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Archive for the The New Woman Rules Category

Take Risks

Don’t be afraid to take risks. If there was ever a point in time that I said, “No, I don’t know enough, I’m not ready, I can’t,” I would have missed out on the next experience. It is all about the chain of experiences. Each one has enabled the next one. In totality, they have given me such a rich grouping of skills that I draw from every day. You can learn whatever it is you have to learn. You find the experts and the people who are going to support you.

Never give up. In those times I’ve had where I think, “There is no way that I can do this,” I step back and find the people who have lived through valuable experiences and I get the answers.

You can get past whatever barrier you have in your mind. Just step back and get the big picture to find the answers. The answers always come.

I have always had to know how to adapt to change. It starts with you. You can’t find the answers on the outside. You have to know yourself, take care of yourself and find ways to validate what you do. When you start looking for validation of who you are or of your accomplishments from people on the outside, you will always be searching for something you will never find.

I have a lot of humility in my life. A lot of things have brought me to my knees. When those things happen, I realize how much I should give back to those who have given me so much. I think how much I owe to the ones who are coming up behind me. There is accountability and responsibility with what I have today. There is a purpose, and that purpose is to give back.

Set Boundaries

I learned to set boundaries. Boundaries are really about making it clear to people that there are things that are really important to you personally—and not being afraid to say it. It is not about the quantity of hours you work, but the quality of hours you put in. It is okay to say, “I can’t do this unless we trade this out or move the deadline on this.” I used to take it all on. I used to work really late and start really early, but I
don’t think that was the most effective use of my time. I would have gotten a lot more done by setting boundaries and limits. An example is that I play tennis on Monday and Wednesday nights, and I have to be gone from the office by six-thirty—period. That is a simple example of setting limits that define a capacity for doing quality work. I am open to others doing that because of my own experience with it.

Another thing I learned is, the last 3 percent is not worth it. I used to believe that, unless something was perfect, it was flawed. That is not true. What is important is sifting through the garbage, identifying the most important elements and delivering those. Anyone who operates as if the last 3 percent matters will 100 percent fail today. The speed of decision-making and the quantity of decisions that have to be made are so vast now. There is no room for overdeliberation. Identify the most relevant actions and do them very well. Have the ability to triage a business problem. Forget about the wasteful 20 percent and go after that core 80 percent that matters the most.

As women, we are gatherers. Men are hunters. But we gather it all, we pull it all together. We spot every detail and men go for the kill. Frankly, I think we can all go for the kill instead of doing too much gathering. We can get lost looking for the herbs when we don’t have a steak to put them on.

I read somewhere that the happiest people are those who can appreciate things around them. I now appreciate my health and my friends and family and getting up every day. I have a heightened sense of why those things are important in my life. I still work hard. I thrive on working hard. But I am working a whole lot smarter and am really balancing it with a lot of fun.

A Balancing Act

Change places with your child and imagine this: Your mother is a world-class, trailblazing executive who has hundreds or thousands of people who work for her. People cling to her words and jockey for her favor, desperate to impress her… And, there she is, nagging at you to pick up your shoes. To the world, she is a title. To you, she is mom. She performs a daily balancing act.

What the child of the senior executive probably doesn’t know is, women executives wrestle with their job performance as mothers more than anything else they do. When I speak at women’s leadership events, I am constantly asked about balance issues. The reality is that there is no issue of balance. It’s all about imbalance. It’s about making it work so you succeed professionally, raising children who are not juvenile delinquents, and not losing your mind in the process.

So many of the young mothers I meet describe a frenetic cadence they have to sustain as parents and professionals. They always are running to keep up with the demands. Despite their efforts to do it all, they are tortured by guilt because, let’s face it, they can never do enough.

Is it selfish to want a career? Is it selfish to want to be with your children? Is it selfish to want ten minutes to yourself?

Nearly half of the women I spoke with, who are mothers have husbands who are stay-at-home dads. Nationally, just one in twenty fathers are stay-at-home dads, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What does it mean when these senior-level women choose this option? Does it prove that the old model was right? That the senior executive needs someone at home running the household and taking care of the kids in order to make everything work?

