Name: Mona Soni
Current position: CTO Sustainable1
Bio: Mona Soni is the CTO of Sustainable1 at SPGLOBAL, leading a global technology team focusing on delivery and sustainability solutions to financial services customers. Over the years, Mona has also been the founder and mentor of several women’s technology leadership groups and served on national D&I councils. Prior to joining S&P Global, Mona was Vice President of Engineering at Dow Jones and has held prior roles at Amplify, Intent Media, and Thoughtworks. Mona currently lives in Connecticut; she enjoys cooking for her three kids and is working on her stamina to match their energy by practising mixed martial arts.
Hi Mona, thank you for joining us! Can you tell us about your life before leadership – what kind of roles and projects did you work on?
Before stepping into a leadership role, I worked at both small and large organisations as an individual contributor in the capacity of an engineer and a consultant, where I was responsible for quality assurance and test engineering aspects.
How did your first leadership position come about, and was it intentional on your part?
My first leadership role was at a mid-size organisation where I was responsible for a small team of engineers. Stepping into a leadership role was very much intentional and required a good amount of negotiation and influencing. Although I had interviewed for a leadership role, at the time of the offer negotiation, I was told that since I don’t have prior leadership experience, I will be hired as an individual contributor first, which would be revisited later.
Even though I didn’t have any official direct reports in my previous roles, I had played the role of a mentor for junior engineers, and I was determined that I would be successful as a leader. I was able to negotiate with the hiring manager to give me the leadership role upfront, it was a risk on both sides, but it was eventually a win-win for everyone.
How did you manage the transition? What came easily / what was difficult?
Transitioning into a leadership role was both scary and exciting, I like challenges! I prepared myself well and practised continuous learning to help me develop leadership skills. My go-to place is HBR.org which I still refer to when I am looking for a wider perspective and leadership experience. I also tapped into my network of leaders to get tips and tricks for managing people and leading teams.
I have always enjoyed 1:1 conversations with others, and I am feedback oriented which helped me to build relationships with my team. The culture and organisation-building part were easy for me. The challenging part as a new manager was managing underperformance. It’s still not the best part of my job as a leader, but an important one.
What was your biggest failure in that first leadership role?
As a leader, I don’t believe in failures. For me, everything is a learning opportunity. My biggest learning in that first leadership role was to be able to differentiate problems from solutions. Focusing on problems and applying the optimum solution to help them has helped me be successful in my career as a leader.
What made you keep doing it?
I enjoy my role as a leader! I like working with people, building organisations and helping people grow in their careers. The impact I am able to create in the career journey of others I work with is my biggest driver.
Tell us a fun fact that nobody knows about you.
I have been practising mixed martial arts for the last 4 years. I was fortunate to attend a lecture by Amy Cuddy during an executive course at Harvard Business School. I attribute a lot of my recent success as a leader to my Martial arts practice. It makes me feel energetic and powerful and provides clarity of thought, which helps me solve problems.
What are the three key skills you think every leader needs?
In my perspective, the three key skills required for a good leader are creativity, love of learning and being a good listener:
- Being a creative leader means thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things–and there is a practical use for these ideas.
- Love of learning involves mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own in ‘the school of life’ or more formally in institutions or training programs.
- As a good listener, a leader makes people feel understood by framing their concerns and issues in broader terms and pulling them out of the details.
What have you learned about acquiring and retaining talent?
As Ronald Reagan said, ‘The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things.’
Talent is the most important priority for leaders, but without the right team, leaders cannot achieve their goals. I strongly believe in hiring people for their skills, people should define the role they are in and not the other way where a role defines what people should do.
Once I hire someone, my number one priority is to invest in their career through coaching, mentoring and empowering them to be successful. When people enjoy their work, retention is not a huge concern. I have always had very high retention rates on my teams.
How do you motivate your team and manage their stress levels?
I have firsthand experience and truly believe that the main cause of stress among teams is a lack of clarity in goals and objectives, roles and responsibilities and career paths. On an ongoing basis, through one-on-one meetings, town halls, AMAs and strategy sessions, I prioritize providing clarity on various aspects across technology teams and to stakeholders as well.
As a leader, I proactively work on finding ongoing issues and addressing them promptly.
How do you manage your own stress levels and productivity?
As I said, clarity is the root cause of stress, I constantly work with my team, leadership, stakeholders and customers to understand our priorities and gather continuous feedback on the ongoing work. My martial arts practice has played a huge role in reducing my stress levels.
With covid and hybrid work, it has become very important for me to continuously create and respect boundaries around my personal and professional life to manage stress and productivity.
How do you stay in sync with other parts of the business?
I have a personal framework that I use to manage my work, it helps me focus time on the important areas for growth and ongoing learning. I divide my time across the following different personas: myself, my team, peers, leadership, and customers/stakeholders. I manage my goals and time to prioritize connecting with various personas, helping them understand the work I am doing as well as future strategies and learning from them about their work and strategy.
What product do you wish you’d invented?
I work in the sustainability space, and one of the biggest issues related to climate change is CO2 emissions. Although not yet fully addressed, there are many upcoming products that help capture carbon from the air. I wish I had invented the underlying technology and helped with climate change and its impact on all our lives, current and future.
Thank you, Mona!
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