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What the World Series Can Teach Us

Want to get ahead in your job this year? Tune in and watch the World Series. That’s not just a game you’re watching—that’s a study in three key elements everyone needs to succeed in the workplace.

1.) Grit. This is the Big Show, where it’s often the team who wants it the most that will win. That’s certainly true this year, with two wild card players, Kansas City and San Francisco, competing for the trophy. They overcame great odds. Neither underdog team had the best record in their division coming into the playoffs. What they had was the most grit.

There have been many great moments of grit in baseball. One occurred in the LA World Series of 1988, which my husband and I attended. It was game one, the LA Dodgers were playing the Oakland Athletics, and LA was down by one run in the ninth, with two men out. There was a man on base with one out left to go. It looked bleak. Dodger’s power hitter Kirk Gibson wasn’t playing due to injuries in both legs and a stomach virus. All of us fans gasped when Gibson hobbled out of the dugout to pinch hit. He batted to a full count, and a moment later he somehow powered a homerun with pure upper body strength, and raw grit. The Dodgers won 5-4, and took the World Series in five games.

The baseball field is much like the work place, the ‘playing field’ where men and women gather every day, and those with the most resilience and drive make their way to senior roles. Baseline talent gets you into the game, but it’s the grit to keep pushing that makes winners. Winning takes staying power. I tell many women I work with today that talent is necessary, but not sufficient to get us into senior roles. We also need grit.

I attended a conference a few years back where former ABC TV newscaster Meredith Vierra told a story from early in her career. One Friday her boss called her in and told her she wasn’t cutting it at the company, and he fired her. She went home very distraught, and her dad asked her what was wrong. She told him her boss didn’t think she had what it takes. He paused, then asked, “What do you think?” She thought a second, and said she didn’t agree. Then she got mad. The following Monday she walked into her boss’ office and told him she did have what it takes! He rehired her.

2.) Composure. Batters come into the box and often take a deep breath before they face down the pitcher. Pitchers, too, use deep breathing techniques to regroup on the mound, or to slow themselves down before delivering the next pitch. Hitters and pitchers who are calm and levelheaded—composed—are enormously effective. Composure is important in the workplace too. Having a calm and confident presence shows you’re grounded, and in control. It communicates to the work team that you make rational, well-reasoned decisions. Composure is important for women, because there still aren’t many of us in senior roles and like the pitcher on the mound, people are watching. Finding techniques to remain composed in the workplace is key.

3.) Win—and Lose—with Grace. Baseball teaches that winning and losing are just a part of the game, as they are a part of one’s work experience. For women, this is an especially important lesson. Most of us working today didn’t play team sports growing up like little boys did. We didn’t play with the frequency, if we played at all. So when we come into the workplace as adults, how the game of business is played out diverges dramatically. Men play to win or lose and seldom make it personal. It’s just a game. Women try for win-wins, which is a laudable goal, but rarely happens in practice. When one loses, it’s often tough not to take it personally. We learn how to lose only with practice. Then we come to see that losing means you’re in the game, you’re squarely on the playing field, and you can, and will, win next time. With more practice, it becomes easier to take loss in stride, to handle it with grace, and to step up with more grit the next time to get the win.

Baseball has some of the finest examples of taking loss with grace. Perhaps the greatest one involved an unspectacular pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, named Armando Gallaraga. In the summer of 2010, Gallaraga found himself one out away from a perfect game. He would be vaulted into the baseball elite. With two out in the ninth, Gallaraga threw a pitch and the batter connected and began running to first. Man out! Except, umpire Jim Joyce called him safe. Everyone could see it was the wrong call. The stands erupted. But what was done was done.

Before this 2014 season, there was no call review in baseball (except for homerun challenges). Gallaraga’s perfect game was lost. Later ump Joyce reviewed the tape, and saw that he’d blown the call. Meanwhile, the press hounded Gallaraga but he kept quiet. No badmouthing. No complaints. The next night Joyce umped at Comerica Park again, and Gallaraga emerged from the dugout, holding the lineup card which he walked over to Joyce, and then shook his hand. And for the first time in baseball history, a game official broke down and cried on national television. Later, when asked about it, Gallaraga had three words to say: “Everybody makes mistakes.” So Armando Gallaraga did not go down in baseball history for pitching a perfect game. Instead he’ll be remembered as a quiet pitcher who handled loss with grace and courage.

This story reminds us that loss can have little, or in Gallaraga’s case, nothing to do with one’s personal contributions. In the work setting, examples of that are group layoffs and company mergers. Learning to distinguish between losing due to team circumstance, versus losing because of one’s mistakes, is critical conditioning for senior management roles.

