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Career Advice

Career Advice

Speaking Truth to Power

My Inc post – August 14

What
is it is that prevents us from speaking truth to those in power: Fear
of punishment? Fear of attack? Fear of being noticed? There are many
reasons we don’t deal in the truth, but great teams, whether a small
company leadership, a public company board, or a political team, learn
to speak and deal in the truth.

Knowing the truth about whatever
situation you are in, or the problem you are solving, is absolutely
critical, and yet so often people can’t overcome their own barriers to
tell those above them the honest truth. From my experience, here are
five reasons that people don’t speak up and some ways you can conquer
these concerns for yourself:

  1. “I can’t get to her”–If
    you’ve ever tried to reach a senior executive at a large company, you
    know how hard it can be to steal a few minutes of their day. They have
    layers of people protecting them and their time: a chief of staff, a
    fierce admin and a busy schedule that seems to create walls of
    unavailability. However, the best executives will make themselves
    available if you bring value. Some of these executives answer emails,
    sometimes they eat lunch in the cafeteria, and if you explain what you
    want to talk about in serious terms, their admin will make time for you.
    Be persistent and when you get your 15 minutes, be sure that you bring a
    solution or suggestion for improvement, as well as the problem you
    believe they need to know about. As a CEO there is nothing more
    frustrating than someone bringing me a problem, dumping it on my lap and
    having no part in helping me solve it. I’d still prefer to know, but it
    is certainly easier to hear a problem when it comes with a proposed
    solution.
  1. “It’s not my place”
    -It’s a self-limiter to believe that just because someone is in power
    above you in the organization chart that they are in some way better
    than you, or superior to you. Everyone has a role to play in the
    organization, and as human beings, everyone is equal. Some jobs carry a
    greater span of decision-making than others and a wider range of
    responsibility, but no one is “better” than anyone else. It’s true that
    in some company cultures executives start to believe that they are
    better and look down on people they don’t consider their “peers,” but
    they are weaker for it and I can tell you from experience that when they
    are looking for a job later they forget that they once thought you were
    beneath them. Remember, you have a place and a voice; your perspective
    is valuable to power and you have a responsibility to share it.
  1. “He won’t like it”–Some
    people don’t like to hear bad news. They would rather you wrap
    everything in the positive, especially if they are conflict averse. You
    need to be aware of your audience’s personality to figure out how to
    deliver a tough message, but don’t be fearful. Fear will only prevent
    you from getting to the real problems and finding solutions. People
    don’t get fired or shut out for telling the truth. If you are
    constructive and are doing a quality job, you will not be fired for
    expressing your opinion on a situation (and if you do, go and work for a
    better leader). Good leaders want to hear the truth, even if it’s
    painful to hear. So, speak up! Have confidence in yourself and don’t
    worry about whether the power player you are speaking with will “like”
    your message.
  1. “She should already know”
    It’s a myth than people in power have all the information. In an ideal
    world, they do, but in a fast-paced business, there is no way that your
    leaders knows everything. You can be sure leaders are talking with
    customers, sales people, your manufacturing leads and your engineers to
    try and getting the information they need to make the right decisions,
    but they never know everything. If you know something that you think
    they should know, tell them. If they were already aware of your concern,
    you just confirmed it. If they were unaware of your concern, you were
    able to bring value and help them be better leaders.
  1. “He shuts me down”–Getting
    shut down is the one obstacle I find the hardest to overcome. This is
    the person who raises his/her voice, gets aggressive and bullies to
    intimidate a speaker into silence. It’s important to remember when
    someone does this to you that it’s a tactic that has been learned
    because it can be effective. I have particularly seen men use this on
    women, but I have also seen men do it to other men. This often happens
    when someone raises a controversial point, particularly if she is
    “pushy,” and a man will get angry as a way to shut down the
    conversation. If this happens to you, remember that others in the room
    probably do not respect this behavior. However, most people will not run
    to the aid of the person who spoke up, because they don’t want to draw
    the anger in their direction. When you speak up and someone attacks you
    with anger, don’t back down if you believe in the truth you are
    speaking. Stay calm and stick to your guns. You might be surprised to
    know that many people in the room agree with you.

