The REAL story

I have had the material for an amazing book for much longer than I can remember. All of the stories, anecdotes, failures, and successes of my career – and that of my friends – are perfect reading for any woman wanting to know how to climb up a corporate ladder. And stay there should she choose to. As with most writers, I experience the “reluctance wall” as I have come to know it; that block between where I am standing or sitting, and the chair in front of my computer. Kind of like the block I feel when I consider how I will respond to the alarm going off to prompt me to the gym.

 

Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook, wrote a book along the same theme that I am passionate about. Her book came out to mixed review about both content and sincerity. One of the biggest complaints is that her advice only works for women who have plenty of money and who can outsource the parts of their lives they aren’t interested in. Like laundry. And child care. And, to my particular rant, writing their own book.

 

I have spent countless hours talking about the content of “Dancing on the Glass Ceiling.” Gathering it, testing it, philosophizing about it, and repeating it. I wish I had the luxury of having a “co-writer” following me around through all of those conversations.  I would have a tome by now rather than a simple self-help-business book.

 

But I don’t. So I will struggle to write my book the same way I struggled to climb the corporate ladder. I will reach into the tool box and pull out my discipline and time management skills. I will look around my house and decide it doesn’t need to be perfectly clean. I will forego happy hour in order to study technique, create an outline, or perhaps even finish a chapter. And I will get there just as surely as I made it to that ceiling dance.

 

And all of you other successful women who got there? Maybe you don’t want to write a book about it. But maybe you have a story that you think is worth telling. I would be honored to be your co-writer. Contact me and tell me YOUR story – I will make sure it gets out into the consciousness where those who are seeking can find their muse. I am convinced that the next women walking the plank will get usable information from the stories of real people with real families and real children and real dust. Help me tell the story of us – the scrappy ones who got there in spite of the odds.

 

 

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Made-Up Words

One of my pet peeves about  business is the incessant need to invent words. I am not sure the purpose of the pursuit, unless the results of confusion and elitism are the goal. As an executive who strives for clarity in all communication, I find the practice annoying.

We are blessed to have many large companies in our region who are able to churn out an abundance of highly trained, organized, systemic thinkers. An unintended consequence (and apparently an unnoticed one as well,) is that these same thinkers believe those made-up words are common vernacular.

Here is my rant for the day:  if I have to sit in one more meeting with a person who can only think in terms of their particular company’s system, or who can’t describe an activity without turning a noun into a verb, I am going to stand up and scream “STOP IT. SPEAK ENGLISH!”

Yesterday I was introduced to the moniker “Teaming”.  Through careful listening and attention to context, I deduced that this is code for all of the activities associated with getting the right employees in the right seats doing the right jobs. Couldn’t we have said just that so that no one was left feeling as if they didn’t know the language being talked around the table? And I could have actually been thinking about the task at hand rather than wondering what was being said?

In the art of communication,  fewer words is the very definition of efficiency. Not only are there  fewer opportunities for confusion, there are expanded opportunities for inclusion.

Get Outta Here!

I have identified a particular goal that every successful leader embraces: Cultivate an environment that allows your employees and managers to SAFELY send you back to your office when you stick your nose into their business. And when they do, know they are right.

If this sounds “soft” and simplistic, it isn’t. It is a very systematic approach to creating success in your organization. The commitment isn’t insignificant – it is about building a culture. It must hold the forefront so the goal informs decision-making at every level of the company. Here are some considerations to getting there:

Consider first your people. Not only do they have to be the right people, they have to be trained to perform, communicate, and look around corners. Teaching them the technicalities of a job is the easy part. Mentoring them on how to think and make decisions is an ongoing journey that you all take together. Their training is based in the reality of your day-to-day issues, and the time you spend guiding them transfers your finesse to them.

Consider next your management reporting systems. Stepping up and aside does not mean you should adopt a “trust me” culture.  Your systems have to be structured to provide you with information that clearly shows the intersection of all the moving parts in your organization. Budgets, KPI’s, feedback processes, and third-party input are just a few examples of the things you need to monitor in order to remain above the fray.

Last but not least, consider yourself. Are you comfortable having others be better at their jobs than you are? Can you let their decisions drive actions even if they are different than the way you might proceed? This system thrives on trust; ego and fear have no place. Your comfort level will grow over time; it is the logical result of the right people combined with the right systems.

I think I’ll go back and rewrite this post. Consider yourself and your role first.

 

 

The Secret to Success?

Although I am a bit saddened to see the summer ending, I admit there is one thing the increasing darkness contributes toward making my life significantly better. When it gets dark earlier, I can go to bed earlier.

I am a night owl and always have been. It’s been a bit of a challenge in the corporate environment since companies expect for employees to have butts in seats at a time I consider early. Like 8:00 a.m.  Even as the CEO of my own company, I find it hard to throw off a couple decades of work habits. Truth be told, I feel guilty if I am not at least reading email and drinking coffee before 9:00 a.m. And not still wearing my bunny slippers.

On the flip side, I am completely able to stay up deep into the double-digit hours indulging myself in my creative pursuits. There is no guilt, and despite evidence to the contrary I can always convince myself that tomorrow won’t be that hard to get through.

So the other night, after one more experience of nodding off inappropriately in the middle of the afternoon, I made a pact that I would go to bed early that night. I did, and lo-and-behold, I found out something the next morning that surprised me. Here is my big “ah ha”. Jumping rope and boxing is MUCH EASIER when you have had enough sleep.

