About Susan Packard

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So far Susan Packard has created 54 entries.

Memories of an Icon, Pat Summitt

About a dozen years ago, when Pat Summitt was collecting one NCAA Championship after another, her son Tyler and our son Andrew were playing together on a soccer team. Pat would come to Tyler’s games whenever she could, just wanting to watch her child play, but the adults would invariably swarm about and ply her with questions: How are your new recruits? What about ESPN’s coverage? What are you planning to have for dinner? She was our resident celebrity here, in Knoxville, Tennessee. I could tell all she really wanted to do was just watch her child play ball. But Pat knew her celebrity came with responsibility, and she was always kind to adults and the kids she didn’t know, but who knew her. I recall at one soccer game a bunch of kids were hanging around her, and one of them asked her how her next class of girls was looking. “Terrible!” she replied. Classic Pat Summitt. A fierce stateswoman for womens’ athletics, and relentless when it came to her girls.

I ran into her at many non-profit events. Pat knew what it meant to give back to Knoxville, a community which embraced her and celebrated her. This particular event for the local YMCA was held at a private home, and after she and I had spoken a bit on the back porch veranda, we were all called in to begin the evening’s program. Pat walked in front of me up five or six steps, and I noticed every step was painful for her. She said it was just “a little” arthritis. But in classic Pat style, a little joint pain wasn’t going to get her down. Those itsy bitsy steps? No problem.

I didn’t have the opportunity to sit with Pat when I wrote my book about how to express your competitive spirit at work, as she was in the final stages of dementia. I did have the opportunity to interview her longtime boss and dear friend, former University of Tennessee Athletic Director Joan Cronan. Joan’s story is the first one in the book. She struck me as having as much competitive fire as Pat, two competitive warriors who turned women’s college basketball upside down and showed how even this ‘girl’ sport could make money. Joan will take little credit for all those years of the program’s success, but I know if Pat were still with us, she’d say she couldn’t have done it without Joan. Two women, both from small towns in the most gender- challenged part of the country– the South, casting their footprints on women’s athletics forever. These women brought passion and the will to win to young women everywhere. They were both gamers in the finest sense of the word. Joan has also written a great book about the value of playing games, Sport Is Life with the Volume Turned Up, and she too spreads the good word about the benefits of gamesmanship.

The national media have covered Pat’s passing this week, and maybe it’ll trickle over into the next. But the town of Knoxville, where she made her home and where she touched all of us in some unforgettable way, will be grieving her and celebrating her for months and years to come.

By |July 4th, 2016|Relationships|0 Comments

One Skill That Helps Both Work and Life

My husband loves stand-up comedy and we were watching Ron White recently. I noticed something he did that I’d never thought about before. Right before delivering the punch line, he paused. Like, drumroll, please. Then bang! That got me noticing others in media, like newscasters, politicians and musicians who perform, and how the good ones used pausing in an impactful way. Classic pianist Arthur Schnabel said this:

“The notes I handle no better than many pianists. But the pauses between the notes—ah, that is where the art resides.”

At the height of my career with manic days of jam-packed schedules, I sometimes forgot to breathe, let alone pause. I even forgot to pause for restroom breaks and just ignored Mother Nature. (Is it possible to break your kidneys? Time will tell.) I just pushed ahead to get through another crazy day. Many of us do this, but I’m here to tell you there’s a better way. Press the pause button. When you do, you can think better, listen better, and problem-solve better. Good problem-solving is a creative art, much like playing piano. When you pause, you can absorb the whole picture, instead of jumping in with a knee-jerk half-baked answer.

In the building days of HGTV, we had something we called ‘going to Abilene.’ This was when we were trying to wrestle an issue to closure, and suddenly one or all of us went to Abilene, meaning we went far astray of the issue.Going to Abilene was pretty frequent behavior for us since building a business from scratch finds you in rush mode so often. We used ‘going to Abilene’ as code for slow down, regroup. I was probably one of the worst offenders. As HGTV’s chief operating officer, I sure got my fair share of “Susan, I think you’ve gone to Abiliene on that one.” But if we slowed down enough to pause, the best solutions always bubbled up.

