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Expect To Be Tested

March 19, 2009

Expect to be confronted.  Expect to be opposed.  Expect to have to defend yourself in the face of opposition.  Don’t be unprepared, even, for dirty tricks.  And whatever you do, don’t turn tail and retreat to the bushes.”  

Those are the words of PhD Nancy Badore, a friend and former colleague who developed and ran the Executive Development Center at Ford Motor Company, when it was one of the most admired and successful companies in the world – a little over a decade ago. 

She and I were talking recently about women, leadership and, in particular, courage.  

I’m convinced that “Build Courage” is one of the essential habits that women achievers must develop in order to become effective and genuine leaders.   Of course every leader, male or female, needs courage.  The times when leadership is needed most is when the gale is upon us.  Such as right now.

When we think about courage, most of our mental databases serve up a few of the thousands of images that our culture has planted deep into our subconscious.  Most look vaguely familiar:  men on battlefields charging up hills, galloping into the face of an enemy, or rescuing women and children.  

We have to think a bit to pull up clear images of women and courage, such as the Suffragettes chaining themselves to the White House fence or enduring forced feedings in prison. Rare is the culture anywhere in the world that celebrates and consistently models women’s courage.  But we have it and use it every day.  And it’s essential for leaders.  When I think of courage in terms of women and leadership, I think of:

 The courage to not silently accept the status quo, but to lead change.
 The courage to speak up with conviction about your own  insights, even when you are a minority voice. 
 The courage to rise to defining moments and use them to springboard you to a higher level.
 The courage to stand up to criticism and welcome challenges as a chance to show you know your stuff,  rather than taking them as personal attacks.  

That last one is an area women struggle with much more than men.  Of course we’ve known for years that men are from Mars and women from Venus.   But thanks to powerful, new brain imaging technology that allows us to observe brains in action, we’re learning why we’re so different.  Turns out, our different reactions to similar situations have as much to do with how our brains are hard-wired as with our cultural conditioning.  

Hormones have plenty to do with it. Higher levels of testosterone, for example, are why men’s reaction to a threat or challenge is to stand up and fight, while women’s default reaction is to avoid conflict and back off.   Of course our biological hard-wiring goes back to cave man and cave woman days.  We know from Darwin that Mother Nature is all about survival of the species and could care less whether you are considered senior executive material or gain the confidence of voters to elect you to political leadership.   

Our lives and ambitions today far exceed the female brain wiring that hasn’t changed much in millions of years, not to mention the possibilities for generations of foremothers. I’ve just read a fascinating book on the topic:  The Female Brain, by Dr. Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist at the University of California and founder of the Women’s and Teen Girls Mood and Hormone Clinic. 

“We are living in the midst of a revolution in consciousness about women’s biological reality that will transform human society,” Dr. Brizendine writes.  Think about that.  On our watch, we can be catalysts to help transform society.  But it takes courage.

Dr. Nancy Badore urges her executive clients,  “Learn to appreciate 'hecklers' as comediennes do.  Because the best comediennes," she says, "have learned that the  extent to which they can rebut, hold their ground, stay cool and top the heckler, they’ll go to the head  of the line.” 

 So the next time you find yourself facing “hecklers” and your ideas being challenged and tested, forget your ancient, out-of-date hard-wiring that tells you to take it as a personal attack.  Instead, follow Badore’s very sage advice for 21st Century women.  “Let the people who counter you bring out in you that tiny little crinkle of pleasure  -- because you know you are about engage in a debate  that you have a good sense is worth winning.”   

To do that requires preparation and grit.  Plus, as with any skill, the more you practice the better you'll get. Build Courage.

Groundbreakers: Using the Strength of Women to Rebuild the World Economy

March 18, 2009

 "The current financial crisis presents a real need to challenge ourselves and to rethink the way we do things.  We need to draw on the widest range of talent.  The vast economic potential of women as an economic force has yet to be realized."  Those are the opening words of a cutting edge White Paper on why women are the high-powered octane that will help turbo-charge our global economy back into gear. 

 Groundbreakers: Using the Strength of Women to Rebuild the World Economy is the title of a fascinating report that was released -- and caused a lot of buzz -- at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos.  Ernst & Young, one of the largest professional service firms in the world and one of the Big Four auditors, developed the report under the leadership of Beth Brooke, E&Y's Global Vice Chair of Public Policy, Sustainability and Stakeholder Engagement.  Brooke, who is pictured here, has been named to Forbes' list of the World's Most Powerful Women multiple times.  I've had the pleasure of hearing Brooke speak at a Global Conference of the International Women's Forum.

