Building a new leadership paradigm

There’s something, isn’t there, about the ambiance of a little coffee shop that spurs how-we’re-going-to-change-the-world discussions?

The topic at hand was a rich and challenging one:  reinventing leadership so it’s inspired and inspiring. People want to produce value and feel valued. Just-a-cog-in-the-wheel environments must go. Ethics and integrity tossed aside for economics and perpetually better bottom line results is wrong, wrong, wrong.  What needs to be changed and how would it be accomplished?

As one might imagine, there was immediate consensus on the need for a new leadership paradigm and no shortage of ideas for what it should be. Our caffeine-stimulated change ingredient list so far:

  • No more singular focus on just the bottom line as a measure of success. Somewhere along the line, Drucker’s observation that “what gets measured gets managed” was corrupted.  Hard and fast metrics make management easier, but that isn’t the point.
  • There must be a moral center. Ethics and integrity matter. Must end the Murdoch mentality of “get the story no matter what.”
  • Leaders apply confidence and humility in equal measure; both are used appropriately. Laughter and tears are welcome in the work place.
  • Contrarian points of view (albeit presented professionally and without haughty condescension) are encouraged. Brown-nosing is no longer a required promotional competency.
  • Power is used appropriately. If it’s a truly command-and-control scenario (crises), directives are OK. Otherwise, power is used with others and to produce win-win outcomes. Leaders know when to flex between styles and are held accountable for doing so.
  • Gender, race and ethnicity are irrelevant to effective leadership.
  • Pronouns reflect inclusion (we, not me) and courage (it was my decision…)
  • There’s a team-oriented approach to achieving results coupled with a spirit of “we’re all in this together.” No more “me-centered” spotlights.
  • Tough empathy rules. A job well-done is recognized and rewarded. Less-than-stellar performance is addressed immediately via thoughtful, continued coaching; follow-up required.
  • Serious thought goes into perks. Pooh-bahs don’t continue to fly in corporate jets while clerks and assistants have to pay for their morning cup of coffee.
  • Diversity goes beyond lip service and really means something. Inclusion is valued.
  • It’s OK, expected even, to go home while it’s still daylight and/or not come into the office on the weekend. Seeing your kid in a play or a soccer game matters.
  • Vacations are for renewal, really. Clear your head. Come back renewed not current with your email.
  • The squeaky wheel doesn’t get all the attention. People talk, share, engage. Political correctness in agreeing with the guy with the loudest voice isn’t politically correct anymore.

Given the breadth, depth and complexity of leadership, this new paradigm list is a work in progress. What elements would you add?



10 ways for women to be strategic in building their careers

Today’s guest blog is from Allard de Jong, a Fortune 500 coach, motivational speaker and rebel rouser who works with women business and management leaders in an effort to speed up their journeys to positions of more power and influence.

What do we mean by being “strategic”? I believe there are three different kinds of women leaders when it comes to managing their career progression and their life at the office in general : the expressives, the conventionals and the strategic.

If you are of the “expressive” kind, you’ll be spontaneous, natural, and living the emotion of the moment with little or no filtering of your communication. Your thoughts come like gum balls out of machine.  Your “career management” is authentic and honest. You spend little time on office politics. The moment you think it, they’ve got it.

The “conventional” type is driven by the question: What’s the right thing to do? We learn that we are supposed to behave in certain ways in certain situations, worry about the “appropriate,” about conventions, etc. What are the conventions in your organization, and how are they different from other places you’ve worked? Convention is a safe place to go - no one will hate you but it may not get you to the top. Anotherpossible downside is that you’re seen as boring, or at least dry.

Now if you are “strategic,” you are aware of conventions but don’t always follow them. “Strategic” means asking: What outcomes do I want to produce and what “ABCs” (appearance, behavior and communication) will get me there? What are the consequences of x, y or z? How do I want to be seen? Some people do this more intuitively, others explicitly.

A word of caution: it’s easy to get “strategic” wrong - by being deliberate in a manipulative way, or too intentional at the expense of integrity, or being “real.” The trick is to be strategic and real at the same time – smart, aware of the consequences…and authentic.

So what are some of the more “strategic” things to do when it comes to getting ahead and building your power to influence? I’m going to differentiate here between “the inner game of career success” and the “outer game.”

