Newsflash: Our diversity issue is highly fueled by the fact that much of the top talent is opting out.
Many of the top women fear failure. They fear compromising their families for success. They fear selling their soul to get on top.
I say this from my own experience. I say this based on the conversations I’ve had with so many others. Others that would make great leaders at the top. Yet, they just don’t think it’s worth the trade-off.
There is probably no greater struggle than the one many of us women (and some men, too) face. We have so much ambition to do more in our careers. We know that we have the intellect and experience to keep soaring.
But there’s also incredible conflict. I could do it but … I don’t want to give my soul to the job. I don’t want to risk taking away time and focus from my family. I don’t want to … to be them.
We have this perception of what the big job entails … What the big boss looks like … What it will take to be successful.
Oftentimes, we first see a man. He has a wife who doesn’t work, or maybe he is single. He is the breadwinner and thus enabled to hop on a plane whenever he needs to, stays late at the office or has regular dinner meetings to ensure he stays on top of networking. He is tough but fair, approachable yet authoritative. Most of all, he has extraordinary confidence in everything he does.
I’m here to tell you, that’s often not the case. And even if it is, it’s not the only way to succeed.
Make. It. Your. Own.
I took on my CEO role years ago, taking over for someone who, let’s just say, had some of those qualities I mention above. I admit – I wasn’t sure I could do it. Would people see me as a fraud? Would I have to sacrifice too much at home and either mess that up or have to step down from my job to rectify?
I was not the picture you got in your head when you thought “CEO.”
I quickly realized something, though. Despite my not looking the part, I had guts. I had smarts. I had the ability to get things done.
I decided to make some pretty gutsy moves out of the gate. Not to show people I was boss, but because the business needed it. I quickly knew the key levers that needed to be pulled to turn the financials of the company around.
At first, my boss thought I was crazy. There was definitely resistance and concern that I was going too big, too soon. But after several months when I proved my bold moves were going to pay off, I quickly gained respect. And, more importantly, I gained the confidence I needed to take the business forward.
After I gained some confidence and got the business rolling in the right direction, I decided I had a unique opportunity … An opportunity to make my own hand print.
I wasn’t going to be anyone but myself. And guess what? People respected it. And employees loved it.
People are so thirsty for something new and different in a leader. They yearn to connect with them. They want to feel like their passion for the business, and for their employees, is genuine.
I told the team in our Town Halls how important it was to me that I balanced my work and family. That this was why I wasn’t always on the road or wasn’t always at our other offices around the country. I was vulnerable and honest … and people lit up when they heard it. I made sure they knew that applied to them, too.
As I got even more comfortable with the role, I found myself saying “no” to certain travel-related commitments where I simply didn’t think it was necessary. I also realized that if I did simple things such as block off my calendar (like really block it, i.e., make it purple in Outlook), that it was 100% possible to take my son to hockey. It was even more possible to say “yes” to coaching my daughter’s basketball team.
Yes, I still traveled and did work dinners from time to time. I still had some late-night meetings (sometimes hiding in my walk-in closet). I admit, I had to miss a birthday a few times or miss a school event. But that was rare, and I was proud of that. It not only benefited me and my family, it also was an incredible enabler for my team.
When you, as the leader, show that it’s OK to run out for a practice, mid-day doctor’s appointment or miss a big meeting because you’re home with a sick kid, it creates a culture of trust and enablement that will yield immeasurable results.
I once decided to leave one of our customer conferences in Massachusetts on the final afternoon to drive back to Connecticut to get my daughter for her 10th birthday. I had decided that, “no,” I wasn’t going to miss her birthday.
Instead, I was going to bring her up to join the team and our customers for dinner that evening. It was such a memorable time for her and for me as well.
But what I hadn’t even thought of was the impression it would leave on some of my employees.
A few months later, I was talking to one of our managers. She shared that her daughter, who was also an employee, was at the conference, and the first thing she mentioned when she returned was that I brought my daughter up for the night. She, too, had a little girl, and she said that I inspired her immensely when I brought Ella to the conference.
I never would have thought that something I saw as a bit selfish for Ella and I would instead impact others such that they saw that it is possible to “have it all.”
So as you think about “what’s next,” please do not judge your next role’s “requirements” based on the person who proceeded you.
This holds true for anyone. I often say that business is a relay, and if you’re a sprinter, then you eventually have to hand off the baton to someone else to run the race for a while. You don’t want the same runner. You want someone who has a different pace, perspective and energy.
Women often can bring an incredibly different and powerful run to that executive role. You will be amazed at how accepting others will be of your own style, especially if they can relate and connect.
Nobody likes a phony. Do it your own way.