One of the biggest reasons people don’t speak up is not about their
leadership, or fear, it’s about being liked. I’ve always been outspoken
and I am very conscious about speaking truth to power, but not everyone
likes it. I have found that some people admire me for it, and when I
leave a team (a company, or a board) those people will thank me for my
contribution. But others think of me as too aggressive and
controversial. For those people, it’s a relief when I leave the group.
It’s hard not to care when people don’t like you, but not everyone will
like you, so get used to it.

Finally, I realized I can’t please
all the people, all the time. It’s most important to be authentic, stop
worrying and speak the truth. You will find that when you do, the
people–the power – that matters will thank you for it.

Career Advice

5 Reasons You Need To Work Hard To Get Ahead

My latest in Inc from June 25, 2015



So many times, I’ve been asked, “how did you balance your career and
kids?” Many young people want to hear that I found the answer to balance
and hope I have the formula, but I don’t. Unless you have a fairy
godmother who can guarantee early success in the next big thing, then
you are going to need to work hard to get ahead, make a great living and
have a strong career. In my experience, there are no short cuts and
there is no such thing as “balance.”

We live in a competitive, global world, connected 24/7. Understanding the implications of that is half the battle:


1. It’s a competitive world (part 1).
Yes, the person sitting next to you wants your job. Or they want to get
promoted ahead of you. You are competing, whether it is visible to you
or not, and it has always been this way. The ambitious ones among you
know that getting a promotion is very competitive. Unless you are
computer scientist (in which case there are more jobs than people), you
need to work hard to hold your job and advance, and you need to be
better than the person next to you. When opportunity knocks in the form
of a new project, or a request from your boss, do not say, “that’s not
my job” or “I’m trying to keep balance in my life”–instead, grab it
with both hands and show your boss that you are ambitious and that you
understand your hard work and smart results will be rewarded.

2. You can lean on your partner. This one is probably easier for many men reading this than women, since women typically spend
twice as much time doing housework every day as men. However, whether
you are male or female, learning how to lean on your partner as you push
your career ahead is critical because you are going to need time to
work. Everyone in the household needs to step up and learn how to cook
and clean the kitchen! For many women that means learning to give up
control and letting their partner take an equal role in running the
household. The good news is that a natural shift of equal responsibility
in the home is happening as millennials are twice as likely
to have dual income families. This younger generation knows better
than their parents do that a happy, functioning, two-income household
means sharing the work! Of course, if you are single, you are probably
trying to find the time to date, which can be a challenge and interfere
with everyday chores.

3. Your business is global.
Unless you are an hourly worker it is likely that your job is
increasingly around the clock. This is the side effect of globalization
as you bring together teams from around the world to solve problems and
meetings happen at 11 p.m., 1 a.m., or 5 a.m. Sometimes this can feel
grim, and yet it is actually an opportunity to spend more time with your
family. Unlike 20 years ago when I would have to stay in the office to
be connected, I can now go home, work out, have dinner with my family
and then login to work from my home office.

4. It’s a competitive world (part 2).
Not only are you competing in your global workplace, your company is
also competing in a global world. It is very likely your company has
competitors in China or India with employees who are driven to improve
their economic status in the world and for their families with their
time and dedication. To use the old cliche “a rising tide floats all
boats”–you want your company to be the rising tide so you and your
teammates can grow your careers. Your global competitor is willing to
sacrifice balance in their lives to get ahead and so should you.

5. Kids are resilient.
This one was a hard lesson for me to learn and my guilt was the enemy,
but I did learn. In my experience, kids do better when they learn to be
independent and they are incredibly resilient if they are loved
unconditionally. Yes, you want to be at their games so they know you
care and so you can share your pride with them, but I don’t think the
phenomenon of the helicopter parent is good for kids. They will be
stronger and more competitive adults if they have learned independence
and they will have a better understanding of what it takes to compete
when their turn comes.

6. Life is not fair. It just isn’t. You need to make your own luck. For 99 percent of us that means hard work.

Career Advice

5 Ways Trust Impacts Your Productivity In The Office

Published in Inc January 8, 2015

So you want to create something fabulous and new. You want to innovate and
create a breakthrough no one has thought of before. Well, you probably
have a list of ingredients you need: a few computers, some smart people,
project funding… but there is one critical ingredient you need which
can’t be measured but will have a huge impact on your success. That
ingredient is Trust.