“Inner” refers to the invisible thoughts, feelings, values, beliefs, ideas etc. that lead to the “outer” elements such as visible behaviors and the tangible environment in which we operate. The “inner” creates the “outer” so we can’t talk about one without examining the other.

Lastly, the word “game” reminds us that there are certain rules involved, but that the process shouldn’t be taken too seriously and that the whole thing consists of learnable skills (good news!). So are you ready?


(A guide to “survival in the wacky new world of work”)









Examine your beliefs about your potential – whether you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right (Henry Ford). We act in accordance with our predominant beliefs, and those actions   create our results. If your beliefs about yourself, about your abilities or about others do not empower you, ask yourself why you are holding on to them. Beliefs are built on the past: on things we have heard, seen or experienced. They are not right or wrong, they are only opinions. Become aware of your beliefs, understand where they come from and disassociate from them if they no longer serve you.


Build self-confidence – handle your inner critic. We all have it, that little voice inside our heads that tells us that “we can’t”. You need to understand that you are not that voice, in the same way that you are not your foot or your hand. You are more than that. The little voice, your mind, has good intentions: it wants to protect  you, to keep you safe. In order to keep you safe it will tell you to stay where you are, to not step out of your comfort zone. Self-confidence comes from “feeling the fear but doing it anyway” (Susan Jeffers), in spite of the little voice, seeing it for what it is: an over protective mother smothering you with advice (add vice?).


Choose your thoughts carefully  – what we focus on, expands. You may have heard the saying “energy flows where attention goes.” Truer words were never spoken. What words do you use to describe your experiences? Your life at the office will reflect those words! Want more positivity? Think more positive thoughts. If you think your thoughts express your truth, you’re wrong. They only express one truth about you and the world you live in. You affect your world with your thoughts. Don’t like what you see? Change what you think!


Be open to change – everything flows, nothing stands still (Heraclitus). It’s been said that our mind is like a parachute: it simply works better when it’s open! How open to change are you? Many of us will resist change, we will even negate it if given the chance. The trick is to explore the new opportunities that come with change  until we eventually come to accept it (which doesn’t mean you have to like it). Roles, responsibilities, challenges etc. will continue to change as more and more women take center stage in our corporations. If you find yourself resisting those changes, ask yourself if you want to be right, or if you want to be happy.


Know what you want – clarity leads to power. The number one reason most people don’t get what they want is because they don’t know what they want. Make sure you have a clear picture in your mind as to where you’re heading. Ïs your career vision clear? Is it compelling? Can you feel, smell, hear, see and almost taste what lies ahead in your desired future? If so, great, you’re on track! If not, spend some time formulating a clear picture of what it is you want to achieve. Set yourself some deadlines. Invent a slogan, a mantra if you’re so inclined,  that will keep you connected to your desired outcome and you’ll be beating the odds.








Fake it ‘til you make it – our attitudes follow our behavior. What skills do you want to develop? What would   you like to change about yourself? Start acting as if you were already the person you want to be around the office. It has been proven countless times that in our desire for internal consistency (the psychologists call it   cognitive dissonance) our being will align with our doing. Want to be more influential? Start acting influential. Soon you’ll feel more influential. Others will see it. They’ll start treating you as an influential person. Soon   you won’t have to “fake it” anymore, you will have become more influential.


Self-promote – “brag” is not a 4-letter word. Most of us were taught not to toot our own horn, so self-promotion make not come easily, and yes, it’s easy to get it wrong by overdoing it. Yet when it comes to life in the office, it’s not just what you do but also who sees you doing it, i.e. who knows about how great you are, that will determine how far you’ll make it in your field. In the increasingly transparent and flat world economy, your reputation will come to matter as much as your skills and achievements – no matter how junior or senior you are. Are you strategic about the kind of reputation you are building? What is your reputation and how do you know? Do take care of your reputation – and it will take care of you.


Know your ABC’s – master your appearance, behaviors and communication. It’s not who you are, it’s how   you’re seen to be. Advertisers know that today’s perception is tomorrow’s reality. Make sure that the way you look, behave and speak reflect the part you’re aiming to play at work. If you’re not sure, ask someone you trust for some honest feedback. Your appearance, behaviors and communication will either be your allies or your biggest stumbling block, no matter how good you are at your job. Not fair? Who said life at the office was fair!


