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GirlzTalk with Melissa Kilby

Every month, girlz in our program have the opportunity to hear from inspiring and trailblazing women from around the world on a range of topics. We admire these women, for not only their journeys but for how they’re paving the way for women and girlz around the world to thrive.


This week, our team interviewed Melissa Kilby, Executive Director of Girl Up, a global leadership development organization transforming a generation of girls to be a force for gender equality and social change. We learned a lot about leadership, overcoming imposter syndrome, and growing a team from hearing her personal experiences in leading one of the largest organizations working on girls’ rights around the world. We’re summarizing our key learnings in this post to bring our broader community behind the scenes!

On Leadership:

Melissa started her journey at Girl Up when she was 30 years old and joined the organization as their second employee. Within her first year, her Executive Director moved on to a new opportunity and Melissa was asked if she wanted to lead the organization as their new Executive Director. She mentioned being terrified of taking on the position before starting the role. Here are the key takeaways we took from hearing her story:

  • Do it anyway: Many girls won’t apply or step up to the plate for new opportunities unless they feel 100% ready and confident. Her advice encouraged us to go for it anyway, even if you don’t feel 100% qualified or ready.

  • Be open and ready for growth: Being a leader doesn’t mean knowing all the answers. It means you’re willing to go search for them. Be open to growing alongside the organization.

  • Listen to the people you’re looking to serve: She mentioned having numerous conversations with girls around the world about their needs. A key to being a good leader is to have a good understanding of the problems you’re trying to solve and that means being open to learning from the people you’re looking to serve.


Tackling Insecurities and Imposter Syndrome:

When Melissa was deciding if she was ready to grow in her leadership with her new role, she almost let her imposter syndrome take over and stop her from taking on this position. Luckily, she jumped straight into the deep end and became the leader her team needed her to be, allowing her to also deepen her impact to support and empower girls across the globe.


Many of us can relate to how Melissa was feeling, as we’re no stranger to having our doubts bubbling up as imposter syndrome or letting our insecurities and the feeling of “not enough” dictate our decisions. Melissa inspires us to jump through our fears and leaves us with these tips on how to tackle our insecurities when we find ourselves in this rut (and unable to take the next step forward):

  • Sit in your strengths: Reflect on your key strengths, your accomplishments, and what you have already learned from your successes. Internalize these successes. These are all aspects that you have achieved that nobody can take away from you (because you’re the one that was able to accomplish them).

  • Develop a new script: Before you stop yourself from taking that new opportunity or being a better advocate for yourself, stop, and breathe. Instead of framing the conversation to yourself as not being 100% ready, remember that everyone starts from somewhere, and they learned along the way.

  • Push Through Your Doubt: It’s hard to inspire and lead others if you’re doubting yourself. Believing in yourself and your ability to succeed is a powerful thing, and it’s ok to take the next step forward with some of your fears. You can do this. Once you push through your doubts, transformation happens.


Giving and Receiving Feedback:

Melissa has been a part of the Girl Up team for almost 9 years. As she sat down to reflect on her time, she mentions one of the biggest lessons she’s learned through her own leadership is the power of giving and receiving feedback. She views it as a gift. Whether you’re giving it or receiving it, this two-way street builds trust between a leader and an employee. It also creates a culture for continuous growth. As you step into your leadership role, Melissa provides us with some recommendations on how to best give and receive feedback:

  • Try not to take feedback personally: When you receive feedback, try not to take it personally and try not to be defensive (even though it can be easy to take it that way). Instead of seeing it from a defensive point of view, reframe it from a place of good. If someone wasn’t invested in you or your growth, they wouldn’t provide you with feedback. They want you to do better and be better and trust that you can.

  • Use feedback as your barometer: Leverage these newfound insights as a barometer for yourself. Use it to know if your gut’s right. Use it to validate if you’re growing or leading in the right direction.

  • Give feedback as you’d want to receive it: As you continue to lead, you have to give feedback regularly. You have to help people on their own journey on how to do their job, adjust their style, and how to be more effective to get a better outcome. You have to come from a place of partnership and a place of thought. This can be done by coaching and guiding your team forward.


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