Trust allows your team to
move fast, fail fast and create. It’s a simple but true fact so often
neglected inside companies. Two simple issues that can be an advantage
in a culture of trust and a huge liability in a culture of politics and
mistrust: 1) how long it takes to make a decision 2) the quality and
stickiness of the decision.

1. In Development.
Think about agile development for example. One of the 12 key principles
to be mindful of is, “Build projects around motivated individuals. Give
them the environment and support they need and trust them to get the job
done”. If managers don’t trust the technical team to get it right they
will slow down the development process and inject themselves into
decisions that need to be made by the engineers, often resulting is
lower quality decisions, or decisions that get made and then unmade.
Begin by hiring great people and most importantly trust them.

2. In Planning.
How often do executives posture in the annual financial planning
process and ask for more resources than they need, on the premise it’s a
political negotiation? Blustering, ego-driven demands! If, instead, you
have a team who truly trust each other then the dynamic will be quite
different. Team members will have the freedom to advocate for projects
and priorities, regardless of who gets the resources to get the project
done. Too many times I’ve seen people equate headcount and budget with
success–but in a trust based environment the focus is on the team’s end
result, regardless of where each person sits in the organization.

3. In Hiring.
As your team beings to grow, the talent you hire will have the single
greatest impact on your potential for success. The hiring decision needs
to be open, transparent and filled with honest assessment -setting up
an initial hiring process that counts on trust. An example of this
process can include: a hiring manager assigns an interviewing team,
everyone meets the candidate and then the team assembles for a “round
table.” At the round table everyone is required to express their
opinions is an open, constructive way, but maintaining the premise that
all input is OK, both good and bad. The process moves more efficiently
towards productive results due to trust from the hiring manager truly
wanting the team’s input, and that the team working towards getting the
manager to the best decision. Without trust, you see posturing, cronyism
and manipulation of the process. Unfortunately, I’ve worked in
companies where senior executives bring in friends with no interviewing
process whatsoever. Now that’s a recipe for others to trust–not!

4. In Time.
While running a young, growing company or a highly innovative team you
will most likely be making hundreds of decisions a day. Risky decisions
with limited input. And truthfully you know you won’t get them all right
(although you do have to get the majority right). If you are working
with a team who you trust, and who trust you, you can move that decision
process quicker. You can be transparent, share your thought process and
quickly poll for advice. When you make a mistake, your team has your
back. In a political environment where information is power, decisions
take much longer because it’s not shared so openly. In a nutshell, trust
allows a team to identify problems quickly and without fear–no
baggage, no personal positioning. It’s incredibly efficient.
Trust takes time to build, which is why people who work well together often stay together from company to company.

5. In Fun.
Unless you are a master manipulator and play office politics for sport,
teams that trust one another are just more fun to work in. Having that
professional comfort allows for more laughter, more shared wins and more
support when the going is tough. Given how much time you are going to
spend working with one another, why not invest the time and effort to
build trust so that work is fun?

Career Advice

Why dating where you work is a dangerous sport

As the current fashion of writing about women in tech surges it’s not surprising that tales of sexual harassment are emerging. Men in power, women climbing into power, money, ambition, attraction, alcohol – what could go wrong?

Consider today’s latest – the suit being filed against Tinder. While the filing is by nature one sided it does appear one person dated another, things went bad and harsh words were spoken. It’s a scene being acted out all over the world today (most relationships do break up after all) but this is one that’s particularly ugly because one person works for the other, they’re executives and it’s public.

California law is known to be favorable to employees especially when it comes to harassment and protection of employee rights. In California, your employer is responsible to “take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment or discrimination from happening.” Practically, what that means to many companies is once they have 50 employees, they run sexual harassment training for at least 2 hours, every 2 years. Online or in-person, a company needs to remind every employee of their responsibility to respect other employees, regardless of gender, sexual orientation etc. Simple, right?

Most people I have worked with in my career are very rational, responsible people. And yet, I have found the discussion, and the training, more necessary than I would have expected because of unintentional harassment rather than deliberate unpleasant behavior.

