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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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

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

Girlfriends

Girlfriends

I was in Los Angeles last week to do some work, and had dinner with my old friend, Bridget. We’ve known each other for over 20 years, and became quick friends while both of us worked at CNBC. Most recently, Bridget was president of NBC cable network distribution, and had responsibility for several billion dollars in revenue each year. Big job. Bridget also has three kids that range from 7 to 16 years old, and a darling husband, Robert.

She shared that even with the raising of the kids, and all of the work stresses, she has kept her Thursday night book club date with her girlfriends. I thought about how I had let many girlfriends drift away during my heavy work years. It seemed I only had enough bandwidth for work and family. There was no third category of anything in my life.

I asked her how she managed to pull it off. “Habit and priorities,” she said. “It was so important. Now that I’m in this next phase of career, my friends have been tremendous support for me. I don’t know what I’d do without them.”

As working women, we go through many phases of life and career. I fully admit that when I got to the phase of senior management, I didn’t take the time to prioritize female friendships. It was a big mistake. When I became chief operating officer of HGTV, I experienced how solitary a c-suite job is. Not having the love, support, and mutual understanding that only girlfriends can provide was sorely missed. DON’T MAKE THIS MISTAKE. Stay close to your female friends, whatever it takes, as you make your way with life and career.

The good news is to we can learn from our mistakes, if we pay attention! Upon leaving Scripps Networks Interactive two summers ago, I joined a senior women’s organization called Committee of 200. These women have quickly become dear friends and trusted advisors. I’ve travelled the world with them, and we have worked side by side as we’ve mentored young, aspiring business women. Once a month, about 8 of us get on the phone to talk about life and career. We help each other. We celebrate exciting news, like a big new job or a child getting engaged.

Stay close to your girlfriends as you travel the road of life. It pays huge dividends.

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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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No Shortcuts

I don’t have a technical bone in my body. So why I would choose an industry steeped in wires, cables, and satellite dishes, well, I truly don’t know. But when I started my career, engineers were my customers, and I had to learn their business if I was to be effective. I was representing Home Box Office to these guys, and it was up to them to put it on their systems, which they’d then transmit into peoples’ homes. We needed the cable guys so that HBO could have viewers.

That’s why I found myself, on a blustery winter day in Peoria, Illinois, at the top of a phone pole with my client. He was stunned I was willing to be up there with him, so once we made the climb, he taught me about his wires and cables like a proud dad. When we climbed down I asked to see his “head end” which housed his receiving equipment, so we went into the air-conditioned room ( on a winter day, in the frigid Midwest–get the picture?) and we talked about his receivers, modulators and satellite dishes.

HBO was added to his channel line-up after that call.

There are no shortcuts to learning what we need to know to be successful in our jobs. You must take the time to study and understand your customer and their business, as if you could do his or her job yourself. Never be shy to ask questions. Clients will be pleased that you genuinely want to solve their problems. And if you’re worth your salt, you do. I call this “getting into the head of your customer.” It’s a great, winning strategy for success.

Later in my career, one of my customer groups was shareholders as I was Chief Operating Officer of HGTV, a division of a publicly traded company called Scripps Networks. I had to stand up in a room full of investors and answer questions about our profits (or lack there of in the early years), our plans for growing revenues, and other related questions. Finance was a new language for me. I had to learn it, and I did that on the job through studying our financial statements and asking our Chief Financial Officer about them. Endlessly. I’m sure I wore him out. But to be credible with our investment company and to manage budgets, I had to know this. I also took an executive financial management tract at Darden to learn more.

There are no shortcuts to the top. We have to learn all the stuff along the way. Think of it as ongoing college or grad school, with pay. It’s part of the adventure of the job. With the will and the discipline to learn, we can succeed. We can win.
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By |February 8th, 2013|Career development, Learning, Negotiation, Women in business|1 Comment

Gamesmanship

Stan Musial died this week. Most baseball fans, like me, know what a powerhouse athlete he was. He was called a “gamer” in the media coverage, which meant someone who comes through when the game’s on the line. For women, this one thing—being a gamer—can help us to have great career success like Stan did in baseball.

The word “gamer” has become associated with players of video games, but the Stan Musial definition is more apt for business people. It’s an attitude—an inner, competitive drive to win when the game’s on the line. In our case the game is business, and the win is moving our careers and our companies to the next level of success.

Gamesmanship is not easy for women; I give whole seminars on the topic. We aren’t socialized this way, as men are. It comes easier for us to cooperate than to compete. It helps if we’ve played sports as a child growing up. There we learn how awesome it feels to win on a ball field, and how to take losing in stride without personalizing it.

Here’s one example of being a gamer that women have trouble with: In a business negotiation, there is a certain rhythm to the back and forth as offers are thrown out, accepted or rejected, and new creative ways are advanced to close a deal. Less is more in terms of the verbal volley. There will inevitably be that moment when you must pause, and wait. The wait can feel interminable. You must be comfortable in the silence. For some reason we have the need to fill that yawning gap of time with our words.  Doing that can crush you in a negotiation. Count to 60 (not 10 or 20—60) slowly, quietly to yourself. Keep waiting until the other party responds to you. Maintain eye contact while you are waiting.

