A week ago today, our nation’s business leaders joined together to share their wisdom, insight, and success stories at the first annual Indiana Governor’s Conference. As I reflected on their engaging speeches, it became apparent to me that there were common themes in each presentation. In fact, the themes were so powerful that they are better described as takeaways – straightforward, key ideas that the average person can easily remember and implement. Below, I will share the valuable takeaways, real-life examples of those key concepts, and a short list of other ideas that were offered during the conference. If you were among the privileged who attended the conference, I urge you to use the comment field below to add to this discussion.
1. Stop feeling threatened by other women.
The Expert’s Advice: Although the Governor’s Conference targeted female business leaders, the conference organizers strategically opened the event with a male speaker. This man was no other than Jim Citrin, the nationally acclaimed leader in executive placement, whose firm, Spencer Stuart, has placed more than 1,000 women to board director positions. During his presentation, Citrin ladled out priceless advice to professionals who aspire to be corporate leaders. However, one specific idea stood out as a key takeaway. In fact, Citrin called this concept a fail-proof path to a C-level suite: Work to grow the career of those below you, rather than focusing on your own climb to the top. Stuart Spencer’s empirical research has shown that 90% of employees claim that extraordinary executives focus more on other’s success than their own. Citrin said that in order to make this tactic work, business leaders need to be enthusiastic mentors.
Real-Life Example: As the end of the Governor’s Conference drew near, I was speaking to Rachel Rich, a young, bright, and savvy account manager at an Indianapolis-based advertising agency. She and I were discussing Citrin’s suggestion and concluded that you have to be a confident woman to lift up other women. Both Rich and I have seen and experienced the wrath of female business leaders, who lack confidence and seem to only gain traction in their own careers by ridiculing younger employees in an almost sorority-style hazing process.
On the other hand, there are women like Caroline Dowd-Higgins, an author, career coach, and professional speaker, who have built an entire career around uplifting other women. I know Dowd-Higgins, because I provided constructive criticism on an article she wrote in the Huffington Post. She quickly replied with a thoughtful response to my comment, connected with me on LinkedIn, and encouraged me to attend the Governor’s Conference, so we could meet in person. When I did approach her at the conference, she lunged towards me, hugged me, and sincerely thanked me for attending. We had never met prior to this instance, yet she made me feel like I was an old friend and worthy of her time. Dowd-Higgins is a mentor to quite possibly hundreds of women, so it will take time and diligence on my part to grow my position as one of her mentees. But, the point here is that she is open to that type of relationship, and those relationships is what ultimately makes Dowd-Higgins successful in her own career.
2. Organize a club or program at work.
Expert’s Advice: After Jim Citrin gave his engaging presentation, he led a panel discussion with extraordinary business executives about how younger professionals can invent their future. One specific example that stood out as an implementable concept came from Traci Dolan, Chief Administrative Officer at ExactTarget, Inc. Dolan recommended that those aspiring to be leaders within their organization should form an after-hours program or club at work. She suggested that it could be as simple as a book club or as strategic as innovation-evenings, wherein new ideas for the corporation are brainstormed, discussed, and organized.
Real-Life Example: During the presentation, Dolan described a strategic female-led professional group at ExactTarget . She explained that starting and managing such a group is a way to demonstrate initiative, a dedication to the growth of the company, and the ability to positively influence others’ behavior. A recent article in Forbes called small employee-ran groups, such as the one Dolan described, ERGs (Employee Resource Groups) and suggested that they are “an opportunity that will allow the voices of employees to be heard and the power of diverse thinking to influence the new ground-rules that will define the workplace of the future.” Clearly, being a member of such an influential group at work can benefit not only the employee, but the entire corporate culture. More critical to this discussion, however, is the fact that founding and leading an ERG is a way for an aspiring business leader to garner the attention of executive management.
3. Institute a ‘NO Committee.’
Expert’s Advice: While founding and leading an ERG could be a pivotal career move, on the other end of the spectrum, knowing when and how to turn down the request to lead or participate in a group is also worth mastering. Throughout the convention, I heard from other women who could not possibly find the time to implement a strategic ERG, because they were too busy organizing a bake sale at their child’s school. I am not suggesting that school fundraisers are unimportant, but as business leaders, we need to find ways to balance our time between raising a family and growing our careers. In other words, if you are too inundated with bake sales and bike-a-thons to lead an ERG, perhaps it is time to institute Denise Brosseau’s invention, the ‘NO Committee.’
Real-Life Example: As shown in the video above, the idea for a NO Committee was offered by Denise Brosseau, author, professional speaker, and co-founder of Invent Your Future Enterprises and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs (now Watermark). Brosseau’s career is an undeniable success story. She is the CEO of Thought Leadership Lab and co-founded Springboard Venture Forums, which has connected women-led businesses to over $6 billion in investment funding. She credits the many victorious milestones in her career to her ability to minimize road-blocks, while capitalizing on opportunities. Brosseau wisely suggested that accepting too many volunteer positions can become a road-block to growing your career. To avoid this pitfall, she recommended that business leaders request a small group of trusted mentors, peers, and associates to serve as members of a personal NO Committee. Then, Brosseau suggested that when a volunteer opportunity knocks at the door, a busy professional should quickly run the idea by each member in her unofficial committee. If 3 out of 4 of the members say, “No, that will not greatly contribute to the growth of your career or your character,” she should pass on the opportunity. Of course, not every volunteer opportunity will be or should be self-serving, but Brosseau explained that the NO Committee concept will help a professional stay focused on priorities and minimize the chance of being too overwhelmed to lead when a valuable opportunity presents itself.
The inaugural Indiana Governor’s Conference was a lofty vision crafted by business leaders for business leaders. To reduce this extraordinary day down to three takeaways is not the intent of this article. The ideas presented above were certainly among the most memorable, because they could be easily implemented. However, I look forward to hearing from other attendees about their takeaways. Below are several concepts we could discuss (I have noted the originator of the idea):
- Hire the right people and develop the position around them. Don’t hire with a checklist in your hand. – Traci Dolan, Chief Administrative Officer, www.ExactTarget.com
- Maintain a daily gratitude journal. Being grateful in a purposeful way puts your work in a positive frame of reference. – Congresswoman Jackie Speier, www.Speier.House.gov
- When growing your career, search out people you want to work for, rather than a company you want to work at. – Valerie Grubb, Principal, www.ValGrubbAndAssoicates.com
- Create a list of people who help (mentor) you. Keep them updated on your achievements, ask them to hold you accountable, and thank them often for their mentorship. – Jim Citrin, CEO, www.SpencerStuart.com
- Learn the other side of the business. Get together with cross-functional teams within your organization, so you can learn and speak to the other side of the business. — Sheryl Conley, CEO OrthoWorx, www.OrthoWorxIndiana.com
- Tell your boss what you do. Outline and present your accomplishments to your boss on a regular basis. – Caroline Dowd-Higgins, Director of Professional Enrichment, Indiana University, www.CarolineDowdHiggins.com
- Don’t climb to the top by yourself. Grow a lasting friendship with another woman and push each other to the top. – Billie Dragoo, CEO, RepuCare, www.REpuCare.com & Deborah Collins Stephens, Best-selling Author, www.DeborahStephens.com