Stay in your circle of control – be happy, don’t worry. Certain aspects of life at the office fall directly under our control. What to wear, how to behave, who to treat well, when to speak, when to shut up etc. Other elements of work lie beyond our circle of control, in our circle of concern. Focus on the things you can do. There’s   always something you can do. When you do get concerned about something and worry about it, ask yourself what you can do about it. Then do it, and stop worrying. Your worrying serves no one. And here’s a secret: the more time you spend in your circle of control, the bigger it get. And similarly, the more time you wander around in worryland, the more disempowered you become.


Network – it’s not what you know, but who you know (and who knows you!). I already said life at the office isn’t fair so I won’t say it again. We live in a hyper connected world that has been called a “relationship economy” (2008, Scott Allen et al.). You have to become a relationship manager. Evaluate the strength of your professional network. Are you happy with the people in it? How can they help you? What have you done for them lately? Being strategic also means developing the right relationships, where others become a stepping stone for you and vice versa.  And make sure your network is not “limited” to people exactly like you. New ideas and learning often come from those we see as very different from ourselves.

As you will have noticed, this list does not include “doing a good job” and there are two reasons for this. First of all, the fact that you need tobe good at what you do is implied, your performance is a given. Secondly, and more importantly, being (very) good at what you do is no longer enough. In the evolving world of work you’ll be required to leverage your performance, to publicize and fully own it.

The pervasiveness of the “just world” syndrome (described by Melvin Lerner in the 80′s) would have us believe that the good get rewarded and the bad get struck down. Well, you and I know that doesn’t always happen, far from it. So who does get rewarded? More often than not, it’s the strategic ones!

I hope the above helps you become more strategic, more purposeful and more in resolute about your career and what it is you want to achieve.


Cheshire cats, GPS and purpose

“Cheshire Puss,” asked Alice. “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” “That depends a good deal on where you want to go,” said the Cat. “I don’t much care where,” said Alice.“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat. ~Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Rose “fell” into her PR career right after college, taking a temporary job to tide her over. That job lasted ten years. While Rose had enjoyed her job, she always felt like something better was out there, that she was missing something. But until her layoff, she never hit the “pause button of life” long enough to evaluate the direction of her professional or personal life.

Most successful businesses have a mission statement describing their purpose along with a business plan defining what they do. What works well for businesses also works well for individuals, especially if you’re in a career transition like Rose or are simply seeking a new direction. Creating your personal life plan helps you focus on where you are, where you want to be and how you’ll get there. It’s a bit like having your very own personal GPS for the personal and professional direction you’ll take.

Stephen Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says, “Writing or reviewing a mission statement changes you because it forces you to think through your priorities deeply, carefully, and to align your behavior with your beliefs.”

The process of figuring out what you want to do purposefully with your life and mapping out accompanying goals is simple yet complex. The steps involved are straightforward. The complexity arises from first deciding to be purposeful rather than random; and then doing all the heavy lifting of identifying your interests and goals, letting go of things getting in the way and finally finding a complementary career, volunteer work, and hobbies, etc., to keep your actions in alignment with your purpose. Sometimes you have to “let go” to let other things “come in.”

Turning on your own purposeful GPS

1) Define what you do well, like to do and makes you feel purposeful. Richard Leider, author of The Power of Purpose, believes that “the purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.”

2) Now identify what you want to accomplish, both personally and professionally, and write it down. There’s nothing like putting pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard to create clarity. Think of this as your personal mission statement. Here’s an example from Google that illustrates mission statement content: “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” A company without a mission statement has little clarity on what it will do; the same is true for individuals.

3) List what you need to start doing, stop doing and continue doing.  This real benefit-producing step of the process requires honest and thorough self-assessment. Rush University Medical Center, a teaching and research hospital in Chicago, released a study on aging and activity in 2009. According to Patricia Boyle, neuropsychologist and assistant professor of behavioral sciences at Rush, “If you find purpose in life, if you find your life is meaningful, and if you have goal-directed behavior, you are likely to live longer.”

4) Define your goals and make an action plan. It’s only when we combine our dreams with action that we realize successful outcomes. Thinking, hoping and visualizing are helpful exercises to shape your focus yet are insufficient on their own to produce results. Gotta make things happen!

