Wisdom, Joy and Love

It’s hard to believe that in two weeks my book will be on bookshelves. It took three years, a lot more discipline than I wanted to have, and has provided great joy.

In one of my morning readings, it suggests that what we can give to the world are the gifts of wisdom, joy and love. I’ll hit the road the first week in February talking about the book, work culture, and leadership to groups around the U.S. I’ll talk to women’s groups about what gets in the way of our advancement. With all of this, I believe I can bring some wisdom to these topics. We’re all the product of our experiences. Mine has been varied enough, and – dare I say it! – I’ve been on this planet long enough to have accumulated some nuggets worth sharing.

As for joy, when I speak, I always talk about the importance of humor, laughter, and welcoming smiles. These things humanize us; they make us accessible to those around us. And there is plenty of benefit to you, as well. Medical research abounds on how laughter dissipates anxiety and stress. The physical act itself lessens your stress load. When we were building HGTV, I’d be in a meeting with my all-male colleagues and when a really tough issue would surface, invariably one of them would “leave the reservation” and tell a story they thought was just hilarious. The others would chime in, and before I knew it, the whole room was laughing. I found this very annoying at first. “Get back on topic!” my all-business brain would scream. But I began to see that this was how these guys released stress. I began to do it too, and what do you know, laughing really did help me to gain fresh perspective, connect with the team, and feel less anxious. Joy is found in laughter.

As for love, I see that in the practice of compassion, which is a connector when I speak. As the Buddhist nun Pema Choldron says: “Compassion practice is daring.” Real compassion is a relationship between equals, both having been wounded in some fashion along life’s path. For me, that means sharing my failures and mistakes in career, as well as my successes. I once read that one should never talk about failures when the audience is eating, for God’s sake! I don’t buy that. When we can share our roads wrongly taken in life and work, it’s learning for all. And there’s some healing that comes from sharing —airing — these experiences. The key is to always learn from them.

So here I go. Thanks for all the wisdom, joy and love you’ve sent to me along this road, rightly taken.

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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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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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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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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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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

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