I think that it suggests that running a household and raising a family are such demanding challenges that every parent needs all the help she or he can get. And that those who make it to senior leadership are in a better position economically to choose that option.

What would happen to those national statistics if every family could afford financially to choose that option? Senior leadership is a demanding world, but is it any more demanding than a world where a woman works two back-breaking jobs to pay her family’s bills? I think there are a lot of women who would just love to have that kind of support at home.


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.

The Rules of Performance

Here are the rules of performance for your career:

• Do your absolute best work on everything you are asked to do, from the simples tassignment to the most complicated.

• Be willing to take on tough assignments.

• Overdeliver. Overdeliver. Overdeliver.

• It is a mistake to wait for the “big project.” The way to get the big project is by doing a lot of small ones very well.

• Evaluate your progress and be flexible. It is dangerous to get so committed to what you are doing that you stop evaluating whether you are moving in the right direction.

• Don’t hesitate to raise your hand. There are opportunities to broaden your skills base and be seen as a real contributor because you are willing to say yes.

• Any leader is glad to have somebody willing to take on more so they don’t have to hire more people.

• Understand the expectations and what success looks like for every assignment, and make sure everybody who evaluates you understands what you are going to

• Don’t compete against your peers—compete against a standard. Do what differ- entiates you against the standard for excellence. Judge yourself against the very best you can be.

• Perform. Perform better than anybody else.

• Ask others for help.

• When others try to help you, don’t be stubborn. Listen to them. Take the help if it will move you toward your goal.

• Keep your end goal in mind at all times.

• Know that there are always multiple ways to solve a single problem.

• When you are struggling, change your game. Win by playing a different strategy.

• Learn the business model: Build trust, communicate, create alignment with goals, find the sweet spot, know how you will grow the other person’s career or business, execute and follow up.

Promote Yourself, and the Raise Will Come

Make conscious decisions to advance yourself without waiting to be advanced. Numerous leaders told me they get a bad taste in their mouth when they hear someone coming right out and asking for a promotion or a raise. Promote yourself, and the raise will come. You do that by raising your hand and taking on challenges that expand your value to the company and showcase the breadth of your experience and abilities. If you are constantly taking on more responsibility, the promotion or raise should come. If it doesn’t, you should talk to your boss and say, “What else can I be doing in order to advance to the next level?” Then do it.

Oh, and don’t forget the most important thing. Make sure you advertise your performance. There are all these different terms for it. Market yourself. Self-promote. Toot your own horn. Whatever. What good is stellar performance if you are the only one who knows about it?

Okay, let me repeat that again. Don’t assume your excellent work will be noticed. Bosses are busy. They have a lot of things to worry about. Their attention generally goes to what they are worrying about, instead of the things that are going well. They might notice what you are doing, but they might also forget it as soon as something bad distracts their attention. They aren’t keeping running lists of all your accomplishments that they can review before they sleep at night just so they can feel good about the world.

Procter & Gamble’s Maria Edelson gives some especially insightful advice about how to put the word out there, and numerous women will tell you why it is so critical that you do it. Accept it. As uncomfortable as it may feel to show how great you are, you must develop the talent. I liked Kathy Hannan’s story, which showed how her failure to self-promote left a window wide open for a less diligent, less able, less deserving    co-worker to claim credit for what she was doing.

Performance alone will not make you the CEO. But you will not become the CEO without CEO-worthy performance. And you do belong at the highest level if you think you do.

We assume that people at the top are more naturally brilliant and possess far greater brainpower than the rest of us folks, but Broader says that assumption is just plain wrong. Granted, it may be easier for some people to operate in that realm than others, but we do have far more control over our own destiny than we acknowledge. And we can exercise that control by making the decision to perform, learn, and deliver results.

Performance Matters

First off, you’ve got to want “it”. “It” being the operative “it” in “Go for it” or “Just do it,” “Do what it takes” and “Give it all you’ve got.”

“It” is significant because it isn’t always definable, but it is ever-present in the mind-set of the people who actually combine talent + drive + brains + ability to come up with a level of success that eludes 99.9 percent of the rest of the world. They might sense they can do great things and they might know full well they have superior skills, but a lot of super achievers admit they did not lay out a plan that would get them as far as they went. Essentially, they went for “it” without knowing what “it” was.