Mistakes, or ‘errors’ in baseball terms, are the one way that baseball teaches a unique lesson. In 1991 Baseball Commissioner Francis Vincent said “I find it fascinating that baseball, alone in all sports, considers errors to be part of the game, part of its rigorous truth.” Mistakes are a natural part of any game we play, including the game of business. Baseball scorekeepers record errors and throw them up on the scoreboard for all to see. Errors are counted just like runs and hits—these three data points are indelible parts of the game. On our playing field/workplace, mistakes are just a part of our rigorous truth, that which says perfection is a myth, and it is errors, missteps, that teach us the most lasting lessons.

In all of these elements—grit, composure, losing with grace—baseball is a great teacher for our work lives, and perhaps our home lives too. So as the World Series gets played out this week, pay attention to the whole game. Every part has its lessons to teach.

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Imperfection, Revisited

I’ve gone back to Brene Brown, and her book “The Gifts of Imperfection.” I have coffee with her in the morning, she travels with me, and likes to remind me of things during the day that she just told me, but I already forgot.

The latest is about what else but perfection. I blogged about the 90/10 rules a while back, and since you might forget things like I do, the 90/10 rule goes like this: it’s really better to get things 90% right than doing things with 100% precision, because the last 10% isn’t worth the time it takes. Men get this; in fact their rule is more like 60/40. But that’s another blog for another day.

The perfection thing: we all have it in various doses if we’ve accomplished anything in life, but lately I find myself in that place of dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s with pencil, ink, then magic marker. Brene Brown has many definitions for perfectionism that all begin with “it’s a self-destructive behavior,“ which I do believe is true. But what she doesn’t cover is something I feel in my gut when I’m chasing perfectionism. It’s the difference between healthy striving and going into that dark place of pushing and pushing toward a good enough that is never quite within reach.

I left corporate America 4 years ago. A big driver was to find more meaning in a quieter life without a public face. So now I find myself getting ready to publish a book, and here I go again, jumping on that public mouse wheel. Are the new website colors just right? Does calling myself an ‘executive’ sound pompous and unrelatable? Does ‘Meet Susan’ sound like some Wizard of Oz character behind the curtain? There it is – that place of overdrive and overthink, making myself crazy with perfectionism. The committee in my head is alive and well, and they can’t agree on anything.

Brown says self-compassion is the answer. She says loving ourselves is the bravest thing we can do. Sometimes when I think about those 30 years in corporate America, I wonder who that person was who made her way pushing, striving, reaching for the brass ring. I don’t recall much self-compassion, which, ironically means I guess I wasn’t all that brave – except for the last act, four years ago. Leaving early was brave. Now I get the chance to find the true gifts, as Brown calls them. Courage. Compassion. Connection.

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Nobody’s Born Smart

My crazy Greek relatives believed in folklore and wives tales, like treating a stye by putting earwax on it, or rubbing garlic on your chest for a cough. The one belief I did like was treating a toothache with whiskey, but that’s another story. With my family, everything came in 3’s—deaths, births, omens. After 2 funerals in a month, we’d all be holding our breaths for that third relative to kick the bucket.

I don’t do those things passed on to me as a child, but I do believe in 3’s. This week, the same message came to me from three different stories, all basically saying the same thing. The message: if you really want to be happy, try learning something new.

Check out this link, sent to me by a friend. The video’s gotten about 700,000 YouTube views. In it, a child is just born, then is shown moving through stages of early childhood. The narrator tells us “Nobody’s born smart. We’re born to learn. . .we try, we struggle, until one day, we walk.” And oh what a wonderful feeling that is!

Later I listened to an NPR interview, and the poet being interviewed quoted advisor and magician Merlin, known to many who have read tales of King Arthur. In T. H. White’s most famous Arthurian novel, The Once and Future King, Merlin imparts wisdom to a young, frustrated Arthur saying: “The best thing for being sad is to learn something.”

A day later an article about retirees and happiness caught my eye. The writer found the happiest retirees did simple things, like going to the library, and at leisure’s pace, reading the magazines and books on display. Simple kinds of learning, either creative, intellectual or spiritual, were all these folks needed for happiness. Anne Morrow Lindbergh tells us in her timeless book, Gift from the Sea, that “all living relationships are in process of change, of expansion, and must perpetually be building themselves new forms.”

It seems: from birth to retirement and on, learning something new is a great tonic for all of us.

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By |September 3rd, 2014|Career development, Learning, Parenting|0 Comments

No Females Allowed?

