Global Leadership Speaker and Premier Work-Life Balance Speaker
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Archive for May 2015

Are Great Leaders Born

I always tell my audiences to remember that the things they know innately as leaders may not come so naturally to everyone else. Are great leaders born, or can they be groomed into excellence? Some people really are born with it. They instinctively know how to treat others and inspire teams to deliver extraordinary results. If you have those instincts, you are very, very lucky. But, don’t be a snob about it. Share what you know and empower others so that our influence as women will continue to grow. Ultimately, it will create greater power for you—and all women.

I laugh at the fact that I have made a lot of money exploiting the worst boss I ever had. I tell audiences, “Some people have a mentor. I had a tormentor.” And then I tell how the man sat me down and said, “You’ve gone as far as you are going to go. All you are now is all you are ever going to be—a reporter.” Everyone shakes their head knowingly, because just about everybody has had one of those jerk bosses who has thrown up obstacles and tried to derail their success. Many of us have succeeded in spite of bad leadership.

I can’t help but wonder why some people use cheap and mean power plays to prove their worth. What do they get out of that “Because I said so” garbage? Do they really think they are going to inspire anybody to do their best? Will anyone want to give anything extra?


The subject of self-marketing has come up again and again. But, remember that if you think your hard work and excellent performance put you on the fast track, you’re wrong. It puts you on no track at all. You have to build relationships and market your results in order to drive your career. That is simply the way things work.

Some of the women I spoke with said it was necessary to make career sacrifices and put their careers on hold for a time while taking care of family or personal concerns. While they worried what the long-term implications might be, all of them said they had no regrets. And, while some admitted they could have moved higher and faster, they ultimately progressed. It was just another one of those off-ramps from the highway.

You are driving your career, so don’t count on your company to drive it for you. There is so much you can control by consciously taking charge, deciding what you want and strategizing what you need to do in order to get it. You can’t count on company leaders to actively worry about what is best for you. That’s your job.

You deserve to have challenging work that calls you. You deserve to be in a company that is a good cultural fit. You deserve to succeed. And, you deserve to have fun in the process.

If you are not in an environment that is letting you do what you dream of doing, it is not the company’s fault. It’s yours, for staying in a situation that is not working. Don’t be afraid of making the changes that will define your individual greatness. Be afraid of waking up two or five or ten years from now, still breathing the same stale air that you are breathing right now.

I have noticed that it often takes the same effort to succeed as it does to languish. Languishing takes so much psychic energy that could instead be used to propel yourself toward something that matters to you.

You can drive in fifth gear, or you can idle away.

It’s your choice.

Move Up In Your Career

You should not ask what your company can do for you, but what you can do for your company—if I may take a turn with JFK’s words.

If you want to move up in your career, move yourself up by strategically driving your career and volunteering for assignments that demonstrate your value. Don’t ask for a promotion. Promote yourself by volunteering for special projects and committees, and expand your grasp and influence just by doing the bigger job you have created for yourself. The official promotions should come automatically because you are seen as a change agent, a contributor, and someone who is competent and deserving.

If you see something that needs to happen, you can say, “This seems to be a problem. I’d like to do x, y and z.” Or, “I think this is a real opportunity for us. I’d like to coordinate this.” Because they don’t cost the company anything extra, volunteer efforts are appreciated. If you keep doing that, you will demonstrate that you are visionary, proactive, productive and increasingly valuable to the team.

When Susan Parker worked for Southwest Airlines, she had a rapid trajectory up the hierarchy before becoming the senior director of marketing. Her title didn’t change for six years, but during that time, she significantly increased her influence and expertise by expanding three departments. As she said, “I did not wait for a responsibility to be assigned or a project to be given to me. I didn’t wait to be promoted to vice president to act like an officer. I saw business opportunities that needed to be pursued, and I pursued them.”

Successful people know how to leave their mark on the right projects and advertise their successes. It’s not about you. It’s about the company. Even if it is all about you. And, if the promotion doesn’t come automatically, you may need to come out and ask, “What else can I do to move to the next level?” If that doesn’t work, you may be in the wrong company.

But the greater point here is that it is up to you to drive your own career. Mentors will help you map it out, but you have to decide what you want and, ultimately, how you are going to travel to get it.

Drive Your Career

You get a job, work hard, get recognized, and then move up. You go up, up, up, and then you are there—at the top. How many times have you heard it referred to as “climbing the ladder”?

While there is a ladder for some, for others it is a highway. Or a lattice with vines. You might want to reconsider that straight trajectory that sounded so logical. The logic in moving up comes from taking a few twists and turns.

Many of the women I spoke with said they steered nontraditional courses for themselves. In some cases, that meant lateral moves and self-demotions that were deliberate maneuvers to give them the experience they needed to broaden themselves.

For example, Janel Haugarth was moving straight up the track to CFO at SuperValu, but she purposely took a demotion—and a pay cut—to get the operational experience she would need to be poised to actually run the company. That step down was so painful to her that she couldn’t bring herself to put her title on her business card. It moved her way out into her discomfort zone, but she had to go through it if she wanted to be more than the company’s financial brain. The strategy worked. Now she is the Executive Vice President and President of the Independent Business and Supply Chain Services Divisionat SuperValu.

Many of her peers did the same thing. They figured out what they needed to know, and then set about charting their careers in new directions that would give them their expertise. Risk-takers like that spend a lot of time in their discomfort zones.

The discomfort zone obviously got its name because it is not comfortable there. If you need things to be predictable, safe or easy, you will do everything you can to avoid that feeling of discomfort. But discomfort is where we all find our greatest growth and opportunity. It is where we are pushed to grow and redefine ourselves. The good thing is, discomforting challenges get easier and less disconcerting as time passes and as you get experience. And once the discomfort becomes a little too comfortable, it is time to shake things up again. If you dare.

Discomfort means daring to do something you know nothing about, and having the confidence to know that you will learn what you need to learn. It’s knowing that your leadership skills will translate in any environment and the people around you will help you to get the expertise you need. Have faith that it will get easier every week until, in time, you have it mastered enough to drive your career.