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April 8, 2019

Student Success

The No. 1 lesson from a woman who became a CEO at 20.

“I definitely made every mistake in the book.” Melanie DeLashmutt laughs as she recalls some of the early blunders she made as a new manager.

While she can find the humor now, it wasn’t a laughing matter early in her career when Melanie had a hard time earning respect and finding the right boundaries for her employees.

It’s understandable why this was such a difficult career move for her. Melanie was only 20 years old when she was made the president and CEO of a small credit union. She was picked above colleagues twice her age, and the transition was tough.

“There were a lot of hurt feelings, and the difference in age to overcome,” she says.

While she made mistakes and faced setbacks, Melanie says her experience, mentors, and her degree at WGU all helped her get right where she wanted and needed to be as a manager.

Early career mistakes.

Melanie’s entrance to the financial world of a credit union was unique; she was working her way through college by mowing lawns for a woman who happened to be the manager of a credit union. The manager came to Melanie one day and said she was impressed with her work ethic, and wanted to give her a job as a teller.

“I seized the moment, and it changed my life forever,” Melanie says as tears well up in her eyes.

At age 20, still a newcomer to the financial industry, Melanie was picked to become the CEO and president of the credit union. That instantly made her the manager of older, more experienced coworkers.

“It was a challenge. Every mistake you could make managing employees, I made,” Melanie admits. 

The mistake of friendship.

At first, Melanie thought it would be best to be friends with her employees. 

“I thought if I was friends with them, then we would have a relationship that would carry us through even the most difficult of days,” she says. She quickly learned that friendship wasn’t beneficial to a manager/employee relationship. “You have to have tough conversations and hold them accountable for things, so you can’t be their friend,” she adds.

Melanie had to take a step back from social activities with her employees to help maintain the new boundaries.

The mistake of trying too hard.

After Melanie realized she couldn’t be friends with her employees, she says her next mistake was trying too hard. 

“I was trying too hard to be a leader, when I just should have recognized that I had that within myself and I just needed to be who I am, and not use something that I found in some leadership book,” she admits. 

Melanie learned how to take advice from mentors and books, and link it with her personality and who she really was already. 

Earning respect.

The number 1 thing she needed to be a good leader was the respect of her employees. How did she earn that?

“It simply took time,” she says. Melanie had to consistently show her employees they could trust her, and that she would respect them. This attitude, and time, helped Melanie gain more confidence as a manager.

Going back for her degree.

After Melanie was made CEO of the credit union, she fully invested in her career and stopped attending college. After devoting 18 years to the credit union, she switched to a new job as an HR manager of a school district, and she says she came to regret the decision to leave school.

“I just really wanted to get my degree for myself and prove to myself that I could do it,” she says.

Melanie had looked into different schooling options and wasn’t happy with any of them. That’s when she heard about WGU. 

“It fit within my lifestyle,” she says. So she enrolled, and started going for a degree in human resources, her passion.

Melanie was able to continue to work full-time as the HR manager for 800 employees in a school district while getting her degree. She says she enjoyed all the courses she took, from science general education courses, to her human resources management classes. She says they filled in missing pieces that would have made a world of difference in the early years of her career.

“I’m a much better manager now,” she says.

Melanie’s future.

Melanie says that being a manager for so many years changed her perspective on what elements made her successful. While she knew her work ethic and skills were crucial, they weren’t all that mattered.

“Your employees are your biggest asset,” she says. “So I really wanted to invest my time to be the best I could be for them,” she adds.

Her work throughout her career and her time at WGU are proof that everything she does, has been to be the best manager she can be for those that work for her. Her goal is to build good relationships and to help employees feel good about their job, and their coworkers.

So what does the future hold for Melanie and her employees?

“It doesn’t really matter what my title is, it is really who I am as a person and who I am in an organization and how I lead them,” she says. “Am I the person they can come to when they’ve made a mistake, or had a hard day? Am I that person for them? That’s more important than any title I’ll ever hold.”

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