There are lots of ways to learn how to pause. Take walks. Say a prayer. Breathe, in and out. Meditate. If you have an office, close the door for a few minutes each day to settle, before jumping into the next thing. At home, pause to listen, really listen to your loved one. Show them that respect.

Arthur Schnabel was right; it’s the pauses between the notes that are the real art of life.

One Key (and Often Overlooked) Leadership Skill

Ben Zander, the famed conductor of the Boston Philharmonic and author of a sweet little book, The Art of Possibility, wrote of teaching kids music. He chipped away at his students’ anxiety over performing by doing something really radical—he gave everyone an “A” grade when the class started. His only requirement was that in the first week of class, each student had to write a letter to him envisioning what their growth would be at the end of the semester– what they thought they’d learn– that warrants the A. He reported that it worked amazingly well! Without worrying about competing with others for grades, and by setting goals, the students relaxed and improved their performance skills. All of us in leadership roles are teachers. But how effective are we in guiding and grooming our folks to realize their potential? It’s one thing to deliver a performance review once a year. It’s another entirely, to offer feedback regularly—and to do it by giving that person an A. This would sound something like this: “Here’s what you’re doing really well, and here’s where I’d like us to focus on in the next few weeks (or months).” You are in it together, and she starts with a reminder of why she’s valued by the organization. To grow your folks so that one day someone can step into your shoes, is an enormous part of your charge as a leader. Teaching and modelling is what good leaders do just about every day. Today, when I write, speak and mentor, I try to keep in mind this notion of giving an A. I’ve never heard a bad question in the Q&A parts of my speaking. I’ve not met anyone who isn’t inherently gifted, who might just need a little chipping away to realize her full-blown potential. As a leader, you can improve your team’s performance in many ways, so here’s another one. Make the extra effort to give out A’s whenever you possibly can.

By |April 26th, 2016|Leadership|0 Comments

A Snowbird’s Crash Landing: Lessons in Life

Bill and I rented a place near the beach for three months to try the “snowbird” lifestyle. In case you’ve never heard of it, the idea is to escape your crummy winter by heading south. We were serious about this test, so we brought our pets and about 100 lbs of luggage.

After five weeks, we’re back home. Recounting everything that wasn’t ‘in the plan’ is not productive. But: if I tell you the last time Florida had this much rain was 1932, you get a little sense of it. And if I mention that to get the front door of the place opened, it required not just a key but a swift kick, you begin to get the full picture. The door walls were so low, and my 6ft 5” husband hit his head so many times that he pretty much walked around in a state of concussed delirium. I ask you, what first- time snowbird knows to specify nine ft. doorwalls in the rental search?

So we’re back, and as is true with all of life, we need to look for the lesson. My friend Anne once said, “Always have an escape plan.” I liked ours– go home. And we could laugh about some of the moments, like the ferry ride we took with the barefoot, smoke-dopin’ captain. The ride was billed as ‘Jupiter homes of the rich and famous’ and we did see some incredible homes from the view off the water. But our guy had a problem with Tiger Woods. I’ve got some problems with Tiger too so I could relate. I guess Tiger moved several trees endemic to South Florida onto his estate so he could build a barrier of privacy. We heard a lot about that.

And there’s a lot more to appreciate when you go through a rough patch, like our home dishwasher that hums when it cleans, not at all like the Florida washer that sounded like an atomic bomb exploding.

Wisdom from friends. Laughter. Appreciation. You’re ahead of the game if you can find a few nuggets of good, when life happens. Because mark my words, it will indeed happen.

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By |March 2nd, 2016|Friendship|0 Comments

The Only Skill You Need to be a CEO

I went through school terrified of math. I liked business subjects a lot, just not the numbers part, and somehow I avoided having to take any college math or finance classes. I remember breathing a sigh of relief when I got my first job. “Whew! I dodged that bullet.” So imagine my surprise when, in a middle management job, I got handed an income statement. Uh- oh. Sins of omission always seem to come back to haunt you. I asked to be sent to a finance course, and my company agreed.

