important to have a good grasp of how to manage a sales department. As I mentioned, I was looking for my next opportunity after the consulting firm, and I wanted to make sure I landed somewhere that would give me long term growth opportunities, somewhere I could prepare for my ultimate goal (CEO of a company). Qualtrics checked all those boxes, and it's become phenomenally fulfilling. I love the people I work with, I love seeing them be successful, and I love seeing the amazing things we do to help our customers. Honestly, I think people management found me while I was searching for what is it that fulfills me. It turns out that this is it.
QL: How would you define your personal leadership philosophy or style?
VT: I think a big thing is that I’m authentically myself at all times. I know some people feel like they’re different at work than they are in their home life but not me. This is me 100% of the time. My team members know that when I’m critical or when I praise it’s genuine and comes from a place of caring. I live to serve people.
I want everyone around me to be happy and connected to others. I care deeply about my reps’ success, and it actually hurts my feelings when they don’t care as much as I do. [Laughing] I want them to be successful whatever their motivation, whether it’s buying a bigger house or supporting their kids, or going on vacations. I am all in on making sure they achieve their goals, enjoy that success, and that they feel like it’s actually their success vs. mine as the team leader. I’ve had those bad experiences with leaders who either don’t celebrate others’ accomplishments or claim them as their own. It sucks. So, I’m committed to ensuring that everyone I manage has positive leadership experiences.
QL: It’s clear that you see your team’s success as a big indicator of your success as a leader. Can you talk more about how you measure success as a leader?
VT: Yeah, my team’s success is a big part of my success as a leader. Their success means I’m doing my job right. Engagement is also a measure of success for me and my team. Before coming to Qualtrics I didn't understand the full potential of using employee engagement as a metric. I’m so glad we measure it because I love knowing if my team is engaged and if not, how we can improve. I can ask myself things like, “Is there something I personally can do to help or is there something else at play that we need to focus on?” When I can help my reps be engaged and happy to come to work that’s "success" to me.
When other internal teams want to work with my reps, I see that as success as well. People want to work with high performing people, and when strong performers work together they make those around them better. It’s contagious. So, when my people are being sought out by others to partner with, then I must be doing something right as a leader and supporter of their growth.
QL: Are there any highlights or moments that stick out to you from this past year as a leader?
VT: At the end of Q2, June 28th was a Friday and the 30th a Sunday, so if you didn’t get a contract done by that day it was moved to Q3. One of my reps was waiting on a big contract that would either promote him to a new level or he’d miss his quota entirely. I knew that if I didn’t do everything in my power to help him succeed, I wasn’t doing my job well. So, I worked with him and I reached out to the customer to see if there’s anything I could do to help get that signature. End of the day Friday, and we were still waiting to hear back. Finally, my rep messages me, “The contract came through.” I literally screamed out loud in the office and hugged him. [Laughing] It felt so great to see him succeed. It was a win for him and a win for the team, and that’s the whole point.
Another highlight would be from our bi-annual Research Services awards ceremony we held in October last year. I was out of town for this one, but I was listening in on the program while trying to help fix a problem one of my reps was having. So, I was only partially paying attention. (Don’t tell!) [Laughing]. When it got to the Outstanding Sales Leader award, my boss got up to present the winner. I was actually in the middle of chatting with him about this problem my rep was having. I apologized for distracting him but just kind of kept sending him messages because I needed him to focus on my rep. Then, I suddenly started getting all these messages from people congratulating me and I was so confused. It took a second to sink in that I had won the Outstanding Sales Leader award. [Laughing].
QL: I love that you won an “Outstanding Leader” award while in the act of being an outstanding leader.
VT: Yeah, it was kind of overwhelming because I’ve never really won anything before and just didn’t expect it to happen.
QL: So both of these awards seem to mean a lot to you. Can you tell me a little about what winning this company-wide Leadership award has meant to you?
VT: It’s wonderful to know that I’m doing my job right and well. It was also nice to have a lot of people throughout the company reaching out, even people I didn’t know, to congratulate me. Honestly, initially, I was so shocked. I didn’t think they had the right person. [Laughing]. My boss is usually at the top of the department’s engagement scores when we measure them every quarter, so it made more sense to me that someone like him might win. Personally, I try to just keep focused on my team and helping them succeed without really thinking about how I’m making a name for myself.
QL: So one last question: what’s something about you that might surprise people?
VT: While many people know I was in the marching band in college and started in the color guard before learning to play the trumpet at age 21, I don’t think they know that I studied Theater in college. I focused mainly on the technical side of theater, so the last time I actually performed on stage in a full-length production was my senior year of high school. My mom passed away that year, 2004. I had to go back to school pretty quickly because I still had to audition for college programs. My drama teacher approached me because he wanted me to play Hamlet but was worried it might hit too close to home. I really wanted to do it still. I got to perform one of theater’s most coveted roles while dealing with the same emotions about the sudden death of a parent. It was a big sort of catharsis and taught me to keep moving forward even in difficult situations. That probably has something to do with my success as a leader.
|Vicki is an alumnus of the University of Southern California and she started her career at Toppan Vintage. At the age of 21, Vicki learned to play the trumpet and subsequently played in her college marching band. Discover her stories of "Why Qualtrics" and "Why Still Qualtrics."|