Welcome to Powerful Leaders, No Apologies.
Debbie interviews Beth about her journey in the legal tech field from receptionist to CRO. She also discovers her leadership superpower of motivation.
Links from the episode:
[01:56] The journey
[15:18] When did people count you out?
[24:21] What is your leadership superpower?
Debbie Foster (00:03):
Welcome to the Powerful Leaders, no apologies podcast, the show about women who are ready to own their power and change the world. My name is Debbie Foster.
Beth Thompson (00:12):
And I’m Beth Thompson. Our guests are fierce and fabulous women who are making a difference in their personal and professional communities. Are you ready to be inspired? If so, stay tuned and also check out our website at affinityconsulting.com/powerful leaders. Here’s the show.
Debbie Foster (00:34):
I don’t know about you, Beth, but I am loving every single minute of our podcast, every single piece of feedback, every email, every LinkedIn post. This has just been so much fun.
Beth Thompson (00:44):
It has been fun, and we’ve learned something from every single guest. Hopefully I don’t disappoint and stop the stop that trend, but it’s been a lot of fun and can’t wait to see where we go in the upcoming episodes. I know who we’ve got on tap, so I’m excited.
Debbie Foster (01:02):
Yeah, it’s really exciting. So that was a little spoiler alert because if you listen to last week’s episode or our last episode, Beth interviewed me and the tables are turning. Now I get to interview Beth. So today I’m really excited for you to share your story. You had talked about when you interviewed me that we had met a long, long time ago at an A conference, and we had many conversations from the first time we met. We hit it off from the beginning and the stars just happen to align, and I think I feel really lucky that I get to work with you every day. So I’m excited that you get to share your story with all of our listeners. So let’s just jump right in. Tell us your story. How did you get from where you started in this crazy business to today?
Beth Thompson (01:49):
Well, I’ve been in this business for 30 years, so what’s that like a minute a year? Just kidding. I’m not going to go over a minute a
Debbie Foster (01:55):
Beth Thompson (01:56):
Right. I’m not going to go over the entire history of my career, but it is an interesting journey. So I actually moved to North Carolina back in the early nineties. I was almost in my mid twenties, and those listeners that are getting their calculators out now, they’re going to start doing the math of my age, which is fine with me. I embrace it. But I moved to North Carolina, had been in banking, wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue in banking in the financial services industry or if I wanted to switch gears. And so I was looking around the Raleigh area, looking at different job opportunities and was really focused on two potential jobs. One was remaining in the financial services industry, and then another was with this small little legal tech company. And I was, to be honest with you, leaning towards the financial position for a few reasons, but most of which are superficial.
And one in particular was I liked the big shiny high-rise building that I would get to go and work from every day because the other company was in a Class C potential little business community, nothing to write home about in terms of the offices. And I was really hung up on that. It was also an entry level position, it was like a receptionist position. And now while I definitely didn’t want to do that, I was intrigued by the opportunity to try something different, maybe learn something new. But I was still really hesitant because I had been in banking and I remember my mom giving me some advice and she said, Beth, don’t judge a book by its cover just because the other office is not that exciting to look at in this other place. There’s a cool cafeteria and you know, would have all of this fun.
I really think there’s something to this other company. I don’t know, something’s telling me you could have a really great career and you could learn a lot starting with this small company and learning and going from there. And so I ended up taking my mom’s advice, which didn’t happen often and still doesn’t. But that is one time that it actually did pay off. I went to work for this company. It was a small company. They focused on law firms, they helped law firms implement new hardware and new software. It was about the time where everybody was moving from dos to Windows. And so there was a lot going on. And so of course, as I mentioned, I started out answering the phones, but it was a few months in that I had an opportunity to shadow the trainer. And we did a lot of different types of training from going on site to doing classroom training, teaching folks how to use Windows.
And I know you mentioned in your interview having people play solitaire, same thing. Did that perfect way to have people get comfortable with using a mouse. And I really enjoyed the training and I picked up on it pretty quickly. And so I started doing a little bit of the training alongside our lead trainer who happened to also be one of the principals in the company. And slowly but surely I started kind of shadowing her going on site and things like that. Well, fast forward about six months, there was a situation that happened whereby she all of a sudden overnight was no longer with the company. I was then thrust into her role because we didn’t have time to hire anyone. We had clients waiting for training. It was trial by fire. We’d get the software in the day, one day real estate closing package. I would learn it over the weekend and I would be training it, I’d be on site training it the next week, and that became the pattern.