If you’re in business, you can’t hide from numbers forever. Especially if you want to play a senior role one day. Finance is the most basic business language there is, and it’s used pretty frequently once you arrive into a role managing others. Whether doing budgets or reading balance sheets, it really pays to at least know the basics, because financial statements are your company’s scorecard.

The thing is—you can mostly learn this on the job. Yes, I took a finance seminar, but it was really basic and after that I just asked a lot of questions of our CFO or others in accounting. You sure don’t need to know the intricacies of accounting rules for reporting or any such detailed information. Just the finance basics.

Most every CEO is a composite of many skills, like sales, marketing, product development and operations. The only CEOs I’ve met who needed just one skill are those who grew up in finance. And most of them enhance their skill base beyond just finance to get operational experience too.

If you want an executive job someday, get some learning in the basics of finance. Either attend a course at your local college, ask to be sent to a seminar, and by all means become friendly with colleagues in Accounting and Finance. It’s worth treating them to coffee or lunch, and the time together will pay great rewards.
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By |January 25th, 2016|Career development, Leadership|0 Comments

Silence

I exhaust me.

Especially this time of year. So I need the meditative practice I began five years ago. It’s called Centering Prayer, and it’s been a life saver when my brain wants to begin ten things, right now!, or when I’m constantly re-enacting little life dramas that need to be quieted. Each year I make the pilgrimage to St. Mary’s Retreat House in Sewanee, Tennessee, high atop a mountain with nothing but views of the open sky and a few cows who graze peacefully nearby. I join fifteen or twenty others looking for the same thing as me: Silence. Solitude. Stillness. We sit in a circle in a prayer room in quiet, listening prayer. Centering Prayer is about listening, not blabbering away to God about all your aches and pains. This practice helps you to hear what’s important.

While this is a silent retreat—no talking with one another until departure day, there is always a new insight when I’m there. Here’s the one from last weekend. We start out as a speck, one of God’s bright ideas. We’re our own little Big Bang. We’re born innocent and pure and blissfully happy, feeling only love. Then the world invades. It hits us and bruises us and for some, crushes them. All the other little big bangs take our innocence away.

The irony is that we’re built for community. We’re not meant to live as solitary souls.
In moments of Centering Prayer we’re all united in one cause- restful, divine communion, so you only feel goodness and love. There are no masks. No pain. And with every sit together, the circle gets closer, tighter, more fiercely bound together in some indescribable way. In Centering Prayer, we’re all innocent again.

At our last session together before departing, each of us spoke of what we were going back to this holiday season. So many had stories that pulled at my heart. A young woman spoke of recently losing her sibling to suicide, and how she was going to support her parents this Christmas. A man spoke of losing his wife a few years back. He still wore his wedding ring. Another shared worries of rampant family addiction. So much pain. Yet in the circle, there is healing. We rise above the world’s dark edges. In Centering Prayer, we know we’re not alone.

There are many meditative practices out there. Some do it in yoga, others in a church, some quietly at home. Some, like me, come to a mountain top. It all works.

I hope your holidays are filled of peace and that 2016 shines brightly for you.

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A Treasure Chest of Hope

When Bill’s dad, Stu, passed away two springs ago, we inherited his small lake house in Michigan. As we finally emerged from heavy-hearted grief, we came here to befriend the home; to take its read, and ours, while inside it for a time. What marvelous little treasures we found! Seashells from beach vacations, playbills from his yearly Canada trips to the Shakespeare Festivals, and many 10-pound tomes that only the ambitious intellect would consider reading. Stu was probably the smartest and most cultured person I’d ever met, and he chose to direct that considerable intellect toward teaching kids. Me? I chose to direct one of those 10-lb. books to prop up my makeup mirror.

He’d often use words foreign to me. “I’m tired of all the tropes being thrown around by the politicians!” Stu said one day. “Tropes? Is that, um, the plural of trollips?” I asked. He’d then beam his patient teacher smile. Stu taught me the difference between a thespian and a docent. A lover of the arts, he was both. If life were fiction, he could have easily dropped in to play a colorful role in Amos Towle’s “Rules of Civility”.

