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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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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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 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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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


In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, she devotes a chapter to the negative bias people express toward successful women. She cites a Columbia Business School experiment where students were divided into two groups, and shown identical profiles of a successful entrepreneur. One was named Heidi, and one was named Howard. The feedback on Howard was that he was appealing; the feedback on Heidi was that she was selfish and not the type of person you would want to hire or work for. (pgs. 39-40)

This was on my mind as I read a recent Harvard Business Review blog. Take a look at this illustration in the blog:


The HBR did a one-year research study that tracked chatter on the web about these women; sentiment toward them, and the intensity of that sentiment. The results: none of these women were liked, as the chart describes. Sandberg comes closest, but she also has the most people who dislike her passionately (hate). I might understand the sentiment about Mayer, given the recent news about Yahoo cancelling its telecommuting benefit for employees. But Sandberg and Slaughter? Sandberg is trying to help marshal a national conversation around women’s advancement. Slaughter’s points of view are different from Sandberg, but she, too, is engaging all of us in a dialog around balance in one’s work life and one’s home life. They have the platform to do it–which is rare for a woman–and they are taking action. Do we dislike anyone who acts to change our norms, or is our dislike reserved for women doing this? It really troubles me.

It especially troubles me because in a world top-heavy with men in senior management today, likeability is a foundational requirement for most women to make it into the senior ranks. Men network their way with other men into senior roles; women need to be liked. It’s unfair, but it’s true. In my upcoming book I’ve devoted a chapter to discussion and paths toward likeability. The topic may sound trite, but not so if you’re a woman aspiring to run an organization someday.

I can only hope that the reason Mayer, Sandberg and Slaughter were disliked is because they stand for change, and change makes many people uncomfortable. It’s less troubling than being disliked because you’re a woman who stands for change.

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Can you relate?

I am in the middle of writing a book for women in business. I share the good, the exciting, and the sometimes horrible, so these can be lessons as we make our climb up the ladder. I came up for air from my writing to find two prominent women have released books this year.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomajor’s book, “My Beloved World,” recounts her life as a young Puerto Rican girl growing up in the Bronx. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, has written a book/manefesto for women in the workplace called “Lean In.” She argues women need to raise their hands more at work, and not drop out when we’re starting families. We also need to have our husbands carry their share of the load at home with children and chores.

I’ve had the pleasure of wading through Justice Sotamajor’s book. She surprisingly opens herself up to the reader. She shares what growing up as a poor, ethnic little girl meant for her. I could relate to her special love of her grandmother, her feeling of being out of place amongst the blond and beautiful set, and her tough resilience as she made her way. I found myself cheering for her throughout the book. You go girl! And she surely went, all the way to the US Supreme Court.

I haven’t read Ms. Sandberg’s book yet since it’s not officially released, but the NYT and WSJ have posted early reviews. In both of these, it seems the problem is not the content, but her lack of relatability. NYT: “Will more earthbound women, struggling with cash flow and child care, embrace the advice of a Silicon Valley executive whose book acknowledgements include thanks to her wealth adviser and Oprah Winfrey?” (2/22/2013)

I know for fact that Ms. Sandberg has done a lot for women. She has mentored them, and she has gotten them on business boards. She seems to be this fascinating person who has dodged the life most women live. I don’t intend this as a ‘poor pitiful us’ comment, but the fact is we spend much of our lives being told we can not do—play quarterback, rabble rouse, run companies—so many of us greet adulthood a bit hesitant about raising our hands. Then we work, nurture families, do the schlepping, and, as the Carly Simon song says, fix the toaster too! I’m guessing Ms. Sandberg hasn’t fixed any toasters as she’s blazed her trail. Because we have amazing grit and welcome all sorts of new learning, we make our way just fine, and live our lives well.

The content of my book has personal stories, and counsel for women. In this way it’s a hybrid of the two mentioned above. I share tales of trying to balance being a mom with work, which was never easy. Some tough things happened on the job. At one company I watched a work colleague surrender to his alcoholism, with his final act being to kill his wife and them himself. All of the things I will recount helped me to mature, and gave me better tools in managing people. Ultimately, I made my way to the corner office at HGTV. The guidance I will offer strikes me as real and relatable, given the dimensions of our lives. I can only hope that is so. The reader will be the final judge.
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Celebrating 70 years of progress for women in the workplace


Today marks the 50th anniversary of the acclaimed book “The Feminine Mystique.” In honor of that, I am reprinting the piece below to remind women that, while we have a long way to still go, we have made some progress — thankfully!

In 1943, an issue of Transportation Magazine was devoted to tips to help male supervisors manage women:

1. Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they’re less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn’t be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy.

3. General experience indicates that “husky” girls-those who are just a little on the heavy side-are more even-tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination-one covering female conditions. This step not only protects the property against the possibilities of lawsuit, but reveals whether the employee-to-be has any female weaknesses which would make her mentally or physically unfit for the job.

5. Give the female employee a definite day-long schedule of duties so they keep busy without bothering to ask for management for instructions every few minutes. Numerous properties say women make excellent workers when they have their jobs cut out for them, but that they lack initiative in finding work themselves.

6. Give every girl an adequate number of rest periods during the day. You have to make some allowance for female psychology. A girl has more confidence and is more efficient if she can keep her hair tidied, apply fresh lipstick and wash her hands several times a day.

7. Get enough size variety in operator’s uniforms so each girl can have a proper fit. This point can’t be stressed too much in keeping women happy.
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By |February 19th, 2013|Advocacy for women, Women in business|1 Comment

More female leaders for 2013!

More female leaders for 2013!

A couple of articles sparked my thinking recently. Would love to hear your thoughts too.

First, in Forbes 12/24/12 Jenna Goudreau has an article entitled “A Golden Age For Working Women.” It’s an optimistic view of women’s future job prospects given today’s service economy. Our communication and collaboration skills are cited as critical to the future “care economy,” as futurist and author Ian Pearson calls it.

Let me start by saying that any careers allowing women opportunities to be sustain themselves financially I am all for. You go ladies!  Not every woman should—nor even wants to—rise into senior ranks of companies and eventually run them.  What does concern me is that leaning on the traditional aptitudes of collaboration and communication can box us into not pushing beyond these things. Yes, we need women as teachers, nurses, caregivers, but we also need women as secretaries of state and CEO’s. Global, financial and deep management skills are needed for these jobs.

Which brings me to the Lucy Marcus’ article, “Developing Women Leaders: Five Essentials.”  This is an excellent summary of the preparatory skills needed to advance into leadership, and it does a fine job of supporting my tagline, ‘Preparing Women Leaders’. Allow me to add a couple of ideas:

International: Yes! Living abroad and learning other cultures challenges and broadens us. They also teach us humility. As I ran International for HGTV and Food Network, it was quite humbling to see what developing nations were doing to quickly push toward excellence. When I toured Buenos Aires, it was humbling to see its exquisite beauty and Argentinian pride. When I toured Jerusalem, it was humbling to see all of that history and reverential awe in one small, contained area. International travel humbles me, and with my business sensibility I can assure you this is critical knowledge to be an effective leader, especially of a large, global corporation.

I also liked Lucy’s thoughts around mentoring, and how she defined the phases of career requiring different forms of it.  I’d add that in our final phase of career—where we are at the top of our game—we owe it to the next generation of women  to mentor them and to be advocates for them in our companies.  These are our business leaders of tomorrow.  Providing them with skills, perspective and our wisdom will enable them to break through the old barriers, and increase our numbers at the top.

More female leaders would be my fondest wish for 2013!
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