About Susan Packard

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So far Susan Packard has created 50 entries.

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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The Art of Imperfection

A couple of girlfriends recommended the book The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown. In her book Brown urges us to embrace self-love. She advocates “wholehearted living” which is facing each day with courage, compassion and worthiness.

These are beautiful concepts, but quite different from what I originally thought I’d find when I heard the book title. If I were to write a book about imperfection, I too would urge every woman to live a wholehearted life, and this includes your work life. Surprisingly, perhaps, I would urge imperfection at work. Let’s look at why:

In my experience, women work themselves to the bone being perfectionists. We take on a project and nothing short of absolute perfection can be delivered. Why? How many men do you know would jump through the hoops we do so we can get our A+ from our boss/colleagues/team? I can’t think of one. Men have figured out that 90% is not only the right approach, it’s actually better than 100%, because if you have something that’s good enough to deliver, you can then move onto the next thing – the next idea, project, or way of making money for your company. You can ask for forgiveness instead of permission on the small stuff, on that last 10%. (Note: certain professions like the medical field don’t have any small stuff, but most do.)

What does being a perfectionist do for us? It keeps us in the muck of a project, overthinking everything. Speed is such an imperative today to stay ahead of the competition, which includes those guys who’ve just run ahead of you while you’re making sure all of your columns are lined up perfectly, and while you’re re-examining every word that spellcheck just told you was fine.

Here’s another reason to be good with 90%: you make yourself, and everyone you work with crazy if you can’t let go of that last 10. You become the school marm. In your quest to be superhuman, you appear less human to those around you.

Lighten up. Lose the perfectionism. That’s my path to wholehearted living.

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The Healing Power of Heartbreak

In 1988, Bill and I had the thrill of our lives. We were living in LA, and we’d gotten tickets to the first game of the World Series. Our hometown Detroit boy, Kirk Gibson (now manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks), was playing for the LA Dodgers. Bill and Kirk went to the same high school, so there was a personal connection. We didn’t expect to see Kirk play because he was hurt, with injuries in both legs.

It was the bottom of the 9th, and the Dodgers were down 4 to 3, with two men out. It looked bleak. There was a hush, and out of the dugout hobbled Kirk Gibson to pinch-hit. With one man on and a count of 3 balls, 2 strikes, everything was on the line. Kirk somehow powered a swing to right field for a home run, winning the game for the Dodgers. I’ll never forget his “jog” around the bases. He could barely walk, let alone jog, but he finally made it to home plate where his team greeted him jubilantly.

Where does that kind of grit come from, that fierce competitive drive that propels someone, against all odds, to win when the game’s really on the line?

It comes from our will to win. This inner grit often springs from experiences with difficulties, and defeat. Learning from tough situations makes us stronger. Some call it the healing power of heartbreak. From these life events we grow stronger. We become the victor, not the victim.

This is important as we drive our careers because the will to win beats skill every time. Baseline talent will get us into the game. Winning, however, takes staying power. How do you handle being turned down for a raise or promotion? There’s the victim response: “They don’t like me”, or “They’re playing favorites”, or other flavors of this. Alternatively, there’s the winner’s response: “I need to understand why that just happened so next time it won’t.” What does it teach me?

A couple of times in my career I was turned down for promotions. Somehow I put on my big girl face and had meetings with the relevant managers to understand why. Such emotional maturity surprised even me. Showing up at those meetings with composure and grace did two things: 1) It gave me valuable insight I could use the next time around, and 2) It showed management I was still in the game. I wanted to win next time.

The will to win is perhaps the most powerful thing we bring to our jobs. Baseline talent will get us into the game, but will beats skill every time.

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A Big Win!

The last time my Michigan State Spartans won a Rose Bowl was in 1988. Bill and I lived in LA at the time and were newly married. He’s a Spartan too, and we went to that exciting game against USC. Last night they won again, and it was tough, tense battle all the way against Stanford, but they pulled it out!