In 2010 I watched Dr. Jane McGonagel, from the Institute of the Future, take the TED stage and share four traits of video gamers. It occurred to me: had I known of these traits a few years back, I might not have grounded my preteen son for sneaking Grand Theft Auto into the house. It also occurred to me that these traits — urgent optimism, social connectedness, and blissful productivity — were also the qualities of successful business leaders. It resonated so strongly that I wrote a book about it, which will be published next year.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that an upcoming global video gamer conference, organized by the IeSF (International eSports Federation), was banning women from participating? The conference is called Heroes of Warcraft, which is a virtual card game produced by Blizzard Entertainment. The reason the organizers gave for the ban was to avoid “potential conflicts” such as a woman eliminating a man. That would be conflict, to be sure, for the men.

This is crazy on so many levels. First, it’s not like there any physical restrictions when it comes to playing video games. I’m pretty sure women’s thumbs can move as fast as men’s. Then there’s the fact that almost half of video gamers are women. By keeping women out, they’re telling the video game console makers and marketers that their user audience should be 50% less. Good luck making that argument. Microsoft, Sony and others won’t be too excited about that result. There are also the software game makers, like Blizzard and Electronic Arts. Toss those video games out the window, ladies, and see how Blizzard reacts.

If organizing bodies thought like capitalists, instead of bureaucrats, they’d see the commercial insanity in their policies. It goes beyond just the video game makers too. The IeSF is a South Korean based organization. I drive a Hyundai Sonata. Suddenly my impression of this whole developing country, and what I buy from it, gets called into question. Am I going to turn in my car because of this? No. But serious female video gamers might think about it.

Another company that begins with A, and is the name of a fruit, might also be a little concerned. Many women who use their devices to download this game will hear of these rules and wonder: why would Apple partner with another entity that practices gender bias?

Perhaps the strangest thing about is where the competition is being held — Finland. Over the years, the Scandinavian countries, especially Norway and Finland, have been very progressive regarding women serving on corporate boards. The European Union’s largest women’s arm, called the European Women’s Lobby (EWL), does an annual report monitoring European countries and women on business boards. As of 2011, 45% of Finland’s state-owned companies have women on them. This is about triple what the U.S. has accomplished to date. Wonder if any of these gender progressive Finns made a call to the South Koreans?

Maybe so. 24 hours after word got out on the ban, social media went crazy and the tournament organizers retracted the male-only rules. I guess we women don’t pose as much of a “potential conflict” as was originally thought. Or, just maybe, they saw what a conflict we could pose just by uniting around an outdated practice.

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Lots of Drama

Throughout my career I negotiated with men, and since my work was in the cable programming industry, I followed its rules of conduct (or lack thereof) to get deals done. It was my ‘normal’, my ecosystem, if you will, in getting wins for the companies I represented.

Just recently, my friend Gina Bianchini, co-founder of Ning and inventor of Mightybell, told me to watch a great video on YouTube from Stanford’s Dr. Maggie Neale on best practices in negotiating. It was fascinating! If I were starting out fresh today, this would be the way to do it—under most conditions. I say ‘most conditions’ because here was the stark truth of my negotiating environment — most times I was David, and the guy across the table was Goliath. And a cranky Goliath at that.

One time I took my boss, CEO Ken Lowe, now chairman and CEO of Scripps Networks Interactive, to Denver to call on the largest cable company at the time. We were to begin our negotiations for the carriage of HGTV on their systems, which were necessary for us to grow to a national footprint. We waited for 2 hours before being asked to come in, which was not an accident. The client was signaling to us that this deal would be done on his time, on his terms. He was looking for a one-sided win. All his.

My experience was pretty much always like this, with the guy across the table trying to bully his way to a one-sided win. The cable guys held most of the cards because new programmers needed to build national distribution. The cable guys knew it, and they used it.

Back to Denver: we were finally called in, and the would-be customer began a monologue about non-starters for him, which were — not surprisingly — things we had to have on our side for the deal to make sense. When he finally came up for air, Ken and I asked a few questions. His answers were even more ridiculous than his monologue. It was time for some drama on my part.

I got up, declared the meeting over and Ken and I walked out. The look on the client’s face was telling: how dare this little company walk out on me! As we made our way to the airport, I told Ken we had to do that, so we could swing some leverage our way. Sure they would still control a lot of the deal, but we wouldn’t be pummeled into submission. The client called a couple of weeks later and we began some meaningful dialog. After two long years (yep, deals could take that long to extract decent terms) we had a good deal.