One morning Bill approached me with an excited expression on his face, carrying an oversized manila envelope. “Look what dad did!” he said, pulling out blown up, poster-size photos of pictures we’d all taken over the years. There were about a dozen of them, and they told a story of his life in some way. It’s remarkable how one’s life can be summed up so concisely, in just a few photos. Several months back I gave a TED talk and described my life in about 12 minutes, so I knew this was possible.

His choices: most were of Bill, a few of Bill with our son Andrew, one with him and our potpourri of pets, one of Bill captaining Stu’s beloved pontoon boat. There was the 1940 Packard sedan with Stu by its side, proud owner. The curious one: our infant son Andrew in the hospital just after we adopted him from Romania. A week after landing in the US, Andrew suddenly got deathly sick. We rushed him to Detroit’s Beaumont Hospital, and the kind nurses and doctors ministered to him in peds ICU for 2 weeks. The photo was taken while Andrew was on a ventilator, all wired up with the many machines needed to help him breathe and stay alive. I hadn’t looked at that picture in years. I’d never noticed before how those machines dwarfed his tiny, sickly body.

Of all the hundreds of photos Stu could have chosen to capture his life, why this one? Here’s my take: Stu was an eternal optimist. He’d come stay with us every year for the six weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, and during these visits I rarely saw him without a smile on his face and a mission to ‘tame Knoxville’ this trip. We never knew precisely where he went when he set out each day, but he’d always come back with a chocolate malt and a great little story about the town’s goings on.

So I think that photo — one of a sick infant boy who the doctors gave less than a 50/50 chance of survival, a child who lived through all of that for Stu to love with all his heart — reminded him that we can overcome just about anything. There’s always hope, even when things look bleak. This message was an unexpected treasure, about as good as any Stu could leave behind.

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By |August 10th, 2015|Learning, Parenting, Relationships|0 Comments

A Leadership Conference in Italy

I recently travelled to Italy to attend a small conference of senior level women. Our goal was to strategize ways we might join together to topple the barriers impeding organizational progress around diversity. We all agreed to honor the Chatham Rules so I can’t share who precisely attended, but we had heavy hitters from all aspects of industry, women running worldwide, multibillion-dollar portfolios of businesses.

The kind of fight we have all waged to earn senior roles takes extraordinary effort. As I looked around the room, some seemed a little battle weary, but the overall impression was this: these are the elite. Most were in excellent physical shape regardless of age, as elite athletes always are. To be your all- around best you need robust health and top notch conditioning, because navigating career success, while thrilling, is an endurance game. I also noticed clothing choices which were tasteful and elegant. (Note to self: get some shoes that actually go with your outfit). And the brainpower—the brainpower was breathtaking.

I had fun learning some new terms. “Grass ceilings” are all the moments on the proverbial golf course that women aren’t a part of, those that help men to network and get promoted. “Permalance” are free lancers permanently on loan to companies, particularly start-ups. “Overpass” is the preferred metaphor to “off ramps,” those programs and connections organizations offer to employees needing a work break due to caregiving, who want to stay connected then dive back in after this life phase passes.

Elite leaders have opinions—many of them. Building consensus was a challenge for our moderators, as was managing our collective ADD. It’s hard to tackle topics around diverse leadership without getting impatient and irritated, given the stats haven’t improved in any real way for 30 years. Isn’t there some new, eureka strategy that we’ll uncover to change everything? Alas, like most complex issues, there is not one big answer. It’s a collective of many “small” things that, together, will spell change. It’s the blocking and tackling around many initiatives, which, pulled together, form a cohesive plan for change.

I left hopeful. We were a group with enough gravitas to really effect change, and many of us were also connected to other influential individuals, who we could ask for help to support us. I left hopeful, too, because after identifying the factors and creating strategies, there’s now a smaller task force whose charge is to write an action plan. Finally, I am hopeful because we agreed that our newest generation of workers, the millennials, have a lot to offer to help open up the pipelines for the broadest forms of diverse leadership. My millennial son is only a sample of one, but he is drawn to dating partners focused on career, and he works for a woman too. Baby boomer girls fought so hard to become senior leaders, and it may just be a non-issue for millennials. One can hope.