I heard a couple of things in the coach and player interviews that struck home. At halftime we were down, and Spartans Coach Mark Dantonio said his team “needed a little more presence” in the second half to win. I asked our son Drew, a college athlete, what that meant. He said it means showing up with confidence like you know you’ll win. It means taking the field with a winning spirit.

After the big win, Spartans quarterback Connor Cook was interviewed and asked about the last couple of pivotal plays that occurred before halftime. First, Cook threw an interception, which Stanford ran back for a score. It was a huge momentum swing in Stanford’s favor. Right after that, however, he guided the offense down the field to an MSU touchdown. When asked what he was thinking as all that went down, he said “you have to have short-term memory” as an athlete. In other words, forget the last play, especially if you make a mistake, because it’s always about being present – in the moment – for the next opportunity. If you start beating yourself up over mistakes, your future play will suffer.

I was reminded of why I’m writing my book. As women, we need to think more like athletes do. They have composure and the mental fortitude to spring back from loss and get right back into the game. They bring so much more to the field than base athletic skills. Physical talent gets them a ticket to play, but then they’re competing with other athletes who have lots of talent too. It’s those with “a little more presence” that make up the winning team.

We face colleagues and bosses who have played sports, and who succeed in the workplace with the mental toughness and winning spirit they’ve practiced and honed over time. To advance in our careers, we need some practice there too.
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The Courage to Win

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

I work with some women who have brains, spirit and the desire to move forward in their careers, but are limited by fears. To be a great gamer, you need courage too.

The word “courage” comes from the Latin root word for “heart.” To succeed today, you need the heart of a winner. When we boldly break through fear, refusing to be held back by it, it is a liberating moment that can pay huge dividends in terms of both personal and career growth.

Fear can come from many sources: fear of failure, fear of work politics, or fear of appearing too grandiose in accomplishing things. Then there are personal fears around what success looks like for one’s home life. Being cautionary is good, being fearful is not. It just makes heavy going of life.

One of the reasons I love the gamer strategy in business is because we begin to think of ourselves as winners. Timidity and tentative views of our workplace fall away. Fears begin to dissolve. We practice winning, and with enough practice, we become winners. It’s self fulfilling.
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Meetings in the Restroom

So first, you unzip your trousers…hmmm, let me begin again. For anatomical and societal reasons, women don’t have ready access to the men’s restroom. That creates a big hassle with long lines during concert intermissions. It’s also a business problem. A lot goes on in men’s restrooms that we’re not a part of. I’ve been ambushed plenty of times by the phenomenon of the restroom “pre-meeting”. We get in a conference room to discuss the agenda, and the outcomes have already been decided. How did this happen? It happened because the guys took a bathroom break prior to our meeting, discussed the upcoming meeting issues, strolled in and had all the answers before I could even form a sentence.

While men can have their meetings in the restroom, on the golf course, at the sports bar and other male-dominated social settings, women have more limited ways to build the influence that lays a foundation to ask for needed resources such as capital, compensation, plum assignments, and promotions. But the simple truth is this: to advance in our companies we have to figure this out.

One very effective way to do this is to take the time to build trust in our organizations. When we’re asked to be on a task force or a cross-functional team, we don’t have a home playing field advantage. These folks are often new to us, not on our team day in and day out. Take advantage of this new opportunity. Be sure that before the assignment is over, you’ve reached out to at least one person who was new to you. Ask for a breakfast or a lunch. Seek their input on a project they can help with. Stay in contact.

We like to get to the period quickly because we’re so blasted efficient about what we do. It takes time to build relationships. Don’t skimp here. It’ll pay dividends down the road, and who knows, you may just make a cherished new friend.
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The Tell

Professional poker players will say that winning is not all about odds and probabilities. If you’re playing at the top of your game it’s about reading others, watching their physical mannerisms which “tell” if they have good cards, or not. The tell is body language which conveys something about your opponent. When Oprah Winfrey interviewed disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong after he was banned for doping, a body language expert reviewed Armstrong’s performance and said he betrayed his fear by looking away from Oprah rather than looking her in the eye, and he kept taking deep breaths and swallowing hard, signs of nervousness and anxiety. He also wrung his hands, a sign of someone under pressure.

