Confidence for Your Next Step
If you haven’t met Leah Kirkland before, you should know that she’s charmingly authentic. Not in a contrived way that seems to say she’s figured out who she is and wants to present it to you, but in an honest, friendly, and humble way.
Now the Vice President of Business Development at AMPTAB, Leah has always found herself in positions within the B2B tech side of the furniture world. But, as you’ll learn, that doesn’t mean it was love at first sight for Leah and the home and furnishings industry.
However, the furniture industry isn’t new to her family. While her mother worked in healthcare and begged her to follow in her footsteps, she wound up establishing her career alongside her dad, grandparents, and then brother who worked in furniture manufacturing.
“This industry and the people in it are incredible,” Leah said. “The artistry behind what this industry creates — it’s responsible for making a home, really feel like a home. When I originally went from being a sales rep to working in the B2B tech space, it was because of my passion for wanting this industry to succeed.”
“I wanted to make sure that this industry had the technology tools in order to thrive,” she continued. “Especially when I was right out of college, I would walk into my friend’s apartments where they’d have a 90-inch TV but sit down to watch on a $99 futon. And I just thought, ‘We’re missing the boat in the home furnishings industry.’”
As you can already see, we chatted with Leah about a variety of topics including:
- Her winding career path within the industry
- How professional relationships have impacted her life
- The best advice she’s been given
- And her experience as a VP in the workplace and MVP at home
When you’re ready to learn about Leah’s experience as an executive, mom, and professional who has experienced a layoff, then buckle up and keep reading!
WithIt: You are the Vice President of Business Development. Did you ever expect to be in this position?
Leah: No. And by that I mean, I was always ambitious and wanted to figure out how to get to the next level, but never had a specific title as the goal. As a part of my career journey, I was constantly asking myself what the next step was going to be. That trajectory was further influenced by the feedback I received. In the love languages world, I’m a words of affirmation person. In a professional environment, those achievements and promotions really helped to drive me.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a specific position in mind, but I always wanted to try something new, achieve something new, and figure out the next step. In that case, it’s probably not a surprise I have the title I do, but I wouldn’t say that the title has been posted on my vision board.
WithIt: How important do you feel that relationships have been to your career specifically?
Leah: The most, just the most. I generally stay in positions for a long time so it’s important to have great relationships within the walls of your company and within the greater Industry.
My first company was MicroD, which is where I was introduced to WithIt. I was there for seven or eight years. I was in my next position for eight years. The opportunities for professional growth within those companies and beyond them were all based on relationships.
For example, when I was at MicroD I got involved with buying groups. Those relationships helped me to explore and learn more about the partnerships side of the furniture business and grow within my role at MicroD. In addition, when it was time for something new, it gave me a community of people I could bounce ideas off of and learn from and learn about opportunities that I didn’t even know existed.
WithIt: After being at those companies for so long, how did you make the decision it was time to move, and what did you do to make the transitions more seamless?
Leah: It was always very hard for me. I am very loyal, perhaps to a fault. The first time that I made a change was before I joined MicroD. I had only been at my previous company for a year, and I already knew it was not the type of company I wanted to be a part of. Actually, I was about to throw my hands up on the entire home furnishings business, but I got a call from the CEO at MicroD, Manoj.
Initially, when he asked to have a conversation about joining the MicroD team, I said, “Listen, I’m out of this industry. I’m done. This has been fine, but I’m going to figure out something else to do.”
And he said, “Okay, well, just come in and talk to me.”
So, I went in and had a great conversation. He laid out a path for me to understand what I could do within a new role and explained why he believed MicroD would be different than the experience that I previously had. After that, I was back in and truly excited to be a big part of the growth at MicroD.
When I moved from MicroD, I had an opportunity brought to me by a friend within the Industry. Once again, I didn’t express a large amount of interest, but they said, “I think this company that we are working with could really use somebody like you. I think that your skillset is well suited for what they need and from a growth perspective, this would be great for you.”
Once again, I got pushed in a direction, but I listened with an open mind. And that’s when I joined Outward.
After seven years at Outward, I was fired. I was in a weird position within the organization, but it was still such a big kick in the gut. Of course, it was a huge learning experience for me. Initial thoughts were the basic, “What am I going to do? How should I move forward?” And once again, the thought crossed my mind more than once that maybe this was my time to get out of this industry.
