Stay Calm

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It’s one of the savviest pieces of leadership advice I’ve ever received: Stay Calm.

If you are called into leadership, or step into it willingly, you will find yourself battling a storm at some point.  A storm of failing public confidence.  A storm of economic decline.  A storm of naysayers when the ship changes course (even if a course correction was called for).

Storms come and a good leader weathers them calmly.  {===>Click to Tweet Even if she’s shaking inside, she conveys confidence.  Strength.  Control of the situation.

When I interviewed leaders around the country for my book, Learning to Lead, one of my favorite conversations was with Marina Park, CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern California.  She grew up racing sailboats with her father.  She recalled a particularly harrowing storm they found themselves battling on board their sailboat with the crew.  Even though some on the boat were injured, her father calmly called out orders and engendered both respect and action from those around him which enabled them to weather the storm and save the boat and the crew.

After sharing her real life storm experience, Ms. Park advised:

No one will have faith in a leader who is fearful, chaotic or panicked in the midst of a crisis.  The reality is, the leader must do what has to be done and give people the confidence that you know what is going on and the ship is not sinking.  You must cultivate the ability to settle people down, focus on what needs to get done, and then do it.  Remaining calm will give those around you the confidence that you are in control and things will turn out okay, and that in turn will engender action and trust. 

It’s not easy.  Particularly when, even from the leadership vantage point, you’re not sure what is over the next wave.  But panic will definitely not move you forward.  It will cause confusion and will prevent those supporting you from trusting you with the decision to chart the right course.

So take a deep breath.  Focus on the very next move.  And stay calm.

Photo Credit: Eric Kilby

Fashion Fridays: Appreciating the Ankle Pant

I’m a late adopter.  I got a cell phone years after my peers.  I still listen to CDs.  I only just came over to the wonderful world of BB/CC crème.

And such was my journey to the ankle pant.  Quite frankly, at 5’10, I’ve spent most of my life trying to find pants long enough to cover my ankles.  Why on earth would I buy pants intentionally too short?

As I was shopping one day, I pulled a pair of pants that looked promising.  I tried them on and they fit perfectly.  Except for one thing.  They were ankle pants and hit just above my ankle.  Hmmmmm.  I slipped on my blazer and heels and thought, this looks cute.  Since they were on sale, I threw caution to the wind and purchased my first pair.  I now own two pair.

There are a few tips and limitations for the ankle pant.  You can wear them just as you would any pant to work but you have to be more thoughtful about footwear.  Additionally, if you have thick ankles, it is probably best to still avoid them as they draw undue attention to a region you’re probably trying to camouflage.  I personally prefer them with a high thin heel, or for a more casual look a flat, but if you wear short boxier heels then I would also avoid the ankle pant.

Note, this is not an endorsement of the capri.  The capri has left the building in terms of fashion, so watch where the pant hits you.  The length needs to look intentional and not like a long capri or, if you’re tall, not like you just couldn’t find pants that fit.  So while more fraught with complications than your average trouser, it’s worth exploring.

My favorite look this month was a black ankle pant, this gorgeous taupe “Tumbleweed” silk shell that is marked WAY down at Talbot’s today, a cut-away black blazer from a department store, and sky high taupe heels I picked up at Bloomingdale’s a couple of years back on a trip to Manhattan.  Here were my girlfriends and I at a rare dinner out this week where I’m sporting the look (and yes I look like a possum at midnight in all of my photos – and no red eye remover doesn’t work on any website I’ve tried…)

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The pants and blouse linked in the description above and pictured below are exactly those from my own personal “steal this look,” however the jacket and total splurge heels pictured below are what’s available on the market now at Macy’s and DSW, respectively, since my pieces are pretty old.

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Total Leadership Makeover – Trajectory Change

It’s leadership Tuesday and I’ve mentioned one feature making a regular appearance will be Total Leadership Makeovers (with your help!).  In Learning to Lead, I applied the “experts” advice to real life career challenges and tried to explore a way out of the rut or past the roadblock.  Here’s a question I received after a speaking engagement (feel free to email me yours):

Currently, I’m working in the litigation health arena, but I’m determined to cross over into oil and gas work.  In particular, I’d like to work in-house for an upstream oil and gas company involved in horizontal drilling.  It’s an exciting time for the industry, and oil and gas is the perfect combination of contract and property law, my favorite subjects from law school.  Additionally, I’ve seen first hand the business side from family in the fracking business which furthered my interest.

Well, first of all, congratulations on thinking outside the box and not letting your current field deter you from pursuing interests in an entirely different field that you believe will suit your interest and talent better.  I made a similar switch and found incredible career satisfaction with the change.  Similarly, it’s smart that you are focused on what your long-term goal is (keeping in mind there may need to be an interim step to get you there, e.g., private practice with energy experience) and have aligned it with your talents and interests from your studies.  Finally, knowing the business is a critical step so having someone in your family in the business will go a long way in helping you identify the best opportunities.

Here were my five “makeover” tips for this curious attorney:

1. Consider attending Women’s Energy Network events – you have to be in the energy industry to join as a member, but WEN lunches are open to non members as well and you would make contacts within the industry and hear more energy topics.

(Now granted I have to press out the organization that I am President of, but this truly is a critical element to moving into an entirely new field!  Find an industry organization so you can begin to develop your contacts.  Your network is KEY!)  {===>Click to Tweet}

2. Consider joining the Oil & Gas bar association - there you would hear more about ways to engage with industry and discover emerging developments as well as hiring opportunities.  (Even if your field isn’t legal, building contacts in specialty organizations will keep you up to date on what’s happening in the field – everyone from marketers to accountants have subspecialty groups.)