For example, don’t date within your “cone of control.” Don’t date anyone within your piece of the organization (which means if you are a CxO don’t date at work). You have too much power. Whether you misbehave – positively favoring or negatively retaliating – or you don’t, there is too much risk for you and the company. HR or your CEO should step in and remove the risk. If you find the love of your life in your organization, put your relationship first and ask your love to move to another organization far away from your professional scope of influence. And if you’re married and having an affair at work, it’s especially ugly if your lover is within your organization, and everyone knows it, so for heavens sake either don’t do it or make sure absolutely no one knows. I watched one of those trains wrecks close up and wreck doesn’t begin to describe the damage done.

A second example: always pay attention to what you say. If you’re a manager the people around you are listening to what you say. They’ll even emulate you if they admire you. Especially sales guys when they are fueled up and winning. So making sexual innuendos and jokes is going to offend someone soon enough. Keep it for your friends outside work. I try hard to not say anything I wouldn’t have said in front of my mother. It’s a good guideline for me, although one I do fail at sometimes.

Or don’t touch your coworkers. Even if in your culture it’s ok to touch someone on the arm as you talk with them, or lean on their shoulder. For many people (like the English) touching in public is uncomfortable—and open to misinterpretation. Having been felt up by men in the office earlier in my career (before I was so fierce) I can tell you the “I was only joking” line doesn’t wash when someone has made you feel physically uncomfortable. Save touching for your family and close friends.

…all conversations I have had with my managers at some point …

But we’re all human and make mistakes (yes, everyone does) and training helps because it’s a good reminder of what’s ok and what’s not. So while mistakes will happen, you can ensure they won’t be from ignorance of what’s OK in the workplace. They’ll be from insensitivity, or poor management oversight or maybe even deliberate.

But whichever way mistakes happen, the company is responsible to do everything it can to prevent them, which in most well-run companies means putting some distance rules around dating at work.

Photo: http://uncorneredmarket.com/tandem-bungy-jump-valentines-day-video/

Career Advice

Do all CMOs have to be data geeks now?

Written by me in the The Economist Group today

Few would argue against data’s importance in marketing today. Data is
essential to every marketing decision now, and the techniques used to
transform that data into actionable market insight can make or break a
company.

DataCMO
Given
this, some data-intensive companies now require their CMOs to have a
background in data science—but will we get to a point where all CMOs and
senior marketing leaders have to have a background in data science? Or
will tools continue to emerge that will help marketing leaders better
interact with big data and enable them to make strategic decisions?

As the Internet and sheer amount of available data expand, companies
are rushing to take advantage of it—but they are finding themselves
overwhelmed, and many marketing organizations are reacting by hiring
data scientists. In fact, data scientists are in such high demand that a recent McKinsey study found that there would be a deficit of up to 190,000 data scientists in the U.S. alone by 2018.

Because so many marketing decisions are data-driven these days,
having someone adept at finding relationships, identifying anomalies and
making predictions based on data can be key to an effective
go-to-market strategy.  CMOs absolutely need to understand how to
interpret data. To quote a column by Computerworld Executive Editor Julia King, “Data science is all about predicting the future.”

The particular responsibility of choosing and driving strategy based
on where the market is headed lies with the CMO. But if the CMO arms
herself and her team with the right tools, she doesn’t need to be a data
scientist—and she doesn’t have to fill her bench with data scientists,
either.

Senior leaders will find more and more that cloud-based apps—like
emerging personal business analytics and marketing automation
solutions—will become their go-to tools to solve their big data overload
problems. These solutions will allow the business user to make better
real-time decisions, helping them to embrace not just analysis, but also
synthesis of the data.

Solutions whose analytics are easily embeddable into existing
platforms and apps, and which provide clear visualization and
collaboration tools, will ultimately help leaders strategically grow
their businesses without requiring a team of onsite data scientists.  By
choosing the right solutions, CMOs can save themselves the headache of
searching for a team of data scientists, but reap the same benefits
quickly and economically.

Career Advice

Why Personal Positioning is Toxic in the Office

Which matters more – how you are personally positioned, or what you get done?

Sometimes popular wisdom would tell you personal positioning truly matters. Who you know, what they think about you, how much “face time” you get, are you networked… but while this strategy may be effective in some large or political companies, it’s death in a fast moving, apolitical one.

