There’s a mistaken notion out there and it’s probably creating drag on potentially successful journeys of women entrepreneurs and businesspeople. It’s the idea that when we decide to go for it, to chase the brass ring, it has to be either/or. This misguided view of success is, at its core, a zero sum game with no option. You win on the business side and you lose everywhere else.
I am here to tell you, that isn’t true. I know better because it hasn’t been true in my own life or in most of the lives of men and women I know who have achieved a great deal. I have maintained most, if not all, of my important relationships, all while serving on the board of a Fortune 500 company for almost 20 years, becoming a Harvard Working Knowledge Author, penning five books and rising to a leadership role. Balancing all of these important aspects of my life has not been easy. I suspect that it is never easy. But it’s completely worth it.
It’s been confirmed for me from other reliable sources as well. For my new book, Women Make Great Leaders: Real-World Lessons to Accelerate Your Climb, I had the privilege of interviewing top women leaders and gleaning wisdom from their stories that I am thankful to be able to share with others. The interviewees were business leaders, entrepreneurs and even a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, Frances Hesselbein. Most of them started with very little and worked their way to the top with great dignity and grace, all the while staying in touch with their roots and relationships.
In a nutshell here’s what they told me. If you want to do something great with your life, don’t let the naysayers discourage you or make you fearful. You can have it all. Here are some suggestions about how best to accomplish that:
1. Take your family and loved ones with you on your journey. The stories are endless and I’m sure you’ve heard them. Somebody gets to the top and they are all alone when they get there. That’s a huge price to pay for some version of success, isn’t it? So, why not start at the beginning and bring your people with you? When you decide to launch that business or go back to school or just take that next job on the rung, sit your family down and talk candidly about it. Get their feedback. Are they in this with you? Do they have some fears about it all? How all-in are they? Are they willing to relocate if your job and your quest requires it? Getting buy-in and addressing the issues will clear the road ahead for you as you move to what’s next.
2. Choose the right company. Every company will not be the right fit for your journey and your particular set of values. Be sure and ask the right questions and gain as much knowledge as you can about what the expectations might be. How important is family to your boss and his or her bosses? What are their priorities? What is the company’s image and messaging regarding family leave? Are there women already at the executive level in this company? As much as you can tell, what does the path to leadership look like? Doable?
Jill Griffin is an independent public board director; internationally published, Harvard “Working Knowledge” author; and global thought-leader on customer loyalty. She is passionate about bringing more diversity to the corporate board room. Since 2003, Jill has served as Board Director for Luby’s/Fuddruckers Restaurants (NYSE: LUB). She's also a Distinguished Alumnus and philanthropist for the University of South Carolina Moore School of Business, where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Business (Magna Cum Laude) and MBA degrees. She served on the Board of Trustees for nine years. Her groundbreaking book, Customer Loyalty, has been published in eight languages. Two awarding-winning books followed: Customer Winback and Taming the Search-and-Switch Customer. She published Earn Your Seat on a Corporate Board in 2016. Her latest book, Women Make Great Leaders: Real-World Lessons to Accelerate Your Climb, was published in July 2017.
3. Seek out male and female champions two to three rungs up the ladder. Here’s the reality: Most of the people running companies these days are men. So, along with women who have your best interest at heart, find the men in your organization who champion women. They’re out there. Don’t man-bash and see men as the enemy because, in most cases, they are not. I was mentored by good men who cared about my development and saw my potential. For that I am grateful. Find them in your organization.
4. As much as you can control what roles you take, only choose those with clear measurement and accountability. If you want to prove your worth, make sure there’s proof. Numbers won’t lie about your contribution. Numbers are not political and they don’t have an agenda. Some people view accountability in a negative way, but I and the women I interviewed for the book can tell you from firsthand experience that accountability is your friend.
5. On a related note, take feedback well. Everybody needs feedback and coaching. Even the world’s best athletes have coaches who help them recalibrate, adjust, improve and learn as they go to become top performers. It takes humility to listen and heed advice. Pay attention to what you are hearing in those sessions. Listen closely and ask the right questions. One surefire way to tell you are in the wrong role is to be only treading water in your current one. Remember that every person on the planet can do at least one thing better than ten thousand other people. Find that one thing if you can and success will come easier.
6. Share your success. Let’s come full circle. Your husband and kids you met with when you began this journey are watching you. They need to see what you have accomplished and be proud of not only what you have done but how you have done it. As you rise in your organization or as your business grows, look for opportunities to encourage others and give a leg up to talented and driven women in your circle. Sharing your success is sure to make the journey sweeter.