This doesn’t appear to be rocket science, and actually seems like an elementary conclusion. But I had been using my morning torture session at the gym as the means to wake me up by forcing a bunch of air into my lungs and extremities. I even thought it was working (since I obviously didn’t interrogate reality in any meaningful fashion). I was fully invested in the notion that a morning workout would make my mind sharper and enhance all of my pursuits of the day. And substitute for sleeping, which seemed to be interfering with my pursuits of happiness.

I tested my discovery for the next three nights. Not only did my workouts get more fun, more productive, and less painful, but my work became crisper, more focused, easier, and actually quite a bit better.

I am sold.

If you are one of those over-stressed folks that I work with every day, changing your life could be as simple as longer sessions with your favorite pillow. I know, you are all way too busy and there is  just not enough time in the day. I agree. But indulge me and try increasing your sleep for just three nights in a row. I think you may find a new normal and a new path to success.

Name It to Change It

I was listening to the CEO of a manufacturing company wax on about his disappointment with his general manager. “I want him to create a plan for growth and profitability that includes how we manage x, y, and z and that produces results 1, 2, and 3” he said to me. “And he just hasn’t done it.”

Before I assumed we had a performance issue to deal with, I asked the million-dollar question. “Have you told him that’s what you want”

I’m sure you can guess the answer.

It is not uncommon to meet an executive who seems to prefer harboring disappointment over talking to an “Offender”  regarding performance.  Sometimes Execs tell me they don’t want to be a micro-manager or a heavy hand. Sometimes the cone of silence has been in place for so long that  the Exec fears changing the rules in the middle of the game. We all  know how unsporting that would appear! In exploring the facts, the Exec and I always reach agreement that the employee needs to change in order to positively impact the company; we also always agree that nothing will change without a chat. And at this point in our conversation it is typical for the Exec to be a little embarrassed and mutter a sheepish “I know, I know”.

I asked this particular President what was most important – the success of his company’s or maintaining his  strategy of silent anger.  The answer to that question was obvious as well. Yet he had been paralyzed for more than eight months.

It is my personal belief that leaders who put their own emotions before the performance of their organization  aren’t doing their job. Not only that, I judge their behavior as abdicating and perhaps even self-indulgent. And when I “suggest” my judgment to them, I ALWAYS see a shift of perception. Obviously there is no President who doesn’t have a deep caring about his company; he has just been stuck behind a lens of judgment that is inward facing. When we give that behavior a name, we aim the lens right back at the bottom line. I watch executives  visibly rise up before my eyes, and say “Thank You – I know exactly what I have to do.”

Naming behavior  is one of the most powerful ways to help people shift their focus from themselves to their company’s great good.  You can name your own behaviors simply by looking at the conversations you AREN’T having. It is always a self-centered motivation that keeps those words inside of you. Find the fear and you can slay your own dragons.

The Olive Bar

The other day I decided to indulge myself in one of my favorite vices – blue cheese stuffed green olives. So I wandered up to the olive bar at my local grocery store and reached for one of the little plastic containers. Lo and behold there were none, which isn’t all that uncommon. Most times I would interpret this as a sign from the universe that I don’t really need this delicious little snack. This day I decided to ignore the sign, if indeed it was one, and head to the counter to procure a container.

The nice lady behind the counter was more than willing to help. When I told her of my need, she grabbed a whole stack of containers and handed them to me en-masse.

I was a little confused as to what I should do. It seemed I had two choices: I could be a jerk and tell her I only wanted one, or I could take the whole stack and set them on the olive bar. I chose the latter, but left scratching my head wondering how to judge the customer service component of what I had just played a part in. I certainly know how I would have reacted if she had done that in my shop.

How about you?

Dancing on the Glass Ceiling – Part II

(When we left off last time, our Well-Heeled CEO (a.k.a. me) was having a conversation with the chairman of the board)

“The board has directed me to offer you the position of CEO….” The chairman  was saying,

“…with a six-month trial period to see if it is working out.”

It took me about two seconds to identify and analyze the risks:

Risk 1 – give up my currently well-paid, well-defined executive job for a trial job whereby my success would be based on the whim of a room full of old men. Risk 2 – accept risk 1 while assuming the responsibilities of a turnaround, knowing that significant impact wouldn’t be measurable in six months.

I laughed out loud.

The chairman was shocked. I guess the board figured I would be so honored at the offer that I would throw my common sense out the window. So I posed a question to the chairman: “Just how, exactly, does the board intend to make this six-month determination?” His enlightened expression was enough to show me that he understood my laughter. So I laid down my terms.

“Here’s how we do it. Give me my goals. Get out of my way. Fire me if a screw it up.”

So they did, and they kind of did, and when the time came I left on my own. But that is getting ahead of the story…..

What’s the point? I have no doubt that I received a conditional offer because I am female; I can’t imagine any group of men extending such an insulting offer to another man. A trial CEO position? Really? How on earth could that even work? My apologies if you are tired of hearing this, but there is still a significant amount of gender inequity in corporate America and I think it is criminal for us to pretend otherwise. Ask any woman trying to break the glass in financial services or tech, just to name two particularly notorious industries.

I have lots more stories to tell if you are interested in hearing them. If you’re not, don’t tune in to The Well-Heeled CEO.