I define politics in the office as any person, or behavior, that puts their personal interest in front of the company’s interest. When you’re growing fast, and making a thousand decisions every day, there simply is not room for people’s self interest if it’s not aligned with the company’s. But the learned behaviors, from larger political organizations, still hang around with new employees until we stop them.

Behaviors like obfuscation of the details – let me make broad statements as if I know what I’m talking about to shut you down, but I don’t actually have the details to solve the problem. Or CYA – let me tell you why the problem I am bringing to your attention is a result of something that happened before I had the job to solve it. Or the “Well everything’s all effed up so I’m the hero for trying to fix it”. Or the eye roll when describing someone else’s problem. All behaviors designed to position the source as superior and not responsible for whatever problem you are tackling.

But in a rapidly moving company, I want my staff to be responsible. Even if it is effed up, and the fire was burning before you arrived. Personal positioning is just a waste of my time.

A customer is unhappy. Bring me specifics. This happened. I think the issue is A or B. I’ve formed a small team to get to the bottom of it. We’ll tell you if/when you need to speak with the customer.

A release is late. Tell me what and why. This piece of code took longer than we expected to deliver, or that piece is unstable and we need two more weeks to test it. We’ll come to you if we need more time or resource to solve it.

To the point, specific, centered on action and resolution.

And blame is simply not helpful. Things go wrong some times and individuals are to blame. But the time for blame (if there is ever a time) is after the problem has been solved and then in a post mortem. Bring the team that failed in a situation together and debug what went wrong – with no blame. That allows you to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

I have a friend who, early on in his career, proudly called himself the vice president of personal positioning. He had it down to an art form. He was smart, articulate, good looking and senior management loved him. This served him well for a while. Then he came to work for me and I called him on his BS, repeatedly, until he figured out he was capped until he solved real problems. Because he’s smart he stopped it, and is now an SVP at a large enterprise software company.

People who are repeatedly successful, across multiple companies, figure this out. They focus on action. On creating solutions, solving problems, helping others. Despite the number of blogs written that say you should manage your brand, and how you are perceived, the truth is power accumulates to the people who know what to do and how to get it done (See my post about Pfeffer’s books on Power if you are not familiar with this concept). Not people with friends. Not people who know how to network. It accumulates to people who know what to do and how to get it done. Period.

So if you find yourself worrying about your personal positioning, yes, you’re human, but put it aside and set about solving the problem you’re faced with.

Career Advice

Don’t confuse Visibility with Success

It’s the age of social media no question. It’s ubiquitous and if you are in business you need to be active, but it’s also seductive and can make you confuse visibility (wow, I’m famous) with success (I’m truly making a difference). I know a few entrepreneurs like this – do you?

Do you know people who are more concerned with how they look on Facebook and landing speaking gigs than they are with how the company’s quarter went? Are they distracted in the office more than involved? Did they make it onto a “top something-or-other” list but you know their business is fluff?

It’s understandable why people get caught up in being “visible.” Fame is seductive. Celebrity is followed more by the media every year. Even something as simple as getting a like or a comment on a blog post makes you feel good. Research by Dr. Dinah Hurwitz, a psychology professor at California State University, Northridge, shows that people become hooked to the endorphins that come every time someone responds to their post. She said the symptoms are almost the same, when comparing heavy social networking users to drug addicts. It’s gotten to the point where, as an HBR blog post stated, “our unending use of social media has radically elevated the level of ego in our personal lives… we are in the middle of a narcissism epidemic.”

Take that in for a second: It’s an epidemic—that means thousands of people, millions even, are suffering—from narcissism!
I’ll bet you know some of the people I am talking about. People who are so wrapped up in their social media presence that, like Estelle in No Exit, they can’t see that everyone else can see how self-serving they are.

If your goal is to be a celebrity, then it makes sense. For example, the Kardashians’ whole empire is built on a good social foundation and Lady Gaga turned social media fame into a market development strategy. But if you want to be a high growth corporate professional, beware of substituting celebrity for the substance of your business. Because if your business fails, you won’t have much with which to carry on being famous. It’s important to find a balance between growing your own brand—which, don’t get me wrong, is certainly mutually beneficial if done correctly—and growing the business.

One way to ground yourself is to never forget what “success” is. Successful businesses are ones that make and grow revenue or have millions of users as proxy for future revenue. Brand recognition (and, yes, that includes you as a representative of the company) is an important cog in the growth wheel. But visibility is not success in and of itself.