5) Commit to action, learning, failing and trying again. Hold yourself accountable to taking small steps every single day, whether you want to or not. (The siren song of procrastination plays loudly some days). Expect to take a misstep or two, that’s all part of it. Give yourself permission to fail; learn from those failures and move on. Celebrate your successes: throw a party, dance on the beach, eat chocolate, watch a sunset, send yourself a gift.

Having a plan creates direction. Direction produces focus. Focus leads to productivity. Productivity makes results. Results create confidence and success.

What other steps should be on the list?


Influence and Intentions

This is the fourth and final post in the Playing Office Politics series - a collaborative endeavor between Jennifer V. Miller, Mike Henry Sr., Susan Mazza and myself. We hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Influence. Power. Leadership. Choice. Character. All potent concepts. All inextricably linked for leaders who want to play positive office politics.

Office Politics Research

In 2005, Gerald R. Ferris, Sherry L. Davidson, and Pamela L. Perrewe co-authored Political Skills at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness, a book which was the culmination of more than 15 years of research into office politics. According to Gerald Ferris,

Politically skilled managers are masters of four behaviors: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity.

Influence impacts both our professional and personal relationships. When used on the win-win “light side of the force” (as opposed to I win-you lose manipulation), having influence can distinguish you as a great formal or informal leader. Influence is determined by one’s ability to make an appeal for action based on logic, emotion or a sense of cooperation, or some combination of all three.

Art by Paul Downey

Do You Have What It Takes?

Positive influence, i.e., the ability to get work  done with and through other people, is a critical skill for leaders to have in their toolkit.

Some outcomes fall within your realm of direct control, others won’t.  For those outcomes for which you don’t have total responsibility, a leader’s power influence can be invaluable to shaping results.

As a manager who empowers others, you will act as a colleague more than a boss, relying on influence, respect and relationships  to work with employees. ~Jamieson and O’Mara (1991).

To assess your influence skills, do a little self-audit:

• Can I get people to move, to act, to get things done?
• Am I capable of gaining support from others to drive outcomes?
• Can I inspire others to act?
• Do I have the ability to create meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships?
• Can I persuade other people to become my champion?
• Can I engage someone’s imagination?
• Do I get results through and with people?
• Is my word and/or my involvement sufficient to make something happen?
• Do I have the personal power to shape outcomes and cause things to happen?
• Do others actively seek out my counsel?

Truly excellent influencing skills require a healthy combination of interpersonal, communication, presentation and assertiveness techniques. It’s about adapting and modifying your personal style when you become aware of the affect you are having on other people, while still being true to yourself — and without manipulating others. Behavior and attitude change are what’s important, not changing who you are, how you feel and think, or what you do.

Amping Up Your Win-Win Influence

1) Be a perceptive observer. Know what is going on by watching, asking and validating your observations. Tune into the cultural dynamics. Learn how to comprehend social situations, e.g. what nonverbal communication is telling you or what elephant remains in the room.

2) Be a broker of ideas and information. Know your job, your organization and its culture inside and out — and educate others, share what you know. Establish allies and stakeholders who share a win-win interest in mutual outcomes.

3) Engage, involve and communicate. Freely share data and information. Invite and encourage participation. Actively listen to what people are saying. Pull people to your ideas then push those ideas through to other people

What's Your PQ?

4) Be self-aware. Understand how others perceive you. Know your strengths, your limitations and play to what you do best. Be there when people need you. Be persistent (in a good kind of way!). Say thank you. Help BEFORE someone asks (use those actively listening skills!)

5) Give, give, GIVE!  Never estimate someone’s desire to leave a mark — and help them to do so. 

6) Let go. If you have a hidden agenda for I win-you lose, influence is impossible. You must sincerely have the other’s best interest at heart if you hope to interact with them and affect their behaviors. As John Maxwell says, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

7) Don’t be a conversation or credit hog. Don’t force your ideas on people. Know what they want, watch their reactions and support them through conversation so they see the issue, the answer, the outcome, etc. for themselves. If they end up thinking it’s their idea, so much the better. Don’t let your ego stand in the way of positive win-win outcomes.

As you consider building positive win-win influence expertise, what other behaviors would you add to this list?