If you walk into a negotiating session and your opponent is leaning back in his chair with his feet up on his desk, he’s telling you he has the power. He’s Alpha Dog. Don’t let it throw you. Politely press on. Sometimes that Y chromosome can take up the whole room if you let it.

There can be a lot of theater that goes on in negotiations which can really add some fun and spice to the game.

Perhaps the strangest example of the tell I experienced was with a good guy in the business, who I was just getting to know. We had some deal work before us. When I first walked in to his office, he stood and I realized he was quite short for a man, perhaps 5 foot 4 inches or 5 foot 5. I always wore heels in negotiations to give my puny, 5 foot 2 inch frame some stature.

We moved into his conference room together, and as soon as I sat he seemed to relax. He did a lot of the negotiating standing and walking around. After a couple of sessions, I noticed that his overall demeanor toward me was far more accommodating when he was able to look down at me. The next session, I wore flats, testing a theory I had about the whole dynamic. Sure enough, when I walked into his office to greet him, he stood, clearly comfortable, and we had the most productive session in our history together. He sat the whole time we worked and we comfortably exchanged volleys. What game was he playing? My game was: make money. Who knows what his was? I’m a business person, not a psychologist. The next couple of times I wore flats and the scoreboard lit up big for HGTV.

The tell can be things you least expect. Women are great observers, and it helps us to be good in uncovering them.
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By |October 18th, 2013|Gamesmanship, Leadership, Negotiation, Women in business|0 Comments

A Lifetime of Learning

When I was studying Advertising in grad school many years back, there was also a married couple in the program. I’ll call them “The Couple” because I can’t recall their names. They were nice enough, but it sure seemed they had no social life outside of themselves and school. I had no problem having a social life outside of school, if you get my drift.

When we were close to graduating, the class began interviewing for jobs. The Couple was always a step or two ahead of the rest of us in getting the interviews, and certainly in getting job offers. One day, they were replaying for us a more challenging interview they had (who knows, maybe they interviewed as a package). But no problem, they aced it. The ad agency person interviewing had asked if they knew what the Dow Jones represented, and what the current Dow Jones average was that day. “1,200” one of The Couple replied with a smug smile. The Dow? WTF?

The Couple actually helped me a great deal. I had had no finance or accounting classes in undergrad or grad school, so I went home that day and learned about the Dow and other indices in case it came up in my interviews. It never did, but I used that knowledge in my business career.

There are many things we have no clue about coming out of school, and we can panic when we face them on the job. That’s why “on the job” means “on the job learning” too. You can learn anything if you’re not afraid to ask for help, and not afraid of the focus it takes to keep your brain engaged in continuous learning. When I became chief operating officer at HGTV, I sat with my CFO, Jim Clayton, quite often to understand what the various financial statements meant, and why this knowledge was important to our company and to our shareholders. I wasn’t ready to handle all of the financial responsibilities when I took the job, but I trusted my network of colleagues to aid me in getting me there. I asked for help.

In Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer’s 2013 memoir “My Beloved World”, she said one of the most important things she ever did was to ask for help when she needed it, and to develop mentors along the way who could keep teaching her. We may not be sitting on the Bench, but we sit at our desks and are called upon to add value. To keep advancing, be willing to learn new things, and to ask for help as you’re learning them.