I left reinforced, since many of the things we identified and put on our solutions lists I, too, had identified in my book. But mostly I left happy to have made new friends, like-minded women who have the heart to make a difference.

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James

I met James in DC. I had come to the ballroom early to run through my book presentation, and there he was sitting at one of the tables, looking down at his cellphone. A man, alone. I immediately assigned him a box. He was elderly with graying hair, and African American. I thought he was one of the banquet servers. I was way off. He was to be my AV technical expert.

And expert he was. He smoothly trouble-shot many issues around the file, and supported me to perfection. He was patient, with kind eyes that gave me the confidence to do what I always do: stand up and speak. Every time I begin I’m sure something technical will blow up. Nothing did. James guided us home.

When I talk about the book, I open with the unconscious bias in the workplace today. I describe how women are still not in all the leadership positions we’re qualified for, because the decision-makers still box us into rigid gender roles, as if our work and life choices are black and white, either/or propositions. As if two things can’t be true at the same time. We know we can be leaders, and mothers or other kinds of caregivers. We know we can play support roles, and leadership roles, sometimes in the same hour! So here I was doing the same to James, putting him in a generational and racial box that wasn’t the least bit true.

How sobering. How enlightening that morning was. At first I felt like a cheap suit, but I’ve learned that living in that place of shame does me no good anymore. Now it’s about the learning.

James and I had built a good rapport during rehearsal, and I saw him watching me, reading the slides as we rehearsed. After I went live and concluded, I exited the stage and he met me halfway to take my lav mic and mic pack. He shook my hand, smiled, and whispered in my ear: “Thanks for being accountable.” He might have been the first AV person to actually listen to what my talk was about. Tears welled up, and I gave him a quick hug.

I’ve been on the receiving end of more learning these past many months than I could have imagined. And it may be James, the man with the kind eyes, taught me the most.

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By |May 18th, 2015|Friendship, Learning, Relationships|0 Comments

All the Light We Cannot See

I am reading this gorgeous book, All the Light We Cannot See, and the title fits well with my last few weeks of book touring. When I think of light, two things come to mind: laughter and inspiration. I had to laugh when I learned my CNN interview was the lead-in to a Monica Lewinsky story. Somehow I never saw myself paired with her. Then a few days later, I sat in a TV studio, awaiting my big moment on a morning talk show. The first segment was a local man selling beer. Right after that, a little dressed up Chihuahua named Ace pranced in, and Ace and his owner were interviewed. I went on next. As our interview ended, I saw someone carrying in a stuffed dog with an oxygen mask on its snout. That segment followed mine. Who am I to question programming flow? These moments made me smile. Life does happen to you.

In one session during the tour, I spoke to college-age women. For the first time, I spoke of my hotel assault, which I write about in chapter 9, “Grit.” I wasn’t much older than these young women when it occurred, so it was a cautionary tale for vigilance on the road. Later, one of these women pulled me aside and thanked me, with tears in her eyes. She shared that she and her parents had just gone through the courts to convict a man of raping her, and that they’d won. She was comforted to see some light in me, the ability to emerge from such a traumatic event and carry on. A few moments after that encounter, a different young woman pulled me aside and said a year ago she left her job because she was sexually assaulted by the company owner. I fear there is more going on with these assaults than any of us really know.

In one of the cities in which I spoke, a young woman named Erica wheeled up next to me during lunch with her service dog in tow, a beautiful Labradoodle named Max. We got to talking and I learned she had a skiing accident 5 years earlier, which crushed her spine. She’s 29 now, and finishing her degree in accounting. We talked of being strong. She told me of the many ways her accident had changed her view of life, and that she was often an inspiration to others, which gave her joy. Erica was full of light for me, and for others around her.

At the end of the event, I got to signing books, and Erica wheeled up nearby. I excused myself and went to her.

“You know this ‘inspiration’ business?” she asked.

“Yep, I do,” I replied.

“Well, I’m happy that I am and all, but what do I say when people tell me that?”

“You say ‘thank you’,” I answered.

“It’s hard,” she quietly admitted. I wondered if she meant all of it.

“Okay, I’ll try,” and she wheeled away, with Max by her side.

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