Networking Inside the Company Walls

Today’s guest post, the first in the Playing Office Politics series, is by Jennifer V. Miller, the Managing Partner of SkillSource, a training and consulting company that helps emerging leaders “master the people equation”. Her experience as a human resources generalist, training facilitator and corporate manager helps her develop the “people side” of those who want to maximize their influence. Connect with Jennifer at The People Equation blog, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

One of the four behaviors resident in people who “play politics” in a positive way (as identified by researchers at the University of Florida) is networking. Because I spend a lot of time giving keynotes on the topic of networking,  Jane reached out to me for my perspective on the topic.

Two Types of Networking

If you are in sales, or are job seeking, then it’s a no-brainer: networking should play a key part in your outreach strategy.  Connection-making if this sort is external networking.  See my blog posts here and here for tips on how to network outside your organization.

Even if your job rarely requires you to interact outside your company walls, you still need know how to network.  That’s where internal networking comes into play. Internal networking is when you reach out to colleagues within your organization, even if your job doesn’t require you to do so. It’s going beyond your normal scope of job responsibilities.   Being an internal networker means you are looking outside your immediate, day-to-day activities and thinking about how you can connect with and create value for others in your company. 

Many of the same principles apply for both external and internal networking, but there’s a nuance to the internal process that’s unique. Let’s explore why it’s important to distinguish between the two types of networking.

What Makes Internal Networking Different?

It comes down to mindset: people have expectations about what various job roles “should” be.  For example, people expect outside sales reps and job seekers to be making phone calls and attending industry functions. It’s seen as a required part of their daily work.  With internal networking, however, the mindset shifts. People are a bit more leery of employees and leaders who seek connections beyond their daily scope.  These activities are often perceived as “sucking up” or “playing politics”. The differentiator, as Jane points out in her introduction to positive office politics is that effective internal networkers are those who are always going for the win-win.  They create connections because they believe that reaching out to others will help all involved, including the company.

How Can I Improve My Internal Networking?

The first thing you need to do is a quick mental audit: what’s my mindset on internal networking? If you’re still stuck in the mentality of “networking is for kiss-ups” then the tips below won’t help.  Take a moment and remember a time when you successfully made a connection beyond your department boundaries.  Think about how you benefitted and the other person did too.  In the right frame of mind now?

Great. Here are some ideas:

  • Have a decent relationship with your boss? Ask her (or him) to give you a few ideas on other leaders who you should get to know in the company.  The purpose would be to broaden your business acumen and learn from another leader in the company. Who knows, maybe it will turn into an informal mentoring situation. Plus, it helps to know other business unit leaders if you want to switch job functions in the future.
  • Make a list of key players in your organization that you would like to get to know.  It’s OK if the list has only 3 people. If you’re not comfortable inviting them to meet, find a person who knows both of you and ask person to make an introduction. Arrange to have a coffee break or lunch with the purpose of getting to know what you both do for your jobs.
  • When people are promoted, receive an award, or otherwise achieve something, send congratulations. A quick congratulatory email to someone (even if you don’t know them well) will go a long way towards showing that you are paying attention beyond your cubicle’s four walls.
  • Been assigned to a cross-functional project team? If you’re unfamiliar with the work of the project team members, suggest that one of the initial project team meetings be an “infomercial” of sorts. Have each team member do a 2 minute recap of their role back at their desk. Not only will you learn more about your project team members, you’ll also quickly gather data that may head off miscommunications or misperceptions for the project.
  • Talk up other people’s accomplishments. When in department meetings, be sure to praise other teammates’ wins.  Do the same for people in other departments who have helped you out.  Word will spread that you’re a team player, one who’s not afraid to share credit.

Networking inside your company’s walls does not mean that you’ll garner a reputation for being a gamer. Rather, if you keep others’ interests in mind, you will be seen as someone who’s willing to lend a hand.  The well-connected person creates value for all.



Playing Office Politics

Office Politics. Ewwwwwwww, you say, thinking of those smarmy, lying, back-stabbing, kiss-up, brown-nosing, schmoozing manipulators who play the game by one rule and just one rule…I WIN, YOU LOSE. Right? Not surprising.

Art by Jill Stanek

In its very worst connotation, office politics represents influence and power gone awry. I anticipate that many of us have experienced bad office politics via a two-faced someone operating on the “dark side of the force” and have a favorite horror story to tell.While it’s a lofty dream to hope that someday all leaders will play from a win-win perspective, that’s unfortunately not the reality in many workplaces. The plain truth is that office politics are here to stay; and, based on a fascinating study done by the University of Florida, can be played ‘nice.’

