Women in Leadership: Laura Hölzl

In 2016, Laura Hölzl joined Avature as the first Implementation Consultant in the Madrid office. As the team grew quickly, she was appointed to coordinate their tasks, and only a few months after, to manage the Consulting team in Madrid. Today she oversees the whole Consulting EMEA area as Consulting Director.

She’s known within the team for naming the most complex implementation use cases Sudokus, just like the game—she really loves solving them and enjoys riddles in general—and for being one of the biggest chocolate fans around: she always resorts to it during long calls.

Lau spends her free time reading, watching movies, or listening to jazz and electronic music; her favorite band is Massive Attack. She also enjoys beach volleyball and plays it whenever she can.

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How did you start your career in a leadership position?

My first opportunity in a leadership position came when I was pretty young and had no academic or formal leadership training. I guess I was bringing to the table some soft skills (determination, solution-orientation, patience, frustration tolerance, and optimism) that my new employer was deeming good traits. But I had to learn pretty fast that leadership is not only sharing knowledge and making decisions, but more importantly, it is about very different human beings to be accompanied through their workdays.

My experiences as a leader were mainly in smaller companies that have been growing at a fast pace or have been acquired by bigger companies, hence many decisions were of strategic nature, defining visions and finding the right people who can help you implement them.

What unique challenges have you faced in your career? How did you overcome them?

As a leader, I would say the challenges are manifold.

To begin with, you constantly need to find a good balance between the personal context of the people in your team and the objective context of the company you are working with. I always wanted fairness to be a pillar when I lead a team, and I had to learn that it is a very ambiguous concept, because what seems fair to you might not be deemed fair by others, so keeping a balance is not always easy.

Then, regarding the connection with the people in your team, when you become a manager, you are responsible for the work quality of each role, but also feel responsible for the personal well-being of each of your managees. This sometimes leads to micromanaging and wanting to know everything, which is not possible. On the other hand, it might be interpreted as a lack of trust in each person, which I think is one of the most important things to avoid: treat your managees as the responsible adults they are; try not to “infantilize” them.

Even if you feel you are at eye level with the whole team, you need to proactively keep an open-door approach with all team members, regardless of their role. As a leader, you need to be aware of the impact your communications, opinions, and statements may have, as some people are still very hierarchy-oriented. I sometimes make the deliberate decision not to join after-works, since I know that people need some relaxed time, without feeling maybe under scrutiny “because the boss is there.”

Last but not least, being optimistic and motivating, and transmitting it well (even if I know there will be challenges ahead) can also be tricky. In some cases, you’ll find you don’t need to communicate everything if you think some information might cause more concern or uncertainty than a positive impact.

To overcome most of the challenges, I think the key is to communicate clearly, to ask the other person for their opinion; ask your managees to put themselves in your shoes and try to do the same–just like swapping roles.

If you could go back in time and talk to the younger version of yourself when you were at the beginning of your journey, what advice would you give her? 

I would tell myself (and I still do, looking into the future) that I can’t take uncomfortable situations personally, or bring them with me at home. I think I feel comfortable in general, and deep down I know that I do everything I can to the best of my knowledge and efforts, but there will always be situations where the feeling of not having taken the right decision chases me in my dreams.

Leaders are also humans: it is OK to be wrong or to have situations where you react in a bad manner, or even situations where you don’t have the response or solution right away. It is not a sign of weakness if you are able to admit it, say you’re sorry, or speak openly about lessons learned, given this is based on respect and done in a constructive manner.

Additionally, as a leader, you will need to handle people having different interests or wishes, even your own ones, which should come last, and you need to accept that you will not be able to please everyone 100%, but it is rather an exercise to find trade-offs. If I could go back in time, I would recommend myself the book The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, which explains the main errors of judgement and biases that our human brains have.

Also, you can’t make decisions for your managees, especially on their own career development matters or personal decisions. You might help them by facilitating info, but it is important to empower your managees to decide for themselves.

And last but most importantly: listen, listen, listen!

There is no one way for leadership, no recipe for being the best leader. Staying true to yourself is much more important. Pretending never helped anyone.

What do you imagine or expect as the next steps for you to continue growing professionally?

I have the impression that I have continuously grown “on the job,” learned how to handle different situations with different persons that joined the team—each person is a world in itself. Learning is similar to machine learning: the more input you give, the better the algorithm is developed. One thing I hope to keep developing is my “guts.” I still trust 6th senses: behind each behavior or statement, there are a lot of hidden reasons and emotions, which are important to perceive and understand.

For me, it is also important to keep working on setting an acting framework, on establishing a foundation of values that should be shared and that each person in the team can contribute to, enriching it through their own personality with each task they do.