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10 Little Things I’ve Learned as a Female Executive

Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years, and continue to learn every day.

1. Work Hard

There really is no substitute for hard work. The law of sowing and reaping and Newton’s third law hold true in nature, and are equally applicable to everyday life. Don’t expect to ever get more than you put in. Don’t expect to ever be paid more than you deserve. And if it happens, don’t expect it to last long. Compete only with yourself; strive every day to be better than you were the day before.

2. If You Don’t Ask, the Answer is Always “No”

One of the main reasons some women succeed at landing the tough assignments and earning salaries comparable to those of their male counterparts is because they’ve learned to speak up. Life is not fair and neither is the work place. Take an active role in making sure you convert your diligence into rewards — this will not happen automatically. Ask how you’re performing, ask for more responsibility, let others know when you’re being treated unfairly and toot your own horn.

3. Don’t Scratch with the Chickens

Choosing the wrong people to keep company with at work can really drag you down. Gossips are great at identifying who did what wrong, but don’t put any energy into making things right. Similarly, complainers cast blame, but take no personal responsibility. Both consistently expect the worse and both tend to consistently get the worse. When you’ve suffered a set-back, take it in your stride and move on. It is a mistake to whine or bitterly complaining to whoever will listen. Hone your skills and keep your eyes peeled for the next available opportunity. Prepare to soar with the eagles instead.

4. Flaunt Your Skills, Not Your Sexuality

Make the office a strictly “no-flirting” zone. Being inconsistent on this point may land you in compromising situations that may be difficult for you to recover from. On the other hand, celebrate the fact that you’re a woman. There is no need to forgo lipstick or try to “be one of the boys” to be taken seriously. Maintain a balance; people will find it easier to listen to what you’re saying if they aren’t being blinded by your fluorescent blue eyeshadow.

5. Lighten Up

Take the time to get to know those around you. Don’t be afraid to share a laugh or have fun at work. Embrace the concept of LBWA – leading by walking around. When people like and connect with you as an individual, they will be much more likely to support you when you really need it.

6. You Can’t Fix Everything

Being a perfectionist is an incredible waste of time and energy. Get your priorities straight, and make a habit of always working on your most important tasks first. Make a list every day. If you start your day tackling the easy stuff and then reacting to every email that pops into your in-box, you will find yourself both inefficient and over-stressed. Always put first things first, and learn to delegate or drop the things that aren’t worth your immediate time and energy.

7. Trust Your Passion

The more you enjoy what you do, the greater the likelihood of being successful and enjoying that success. Figure out what you enjoy and find ways to do more of the things you love in your job. It won’t necessarily happen overnight, but create a plan and work with it.

8. Make Time For You 

Make time to enjoy your life, and be happy and healthy. Cultivate interests outside of work – stimulate all your senses, eat well and move your body. Most of all, spend quality time with your friends and family.

9. It’s Okay to Cry

Frustrations will come, and so will the tears. When you break down emotionally on the job, it leaves people wondering if you can handle the task you’ve been entrusted with. Crying in front of bosses and coworkers will make you to lose credibility fast. Be tough on the job and save the tears for the drive home.

10. Never Stop Learning

My boss shared this gem with me just recently in a rare one-on-one moment. I embrace learning by reading voraciously on subjects that interest me. What he was talking about was learning the art of extracting ideas and solutions from everyone around. Asking others “what would you do?” is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of real strength. It could make the difference between success and failure, particularly in really challenging times.

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The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Ants do it. Why can’t we?

In theory, we all know the value of teamwork. In childhood, grandma admonished that “many hands make light work”. Henry Ford provided sage advice, saying “if everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself”. We have all seen the glossy motivational posters. So why is it so difficult to build strong and effective teams?

Two years ago, when I became a General Manager for the first time, one of the lessons I knew I had to learn fast was how to get the most out of my new team of managers and supervisors. Having spent almost my entire career in audit, accounting and finance positions, leading a multi-disciplinary team was new to me.

I recently completed the audio version of my second book by Patrick Lencioni. “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable” struck a chord with me.  In a cleverly woven leadership fable, Lencioni provides insight into the reasons why so many teams fail. The author shows how ineffective teams create apathy and ambiguity that will eventually cripple an organization.

Here are the natural, but dangerous pitfalls encountered by a team:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

1. Absence of Trust

Where there is an absence of trust in a team, members don’t get to know each other well. They are afraid to be vulnerable or admit their weaknesses or mistakes. Because the team members are constantly in defense mode, no one asks for help.

2. Fear of Conflict

Absence of trust sets the tone for a team’s inability to engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas. Effective teams disagree with each other. Instead of running their thoughts through a political filter before being spoken, they say “I disagree with you, here are the reasons why”. Veiled discussions, guarded comments, sarcasm and silence do not achieve the results that active disagreement and productive debate can yield. When team members don’t battle it out passionately, the decisions they reach will inevitably not accurately reflect the shared goals and values of the organization.

3. Lack of Commitment

Wherever there is a lack of healthy conflict then the third dysfunction is almost assured. Where there has been no “weigh-in” on matters, there is likely to be little true “buy-in” for decisions made. Team members may feign agreement during meetings, but haven’t truly given their commitment to decisions and plans of action.

4. Avoidance of Accountability

A lack of commitment to clearly defined plan of action leads to team members being hesitant to hold their peers accountable. No one gets called out for actions and behaviors that are counter-productive to the good of the team. When no one gets called out, everyone saves face, and the team loses.

5. Inattention to Results

Avoidance of accountability has only one natural conclusion. When team members  put their own  – such as career advancement, or the needs of their individual departments ahead of the collective goals of the team, then results suffer.

 

In the last two years, my leadership style has developed into one that is somewhat unconventional. I strive to create an environment that encourages vulnerability. Everyone on the team knows they have a say. I encourage debate and even passionate emotional debate. Conflict is natural and healthy. Without it, there will be no growth because the status quo is never really challenged. Arguing over concepts and ideas is not to be confused with personal mean-spirited attacks and destructive politics. In a good team, everyone knows the difference. It takes discipline and commitment to acquire that level of knowledge, but the results are truly worth it.

End note: If you are a leader who relies on a dogmatic management style, or if you are part of a team that constantly walks on eggshells trying not to offend each other, then I would like to challenge you to read Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. Learning to lead in a way that gets the most from your team will yield more positive results than you can imagine.