Nice? The study revealed that adept leaders do politics competently – and nicely – and are never accused of playing politics.

In 2005, University of Florida Professor Gerald R. Ferris, Research Scientist Sherry L. Davidson, and Professor Pamela L. Perrewe co-authored Political Skills at Work: Impact on Work Effectiveness, which was the culmination of more than 15 years of research into office politics.

Their findings?

If you have political skill, you appear not to have it,” says Gerald Ferris. “Truly skillful execution of the behaviors associated with politics is usually perceived as genuine, authentic, straightforward and effective. Politically skilled managers are masters of four behaviors: social astuteness, interpersonal influence, networking ability and apparent sincerity. Leaders who are not politically skilled come off as manipulative or self-serving.

Any time there are scarce resources, competing interests and ambiguity (sound like most work places?), office politics will exist. The key to success is playing with a win-win orientation versus an” I win-you lose” mindset.

Championing a cause, seeking budget for additional headcount, inspiring an up-and-comer on your team, persuading your boss to let you lead the special project – occur regularly in our jobs and require influence, relationships and social awareness to execute.

Office politics is the art of building relationships that will help you and your team accomplish more than you could on your own. ~Mitchell Kusy, Ph.D, Manager’s Desktop Consultant

A year ago, Mike Henry, Susan Mazza, Jennifer V. Miller and I partnered to produce a month-long four-part blog seriesaddressing the competencies needed for leaders to play “Positive Office Politics.”

Given the ongoing relevance and reality of office politics, we’re repeating the four-part series this week beginning tomorrow.



Why are you at the table or why are you the leader?

Today’s guest post is by Doretha Walker. Doretha is past president of the Charleston, SC Center for Women , leads at DAK Americas, and blogs at Doretha provides inspiration and information to support women so they can fly to their own success.

I did myself a grave injustice the other day at the Charleston, SC Women in Business Conference, Pathways to Power.

First, let me say that I hate speed networking. So when it was time to do it, I allowed myself 36 seconds of my allotted two-minute time. Okay, I didn’t want to be there so I didn’t fully participate.

It wasn’t that I didn’t have two minutes worth of merits. I mean, in my current position, I lead a locomotive crew. I established a foundation. I’ve met Oprah, and I promise you that it takes longer than 36 seconds to read my resume. What was I thinking?

There is a saying that you may be the only Bible (or holy book) that someone will read today. Well, your two minute speed networking speech may be the only resume someone will read today. I gave myself 36 seconds of airplay. So why should I expect anyone at my networking table to think I was worthy of more? They may have wondered why I was even at the table.

I missed a multitude of opportunities. I earned my journey and I have a right, no, I have an obligation to share it. It may inspire someone else.

Hoda Kotb wrote in her book that a man sitting next to her on a plane said something like don’t hog your journey. It isn’t meant just for you. In other words, many need to see where you are going and understand how to get there so they may do the same.

I think Marianne Williamson said it beautifully “…as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people the permission to do the same.” Isn’t that what we as leaders strive to do – inspire, encourage, and uplift while accomplishing the mission?

Not only did I miss the chance to inspire, I lost the chance to have a door opened to something had someone been looking for what I had to offer. But I offered nothing while I had plenty to offer. I think this is called self-sabotage.

As leaders, we have earned our stripes and some of us have the battle scars to prove it. Our accomplishments are what brought us to the table and to the position of leader.

Understand that telling others how we arrived at our present destination is not bragging. It is simply charting the milestones that paved the way to our successes. It is our road map. That map may be traditional or it might be a bit scenic, but it is ours. It is ours to share. It is ours to be proud of.

So remember, people need to know why you are at the table or why you are the leader. You are there for a reason; and if you don’t believe that, why should anyone else? Do not follow my lead and short change yourself.

Share your journey. You are worth at least two minutes of airplay. Take it.

And you can bet that I will be fully present and accounted for during my next speed networking session.


Divine Secrets of the Supportive Sisterhood

“It’s a dirty little secret among women that we don’t support one another,” says Susan Shapiro Barash, author of Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth About Women and Rivalry and professor of gender studies at Marymount Manhattan College.

