Perspectives: Sarah Panis of Gritty Movement
How family matriarchs and an accelerated career path inspired this entrepreneur in her mission to help female leaders scale and shine.
By age 24, Sarah Panis had already aided a prominent startup in scaling to more than $15 million in annual revenue. Now, she’s helping female founders maximize their leadership potential with Gritty Movement, an organization that designs and implements operational structures and systems to drive long-term success.
Sarah, I know you’ve got a lot going on, so thank you for taking the time to chat! I’d love to start off with a basic introduction for our readers to Gritty Movement. Can you tell us, what’s it all about?
Yes! The Gritty Movement is an organization that champions modern women leaders through workshops, conferences and online resources. In everything we do, we aim to deliver tactical and strategic content that empowers our audience to lead better. Because the topic of leadership is deeply personal and ever-evolving, we strive to showcase a diverse range of experiences, backgrounds, voices and career paths.
I love that you recognize that everyone’s leadership style – and path to leadership – is unique, and I know that yours definitely was, too. Talk a little bit about how your personal life and career path led you to start Gritty Movement.
I credit my passion for supporting women in leadership to two things: My grandmothers and my past experience as a 24-year-old Chief Operating Officer. I had the privilege of growing-up close to both of my grandmothers, who were equally well-respected and loved, but for very different reasons. My paternal grandmother is assertive, tough, strong-willed and focused. My maternal grandmother was joyful, empathetic, encouraging and kind. I felt equally drawn to both of them, longing to embody parts of each.
Watching them lead their families gave me the sense that women are powerful and effective at the helm, and that was the common thread behind so many of my important decisions – choosing to volunteer at women’s shelters, deciding to join student leadership in high school, double majoring in business administration and marketing, and selecting job opportunities based on growth potential. Through hard work and a lot of lucky breaks, I ultimately became the Chief Operating Officer of a 200-employee company by the age of 24.
My passion and reverence for great leadership came directly from having to learn so many tough leadership lessons at such a young age. I saw my age as a challenge to overcome, which motivated me to learn anything and everything I could. I read three to five books per month, attended entrepreneurship-focused events, reached out to business leaders on LinkedIn and asked them for meetings or advice, and listened to business podcasts in my downtime – iterating constantly along the way.
So, since launching Gritty Movement, what would you say has been your biggest challenge as a leader and how did you overcome it?
One weakness I had to overcome, which I hear all the time from other women in leadership, was figuring out how to set boundaries with my subordinates. I knew I needed to be personal and build relationships with my team in order to be effective, but I didn’t know exactly where to draw the line. One thing I learned from LinkedIn’s CEO, Jeff Weiner, that really helped me was differentiating between compassion and empathy.
Empathy is feeling what your subordinate feels, which can be crippling, while compassion is putting yourself in your subordinate’s shoes and seeing the world through their eyes for the sake of alleviating their suffering. Compassionate leadership became my true north for navigating tough situations, and it empowered me to make hard decisions. I learned that sometimes removing someone from their role could be the most compassionate thing you can do for them.
And what about business challenges? Right now, what’s your biggest struggle when it comes to building Gritty Movement?
One of my constant challenges is figuring out how to maximize Gritty Movement’s impact with limited time and resources. I want to champion Gritty Movement’s mission and continue my personal career and leadership journey, and it can be hard to balance the two. What I’ve learned is to strive for balance as a seasonal objective, rather than a daily or monthly one, and to be strategic about where I put my effort.
Seasonal balance – yes! That is genius. Let’s wrap-up this Q+A with some info on what’s next for Gritty Movement. How can RUBY readers get involved and stay in-the-know?
Right now, we’re focused on planning our second annual Gritty Leadership Conference, which will take place this spring! Last year, we were learning as we went, so this year I’m looking forward to capitalizing on that experience and bring even better content, speakers and partners to the stage.
We’re also focusing heavily on community partnerships this year, so we’re excited to announce tons of sponsorship opportunities and nonprofit collaborations. RUBY readers can stay tuned by following us on Instagram and subscribing to our email newsletter. We’d also LOVE to have RUBY readers participate in the 2019 Gritty Leadership Conference as speakers, sponsors, or vendors – they can fill out the partnership inquiry form here.
Katarina Kovacevic is founder and editor of RUBY. Follow her on Instagram @Little_K_Kata.