And back to those great relationships, I had another great friend from the industry, who led me to AMP (Hi, Jesse). I had several conversations with the founder, and it was just such an incredible company and such an incredible opportunity.
So, even though I was able to do a lot in those companies and was loyal to them, each time there was something that signaled it was time for a move. And honestly, it was the relationships that not only kept me in this industry but helped to give me the boost when I needed it.
WithIt: How did the conversation with AMP go after being laid off?
Leah: I think the week after I’d gotten the news, I was at the point where I thought, “I don’t want to think about anything job-related. I want to detox for a second.” I know once I get a position that I’m typically there for a while, so I wanted to make a good decision. Naturally, that’s when I was introduced to AMP.
When I interviewed with AMP, I went into it with the same attitude I’ve gone into other employment conversations with. I said, “Listen, I’ve got one foot out the door, but I’m willing to listen to what you have to say.” I truly look for a match for my skill set and a comfort level with the team to help drive my decision.
During that initial conversation, there was such a natural connection with Patrick, the CEO of AMP. In addition, I felt like I had the experience and the playbook to help drive growth at AMP. It felt familiar and still exciting and it got my wheels turning on how I could make an impact. Even though I was sort of itching and scratching to postpone a decision at that time, it organically happened.
I think what really helped to drive that organic interaction was the vulnerable position I was in after being let go. One of the things that I’ve learned, especially over the last few years is that without vulnerability, it’s impossible to make a true connection. The minute that you are vulnerable enough to say what’s really on your mind, it makes the conversation so much more effective. It makes the relationship so much deeper, but it can be scary to do it. In the end, every position needs to be a fit for the candidate as much as it does for the company.
I use that in interviewing potential candidates, too. I tell them, “I know that you’re trying to impress me, but quite honestly, I’m trying to impress you. And we need to decide together if we’re the right match because it’s as much your decision as it is our decision.”
WithIt: In the span of your career, do you feel like it’s primarily thanks to your natural strengths that you’ve gotten to where you are now? Or do you feel like it’s a developed skill or some combination of both?
Leah: Well, oh boy, that’s a good question. You know, I’m sure it’s a combination of both, right?
I think one of my natural skillset sets is communicating in a way that’s vulnerable and honest and without ego. That has certainly helped me manage conflict internally and externally and I’m always looking to find a resolution that works for all parties.
I think there’s also been a lot of opportunity for me because I’ve been in an initial role within two fast-growing companies now. That has allowed me to have my hands in a lot of different areas of the business and my knowledge base exploded because I was able to experience different departments and scenarios. The ability to execute and add in a bit of experimentation while still having a deep understanding of the company’s goals has very much helped my growth as a team member and a leader.
WithIt: What’s the best advice that you’ve been given?
Leah: Just keep going. Trust your gut and keep going. Any time you’re feeling stuck, or you don’t feel confident or great about what you’re doing — whatever it might be, just keep going. Standing still never solves anything, at least with movement you have an opportunity to eventually see where you need to go.
WithIt: And finally, on the professional AND mom front — how do you balance work and home life?
Leah: I would love for somebody else to answer this question for me right now because I feel like I am really in it right now. It’s one of the biggest struggles that I have.
I’ve just started with my new company, AMP, in January. So, I’m still in that season of trying to prove myself, do a great job, and get a new footing within a new organization. At the same time, my husband also works, and he’s got a job that is pretty time intensive. And we’ve got young kids. I’ve got a four-year-old and a just-turned-one-year-old. So, I feel like a chicken with my head cut off most days.
I feel like nobody is getting my best effort per se, but everybody is getting everything that I have. I’m doing my best, and I continue to try to communicate my way through it as best I can.
If I were to offer one kernel that seems to be working for me, I try to prioritize doing enough for myself so I’ve got a bucket to draw from. For me, that typically looks like working out in the early mornings. It’s 6:00 AM classes where I can get out of the house and do something for myself and by myself. That’s where I am right now.
In between, I try to fuel myself with good food, good books, and good podcasts — things that can help my mindset. Sometimes that looks like a martini.
Generally, I’m trying to do the best job I can and give myself grace if I think I’m falling short of where I should be. And just keep going.
Whether you pulled practical advice or inspiration from our chat with Leah, we hope our conversation has left you feeling empowered to go back into your workplace more confidently.
Don’t forget. The same honesty and grace you’re willing to extend to others, you should extend to yourself, too. And if you’re considering WithIt membership for your professional journey, find out more about our mission here or make the decision to join today.