Some gamer things women do very well, like anticipating the opponent’s next move. Pro athletes watch a lot of taped footage of the next team they’re playing so they can anticipate how the plays will go down, and to uncover the team’s strengths and weaknesses. We do this in business with thorough preparation. For example, if you are a candidate up for a promotion, preparing for the interview(s) is critical. Roleplaying what might be asked of you and how you should put your best foot forward—these are gamer moves. I have found women to be absolutely excellent in anticipating clients’ and colleagues’ next moves when the game is really on the line.

There are many other techniques to being a successful gamer, such as the art of the bluff, reading the ‘tell’ (a huge one in professional poker), and the walk away. The key to all of this is your mindset. Always know that if you lose a round, the next day you’ll probably win one. Learn from it, regroup, and go back on the field, or, if you’ll forgive my mixed metaphors, go back into the scrum. I promise that if you think like a gamer, you’ll come out of the muddy mess with the ball.
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Your first two jobs

I am writing a book for women who are making their way in business. This comes from Chapter 1.

Your first two jobs

We sometimes wonder if we’ve learned anything at all from our first paying job. Sure, we earned some money, but did that first job teach us anything? To have perspective, you must have something to compare that first job to. Thus it’s more helpful to look at your first two jobs, to compare and contrast them and to unearth the bits of learning you got from them. By doing this you begin to know early on what drives your enjoyment at work, and what’s a grind. No one is lucky enough to enjoy every single task one does on a job.

Factories and boardrooms

Typically your first two jobs are very different. For me, during summers in high school I worked where my dad worked, which was a direct mail house in Detroit called Ad-Mail Services. I did various things but my main job was to work on the factory floor, assembling direct mail pieces for packets that we would mail for our clients. Many days it hit 90 degrees on the floor. There were enormous fans subtly placed around the shop so as not to blow all the paper askew and mess with our production. Even with the fans though, it was really hot. But those of us there were young, and didn’t know any better– this was where we worked. We chatted, assembled, and got through our day.

My college summers were spent at General Motors, where I worked as an office assistant. This was the golden age of GM and the corporate building was quite a wonder. There was deep, rich woodworking everywhere, plush carpets lined the hallways, and yes, there was indeed air conditioning. I worked for two secretaries who attended to the director of logistics (yes, he had two secretaries). He was a kind man, not prone to the arrogance of others who worked there. He had a secret button located somewhere on his desk, and if he wanted privacy for a meeting, he’d push it and his office door would quietly close behind the visitors. Clearly this was not the factory floor.

I nicknamed the two secretaries I worked for Cruella deVille and Mary Poppins. Cruella was almost 6 feet tall, thin as a rail, and liked looking down at you. She never cracked a smile and took her job far too seriously. Mary was a sweet, perky blond who was into natural foods. She talked about vegetables all the time. Being ethnic, I was raised on meat and starch and had never met a vegetable, except sometimes there were limp, mushy things that would pool around my meat and potatoes. Maybe those were vegetables. While her chatter wasn’t of great interest to me, I preferred her company to Cruella and was always grateful the days I was assigned to her.

One memorable day when I was assigned to Cruella, she slapped a checkbook on my desk and explained that I needed to balance the director’s monthly statement. Plus, I had to find a missing $1,000. How could he ‘lose’ $1,000? $1,000 was three months of rent and plenty of beers at the bar for me. The task seemed quite inane, but I found the blasted $1,000 in about ten minutes due to someone’s poor subtraction . Cruella barely nodded when I handed the checkbook back to her.

Impressions

First jobs make deep impressions on us. We learn from these impressions. How do I handle myself in situations that are not physically ideal, for instance? Today it’s typical in buildings, even green ones, that we have too much or irregular air conditioning. Bring a sweater. We often get assignments we think are a waste of time. Do we have adequate context for why they are being assigned? Who knows, maybe with the checkbook task the director’s wife normally balanced it but she was busy taking care of some dying relative. Maybe Cruella was testing my math skills. As a college or early career employee, we truthfully don’t know enough about how business works to assume things are a waste of time.

The real interesting question to me is: was I happier at one place or the other? Did I enjoy the day more at job #1, or job #2? I genuinely liked the camaraderie of the factory floor. I had none of that at GM. I liked working in a small business environment where I could know everyone, and help to create the products that were being developed for customers, even if it was just direct mail. On the flip side, at GM I got to use my developing business brain to organize meetings, to summarize the notes after attending them, and to hear what the business issues were as a fly on the wall. I enjoyed hearing the banter between the guys. And sure, I liked that air conditioning and those secret buttons.

So it’s no surprise I ended up in jobs that were a hybrid of the two: creating new businesses within corporate settings. It was the ideal for me, a mix of small and large, entrepreneurial but with the deep pockets of a corporation so I didn’t have to impoverish myself or my family.

What were your first and second job experiences, and what did you learn? Let me know in the comments!

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