Lay The Groundwork

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I heard such a wise piece of advice last week on leading well.  One that should have been common sense but one we all overlook.  A set of executives were sharing how to communicate with the C-suite and how to get to the C-suite when this piece of savvy advice came down:

If you’re asking for approval of a recommendation in a meeting, then make sure you know the answer is yes before you ever go in.  Lay the groundwork first.

It’s akin to the advice all first year litigators get when they’re walking into a deposition or a trial: don’t ask a question if you don’t know the answer.

As you develop your presentation and recommendation, have one on one conversations with the people who will be in the boardroom.  Understand what the concerns are and show that you can tailor a solution to resolve outstanding issues.  Identify the landmines before you step on them{===>Click to TweetThere’s nothing worse than being in an executive meeting and having your recommendation rejected or making your sponsor executive look foolish.  That doesn’t reflect your insight or leadership capabilities.

So the next time you’re armed with a project solution or seeking an endorsement, lay the groundwork.  Prepare before the meeting to understand the personalities and the issues that may be real or perceived with your recommendation.  Let each individual air their concerns in a safe forum where you can address the questions raised or modify the solution to reflect your responsiveness.  Then go in on the day of the meeting without angst over how the proposal will be received but instead knowing the outcome in advance.

 

Fashion Friday: Career Hair

My favorite work colleague and I were walking back from lunch when she told me about an article she’d read.  Something about how your executive potential is limited if you wear your hair long.  She wondered, with her lovely long hair blowing in the wind, you think that is true?  Hmmm, I’m not sure, I responded.

I thought about all the executive women I knew.  I couldn’t think of any with long hair.  But then again, none of them were in their late 30s or early 40s.  I’ve experimented with my hair over time – going from very long when I married, to a fairly short inverted bob, to my fairly nondescript shoulder length style now.

So I decided to do some research.  Yes, it seems completely superficial, AND IT IS, but what goes in print?  Think about it.  During Hillary Clinton’s race, the media talked about her hairstyles and wardrobe.  It’s completely a double standard, but does long hair put you at a disadvantage if you’re trying to climb the career ladder?

Where do you start?  Well, I started with the Forbes 100 Most Powerful Women in the World.  I already knew I’d exclude any television/music types on the list because the corporate career rules don’t apply to them.  I also thought it would be interesting to see if there were universal rules versus the rules that apply to American corporate woman.

The first woman on their list was German Chancellor Angela Merkel who has short hair so there went my European theory.  The third woman on the list had long hair, and not to diminish the incredible work that she does (truly, she’s amazing), but it was Melinda Gates who came into her money through her husband’s career so I didn’t feel like I could count her as one who climbed to the top of the corporate ladder with long hair.  Weighing in at number 11 was South Korean President Park who also sports very short hair.

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At number 18, Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo had about the longest hairstyle out of the top 25 (tied on length with the President of Argentina, Cristina Kirchner).

Here’s the women that made it to the Top Five:

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From top to bottom: Germany Chancellor Merkel, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Philanthropist Melinda Gates, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde

Then I thought, well it’s age.  Most women tend to shorten their hair as they age.  What about young CEOs? So I looked at Forbes list of the Most Promising CEOs Under 35.  They listed 23 CEOs in different industries.  ZERO of them were women.  That’s right, absolutely not one promising young female CEO out there apparently.

So I settled in on The 25 Most Powerful Women CEOs list by CEO.com.  Aside from Maria das Gracas Silva, the CEO of Petrobras in Brazil, the only women CEOs with hair past their shoulders were in retail markets (Burberry, TJ Maxx).

I have no answer to this novel question about whether or not, even unconsciously by your evaluators, a hairstyle can impede your climb to the top, but I loved my friend’s perspective.  She said: We’re young.  Why don’t we change things?  We’ve got more than 20 years to stretch our career muscles and we should change things.  We should make sure that executive potential is never diminished over something as ridiculous as a hairstyle. 

I wholeheartedly agree (and spoken like one with oodles of executive promise).  First impressions absolutely count and, as you progress further in your career, you should make sure that your look exudes career potential.  That means looking polished, having a career wardrobe, and carrying yourself with confidence.  But I believe those exact principles apply to men.  Dressing for the job you want applies to any gender in a corporate environment.  Hopefully, as my friend and I move through our careers, short hair won’t be a prerequisite.

What say you?  What’s your take on a hairstyle impacting career potential?  We’re curious!

Merkel Photo Credit: AP Photo/Facundo Arrizabalaga
Yellen Photo Credit: JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Gates Photo Credit: Frederic Courbet
Rousseff Photo Credit: Wiktor Dabkowski/ZUMAPRESS.com/Newscom
Lagarde Photo Credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Mayer Photo Credit: Britta Pedersen/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

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.