The sweeping generality of Ms. Barash’s comment perturbed me, yet the core of truth in her assertion unfortunately resonated.

The statistics coming from her research troubled me even more:

  • Over 90% of the women Ms. Barash interviewed admitted to envy and jealousy toward other women coloring their lives.
  • 90% had observed competition in the workplace occurring primarily between women rather than between women and men.
  • And, get this, 25% said that they had stolen a female friend’s husband, boyfriend or job!

Distressing for sure,  but more to come…

Gail McGuire, chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Indiana University South Bend, authored an article “Intimate Work: A Typology of the Social Support That Workers Provide to Their Network Members.” This report contains the nasty little nugget: that once women are promoted, they aren’t likely to hire women to join them in the upper management ranks. This research puts quantitative data behind Ms. Barash’s claim about the dirty little secret. Yikes!

And more…

A 2007 Workplace Institute study found that of those who mistreat co-workers, women were more likely to target other women (71%), compared to men who bully other men (54%).

63% of 2,000 British women surveyed in 2009 reported that they preferred having a male boss.

Cue *the big sigh*

Bullying. Not helping. Competing. Under-cutting. Back-stabbing.

Disagree with me if you will, but, to me, these are behaviors of the chronically low-powered.  Women who choose to make their mark, stake out their turf, and/or secure their standing by steam-rolling and/or belittling other women.

Cue *Kathryn and the Divine Secrets of the Supportive Sisterhood*

Kathryn, a woman who honors me with her friendship, has nailed the divine secrets of the supportive sisterhood.  She gets what it takes to support her fellow women.

Secret #1 – Tell it straight-up: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Kathryn was a participant in a workshop I conducted late last year.  Her post-session feedback was invaluable, both what I did well and where I could improve. Women supporting women want to see all women do well, so there’s no skipping over the constructive criticism to maintain “I-want-you-to-like-me” status or covering up an “I-secretly-want-to-see-you-fail” mindset.

Secret #2 – Open doors and make introductions.

Kathryn must have the longest speed dial and email lists around.  She’s quick to facilitate connections or share a recommendation for where to go, what to see, who to meet. Relationships, alliances and coalitions are the new currency of the workplace. Building those bonds between and with other women can only help advance our general standing in business.

Secret #3 – Replace the cat suit with collaboration and recognition.

Having a little milk with your snarky cat chow comments serves no one well. Kathryn is known for her supportive remarks, notes and get-together suggestions. Cease with the catty comments which only fuel the image of Ms. Barash’s dirty little secret claim. Instead, learn the background stories of your female colleagues; be a safe harbor or a sounding board for them. We’re only as strong as our weakest link.

Secret #4 – Share freely what you know.

Kathryn is quick to share articles, access and/or information. Protecting your turf by hoarding knowledge or aggregating power doesn’t expand your sphere of influence…it limits it – with both the guys and the gals.  Power with is the new starting point.

Secret #5 – Like yourself so you can like others.

For most of us, the inner critic is alive and well and oh-so-quick with the negative “you aren’t good enough, smart enough, thin enough, whatever enough” script.  Embrace your own goodness…you’ve got lots of it.  Be confident…look at all you’ve accomplished. Revel in your own uniqueness instead of wishing you were more like someone else.

Please do step into your positive power — and bring another woman along with you!

What other divine secrets will you add to the list?



Taking on the Elephant in the Room

Are you willing to exercise your risk muscle to address an elephant in the room?

Recently I facilitated a workshop on power and influence for a group of high potential women and minorities working for a Fortune 500 firm.  During a discussion about the push/pull polarities of influence, a participant commented that the core issue for her was the willingness to influence.

Do you do it or not? How much do you use your influence for change when what needs changing is the long-cherished yet out-of-touch-with-reality status quo?

Her courageous workshop take-away was to take the risk and use her thought leader status to begin influencing new directions. She said she believed she owed it to her colleagues, the organization and herself to do so.  What a powerful moment.

The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.  ~Leo F. Buscaglia

Round peg in the proverbial square hole

The risk is being the square peg in the round hole, wearing kelly green when colleagues are wearing charcoal grey, daring — albeit politely — to be the corporate contrarian.