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By |September 26th, 2013|Career development, Learning, Mentoring, Women in business|0 Comments

Fun and Games at the Airport

Airport regulations regarding what you can carry on a plane have changed so many times I can’t keep track. They’ve made it a little easier with the 3-1-1 rules. Gels and liquids under 3 oz? Check. Are they in a one-quart plastic bag? Check. Do you have just one bag? Check. (Thus, 3-1-1). Have you taken them out of your luggage and placed them separately on the cart? Sometimes. At my tiny home airport of Knoxville, they’re usually pretty homey and I don’t have to worry about such…details. But lately — whew! There must be a new crop of airport police because now there are no loopholes.

Last week I rolled the dice again, not bothering to take my one-quart bag out of my carry-on before putting the suitcase on the cart. As my suitcase went through, I saw the bag review agent lean in at her screen. Everything stopped and she called her supervisor over. People in my security line glared at me, and I couldn’t blame them. The supervisor was a very large man, sweating profusely as he huffed toward me gripping my bag from both ends like it was emitting toxic fumes. “Is this your bag?” he snarled. I knew then my deodorant and toothpaste were toast.

You see, I adhere to all the 3-1-1 rules except for my deodorant and toothpaste. They’re over the 3 oz. limit and I’ve always gotten them through. But I knew this guy meant business, which was when I went into dumb blond mode (a challenge, since I’m a brunette).

“Is there anything in here that’s going to pick me or hurt me??” he asked, fuming now as he zipped open the suitcase. “Oh no, of course not,” I said meekly with a sweet smile. “This bag has to come out of your suitcase to be run through—that’s what the agents were telling you if you’d listened when you approached security!”

This was not going well. He stomped back with my one-quart bag and put it through the cart again. When it exited, he grabbed it and stormed over to me again and unzipped it. “You have two items over 3.0 oz.!” At this point he was apoplectic.

“Well sir,” I chirped through batted lashes, “I didn’t know that roll on deodorants were liquid or gel.” I figured my toothpaste was history, but just maybe I could salvage my deodorant.

The stare down ensued, my sweet smile challenging his ferocious scowl. Finally: “I’m taking the toothpaste. Next time downsize your deodorant. ” Yes! This was a win. But, the truth is, airport games are not that much fun.
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By |August 16th, 2013|Gamesmanship|0 Comments

Girls and Games

As I moved up in companies I saw what great gamers men were. It’s how they thought. They viewed work as just another playing field, with men and women running around on it. It was one grand competition. I swear every morning, before they even put their feet on the floor they were thinking: who dies today? Maybe I’m overstating that a little bit, but not by much. For women, we’re at an extreme disadvantage against men if we can’t figure out how to compete against them to win.

The trouble is, our current generation of women didn’t get all the wisdom wrapped up in playing games, as men did. That’s changing now due to Title Nine, but for most of us, we didn’t learn how repetitions of winning and losing could help us as we grew into adulthood. Instead, we grew up role-playing with our Barbies, and talking.

We did a lot of talking. Still do. A Boston Consulting Group study revealed that women talk about 20,000 words a day, and men about 7,000. Whew, that’s a lot of sentence structure for our brains to be engaged in every day. Meanwhile, men are over in their offices thinking about the next conquest.

Are we really less competitive than men? I don’t believe that. I wasn’t, and my competitive nature–which I enthusiastically embraced–was one way I advanced into senior roles. But for many women I’ve met and mentored, they’re generally uncomfortable expressing their competitive spirits outwardly. We’re great at self-mastery, which is competing against ourselves to do our best work, but others? That involves beating them, which could mean confrontation and most certainly means another person losing. Women are filled with compassion, and winning requires dispassion.

How can we fix this? I’m working on a book about this very thing. Business game-playing is easy to learn, if you’re willing to practice. That’s what my book’s about, showing you how to be a great gamer so you can advance in your career.

And no, I’m not trying to make women become more like men. It’s like learning a new language. Once you learn, say, French, it doesn’t mean you lose your ability to speak English. The same goes with gamesmanship. It’s just a new skill set that makes the workplace richer for you.

Because let’s face it: Barbie can’t help us now.
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By |July 24th, 2013|Advocacy for women, Career development, Leadership|0 Comments