 3. Find out if your company or firm does, or would be willing to do, pro bono partnerships with energy companies. I have worked in pro bono clinics for women and children on both sides of my practice (when in private practice and now in-house) with people on the other side because they developed a partnership pro bono program.  Everyone wins – you do good for the community and build your network.

 4. Attend some energy CLEs – energy attorneys are there so you win with knowledge and contacts.

5. Work with legal recruiters who have an energy focus - honestly, contacting recruiters in the area of your interest if you are in the job market in the short-term really is a necessary step.  However, you may want to build your muscles in the above areas before deciding to move; build your resume and your knowledge base while you have the comfort of a steady paycheck.  And be willing to pay for it – you shouldn’t make an employer pay for things in areas that won’t benefit your current practice.

So what’s your best advice?  And what’s your current predicament?  Email me your suggestions for the next makeover.

Fashion Fridays: My Love Affair With The Blouse

Ahhh.  A blouse.  Such an intrinsically feminine item of a working woman’s wardrobe.  A place where you can embrace color and pattern and shimmer.  Sigh.  I heart blouses. 

Alas, the truly lovely blouse is becoming ever elusive.  So if ever I find one, I snatch it up. 

A blouse is far more versatile than you think!  You can wear it to work under a suit or blazer.  You can wear it with a pair of jeans and sandals on the weekend for a date.  You can throw your blazer off and don a necklace for the effortless work to evening look.  Seriously, you don’t have enough blouses. 

So here are my picks for the week (Talbot’s is running a fierce sale, for not much longer, so get in on some of these 60% off deals because a truly chic blouse tends to cost more than your average boring shell):blouse1

This neutral colored geometric blouse is my current favorite.  You can wear it with anything and the fabric is silky and elegant. 

I think you always hit the department stores just for selection sake along – try Dillard’s, Nordstrom’s, Macy’s, and Bloomingdale’s and pick the fabric or color or style of blouse you want.  blouse5

This snake print chiffon blouse (yep, that’s right) from Dillard’s is even a little out of my comfort zone but it would look fierce under a steel gray suit and add the little interest you need.  Simultaneously, you throw on ankle boots and jeans and you can head off to a concert.  blouse6

And for a complete splurge, I love this patterned royal blue Kate Spade blouse from Nordstrom’s (which has also just kicked off their semi-annual sale)!

Ann Taylor is doing better at bringing work pieces back and their blouse category is no schlump.  Everything from the delicate ivory with black peter pan collar to the ocean blue silk number are beautiful additions to every work wardrobe.

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While normally I eschew the shell, I have featured a couple here and this color-blocked eyelet number is too lovely to omit from the list.blouse4

And I love a silk blouse.  They are timeless.  This simple silk blouse from Ann Taylor comes in five hues (a testament on its own to its timelessness) but I’m partial to this sea salt blue shade. 

What about you?  Are you a blouse lover?  Where do you shop for the ever elusive unique blouse? 

Leadership Body Language

She smiled warmly as soon as we were introduced.  Produced her hand for a firm handshake.  Asked a funny but interesting question looking as if she was genuinely interested in the result.

She seem hurried and distracted.  Her eyes kept darting around the room as if she was curious if there was someone more important to meet.  She asked me to repeat my question seeming flustered by the conversation.

Have you been in a conversation with either of these two women?

Have you been the woman depicted in either of these conversations?

With so much of our conversation happening via email or teleconferences in our career life, it becomes even more critical to make the most of your unspoken language when you have the opportunity to lead up close and personal.

Body language.  It can propel you to leadership and success or be a nail in the coffin.

Here are a few practical tips to communicating well using no words at all:

1.  Make eye contact.  Is this the most overused tip in the world?  Well, it’s repeated because it is KEY!  So much of being a leader comes with being comfortable in your own skin.  The more confident and more authentic you are, the easier it is to look someone straight in the eye when having a conversation.  There are still people in leadership positions that regularly struggle with this – their eyes either dart around the room because they are not comfortable holding someone’s gaze or they dart around the room because they are looking for something or someone more important or interesting.  Either reason undermines your ability to lead.

2.  Lean in.  This isn’t just a tag line for Sheryl Sandberg’s career advice, it’s Body Language 101.  {===>Click to Tweet}  Leaning back, crossing your arms across your chest, turning your body away from the speaker exhibits, at the least, disinterest, or at the most, outright hostility.  If you are sitting in a conversation, lean up and in.  At a table, you can lean over it.  If you’re standing, then face the person with whom you are conversing and don’t look like you’re ready to step out at any moment.

3.  Engage.  Look interested.  Nod your head to show you’re listening.  Smile.  Look receptive.  Raise your eyebrows in surprise if the story warrants it.  Let the speaker know they have an engaged and interested audience.

4.  Pay Attention.  This comes down to the simplest of tips:  put your phone down!  {===>Click to Tweet} Do not check emails or the weather or your text messages when someone is talking to you.  I see it so frequently now, and it is terrible form and shows disrespect.

So many of us excel at this in our every day conversations, but it doesn’t hurt to take a moment and check.  The next few times you’re having critical conversations, pay attention to what your non-verbal cues reflect.  Also pay close attention to the person(s) to whom you are speaking as it can give you great insight into whether they understand and are receptive to you.  A leader hones her intuition and body language provides some of the best clues.