I just had to learn it as I went and then go and act like I’d known it for years. That whole fake it till you make it right. I was good that really early on and over time, the sales reps who were all men would start bringing me along with them to do their software demos for them, and then they would do all of the other work and they would close the deals and they would be celebrating and making all this money. And I’m still doing the training thing. And so I thought this is a lot. I was traveling a lot and I laugh now that I thought I traveled a lot back then. I had a young child, Brooke was young at the time. She had to be picked up from afterschool care by 6:00 PM My mom and my stepdad were a godsend at the time because they would help me when I would maybe be on the road and not be able to get back by six o’clock.
But my traveling at the time was around North Carolina right now, of course, we’re all over the place, planes, trains, and automobiles. But at the time, that was a lot. And so I made a decision to actually go to work for one of our clients who was a law firm, work for a couple of law firms. And then I was at a user group luncheon for Juris software that we used at the time for our billing and accounting. And then in that firm, I wore every hat from HR to it to billing and accounting, really, really all of it. And I was at a user group luncheon, and I remember someone walked up to me, a lady by the name of Shirley Flaherty, who owned one of the franchises at the time, and she said, you’re so passionate about this. Have you ever thought about being in sales?
And I said, well, yes. As a matter of fact, back in the day when I would do all the demos and the guys would make all the money. So yes, I’m interested in hearing what you have to say. I love Shirley. Yes, Shirley’s great. Finally, we did retire, but I for many years was an individual contributor. And then I would be promoted to sales leader leadership roles. I’ve worked for several software companies over the years as we met when we were both, I think on a committee, a business partner committee for the A l A on the national level. And that’s where we first met and started working together. I had actually met Dan Berlin way back in the day when I was with that little legal tech company. And so I started building relationships way back then. I can tell you 30 years later, I am the only person from that original company that’s still in the business now.
I was a little bit younger than most of the rest of them. Some of them are retired now, but a lot of them did move on and branch out into other types of work. I think one went into real estate and a few others took other paths. But I stayed in the legal industry in some capacity over the years. And you know, I work together on that committee and we would run into each other at conferences and you know, and Katie Kennedy, Ray. Now we’re all always two of the people that I always wanted to connect with and have dinners or drinks or lunches or whatever. And then I know that we’ve just always said, well, maybe there’ll be a day where we have an opportunity to actually work together. And that did happen back in 2019 when I was able to join Affinity. And so that’s where I’ve been ever since. And we’re doing some good things over here. So it’s been a wild ride over the years for sure. But we took different paths. I mean, you started in entrepreneurship really early on, and I kind of climbed that ladder right over the years in different companies and kind of worked my way up and around the business that way versus the route that you were able to take early on, which was starting your own business, which I think is great too.
Debbie Foster (09:25):
But I think your experience too is so complimentary to that because you’ve worked in other professional services firms and you’ve sold software and you’ve been a part of a startup. I mean, you really have seen so many things that when someone asked me for a resume, I’m like, I’ve never applied for a job, so I don’t know anything else but this. So I think it is really cool that you’ve brought all that experience with you here.
Beth Thompson (09:50):
So that is a really great point because while I will say yes, I have interviewed for roles and have put together resumes for those opportunities, every position that I have been in, it was through a relationship that I had made along the way. So my mom really was right all those years ago when she kind of pointed me in the one path of the legal industry because every opportunity that I’ve had has been a result of a relationship that I had formed and then chose to go down that road. So I’ve never had to, not in many years have I had to go blindly into an interview where they didn’t know me and I didn’t know them, which was nice.
Debbie Foster (10:34):
Well, and funny, that’s actually really interesting because we’ve talked a lot about how small the legal community is, and I know a lot of your old bosses who are like, oh, you got Beth, that’s awesome that you got Beth, right? We are just this small community and lots of people have worked in lots of places. It’s a really cool community to be a part of.
Beth Thompson (10:57):
No, you’re absolutely right. And I think we all at times have joked of like, well, if we can only get out of legal, it just keeps us sucked in. But it is true. I mean, it’s a great community and it’s certainly been good to me over the years. I was able to raise my daughter, put her through college, get her married off, and now I’ve got some sweet little grands. And so she’s been part of that legal journey with me the whole way as well.
Debbie Foster (11:23):
And I think as you’re talking about that, I’m just thinking how incredibly blessed we are that even though we have to travel when we’re going to a conference through my mind, all the people that I’m going to see, it’s our travel family, you’re going to see the same people everywhere. So it takes a little tiny bit of the edge off of the travel.
