Lessons in leadership and radical empathy from Moz’s Sarah Bird

Anne DisabatoGuest post by Emerging Leader Anne Disabato. Anne is a Technical Account Manager at Microsoft and has been part of the Emerging Leaders program for several years. She currently serves on the 2016-2017 Emerging Leaders Committee as co-chair of the volunteering sub-group.


I recently had the opportunity to join 50 other young professionals at an Emerging Leaders Speaker Series event for a conversation with Moz CEO Sarah Bird. Sarah started her talk by describing her many successes at Moz, but quickly transitioned to a few defining moments in her life that shaped her values and personal philosophy:

  • Being shown unconditional love: At a young age, Sarah’s life was shaken by an unexpected pregnancy. Rather than scold her, Sarah’s parents responded with unconditional love. Sarah stressed that accomplishments are not what make you a worthy human being, rather our ability to be accepting of those around us.
  • Experiencing radical empathy: Sarah’s philosophy toward radical empathy was shaped by her travels in Turkey and Syria. Rather than listen to the fearful and divisive rhetoric, she embraced the differences in culture and people. This experience influenced Moz’s corporate code: TAGFEE, Transparent & Authentic, Generous, Fun, Empathetic, and Exceptional.
  • Leading a business is like badass mountain climbing: No matter how much you train, both will be hard work and risky. You might be in the best shape of your life, but bad weather could stop you from reaching the summit. You need to be energized by the challenge to climb a mountain or lead a business.
  • Learning to see the water you swim in: In a reference David Foster Wallace’s graduation speech at Kenyon college, Sarah reminded us to identify the water we are swimming in. Once Sarah identified her self-limiting beliefs, she overcame doubt to take on the CEO position at Moz.

Sarah’s vulnerability and honesty captured the audience – with many attendees surrounding her after her talk with follow-up questions. I can’t wait for the next Speaker Series with the Tableau Foundation’s Neal Myrick on November 22. Hope to see you there! Meanwhile, check out the Emerging Leaders calendar for other upcoming opportunities.

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