So there is a lesson there.

It’s about making a decision about achieving a level of performance that will accomplish what others can’t or won’t dare try, then following through with such forceful, determined effort that you rightfully deserve the exceptional success you will ultimately and inevitably build.

You can’t win if you don’t perform. But, there is that critical caveat, which is that you must perform and build the proper relationships that will advertise and advance your performance. Networking and self-marketing are so key, but you have nothing to market if you don’t perform.

So performance matters.

The first step is to decide to go beyond average, above average, excellent and extraordinary. I have interviewed so many women who have achieved unthinkable things. They did it because they didn’t talk themselves down. I remember how my life changed when I interviewed Jody Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for leading the International Campaign to Ban Landmines. Williams received the award because she got foreign ministers from 135 countries to sign off on the treaty banning landmines, and eighty-one of their countries to subsequently ratify it into international law.

She did it by herself, without even having a secretary. I asked her, “What separates an ordinary woman from an extraordinary woman?” She didn’t hesitate with her response. “The belief that she is ordinary.” I have seen that play out in the hundreds of interviews I have done for my books. It is the choice to go beyond—and the belief that you can—that lets you do what others can’t or won’t.

So the first step in moving on this fast track is deciding to get on it.

The second step is realizing you belong there.

The third step is making your engine perform harder, faster and stronger than you ever imagined any engine could perform. It is so easy to slow yourself down by comparing yourself to everybody else. If everybody performs at one level, and you perform above that level, aren’t you doing extraordinary work? Well, maybe.

To be honest, that is the zone where I operated for most of my career as a journalist. I delivered more front-page investigative stories than anybody else at the paper, my work was excellent, and I was treated like a star. But the truth is, I could have done much, much more. I just didn’t feel like it. I had other priorities and distractions. That is perfectly okay, too. I set my priorities and honored them.

But when you hear that I was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize four times, you should also note that it also means that I did not win the Pulitzer Prize four times. Granted, some of that comes down to newspaper politics, but let’s get real. If I had pushed as hard on my work, I’d have won it. I had the ability. I didn’t have the drive. I will never minimize what I accomplished as a journalist because I know it was extraordinary. But I always will know that I gave it 96 percent of my energy. That last 4 percent is what makes the difference.

And that is the 4 percent you need to commit to give if you wish to attain and sustain yourself at the highest levels of business. If you want to go where these women have gone, you have to commit to an exhausting level of performance that pushes you every day. The only thing stopping you from getting there is your own mind-set.

Creating Successful Women Leaders

There are times when I get so discouraged, like when I see a Catalyst report that says only 6.7 percent of the top-paying positions in the Fortune 500 belong to women. But then again, there are times like this moment when I see the potential that exists because of who we are as women. We are growing into our power—together. We are learning from our mistakes and triumphs—together.

The first time I tried to get an interview with former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, I got the same answer that I’d gotten from the other women CEOs on the Fortune 500—a polite-but-firm no. The reason was the same, every time. The CEOs wanted to be viewed as CEOS—not as “women CEOs.” It was as if the qualifier suggested “less than.” But I asked Whitman’s spokesman if he would pass on a memo that I would write. He agreed, and I spent quite a bit of time composing my argument.

It came down to this: Some successful women know innately what it takes to break through in difficult environments. They know how to use their strength without being punished for it. They know how to fly above the politics and build teams that perform. It doesn’t come so naturally to all of us. That doesn’t mean the rest of us are less able or less deserving—it means we need a little guidance so we can get our chance to prove our mettle.

If the intuitive leaders don’t share what they know instinctively, they always will be viewed as “women CEOs” because they will be the only ones up there. If they share their wisdom and enlighten the rest of us, they won’t be so rare. Whitman wound up giving me an incredible interview. I loved her. The other “women CEOs” didn’t come around, and I couldn’t figure out why they wouldn’t share their mentoring wisdom.

Fortunately, a new lineup of great women is in power, and they not only agreed to participate this time—many said it was their duty. You are their legacy. What you do with what they teach you will play out over years and even decades. Just don’t do it alone. Remember the women coming up behind you, and help them along. The more success you create for others, the more you will succeed for yourself.

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