Together is Better


How to Unify and Empower Your Team By Holly Mattingly

We spent time talking with Holly Mattingly, former executive at Coca-Cola, about her experience in leadership, as well as some insights she has to share for women leaders about self-care and overcoming imposter syndrome. Check out our conversation below!

Thrive: Share with us a bit about who you are, your journey at Coca-Cola, and some of the leadership lessons you’ve learned along the way.

Holly: I started at Coca-Cola as a college intern, and I just completed a 25-year career with the Company. I held various marketing roles in my first 12 years, and then I moved over to public affairs and communications, where I managed our nonprofit relationships in Atlanta for about five years. After that, I moved into a global business development role and spent five years taking Coca-Cola Freestyle, the fountain machine that lets you make combinations of over a hundred different drinks, to Europe and Southeast Asia. Then, I had the opportunity to come back to North America as the group director of investment performance. In that role, my job was to manage topline growth through better strategy and bottom line savings through thoughtful productivity.

I led a very diverse team. I had seven people on my team, some of whom were very technically-focused, and some of whom were pure strategists, looking at five- and seven-year consumer trends. As a leader, it was interesting to have to pivot throughout the day to meet people in their unique communication style and subject matter expertise.

Thrive: So when you’re dealing with seven people who have unique talents and communication styles, how do you bring them together to accomplish what sounds like a pretty big goal?

Holly: What we all had in common was a growth mindset: testing, piloting, and failing forward— incubating ideas and evolving them. When we came together as a team, we broke down silos and found opportunities to create connectivity that hadn’t existed. For example, we have contracts with our marketing sponsorships. We really wanted to tap into our partners’ consumer data sets to help us do more targeted consumer marketing. We took one of our marketing properties that we were re-negotiating and asked for their consumer data set, which is something we had never done before. This was taking or team’s expertise in data sets and leveraging our role in marketing sponsorship to create a new marketing opportunity.

Thrive: You mentioned failing forward and being willing to take risks. A lot of professional women struggle with imposter syndrome: they think, “I’m not sure my talents are up to par with what’s expected of me in my role. Somebody might discover I’m a fraud.” Have you encountered this battle in your own journey, and do you have advice for how we can overcome it?

Holly: I’ve certainly battled it in my own career. For every job and promotion I took at Coca-Cola, I would have that celebratory couple of days, when I was really excited about the opportunity. Then, directly following that would come the panic moment: “Oh my gosh, how am I going to do this job? I can’t do it. It’s too big.” I think that’s a pretty natural reaction. I caution a lot of women who are getting promoted that the moment of panic will come—and we’ll deal with it when it does. But honestly, be in the moment and celebrate. You’ll figure out how to do the job.

One reason women experience imposter syndrome much more intensely than men is because we want to be perfect from Day One. We tend to apply for jobs we’re already qualified for, and we don’t leave ourselves a lot of room to make mistakes or to fail. We have to allow ourselves to grow into the role, which means taking roles that stretch us. It might mean making some mistakes and failing forward. It might mean finding other experts and asking for help. But we have to give ourselves that permission.

The only way I know how to manage imposter syndrome is from a place of faith. I need to be reminded to surrender. After all, the ultimate purpose of what I’m doing is to glorify God—whether it’s a success or failure, there’s something to be learned. And when I recognize that all I need to do is show up and do my best—not to control the outcome—it takes a lot of pressure off. I can walk in the door every morning with a certain peace about me.

Thrive: That’s a good boundary. Many of us take on responsibility for others’ responses, or the results of projects that are out of our hands. You’re right, that’s a lot of pressure to put on ourselves.

Holly: And surrendering is not a one-time act. It’s literally going through that door every day and saying, “Lord, help me show up and be the salt and light today…and I surrender the outcome to You.” It’s an ongoing battle we have to fight, because we are earthly and we are sinners, and we like to have control. For me, that’s something that I have to do on a regular basis.

Thrive: We’re coming out of one of the craziest year most of us have ever lived through. What are some practical ways women can manage stress and take care of themselves mentally, physically and emotionally, while still delivering what they need to deliver?

Holly: As women, we tend not to create the best boundaries. We try to do it all and please everyone. I’ve been to plenty of women’s conferences where we talk about self-care, but I think we first need boundaries so we can get to self-care. We need to say, “That is not in my top five priorities for the year. If you want me to do this, what’s coming off my plate?” Instead, we just let it become the sixth thing or the seventh thing. And then, all of a sudden, we don’t see our kids off to bed or we miss dinner because we’re not willing to say “No.” And we need to give ourselves grace. We’re going to mess up. Sheryl Sandberg says in her book, Lean In, “Done is better than perfect.” Give yourself grace for the things you didn’t get done, or that weren’t done perfectly.

Thrive: Here’s one more question: What’s on your horizon in 2021? What are you passionate about right now?

I felt called to leave Coke so I could take my leadership skills and business acumen and make a greater kingdom impact. I left with a generous voluntary severance to figure out what that looks like for me. That was such a gift from God: leaving on my own terms with a nice on-ramp to figure out what’s next. In that journey, I’ve been called to build the next generation of Christian leaders in the marketplace. As for how that looks in a day-to-day job, I’m still working on that. I just enrolled in seminary—that was one of my big, audacious goals.

I also feel like I need to write a book. I say that out loud because every time I do, it makes it more real. It forces me to face my fear. This year, I’m participating on panels, podcasts and guest speaking on leadership. It’s out of my comfort zone, but growth happens in the uncomfortable. I’m in a season of saying yes and trusting God.

Thrive: It’s inspiring that you had the courage to start a new chapter, even though you don’t know all the details yet. That’s sure to encourage other leaders who are feeling called to the same thing.

Holly: It’s a faith journey. When the opportunity to leave Coke came up, my, my initial reaction was, “No. I’ve worked here my entire life. This is what I know.” I felt insecure about whether I’d be “good enough” for the marketplace: again, that imposter syndrome. But once I started networking with people outside of Coke, I began to feel validated and see opportunity. I saw that I really do have something to offer in the marketplace, while making a Kingdom Impact.

I’m also doing some leadership coaching. That’s been really engaging for me, to help others on their journey. It aligns to my purpose to build the next generation of leaders. So that’s what I have going on at the moment.

Thrive: It’s been so rewarding to talk to you. A lot of leaders are going to benefit from what you’ve shared. Thank you for spending this time with us!

This article was extracted from the premier issue of Thrive Magazine (Spring 2021). Learn how to get your copy of Thrive Magazine by visiting us here.