My point: I learned from Dr. Neale’s video is that there is another, more reasonable route one should employ when doing deals. It wouldn’t have worked for me given my market conditions, but her methods will work for most. Take a good look at her video. There’s a lot of learning there.

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Cross Training

Ronee Hagen stayed home with her kids until they were in school. She then entered the workplace as an entrepreneur and created a metals distribution business. She made it a success and sold it. At 50 years of age, Ronee entered corporate America. Last year she retired from her job as CEO and President of Polymer Group, a billion+ dollar global company.

Ronee is one of a dozen CEOs I interviewed for my upcoming book, New Rules of the Game, and there was a common theme amongst all these executives. Like Ronee, most had not climbed the traditional ladder to success. Most had traversed a jungle gym to get there.

The jungle gym metaphor was first coined by Pattie Sellers, senior editor at large at Fortune and executive director of Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit. Sellers said that women zig and zag their way to senior jobs instead of progressing in a linear, upward fashion.

“Women tend to view power more horizontally than men do. Many successful women view their careers as jungle gyms, swinging to opportunities, maybe laterally, to broaden their experience base. It’s a wise career strategy, especially in a world that is ever more fast-changing and unpredictable” said Sellers when we recently spoke.

In my book, I call Seller’s jungle gym concept “cross training” because my themes revolve around the similarities of business to team sports, and how learning this can benefit our careers. Whether you label it a jungle gym or cross training, it’s all the same idea: moving horizontally across functional areas makes you a broader, better executive.

I moved like that for much of my career. In my recent work at Scripps Networks, I had 5 different jobs in 15 years there – roles in distribution, international sales, new ventures, brand outreach, and chief operating officer duties. The learning was enriching. The new challenges were invigorating.

Lateral moves help to broaden us and grow our skill sets. They help us to stay fresh and add value to our companies in a completely new way. They allow us to keep moving, keep growing, if there’s a ceiling above us in a given area. For women especially they’re helpful because we may need to take off-ramps for child rearing or other caregiving, and we’re afforded more options when coming back into the workforce.

The jungle gym, cross training: this kind of career navigation is how most people make their way to the C-Suite. The best leaders are a rich composite of skills. And most have had a few birthdays, so they’ve garnered some wisdom along the way.

Don’t feel rushed to land that C-Suite job. Get some cross training and emotional maturity. Then you’ll be ready.

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Why Apple Buying Beats Makes Sense

There have been a lot of headlines lately from financial analysts questioning Apple’s rumored acquisition, questioning the wisdom of it. My millennial son brought it up out of the blue. “Mom, can you believe Apple’s buying Beats? All my friends are talking about how insanely smart that is!” He then rattled off some music streaming buzzwords that were in a different language.

I politely listened, thinking—have any of those analysts thought about the acquisition from the vantage point of Apple’s market? A couple of writers have, including Slate’s Jordan Weissman, who pointed out in a recent article that Apple’s headphones need upgrading, and while they still dominate downloaded music, streaming music is rapidly growing while downloaded music is flat, and declining.

I have my own reasons for thinking this acquisition is smart. I love my Beats. As a frequent traveler they are a lifesaver. Anyone who’s on airplanes a lot knows about the crying babies, and those certain special voices that carry in a plane, doesn’t matter where you’re sitting. My headphones sure help there.

And then there’s, let’s call it Budget Airline X. There must be some magnetic pull that attracts crazy people to this airline. I had one sitting in my row last week. She was, maybe 25 years old. Once we had leveled off she starting screaming (in that certain special voice) “Stop kicking my seat!” “You’re kicking me in the back!” It would get quiet and she’d cry out “Ow! You’re doing it again!” My Beats were a great help to muffle the drama unfolding two seats down from me. Eventually though, I just had to look to see who the culprit behind her was.

The seat was empty.

Then I craned my neck and saw there was a small child, out like a light. His mother sat next to him and said there was no kicking going on as her child had been fast asleep the whole time. Which moved me to press the “call attendant” button. The crazy flyer was now crying and still screaming and the attendants moved her away from our row, and that of the imaginary offender.

Beats have a lot of value those analysts haven’t even thought about. But I’ll bet Apple has.

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By |May 15th, 2014|Business and Finance|0 Comments

Learning Confidence

I bought the latest Android phone, the S5, last week. It actually came with a printed manual. I didn’t want to read it. I didn’t want to put my brain in learning mode. What if I didn’t understand something? What if I had to ask for help? I eventually pushed through my insecurity and read it. Reward: Milk Music, a great app! Another reward: the confidence of having mastered something new.

