A Seat At The Table

The topic of generosity has been on my mind a lot these days. A lot of us think about generosity in terms of how we give of our time, our resources, our finances. However, I have been particularly fascinated by people who are generous in offering recognition and support.

At the root of this kind of generosity is one word. With this one word, the Listen partners have inspired me to lean in, speak up and take risks in my work with a new boldness.

That word? It’s “We”.

It may seem like an insignificant word, but in truth, it’s generous and powerful. What they’re saying is that they are giving of their own recognition. When you say “we” what you’re saying is that it’s not just about me or you, it’s about us.

My first day on the job, I hopped on a phone call with a partner to hear a startup pitch. The very first thing he said was: “I’ve got my associate, Hannah, on the phone. We’re excited to hear about your work!” I was floored that his MO was to include me in the “we”.

Over the last few months, I’ve sat in on several phone calls and meetings with startup founders pitching their ideas to Listen’s partners. That word continues to take me off-guard and inspire me to lean in further. “We’re excited to hear about your work…We will evaluate and get back to you next week…We’ve got some pretty good ideas around that.” I’ve participated in many phone calls in previous jobs where I wasn’t acknowledged. And in those situations, I was a full-time employee with a reason to be part of the calls.

Using “we” language, these guys have pulled up a chair and generously given me a place at their table. As the only woman. As the youngest one in the room. As a recent grad. As a VC rookie. This generosity isn’t typical, but when that seat is offered, it brings out the best in those who fill it.

I’ll be honest. I sat a little taller following that first phone call. And it wasn’t just because I was acknowledged. The impact went much deeper. How these guys communicate about me with the world outside of our team is actually an indicator of the level of value they place on me. Here I am, temporarily jumping into the flow of the company for a couple months, yet they’ve graciously brought me into the fold.

At Listen, I feel seen. Known. Heard. Valued. Empowered.

It’s refreshing. And, as a result, I am fiercely motivated to participate in the work they are doing, and to fill my seat with confidence. I know I can trust the place they’ve given me — that they mean what they say and say what they mean. They act. They deliver. They don’t cut corners. They treat people with respect. And because I watch them do that with everyone else who has walked in and out of our office, I can trust that they do the same with me.

This week, one of the partners and I presented on a company we’ve been doing due diligence on. Rather than asking me to do the research and then taking and presenting the whole thing (which would have been perfectly fine), he asked me to present my work to the team and offer my recommendation. With my limited knowledge in the venture capital space, I knew my recommendation was less educated and could be different than theirs. I also knew I could share it openly and with confidence, regardless of the outcome. There’s space for me to grow.

I’ve been empowered to share my ideas and been given the authority and freedom to make them come to life. There is no ceiling here — only space and grace. I have learned so much in my time with these guys and am so thankful for their continued investment in me and my growth. I am confident that how I show up at my next apprenticeship will be heavily impacted by what I’ve experienced here.

And I’ll always be looking for way to pull up a seat for others.