Annalea Ilg of Involta: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started

There is so much hurt going on in the world to pick just one movement, but it starts with positively influencing our younger generations. Children are kind, they have an open heart, genuinely care and can often teach us important lessons. If we want to change the hate and negatives of the world, we need to remove judgement, provide unbiased love, ensure safety and give them an environment that inspires them.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Annalea Ilg, Chief Information Security Officer for Involta.

Annalea is passionate about solving for risk, promoting culture change and developing and executing strategy to deliver leading-edge technical solutions. Bringing more than 15 years of information security and compliance experience to Involta, Annalea currently oversees the Quality, Security and Compliance department. She manages holistic risk and provides valuable solutions to protect the security, integrity and continuity of critical organizational functions.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I started in IT by accident when I was an executive assistant for a computer cabling company. By default, I became remote hands for a consulting firm out of Minnesota. There, they would troubleshoot issues through me, and that is how I became interested and learned the basics. I loved IT so much that I changed my education path, finished my degree in Information Systems and worked on a few certifications. My first professional IT job came in 1999 when I was the systems administrator for a small international telecommunications company, where I managed desktops, exchange and servers.

From there, I went on to networking, disaster recovery and then security for insurance, healthcare and financial businesses. My IT career evolved during a time when security regulations were maturing, and that’s when I really developed a passion for cybersecurity, developing solutions and solving complex problems.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I often forget the impact and positive influence that women in leadership provide for other women in the field. Looking back, I was always the only “girl” in IT; female attendance at IT conferences was slim and I never really thought about it. When I began leading at Involta, I visited all the site locations to meet and greet. Various women approached me and commented on how excited they were to see a woman in my role and the new influence I bring to the table. I think I was naïve to understand the importance until that moment.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I am horrible with direction and planning when traveling, especially if it is a multi-city trip. Often, I don’t know where I am staying, or what airport I am flying into until the day of. One late arrival went sideways, and I arrived at the wrong hotel which happened to be fully booked. So I reserved a room at a different hotel for the night, and found out on my expense report that I had already reserved a different hotel down the street. Lesson learned, I need to be more prepared than just packing, prepping for meetings and getting to the airport on-time!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I started out, there wasn’t a women’s IT outlet, so I became laser-focused on what I wanted and researched myself. However, there was a mentor that inspired me to put my dreams in reality. His name is Tom Schildhauer, and he was the CEO of the computer cabling company I mentioned. He was the first and only professional who sat me down and asked me where I saw myself in five years during my first interview. It was very eye-opening and without that question I don’t think I would be where I am today. Now, every five years, I ask myself that same question and plan ahead. It gets more complicated as I get older.

Another close peer and advocate in my corner is Trent Hein, Co-CEO of Rule4. Without his rally and support years ago, I am not sure I would have officially made it to the C-suite. At the time, I needed the push to want it bad enough and feel as if I deserved it. Funny how sometimes you just need someone in your corner. He showed me how powerful supporting others can be, no matter how busy we are.

Someone else who has mentored and inspired me is Taka Mukono, he is CEO of Takaboom Consulting. I was introduced to Taka through a corporate leadership program about five years ago. He introduced me to various leadership tools such as emotional intelligence, breaking barriers and changing work environments. He helped me realize that I can successfully influence as my true self versus being an edited version in a male-dominated industry. I still value his coaching and friendship today; he always has a thought-inspiring idea that helps solve current problems.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

From a mind perspective, I organize my thoughts and try to learn the entirety of the situation, think through how the conversation might go and consider all outcomes. Allocating time on the calendar, investigating the data and dedicating time prior reduces stress.

From a wellness perspective I break away from electronic devices, go biking or some outdoor activity. Generally, this is when I can listen to myself and clear the “noise.”

As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

First, we need to foster motivations and values throughout a dynamic multi-cultural workforce. We need our leaders to understand and guide the organization through cultural attitudes, communications, conflict and differences. Diversity supports innovative ideas of thought and decision making which results in a healthy organizational climate. The leadership team must have the cultural intelligence and skills to quickly identify the space and place for improvement is critical.