So if you find yourself checking Facebook more than a couple of times a day, or promoting yourself on Twitter endlessly, come up with a scheme to strike a balance between your own social presence and your business success. Maybe you allocate only a certain amount of time per day (outside of working hours, perhaps?) to social media. Or limit the number of tweets you send per day. Or, even, have your marketing team help you (they have their own work to do, so they’ll help you if it will help the business—that seems like a good barometer to me!)

The bottom line is: before you set out to make yourself a corporate household name, know what your success metrics are and make sure you don’t confuse celebrity and visibility with true success. Those who really matter know the difference.

Career Advice

Stop Sh****ing on me!


There’s a word in the English language that, when you hear it, is likely
to either make you feel guilty, or make you turn off. Do you say it?
What do you do when you hear it? What’s your reaction when someone says
“you should” to you?

It’s a turnoff, isn’t it? And yet it’s pervasive in the way many people speak in business.

There’s the person who thinks they’re a coach and you can benefit from their wisdom. Instead of listening and
carefully reflecting ideas for you to figure out, they listen to what
you’re worried about and then launch into “Well, what you should have done is…” (I hate this response, it’s just not helpful to me).

Then there’s the guy who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else. Born with a sense of superiority, he loves to tell you what you should have said or done. Especially if you criticize him. It’s a quick way to deflect from the substance of what you are saying to how you are saying it.

Then there’s the woman who says it to herself all the time. Told by the world every day that she’s not good enough, she thinks, “I should have done…” – and loses her personal power in her own mind every time she thinks it.

The problem with the word is that it carries a sense of obligation and guilt with it. The word originally comes from the past tense of “shall“, from the days when shall carried the obligation of “I owe/he owes, will have to, ought to, must.” We don’t use shall that way anymore, but should still means “ought to” to many of us.

So it feels like a judgmental word. It’s difficult to take “you should” and turn it into a positive feeling when your first reaction is guilt or shame.

So listen for it. When you hear someone say it around you to someone else, try to help them re-frame their feedback. When you hear someone say it to you, try to check your reaction and listen to the substance, not the delivery. And when you say it to yourself, go find a mirror, look in it, and try saying “stop shoulding on yourself” several times. You’ll hear what you’re really doing to yourself.

Career Advice

Ask the provocative question in a job interview: Do you have kids?

I love to ask the question “do you have children?” in a job interview. What!? you think to yourself – didn’t she go to training on what questions not to ask??? Well there’s a method to my madness…

If you’ve been through interview training then you know there are a set of questions you are told not to ask like are you married? do you have children? are you thinking of having children? how old are you? etc.

You may have been told that it is illegal to ask these questions in a job interview because you might discriminate against a candidate as a result of their answer: their sexual preference, whether they have little kids, whether they might get pregnant, do they like American football etc.

But it’s not true. Asking the question is not illegal. What is illegal is to discriminate based on the answer. A subtle but powerful difference. Your lawyers trained you to keep you and the company out of trouble, not to teach you how to recruit the best and brightest.

It’s actually important to know some of the private life of your candidates because life interferes with people’s ability to do their job in many more ways than you’ve been trained not to ask about, or the law protects, and how your company reacts when it does says a lot about whether the candidate should want to work with you or not.

When your parent gets cancer and slowly dies that presents a huge challenge to staying fully productive. When you have a bad accident and smash a bone into so many pieces that you have to work from home for months, that can certainly make it hard to focus. When you’re trying to adopt a child from the foster care system and you need to spend days in court fighting for your (soon to be) child’s rights, that means you’re working odd hours and in odd places to stay on top of you job. All experiences we’ve shared at FirstRain, and we’ve got more!

When I meet a candidate I want to know if s/he has children,
or has elderly parents, or has an intense hobby, because I want to tell him or her about our
culture and how much we support and adapt around our people’s needs as
life happens to them.

Life just happens. Babies, sick parents, health issues. And the sign of a strong company culture is one that is adaptable and flexible to help the employee stay engaged and work through whatever challenge comes up, or take time off if that’s what’s needed. It’s important to remember that you cannot make assumptions about how your employee is going to react to the challenge, or what course of action they are going to want to take, but instead to put a team-based system in place so everyone can do their best.