For the past two years, I've had my finger in the "clay" on the latest research and trends on women's momentum, as I've been working on a book on women's leadership.  I can tell you that Groundbreakers is the most comprehensive and insightful report I've seen on the topic of women's economic progress and potential.  Its perspective is global.  Its facts are fresh.  The story it tells on the undeniable evidence in favor of women's empowerment -- at all levels in every sector of society -- is one that every leader and thinker interested in how we learn from our present economic crisis should read.  

Click here to link to this compelling report.


Talking with the Gen Y Generation

March 16, 2009

For the past two years, I've been working on a book on women's leadership, called:  POWERING UP.   The best part has been the nearly 150 interviews I've done with women achievers and leaders from all over the country. 

Some are names you would recognize who have already risen to the 10,000 foot level of the Forbes and Fortune magazine lists of "Most Powerful Women."  Others have risen to leadership in the military or as Olympic athletes.  Many were pioneers, such as Reverend Jane Holmes Dixon, one of the first women bishops ordained in the Anglican church.  And some are at the very beginning of their leadership journey, such as Nicole Marble, who is pictured here.  A graduate of Michigan State University and a grand slam-slugging college athlete, Nicole is now working on her Master's Degree, aspiring to a career in sports management -- still a tough field for women to crack -- and adjusting to her first year of marriage. 

She is just one marvelous example of the next generation of women achievers and leaders, a sub-set of the 80 million strong Gen Y generation that is just beginning to move into the U.S. workplace.  I call Nicole and aspiring women of her generation:  the "I'll-do-it-my-way Innovators."  They are an ambitious breed and I predict they are the storm troopers who will finally smash those elusive glass ceilings to smithereens.  But they need leadership and hands-up from their more seasoned professional sisters.  For insight into the mindset of an ambitious, well-qualified Innovator, you are welcome to listen in on our conversation about women's leadership.  Click here to listen


March 10, 2009
Have you stood in line at a grocery store lately and noticed the covers of all the gossip magazines?  Brad, Angelina and Jennifer Aniston have finally been bumped by the tragic Riyanna fiasco.  It was bad enough that she was beaten and strangled to the point of nearly losing consciousness.  What's worse are all the cozy pictures and headlines about the couple getting back together.  I'm not even going to mention the name of the man who attacked her.  This has been a publicity boondoggle for him. 

What bothers me is how much attention is being paid to the sad and sordid details of this pathetic celebrity drama and too little seizing of this "teachable moment" to help other women and teenage girls who are in danger.  The statistics are sad and not getting any better.  And teenage girls are equally at risk, with 1 in 4 (the same  as for adult women) experiencing physical abuse from their boyfriends.  Here is the national domestic abuse hotline that will connect you or someone you care about to local help.  Our attention is fickle.  Soon, we'll move on to some other juicy celebrity story and will have forgotten this -- until Riyanna is injured again, of course. 

Please use your voice to speak up during this brief moment of national attention on a tragedy that plays out every minute against women and girls all over the world.  And support anyone you know who is in danger to get help. 

Leave it to Oprah to speak out and tell it like it is.  "Love doesn't hurt, she told her national audience last Friday.  If a man hits you once, he'll hit you again."  Here's the link.  


March 6, 2009

Sheila Johnson has done it again.  

Last night I attended the premiere of A POWERFUL NOISE, a fabulous documentary film that was shown, simultaneously, in hundreds of theaters in the U.S. to mark International Women's Day.  The film tells the moving stories of three women from very different parts of the world -- Bosnia, Viet Nam and the slums of Mali -- and their struggles to overcome overwhelming odds.  It is an inspiring tribute to the strength of women to make a difference in the world.  The money and the momentum behind the film came from Sheila Johnson, pictured here, the first female African American billionaire.  Johnson and her former husband co-founded the Black Entertainment Network.  She is now an active philanthropist, CEO of a growing empire of luxury resorts and the only woman with a stake in three professional sports teams, the WNBA Washington Mystics, the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals.  

A Powerful Noise is a "don't miss" film in my book.  Especially if you're interested in emotionally-gripping stories and being reminded of what a difference each individual can make.  Following the film, Johnson turned things over to a powerhouse panel, including former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff and CARE USA CEO Dr. Helene Gayle, for a discussion on why educating women is the single most important step we can take to fight poverty and gender inequality throughout the world.  

Johnson is another incredible example of a great woman who is putting her power to work to make a difference on her watch.  How about you? 


Two Terrific Ways to Mark International Women's Day

March 3, 2009

March 8th is International Women's Day, a global event that will celebrate women's economic, political and social achievements.  Forty-eight countries will mark the date with thousands of events, both national and local.  Here are two memorable ways that you can take some time to be inspired to make a difference on your watch in helping "Team Women" to continue to progress.  I love great movies.  Both of my suggestions are "don't miss" films.  