Beth Thompson (11:46):
It does. And in many cases, especially the annual conferences that we know we always go to, we see a lot of the same people year after year and it’s like a reunion. It is a little bit sad now though for me, and I think for you as well, a lot of the people that I knew, especially in the earlier years, have retired. I mean, I’m very happy for them that they’ve been able to retire and they’re no longer participating. Actually, I know a few retired people that still show up at a events because they just can’t get away. But yeah, it’s a reunion really. A lot of these conferences.
Debbie Foster (12:19):
And I think the takeaway around the last part of this conversation is it’s all about your connections. How do we connect people together? How do you build relationships? You never know who your next boss or reference or client or referral source. You just don’t ever know. So build the relationships, it’s so important.
Beth Thompson (12:42):
Well, you build the relationships. And one example would be Shelby Karate, who works for Net Documents, who was a dear, dear friend. I actually interviewed her and hired her at Big Hands, and then eventually both, we both ended up leaving. She ended up at Net Documents, and then I followed her to Net Documents, and then now we still get to work together in a different capacity. But you’re right, but also I think there’s an important lesson too, about not only maintaining the relationships but not burning bridges either, because in a tight-knit community like this, I mean, you never know whose path you’re going to cross and your paths will cross again, that I can guarantee you. And so you do want to make sure that you maintain really good relationships under all circumstances because you just never know.
Debbie Foster (13:32):
So I know a little bit about what your day-to-day leadership role looks like. You are our newly appointed C R O Chief Revenue Officer, so you marketing reports to you, our account managers reports to you, our sales team reports to you play a really important role here. What inspires you? How do you consume information, podcast books or whatever to really take leadership to the next level?
Beth Thompson (13:57):
Now, that’s a great question and I love the new role because what I get the most energy out of honestly, is to help other folks achieve their own goals. And so listen, I’ve been selling for many, many years. I still enjoy helping clients of course, and still do that on a regular basis. I just met with a potential client yesterday, but I really love helping someone else grow in their own career and really understand what their goals are and what part can I play in helping them to get there. You asked about podcasts, a couple of podcasts that I’ve been listening to, and I’m going to mention ones that you didn’t mention because you and I listened to a lot of the same ones. One of them that I have been listening to a lot of course is the Working Genius podcast with Patrick Las Sony and then also, and I’ve had her name written down, and of course now I’ve closed my notebook, but it’s called Women Taking the Lead. Oh, Jodi Flynn. It’s by Jodi Flynn. And that’s a really great one too. It’s very complimentary to ours in the sense that it focuses on leadership for women, but I really enjoy her podcast as well.
Debbie Foster (15:05):
Awesome. We’ll definitely link those in the show notes. So next up, obstacles challenges. When did people count you out? Tell me a little bit about that because we’ve all faced them. I’d love to hear what yours were.
Beth Thompson (15:18):
I have a couple of examples of incidents that happened earlier in my career that if I could go back and do them differently now, I certainly would. But we’ve been in a fairly male, or at least I’ve been in a fairly male dominated world for many, many years. Most of the companies I’ve worked for, I’ve either been the only or one of the very few women that were either in the sales group or in close proximity to me, but early in my career, so before I moved into legal tech, one specific example was, I’m not going to mention names, I’m not going to mention companies, but let’s just say it was one suggested to me to crawl under the desk and earn my raise.
Debbie Foster (16:02):
Oh, I’m guessing you didn’t get the raise.
Beth Thompson (16:05):
I did not get the raise. And I very quickly dusted off that resume and typed up my resignation. It wasn’t right away because I was in shock and wasn’t quite sure what to do. Keep in mind, this was way before the Me Too movement. It was before social media. It was before women really came into their own voice and knew that they had choices and they didn’t have to accept things like that. And I just felt at the time, well, who’s going to believe me? This was a very powerful, the top of the food chain of this company. You couldn’t go any higher than this person. And so I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go down that road. I didn’t know what that road looked like, and so I just left, and if I could do it again now, of course, knowing what I know, if it happened to me today, which I can’t imagine it happening, although I know it does, but not as frequently, let’s hope.