It is true that some older men do still discriminate based on whether women in the workforce have young children, or are likely to have young children, so the lawyers are not all wrong. I recently sat
in a discussion (not in FirstRain!) where a pregnant, very senior
employee’s likelihood to come back to work after her pregnancy was
questioned. But those
older generation views are dying out as the old guard retires or their
daughters successfully work and raise children at the same time.

We’re not naive at FirstRain. Being flexible as life challenges our people doesn’t mean an employee can be distracted from their job indefinitely (we are a for-profit, growing company after all and we probably work harder than most because of high growth rate) but it does mean, from time to time, we have to cover for each other.

So back to interviewing. I want to know if candidates are married, or have little kids, or are thinking of getting pregnant, or adopting. I want to know if they have dogs, or horses, or like to travel. I want to know because we are in a competitive hiring environment, and I want the best people in my company possible. So I want an opportunity to tell them about our culture, and what a great place FirstRain is to work when you have major events in your life, and how supportive we are of raising a family here, and that these are reasons to be a part of your decision to chose FirstRain over any other job you may have today or be considering.

Career Advice, Equality

Feeling like a failure every day – and overcoming it

I doubt myself every single day. As a CEO it’s the dark secret none of us are supposed to talk about, but it’s real, and so it was marvelous for me to listen to Maria Klawe yesterday say that she wakes up feeling like a failure every day.

Now Maria is one of the most successful people in academia. She’s president of Harvey Mudd College, educating the next generation of brilliant computer scientists, mathematicians and physicists, she sits on the board of Microsoft and she’s a much admired water color painter… and a wife and mother too. Definitely an over achiever who is universally admired.

And yet, every day she feels like a failure. She told this to 4,800 women at the Grace Hopper Conference yesterday, but then said the way she deals with it is that she consciously listens to the other voice playing in her head which says “I want to lead the world!!!”

Sheryl Sandberg, on stage with Maria, used the analogy of running a marathon. For the men in the race, voices are telling them “you’re great!”, “you can do it!” and “keep going!” but for the women in the race the voices are “are you sure you can do it?”and “what about your children?” Imagine trying to run a real marathon with everyone around you questioning whether you can, or worse whether you actually should?

My experience for the first 25 years of my career was just that. Everyone around me, family, friends and co-workers questioned what I was doing (except my husband – he never questioned but went along for the ride). I was ambitious, determined to make a point, and determined to win the race I had chosen which was being a high tech CEO. As I had children people came out of the woodwork to question my decision, and as a (younger) blond woman I was also consistently underestimated which attacked my confidence (maybe they were right and I was about to be found out!)

For almost every day in those 25 years I would feel like a failure, waiting to be caught out. I’m a classic example of the imposter syndrome: where you feel like an imposter or fraud, waiting to be caught out. It’s not uncommon in smart, talented people and it’s especially common in women.

I would beat myself up in my head – you’re not smart enough, you’re too aggressive, your children need you, you need to lose weight… an endless dialog that got louder the more tired I got. And the voice would stay inside my head because no one else wants to hear about your self doubt. It’s old news to your family, boring to your friends (they’ve heard it before) and must not show to your co-workers or employees.

So what to do?

It took a few colliding changes for me to finally conquer it. I passed forty – and felt more confident over forty than I ever had under. I had a nasty health scare which made me take each day above the dirt much more seriously. And I realized that I was not alone, my peers feel the same way, and it’s OK – you just have to push through.

When you’re looking in the mirror feeling like a failure try this:

Step 1 – acknowledge that it’s happening and it’s not real. Learning about the imposter syndrome really helped me understand the dynamics.
Step 2 – create and listen to the other voice in your head. Maria was spot on. There is another voice, it knows you can do great things, but you have to listen to it, consciously.
Step 3 – be open about your own self criticism when coaching others. Sharing the fact that I have self doubt made it more clinical for me. It’s normal, but it’s not useful.
Step 4 – get exercise and sleep. Feels great and you can lead the world with a good swim and a good night’s sleep.

Feeling like you are failing is normal. It’s part of what drives us – the need to prove to ourselves and everyone else just how much we can lead and change the world. So embrace it as a funny part of you that you just have to slap down every day – and you will!

image: http://akiaino.deviantart.com/