One Day at a Time to the Corner Office, Especially as a Woman

05/18/2017 08:04 pm ET Updated May 19, 2017

The Nitty Gritty of Advancing Your Career – Daily - from Top Women CEOs and Wall Street Executives

“You convey an aura of leadership if you know the part, act the part, and look the part.” Joann Lublin, Earning It[1]

Advancing your career happens one decision, one project, one conversation, one presentation, one email, post or text at a time. Navigating those moments can be tricky, stressful, and often unconscious. The key is to realize that each moment is an “if/then” scenario – “If” they or I say/do this, “then” that might happen – and to think it through even in a split second. But how? (It can be especially hazardous if you’re a woman.)

I recently found two candid sources for lessons on how to navigate these moments for those of us who really, really want to grow our careers, especially with an eye on the corner office or top ranks. If we deconstruct their stories of struggle, wrenching disappointment, humiliation, embarrassment and setbacks, on their way to the top, I unearthed lessons that can benefit us all.

One of these sources is a new book called, Earning It: Hard-Won Lessons from Trailblazing Women at the Top of the Business World, by Joann Lublin, Management News Editor of The Wall Street Journal, who I also interviewed for my radio show-podcast, Green Connections Radio™. The other one is the Wall Street Women Forum, produced by RegentAtlantic and Jane P. Newton, Managing Partner and Wealth Advisor, which convened about 125 top women of Wall Street in a private event.

So, here are top takeaways (especially for women):

1. Obstacles? Get creative. Whether it’s bad bosses, insults, slashed budgets, an uncooperative coworker, or another boulder, all these women found clever ways to circumvent them and flourish. Doing so can also hone those valuable influence management skills that are the foundation of success.

2. Build internal allies by helping them succeed. These allies will come in especially handy when you’re circumventing those obstacles, trying to read the tea leaves, or needing to leverage scant resources.

3. Listen to your self-talk, and be supportive. Your mental chatter can shatter or strengthen your confidence and confidence rules your actions and presence, so be mindful of what’s running through your mind. If you find yourself reprimanding yourself like your mother or a bad boss did, stop. Change the dialogue in your head; it’s one thing you can control. Be kind to yourself. You’ll probably hear your intuition more clearly too. (Self-awareness is key overall.)

4. Navigate gender bias with grace, humor, and aplomb. Sometimes silence is best. Sometimes asking what gender has to do with it is appropriate, and sometimes facts will win out. It depends….

5. Be humble, listen carefully, and ask questions. In Earning It, Cheryl Bachelder the CEO of Popeyes, reflected on the humiliation of being fired from the CEO job at KFC and how it made her a better listener and a more effective CEO when she went to Popeyes.[2]

6. “Pick up on norms very quickly,” Lissa Young, Leadership Professor at West Point, told the Wall Street Women Forum. How? Listen carefully, tune into language (verbal and non-verbal), how they manage their time, and who hangs out with who and when.

Executive presence is a combination of confidence, authenticity and projecting a distinct personal brand. Strong competence and ability matter the most. But smaller and less obvious things, such as the way a woman speaks, can dramatically affect how she is regarded in the workplace.” Joann Lublin, Earning It[3]

“People will remember how you made them feel.” IBM CEO Ginny Rometty, in Earning It[4]

Wall Street Women Forum home page
Wall Street Women Forum home page
Wall Street Women Forum home page

7. Take your time, think it through. Even in today’s fast-paced world where we’re surrounded by the pressure to “hurry up,” Elinor Hoover of Citi – Global Co-Head, Consumer Products Group, Citi Corporate and Investment Banking and Vice Chairman of Citi’s Capital Markets Origination – reminded the Wall Street Women Forum to be thoughtful, listen to your intuition, and do not let other people rush you into making a decision, especially a critical one, before you’ve thought it through. Every choice, every decision has a consequence.

8. Ask, ask, ask! For assignments, resources, support, speaking engagements, to attend a key meeting or conference, and a promotion. It’ll demonstrate your courage and self-confidence, and your willingness to do what it takes to grow and advance, and increase your visibility and access.

9. “Persuade someone to give you a break.”[5] Demonstrate why you think you can do the stretch assignment or remind them when you’ve exceeded expectations in another opportunity. (Tap your network and those allies you’ve built.)

10. Find male and female mentors and manage them mindfully. Listen, help them succeed too, and be sure not to put yourself or them in a position of even the appearance of impropriety.

These strategies build two kinds of resilience: inner resilience, so you can land on your feet when you’re knocked down; and career resilience, so you can zig when you’re thrown into a zag.

Lissa Young of West Point told the wrenching tales of her being knocked down publicly and painfully, including when she was abruptly dismissed from her position as the commander of the Army’s High Altitude Search and Rescue aviation unit. Despite her many years of stellar Army service, some brat (my word) intentionally reported her in the days of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.” Nonetheless, she eventually landed back teaching at West Point years later as a civilian with a Ph. D (after yet more setbacks, and earning that Ph.D. at Harvard through an unexpected series of events).

As Elinor Hoover of Citi put it, “Even though we all go through confidence-shattering times, if you’ve done the best you can do, don’t underestimate the impact you may be having….if it’s cogently delivered….or valiantly fought…then maybe, over the long term, it may be profoundly effective.”

To listen to my interview with Joann Lublin, click here.

GreenConnectionsRadio.com, Joann Lublin page
GreenConnectionsRadio.com, Joann Lublin page

[1] P. 209, Earning It, Harper Collins, 2016

[2] P.126, Earning It

[3] P.208, Ibid

[4] P.220, Ibid

[5] p.25, Ibid

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