As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Awareness is the first step to have an ethically and ethnically strong unified workforce. Promote awareness through an expert led training program, ensure a policy understood with a zero-tolerance rule. Pay attention to what is going between employees, be aware of inclusion failures within departments and change it. Enable new relationships and encourage those that don’t normally speak up to be the lead of a group. Connect employees that normally wouldn’t work together on a project. Foster new ideas and motivate the organization to include all and respect diverse ideas.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

An executive is accountable and responsible for the organization, the product/service and most importantly, the people. Aside from vision and strategic planning they work towards solving core problems holistically. Decisions made are not small and they normally fit into the bigger picture and future. Generally, they answer to a Board of Directors and investors that want to see results and benefit. At times it can be a juggling act.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?

People often forget that C-levels are human too, but it is our responsibility to have it together and represent with control and logic. Not all C-levels only think about financial benefit. We need to maintain the balance of business operations, company success and employee satisfaction.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

Communication, inclusion and justification. There was a great book I read called “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” which explained how women unconsciously sabotage themselves. We do communicate differently but are also judged differently on how we communicate. Not all cases are the same of course but respect and ability is questioned, resulting in justification and more pressure. Also, it can sometimes be hard to relate to interests, humor and commonalities with male counterparts, which can help put us in a position of connection or loyalty.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

I am not sure if I had a specific expectation about how the job would be as it evolved over time. However, there is more negotiation, strategy, navigation and communication translation needed than I thought. I am at a point where I do less and less IT and focus more on the health of my team and the organization.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?

Must have patience, soft skills and the mastery of emotional intelligence. You must invest time with your executive peers and find alignment to drive morale. Being an executive means that you’re a face of the brand. It is important that people want to follow you and believe in you to be successful.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

Celebrate the wins, no matter how small! Invest in team development. Be strong but not so strong that you’re unapproachable. A thriving team means that there is an open door policy, and people are heard and feel as if they are part of a solution.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Many years ago, I started a local cybersecurity chapter to bring others into the field, network and break the personality stereotype within the field. Today, mentoring and empowering others to succeed brings me joy. Informally, I meet with new college graduates or students that are looking for direction in the field of IT. They don’t realize how many different avenues they can take and how to position themselves after graduation.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. I worked very hard when I was young. I would have told myself to take more time to enjoy life!
  2. In addition to the work-life balance, being 100% present is also key. The ability to multi-task and bounce between various things isn’t always the best answer.
  3. Not that I would have done anything differently in this area, but I would now say that spending time building relationships and giving people your undivided attention (personal and professional) plays a large part in success, focus and happiness.
  4. Great leadership requires empathy and patience, which is something I have to remind myself at times. You have to see various sides to successfully negotiate and understand different points of view.
  5. Others feelings and perceptions can be just as real as facts. Positioning and effectively communicating change, decisions and ideas will make or break a vision. Communication is one of the biggest hurdles in any career or field. I believe continued coaching and having mentors and/or respected peers to bounce ideas off is very helpful. You don’t want to be the only mind you’re listening to.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

There is so much hurt going on in the world to pick just one movement, but it starts with positively influencing our younger generations. Children are kind, they have an open heart, genuinely care and can often teach us important lessons. If we want to change the hate and negatives of the world, we need to remove judgement, provide unbiased love, ensure safety and give them an environment that inspires them.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A big part of my life is my family, they are my priority. I always tell my children “you be you,” (which they are tired of hearing). There is so much more pressure from various outlets that position our kids to second guess who they are. They are too quick to find negatives about themselves versus understanding how important our uniqueness is.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

That’s easy, Reese Witherspoon. I remember watching one of her speeches describing how there wasn’t enough focus on female-led stories in entertainment, so she changed that. She has built production companies, films and shows that focus on female-led stories. All of which leaves an imprint and really makes you think. Her spirit, drive and dedication should inspire us all to believe in what we can achieve and be a change leader. Plus, she seems down to earth and someone I could have fun conversations with over coffee.

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