I would certainly handle it differently. I had another situation a little bit later in my career in the legal industry, again, no names. I traveled to attend a meeting and there were probably six of us in the room around the conference room table. I was the only female. And as the meeting was starting, the person that was leading the meeting looked at me and said, honey, would you please excuse us? We’re ready to start our meeting. Now, I was first of all so shocked by this that I didn’t really know how to respond. I was with my male boss at the time. He did not know what to do, so I got up and left the room. Now that makes me cringe to think about the fact that I got up and left the room knowing now what I know. I would’ve never gotten up and left the room.
I have just as much of a right to be at that table had just as much value to bring to the conversation and should have never been dismissed in that way. But at the time, I just was so taken back by it that had never happened to me before. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to cause a big stink. I didn’t want to be disrespectful. I didn’t want to embarrass my boss that I was there with. And so I just got up and left and after the meeting was over and he comes out and we walk out of the building and he is shaking his head and he’s like, I don’t even know what just happened. I’m so sorry I didn’t have your back.
Debbie Foster (18:19):
Beth Thompson (18:20):
I did not know what to do. He didn’t know what to do either. He had never seen it before. So I wish that, again, now I would certainly handle that differently and would’ve never gotten up. I would’ve said, if anybody’s going to get up, it could be you. I
Debbie Foster (18:33):
Mean, right. Carry on. I’m good. I came for this meeting too. Yes. So I’m sure for you too, you and I have both done a fair amount of mentoring, and I know that while they might not be exactly the same story as you just told, but women who are overlooked for promotions or are disregarded when it comes to an opportunity, whether it be to travel or to present in front of people, those are the kinds of things that as we look at what is our mission here, we want that message of those kinds of things aren’t okay. We’ve earned our seat at the table. We are unapologetically showing up for the part that we can play, which is incredibly impactful in any organization.
Beth Thompson (19:22):
Well, you’re right, and I think that a lot of times the assumption is, well, we have other obligations. We’ve got children at home, or we’ve got all these different things that we’re juggling that’s going to detract from our ability to do the job that maybe a male counterpart would be able to focus on more or better than we would. And in reality, the fact that we’re able to juggle all of these things that we’ve had to juggle all of these things for many years, that we want these things for ourselves, that’s just motivation to prove everyone wrong. And just because we have a lot of things that we’re juggling doesn’t mean that we can’t juggle them all and that we can’t do them all. Well, yeah, we’re really good at a lot of things.
Debbie Foster (20:04):
No, it’s so true. It’s so true. So when we we’re brainstorming about the title for the podcast, the Powerful Leaders part is really important, but no apologies was important to us too for a lot of reasons. And I shared last week or last in the last episode, what was important to me about the, no apologies part, but I’d love to hear that from you. When we think about apologizing, and we know the statistics, women apologize more than men. Why was it important for you to include that in the title of our podcast?
Beth Thompson (20:37):
It’s certainly more important and more relevant to me now that we are however many episodes in. We’ve been doing this for a little while and we’ve been studying this because at the time I knew that women apologized a lot. We hear it. I know that I apologize a lot, but I had no idea the magnitude until I really started studying it, watching my own behavior, listening to people around me. I’ve even noticed men that apologized when they don’t need to because they don’t know what else to say. It’s that filler, or it’s in their minds the way to be polite before they say the next thing, or it’s the way to be agreeable. And so at the time, it didn’t mean as much as it even means to me now, even though I knew then, okay, right, women, do. I have four brothers? I’m the only female in my family.
No, no female cousins. I really was it until my daughter Brooke was born. But I wanted to help shine a light on the fact that A, we do it. B, there is a time and a place for it, but C, we don’t have to apologize for our feelings, our thoughts, what we have to say. We have just as much right to speak our minds as anyone else. And it’s quite fine. It’s quite fine to be disagreeable. It’s quite fine to be late to respond to something. It’s okay to say no and not have to feel like you owe anyone an apology for a decision you’ve made that you’re actually not sorry for. You’re just trying to buffer it. Yeah, we don’t need to do the buffering.
Debbie Foster (22:14):
Yeah, I loved that quote. I think that you shared it a couple of episodes ago about we don’t need to be sorry for what we believe in, for what we think for our ideas, for in a brainstorming session. I’m really sorry, this might be a terrible idea, but I think Sharine talked about that in one of our episodes too, about how we might share something with someone, but we discount it from the start by apologizing or explaining that it might not be a great idea. So I love that. I think that’s been something that’s been really impactful for me while we’ve, as we’ve been doing this show.
