- Quit setting uninspiring goals. If your goals don’t set you on fire or inspire you, you don’t have a strong enough goal. When they do, you’ll find that desire gives you the actions you need to accomplish your goals. Write down goals that inspire you. Keep them in front of you. Post them on your refrigerator. Write them on your mirror. Read them every day. When you fixate on a goal, you’ll find ways to achieve it.
- Stop underestimating the effort required. Just because it’s your calling doesn’t mean it will be easy. You’ve got to take a deep look and understand the level of action, resources, efforts really needed to move your forward.
- Don’t underestimate adversity. There will be challenges as you pursue your dream. There’s never a time in your life you won’t experience some problems. Problems are a sign we are alive. The only time you stop having them is when you are 6 feet under the ground. You have to view problems like a spark from a campfire. If you don’t fan the spark, it dies. Don’t breath life into it and make it bigger than it is.
- Adopt an attitude that success is your duty. Someone out there needs what you have whether that’s your help and wisdom or some product you create. You need to live your calling because it is the life you were destined for. Don’t shoot for average, you’ll end up below it. God gave you the talents and will provide a way, but you have to work for it. It won’t fall out of the sky and land in your lap.
I recently attended a women’s leadership conference called The Wisdom of Women. Throughout the day, we had the opportunity to hear from many women who have excelled in their fields and moved up the leadership ranks.
Each of them had a different philosophy about what worked for them. Some I wholeheartedly agreed with, other, not so much. But that’s the great thing about programs like this, you take from it what speaks to you and fits you.
One thing everyone agreed upon was that leaders need to learn to manage stress. The best way to do that is finding ways to integrate time during the day to rest your mind.
Latha Ravi, owner of the Flying Locksmiths and a Certified Yoga Instructor, said “Time is the biggest challenge for everyone. But if you can just find a minute here or there you’ll build up an emergency reserve so you can handle what ever comes up.”
I think everyone agreed being your authentic self is vital. You really can’t give a hoot if everyone likes you or thinks like you. Let go of the stereotypes and believe in yourself. It’s up to you not to let someone else’s opinion of you impact you and what you achieve. That’s why we should all take the opportunity to build each other up.
Our day included a panel discussion featuring women who were “Breaking Traditions.” Here we heard from women who were in professions normally associated with our male counterparts. Their jobs ranged from automotive to IT to HVAC. I can relate after working over 20 years in the utility industry.
While there are still barriers and misconceptions in the workforce, I feel blessed to live in a time where women are only limited by their personal desire to excel. It’s true there are still times we need to push the barrier and make sure our voices are heard, it’s how you do that, that seems to be the question.
One panelist suggested women needed to be tough about things and not present their female side at work. I personally disagree. I think women offer a different approach to a lot of problems and opportunities. We think differently than men do in some situations, especially when it comes to teams and people. There are a lot of ways to make yourself stand out that don’t involve you becoming “one of the boys.”
I do think, as women, we need to make sure we control our emotions in the workplace. If we practice a “respond not react” approach, you can maintain your feminine side without looking like an emotional basket case. When you think ahead and plan how you will handle situations, you can present a clear plan of action when the time comes. You look in control and capable of handling whatever is thrown your way.
Everyone agreed it was important to learn the most you can learn about the industry you are in. That’s how you prove to people you belong. If you know the product and the business, it doesn’t matter if you show up in a skirt or trousers.
One panelist suggested you needed to find out how do you get on the golf course so you could listen to what the men say and learn what’s really going on. Her thought was you have to go where the boys are or else the information isn’t being shared otherwise. While I feel there’s some truth in that concept, if you don’t enjoy the activity, don’t go. That will come across and people will pick up on it. It won’t seem authentic.
If it’s not the golf course, you do need to find times where you can have those relevant conversations. Maybe schedule lunches or just pop into an office and have a conversation. Be willing to listen and learn. You do that enough, you’ll become someone people share information with.
It’s important you realize you are there because you like what you do and you are good at it. Don’t let someone set the expectation for you. It’s up to you to show them what you can do for them and that you can fix their problems. If you can go in with an understanding of what they need and show them you can get it done, everyone will respect the results.
The one thought which generated a lot of conversation at our table was the thought that women had to work 10x’s harder than their male counterparts. While I won’t argue with the person who said this because each persons situation is different, our table was of the mindset that women who reach these points in their career are really hard workers anyway. Most of us have a strong work ethic which has been instilled in us from a very young age. We take pride in a job well done and generally don’t half ass our way through something. So maybe it appears to an outsider we are working harder – and I hope smarter – than others in our industries.
What we don’t do is talk about our part in accomplishments. Men claim their wins. Women tend to sit back and hope someone notices. Then when they do, they dismiss their work as “it was nothing.” I think we do ourselves a disservice with this practice. It doesn’t have to be done in a boastful way, but if someone recognizes your efforts, don’t downplay your part in the success.
No matter which side you fall out on the ideas and advice in this article, I think everyone would agree there’s still a long way to go for women in the workplace. There’s still disparity in pay. There’s still misconceptions which need to be removed. It’s about both sides respecting the contributions of each.
So what are the best takeaways?
1. Do your homework.
2. Be educated about your industry.
3. Show up and be a problem solver.
4. When you get the seat at the table, don’t be afraid to speak.
5. Remain authentic to yourself and ideas.
Anne Meisner, President and CEO of Cancer Treatment Center of America-Atlanta, reminds us that even when things seem devastating, good things can come.
Before you can appreciate her story, you need to know her background.
“I’m a nurse, still am, not used to be,” she said. “I’m very proud of my background. It’s made me a stronger leader. I graduated in 1981. I remember wearing my hat and getting my pin. It was my identity. No way in heck would I have imagined myself sitting in the CEO seat.”