Risking your secure place in the corporate food chain by questioning new practices that run contrary to stated values is a high stake gamble.  Will you be rewarded, take a small hit or lose it all?

According to Julie J. McGowan, professor at Indiana University,

Risk taking is hard to adopt among leaders, because recognized leaders have the most to lose and aspiring leaders may be discounted as lacking in knowledge or common sense.

Risk-taking can yield both great rewards and create possibilities for growth provided you do your homework ahead of time.  Assessing your tolerance for workplace risk-taking requires you to know yourself and understand the work environment . 

Do your homework

To get grounded and be prepared, consider:

  • Historically, how has your corporate culture reacted to those who challenged the status quo? 
    • Are you prepared to accept the possible outcomes?  Are you willing to have your credibility eroded? Are you equipped to lose your job?
  • Is this an issue that’s important to you alone, or do others share similar concerns?
    • Will others who think/feel/believe the same speak up after you’ve led the charge, or will your voice be the only one that’s speaking? Are you ready to forge ahead regardless?
  • Are you willing to be the center of attention if your topic goes viral within the company? 
    • Are you primed to be emulated and/or attacked? 
  • Do you have solid solutions and/or alternatives to offer? 
    • Are you disposed to collaborate with others and devise a solution that integrates the views of many?
  • Have you brainstormed possible unintended consequences, both positive and negative, of the stand you’re championing?
  • Are you OK, mentally and emotionally, with the possibility of failure? 
    • Will your self-esteem survive the hit?  Can your ego resist the adulation of success? 
  • Do you have the will to see it through?
    • Do you have a support system that will nurture you throughout, regardless of the outcome?

Taking on the elephant in the room is a personal choice.  Only you can decide if high risk/high reward is your métier or if low risk/low reward represents the boundaries of your comfort zone. 

Be prepared. Be thoughtful. Do what’s right for you.


Taking Personal Accountability versus Taking It Personally

Today’s guest post is by Doretha Walker. Doretha is the past president of the Charleston, SC Center for Women whose day job is Resins Production Planner for DAK Americas.  Always the over-achiever, Doretha ran her first marathon at age 45 and is working on her Ph.D.  She blogs at The inspiration for her blog name was a fact shared by a friend that only 14 African-American women flew commercial airplanes.  Through her blog, Doretha provides inspiration, information and other links to topics to assist women in flying to their own success.

I learned that while it was encouraged to delegate authority (we even had Delegation of Authority cards) I knew that I could not delegate responsibility. I was completely responsible for what my unit did or failed to do. It is called accountability. I was accountable for my platoon and later my company. I should not blame others. I should investigate and implement processes and procedures to ensure that any failures should not happen again and learn the lessons.

Personal accountability is crucial for the success of any leader, yet is it surprising when we actually see it. Michael McCain of the Toronto based Maple Leaf Foods Company displayed it when the company’s hotdogs were involved in a major outbreak of food borne illness that caused  12 confirmed deaths and made many others seriously ill. He stood up publicly and stated,

Certainly knowing that there is a desire to assign blame, I want to reiterate that the buck stops right here… our best efforts failed, not the regulators or the Canadian food safety system… I emphasize: this is our accountability and it’s ours to fix, which we are taking on fully.

McCain immediately took responsibility and did not play the victim. While I am sure that there was an in-depth investigation and that some people may have lost their jobs, that topic was not discussed in a public forum. McCain – as the leader – took the brunt of the fallout.

On the other side of the personal accountability coin is taking things personally. Taking things personally is not the same thing as personal accountability. Although you should feel accountable for your department, it is not your fault if an employee violates a procedure or fails a task unless you were right there encouraging him/her or if you gave the directive for the violation.

If a process fails, yes you are accountable, but do not take it personally because it is not really about you. It is about the thing that failed. Perhaps, in hindsight, there are things you could have done differently, but regardless, do not take it personally.

Katie Skow states,

No matter whom you are or what you do, one thing is certain: criticism is inevitable. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your work or the way you do business.

Take it in stride, glean the lessons within the message, and apply them as necessary.

The best time to apply this is when you lose your job. It is difficult to understand that it is a business decision (consult your labor board if you think differently).  During this time, not taking it personally is not an easy thing to do, but by focusing your energies elsewhere you will get a sense of satisfaction especially when you find that better job.