Beth Thompson (22:49):
Well, I think also from a sale, having been in sales for so many years, from the perspective of why are you disc, well, this may not be right for you, but you’re already planting the seed that it’s not right for them. Why in the world would you do that? Why in the world would you say, well, this is probably a terrible idea, but it’s the same thing. You’re planting seeds of doubt when you even, there’s no need to say that.
Debbie Foster (23:11):
It’s so funny. Over the summer, we’re going to Iceland and we’re going with a bunch of family, and my cousin Karen texted me one night and asked me if she had to book this hotel room, and I didn’t see the text till the next morning because Beth, I’m like the literal worst texter ever. I didn’t see it till the next morning. And I responded to her and I said, I’m so sorry. And then I answered her question and she said, I listened to your podcast. Don’t be sorry. And I just cracked up because I thought, yep, she just threw it right back at me. My initial response was, I’m so sorry that it was like from 8:00 PM to 8:00 AM or something like that, that I didn’t respond to a text message. It’s just habit,
Beth Thompson (23:51):
Right? And you and I both know that we go to bed before the sun goes down. So there’s also that you’re, we have that in
Debbie Foster (23:57):
Common. That is the truth. That’s the truth. I say all the time, I’m totally an extrovert and I love to go to parties, and when I leave a party, I’m ready to go to the next party. Unless it’s after 9:00 PM then I’m not ready to go to the next party. Alright, final segment, your leadership superpower. I have loved listening to people’s leadership superpowers throughout these episodes. What’s yours?
Beth Thompson (24:21):
You would think by now having heard everyone else’s, that it would be an easier question to answer because it’s hard to pick just one. I’ve been thinking a lot about it knowing this interview was coming up, and I think for me, it’s probably my ability to motivate people. Because we have had, especially during my time at Affinity, we’ve come up with some pretty lofty goals and asks of people, and in many cases, asking people to do things that we we’d never done before from a numbers perspective or whatever it happens to be. And having people believe that they can do it because you’ve motivated them in a way that they feel like it’s possible and they’re not going into it with a defeatist attitude. They know that it’s possible we can do it. And then when you get a taste of, well, she’s right, we can actually do this, and then the next time we do it again and we do better than we did before. And it’s just the snowball effect. And so for me, I think it’s my ability to motivate folks to not only do the thing that they don’t think they can do, but enjoy it along the way, or at least think they’re enjoying it along the way. That doesn’t mean there aren’t hard times or there aren’t challenges, but being able to motivate folks to follow your lead, even if they’re not quite sure of the path we’re going to take or if we’re going to actually get there.
Debbie Foster (25:47):
I love that. And as you were talking about, it reminded me of when we did the strengths finders and your number one was Woo.
Beth Thompson (25:56):
Right? Well, I almost said wooing, but yeah. Oh,
Debbie Foster (25:58):
You did. I almost said that. I think you do that like you are a wooer, is that a word? W o o, yes. E r
Beth Thompson (26:06):
W o o. I think Wooer would be correct. I almost said my ability to Woo, but no one would’ve known what the heck we were saying. So, but yes, that is my number one strength on the Strength Finders assessment.
Debbie Foster (26:18):
Yeah, and that goes a long way towards motivating people, like getting people on board, getting them to believe in themselves even when it seems like the road is going to be so hard to get there. I love that, and I love that. Woo is your number one. That is a cool quality for sure. Thank you for being our guest. I am really excited for this episode to get released. And I think you’ve us some really great little tidbits. I love the relationship thing. I think that was such a really just impactful thing. If you’re younger and you’re thinking about what your career looks like in the future, you just heard from someone who has built their career from one amazing thing to the next amazing thing, all because of relationships and not because of the actual piece of paper or digital piece of paper called the Resume, but because you were in contact with people, you took the time to build those relationships. I think that’s just such great advice. So thank you for being the guest.
Beth Thompson (27:18):
Well, thanks for having me as the guest, Debbie, because it’s a lot easier to be the host than the guest. I will tell you. And I’m glad that this part is over for me.
Debbie Foster (27:27):
Yes, you’ve been an amazing guest. It’s, it’s been a ton of fun. I love spending this 30 minutes talking about you and your journey.
Beth Thompson (27:33):
Thank you. And that’s a wrap. Thanks for listening to Powerful Leaders. No apologies. Be sure and subscribe to our show and help us spread the word by sharing our show with your network,
Debbie Foster (27:47):
And check out our show email@example.com slash powerful leaders for resources and ways to connect with us. See you next time.