Her journey to that seat has been one with many twists.
“I remember the day the guy who I thought was my worst nightmare walked in,” she said. “He was the turnaround CEO. CTCA was struggling. It was in the middle of reinventing itself. Our owner had a great vision but not necessarily the best tools to make that vision happen.”
How things that seem devastating can be a good thing
“My direct boss was my mentor and an amazing woman,” Meisner said to the group of women gathered at the Newnan-Coweta Chamber of Commerce Wisdom of Women event. “The company decided to let the CEO go and bring in someone new. Everyone loved the current CEO. We knew the company had problems, and everyone was working hard to make it work. Everyone was on edge and worried. When we heard they were bringing in someone new, we started wondering what it meant to us and the organization.”
Fear of the unknown
“Roger, the new CEO, showed up,” she said. “He was an intruder. We thought he was gonna break everything we had tried to fix. He let go of half of the management team—my boss included. I thought my worst fears were coming true.”
Meisner started pulling my resume together. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to be there.
“It was chaotic and tough times,” she said. “You show up one day and something was different. I was sitting in my middle management office trying to reassure others its going to be ok even though I wasn’t sure it was. The next thing I know the CEO comes in my office and says I’ve been talking to people about what you are doing and I like what I’m hearing . He wanted me to be a part of his management team. I looked at him like he had to be kidding. It was the last thing I expected — to be invited to be a part of his executive team. I told him I wanted to think about it.”
Meisner spent a lot of time talking to people. She thought about why she joined the organization to begin with.
“There were so many conflicting ideas about what was going on,” she said. “I felt the work important and needed to continue, but I also felt like a traitor since it devastated so many I loved and cared about. I think women in particular struggle with these decision paths.”
Meisner did what a lot of us do in these situations. She called a friend.
“I turned to Sister Collette,” she said. “She said ‘you need to listen to your inner voice about why you joined it to begin with’. She told me I needed to respect the fact the new CEO saw something in me. Then she told me to quit whining because people were counting on me to make sure things happen. After that pep talk, I signed on.”
New starts offer new observations
Meisner said it was like starting over. It was a new group with new dynamics. She grew to respect and admire her new CEO.
“I learned there are many different ways to manage and lead,” she said. “Don’t be afraid of conflict. I think women struggle with this because we look for approval and community. We feel conflict messes stuff up, but out of conflict you can move forward.”
She shared an aha moment which came after a particularly long and grueling board meeting.
“In the early days we were trying to fix the program,” she said. “We had board meetings and everyone dreaded them. Everything was under a lot of scrutiny while trying to get things back on track. They were tough meeting where we talked about talent issues and financial issues. Roger was getting questioned by every member of the board. There were raised voices. I was new and felt it. This meeting was a 12 hour board meeting. I felt like I’d been through the mill. He looked like he just won the state championship. I asked me how he thought it went. He said wasn’t that great. I was like how do you think that? He saw challenge as opportunity and way to move forward past obstacles. For every challenge, he had rebuttal and response. He answered each challenge with confidence.”
Meisner said she learned you have to operate with confidence even where you don’t have all the answers. People who look to you to lead need to see confidence and positivity. You need the ability to convince someone you are on the right path.
She also said women are horrible at self-promotion.
“Roger taught me you can’t sit by and wait for people to notice you. A great job isn’t the reward and people aren’t necessarily going to recognize that without you making it known. Men go about it differently than women. They lay claim to it and have no problem doing that. It’s about confidence and the willingness to self promote. It’s not bragging or over inflating what your did—you are a contributor, you need to own it.”
Meisner rose through the ranks under her CEO. She earned several promotions and one day her CEO told her the company had more growth plans and he would be leaving the CEO seat and wanted her to step into the role.
“My initial reaction was I’m not ready and couldn’t do it,” she said. “I was having that conversation with him about if I was capable. He asked me ‘who do you think has been running it while I’ve been out doing the corporate stuff?’ He wanted to know what my problem was. I was diminishing myself. Self doubt is real. Women especially fall for the imposter syndrome. We believe we have somehow duped others into believing we are a success.”
Own your power – advice for women in leadership
“You’ve got to own your power,” she said. “You deserve this. You have to change your mental model and be real about your accomplishments. It’s not ‘I did it because of something going on, or the right timing.’ It’s about your skill.”
Women need to quit comparing themselves to male colleague. Meisner urged women to follow your own path.
“There’s no right way or one way, there is only your way.”
Meisner shared a revelation which came after serving on a panel with three male colleagues. Each said they wanted to be a CEO from birth.
“That was their whole plan,” she said. “It wasn’t me. My path was much more one of picking opportunity, raising my hand here, winding way through the organization because I was passionate about what I did and who I worked with.
There is no one path. When you think about what women do to themselves to sabotage their path…it’s unnecessary. My job now, and those of you in management, is to figure out how to lift up and promote others and pay it forward.”
Meisner said her proudest accomplishments are stories about the people she has worked with who have moved on to amazing roles both in and out of the company. She has a sense of pride in helping put them on the right path.
Challenge for the future
Meisner challenged the women gathered to think about how we can create a shift.
“There are less than 5% of women leading Fortune 500 companies. There’s disparity in boards and pay. It is generational work we have to do. It’s about having important conversations as a county and community. Women in the workplace need to shift the idea of “Me Too” which spotlights women as victims and instead it needs to be “Me Too” on deserving opportunity and showing we have the ability. It needs to be “Me Too in equal compensation.”
Meisner said, “I’m a great example because someone believed in me and I was able to conquer my own fear and doubts. There’s no reason that opportunity shouldn’t be available to everyone else.”