I was invited to attend a “Breakthrough Leadership Lessons from Top Women Execs” session sponsored by my company’s HR leadership training department. They invited men and women, though the target audience was for women. The way I saw it “Smart people giving out wisdom, and it’s free.” Sure I’ll be there! And I’m glad I attended.
The setup: Six women leaders in a panel with moderator. Four are CEOs of their companies, one is an SVP at a well known Fortune 100 Tech company, and the other a managing partner at one of the Big four accounting firms. The discussion ranged from the term executive presence as used to help coach women or to subtly turn them away from growth opportunities, to the proverbial work/life balance e.g. how to be a super-mom and woman executive. Funny note: One of the panelists suggested that life would have been easier had she been gay and had a female partner at home. One of the members of the audience commented back from personal experience that it’s still difficult to raise kids and have a full-time job, even with a her wife at home!
There were a few points made at the conference that I thought were worth sharing, and one observation I made on my own that I’ll include below.
- Ask for what you want. One panelist shared that she was employee number 4 at a startup company that grew to be very large, went public, and then was acquired. She was the head of engineering and had a lot of stock and made a nice amount of money at the buy-out. But at the time she learned that the head of marketing had even more stock. So she approached the CEO and asked why that was the case. He said “When we started the company I offered you what I offered you. You took it and did not ask for more. I figured you were happy with the offer.” It did not occur to her that she could ask for more.
- Spend your time deliberately. We all get 168 hours in a week. Whether you are the president of the country, the vice president of a bank, or the person who fills the ATM with a stack of bills every morning, we all have the same 168 hours. We choose how to spend it. We spend it on our work, friends, kids, surfing the web, drooling on the pillow, or watching TV shows. But 168 is it. Successful people don’t get more time than the rest of us, they simply use it carefully. And some of us choose to be more successful outside of work than at work. But we must all own our choices.
- Find a mentor and be a mentor. We don’t magically become great. We learn from others and teach others. Nearly every great speaker you ever heard was professionally coached. Most great leaders were coached. Get coached. And be a coach if you can. It is very rewarding. It helps you and others. They were especially keen to note that teenage girls should be provided access to women leaders in technology and engineering areas. It will make or break the future.
The session was fascinating and informative. I’m grateful that Yahoo! Inc, (the company I work for) invested the time to provide this 90-minute conversation to some of the developing leaders in the company and had opened it up to men and women.
At the very end of the session I realized something else that I think is worth sharing too: I’ve always preferred to work for women managers. I’ve had managers who were good, some who were bad, some were male, some female. But looking back at the many managers I have had over the years I think that women were better than the men. And I wondered why I felt that way. Was it something about me, a psycho-sexual Freudian thing? A random pattern of very good female managers? Am I alone in this bias or do others feel the same way? And it occurred to me that those women who are great leaders are because they earned it and fought for it. They were mentored and groomed; they proved their worth. Whereas with the male leaders, this was true some of the time, but not all of the time. Thus as a whole, the women on the top of the organizational hierarchy are people you should want to work for. They are probably great leaders. I’m not suggesting that women categorically make better leaders per se. But that women who are successful leaders have probably earned it by overcoming the forces that might have been in their way.
So what do you think about this?