There’s a great little book out now, The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance — What Women Should Know. The authors look at the neuroscience behind confidence, a critical quality of successful people. It turns out confidence is almost as important as competence to be successful. According to the science, some percentage of confidence is inborn, or genetic, and these clusters of confidence genes are found more in men’s brains than women’s.

Gee, there’s a surprise!

We women do crazy things in our brains to sabotage our success, like carrying around criticism too long, over-thinking things, and as I’ve written about before, needing every little thing to be absolutely perfect. I’ll bet if you could look inside a woman’s brain you’d see these genomes running around everywhere trying to tend to all the other little molecules. Making sure everything is running smoothly. It can be a scary place up there!

The great news is we are born with a concrete neuro highway, and we can choose to build ‘bridges’ and ‘underpasses’ to build confidence. We can choose to be confident by taking the actions to build confidence. As with most things in life, when we’re willing to take action instead of staying in a neutral zone, we grow. Being willing to put ourselves out there, taking chances — these are the actions that build confidence. Risk and fail leads to risk and succeed. Act, repeat, fail, act, repeat, succeed. We learn confidence by first taking action.

I speak of “push” a lot when I address audiences on leadership, which is putting oneself in new, often uncomfortable places so we can grow skills. We women are handicapped on two fronts getting into leadership positions: 1. Our brains are made with the genetic stuff that hinders confidence, and 2. As kids we didn’t get the repetitions with winning and losing that boys did playing team sports. If you hear enough from the sidelines “You go girl!” and “Show ‘em what you’ve got!” you begin to believe you’re a winner. You gain confidence. With success, no one has a corner on the market–men and women will win and lose in equal measure. It’s just that men are willing to put themselves out there more and try.

By pushing ourselves, we start to practice winning. We grow new skills and we start to believe in ourselves. This quiets self-doubt and adds confidence. Indeed, we’re taking action to choose it. Give it a try.

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Shrieks of Ego

I recently spoke to a group of Ohio women who were members of WELD, or Women for Economic and Leadership Development. I often feel like a hired hand when I speak, but in this case there was a real connection. I felt on top of the world; I owned the room.

Which reminded me that my ego is alive and well. I wasn’t happy about the news. In transitioning to work far afield of executive roles, one of my hopes was to dismantle that corporate ego.

Slowly, day-by-day, it falls away. But’s a process. I recall the last few years of work at Scripps Networks, when I left behind operating responsibilities to run a staff job — brand partnerships in social outreach. I was setting myself up to transition out of SNI. With the move, I no longer had a line of people wanting meetings and face time. I was no longer the popular girl at the dance. I felt the painful bruising to that corporate ego, despite wanting to begin a new life chapter.

Those of us who have lived in the high cotton of senior roles, and now want a new start apart from it all, know it is indeed a process to shed all the corporate armor and to quiet our ego. In my experience, women do a better job than men. It’s as if we’ve known all along that our worth is measured by the whole of us. That as women, there are many roles we take on and each of them enriches us. We’re hardwired to seek a sense of purpose that makes us whole.

I once read that retired male CEO’s have the greatest incidence of heart attacks on Mondays. Without their work identity, what, now, are they? There are probably a zillion consultants out there working in this field, trying to help senior business leaders transition from big job/big ego, to new beginnings. I hope so. It is indeed a process.

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No Vacancies

I was recently listening to a speaker who described how we hold tight to our fears. He used the analogy of a landlord who rents out homes in a neighborhood. Like the landlord, we rent out this space in our minds to fears. We’re scared to death to have fear move on, because who are we without it?

Let’s look a given fear, say managing a team in a supervisory role. We’re frightened of embarrassment or failure in front of others. This fear has occupied that space in our minds for as long as we can remember. Here’s how it ‘pays us back’ — we don’t try and we don’t advance. True, we don’t experience the temporary discomfort that comes with mastering a new skill, in this case called leadership. But for certain we don’t experience the joy and rich reward of accomplishment.

We don’t grow.

But what if we upgraded the neighborhood? What if we evicted fear and rented to courage instead? It’s a new tenant, so it will take a while to get to know it, what it feels like, how it behaves when we call on it. Like any new relationship, there might be some awkwardness for a time as we try it on. It’s that getting-to-know process. After a while, we come to learn that this new tenant is strong, and wonderfully noble. This tenant only wants the best for you. Courage pays you back in the currencies of personal growth, pride, and self-love.

The next time fear comes around looking to rent out a room, let him know you’ve got no vacancies. You’re just plum filled up with some great new tenants. Let him know you’ve upgraded the neighborhood.

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