  • Iron Jawed Angels.  Two-time Academy Award winning actress Hillary Swank plays the lead role in this fantastic film, which is one of my all-time favorites.  It's the story of Alice Paul and the other Suffragettes who won the right to vote for American women -- a job that Susan B. Anthony started 50 years earlier.  It's a powerful story, important history and a movie women, men and even teenagers will enjoy.  It's available through Blockbuster Online and NetFlix.

I hope you'll take some time to be inspired to keep striving yourself -- and encourage and ichallenge women and girls whose lives you can touch -- to live up to all of your god-given potential.

I Thought I Had No time for LinkedIn or Facebook -- Let Alone Twitter. Boy Was I Wrong!

March 1, 2009

My 17 year old son Kevin's life seems to revolve around Facebook. I’ve dipped my toe in the Facebook and LinkedIn waters, but figured I just didn’t have time to dig deeper into what all the excitement was about. 

Until now.  I just attended an excellent seminar led by Nicole Ellison, Assistant Professor of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media at Michigan State University.  She’s been studying the explosion of online social networking for several years.  By the time she finished, I realized that I've been missing the boat by not utilizing these 21st Century business tools.  

What's so great about them? We all know having an excellent network is important.  But you have to stay in touch with people and keep connections fresh.  How do you do that and still get "real work" done?  LinkedIn and Facebook are great places to start. 

 The real power of social networking sites is their ability to dramatically expand two things:   1) Your personal and professional networks of people and 2) Your sources of fresh and valuable information.  Why is that important?  Here's what I learned: 

About LinkedIn (you need to be a member to access my profile)   

  • Research has shown that we are more likely to get job opportunities, make new career connections and discover new things from people outside our normal circles.  So, the wider our circles of connections, the better.  
  • LinkedIn is quickly becoming the new professional resume.  One executive recruiter said she won’t even look at a candidate unless she or he has a LinkedIn site.  How come?
  • Because what you claim about yourself on Linked In is out there publicly – sort of like Wikapedia for others to confirm.  People have been exaggerating on resumes for years.  But when your professional track record is publicly posted on LinkedIn – and you have recommendations from others confirming that you’ve done what you’ve claimed -- that's credible.  
  • It's also a tremendous way to minimize the number of degrees of separation between you and people you would like to meet.  Once you are a member of LinkedIn, you begin building your network.  Once someone allows you to add them to your network, you can see whose in their network -- and can contact those people directly, asking if they will allow you to connect with them. 
  • Can you begin to imagine the possibilities?    

So what's the insight? If you’re already on LinkedIn, take another look at your profile.  Treat it as a living resume that really reflects everything you’re interested in doing now and your track record.  If your not on LinkedIn -- and having an excellent professional network is important to you -- you're missing a powerful tool.  Plus, it's free.  

How about Facebook? (You have to be a member to access my profile)

  • It's much more personal. 
  • Mark Zuckerberg, who founded it when he was a student at Harvard is now 23 years old and worth $1.5 BILLION. 
  • I'm not sure why anyone is interested in reading the What I’m Doing Right Now posts from all their friends. But it’s not just for kids anymore.  People over 40 are the fastest growing demographic on Facebook which now claims to have over 175 million subscribers. 
  • It’s fast becoming a very acceptable way to build a more personal relationship with people who might otherwise simply be acquaintances you rarely see.
  • In 2006, My Space was the #1 online social network, with over 100 M users.  Facebook passed it in 2008 and hasn't looked back.

What’s the downside?  That the line can be very fine indeed between social networking and career disaster.  It’s not just high school or college students who make the critical error of forgetting that everything posted on the internet has the potential of somehow becoming viral.  

And how about Twitter?  It’s for sharing very short bits of information – no more than 140 characters.  That’s it.  Just enough to send the URL to a website you just discovered or put out a headline on breaking news. 

  • You can select whose tweets you want to follow, such as people who are doing work or research you’re interested in.  For example, I’m working on a book on women’s leadership.  So, if  Ann Dunwoody, the first woman named Four Star General, were twittering, I might follow her for awhile. 
  • Same goes for comedienne Tina Fey.  I’d love to hear her running commentary on national news or check out some of her favorite websites.  

I'm not Tweeting -- yet.  But, I'm starting to think about Twitter as the 21st Century version of having scouts on the trail going up ahead.  If you select your scouts well, chances are they’ll be sending back valuable information on new vistas (websites) and trails worth following.  


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