Part Two: Something we don’t talk about – Women CEOs

Hi all,

This is the second installment of my review and insights about the Korn Ferry Institute’s report on women CEOs. If you didn’t read the first one, please do! I will ground us quickly by highlighting what I discussed previously. The last post examined what characteristics are most prominent in women CEOs according to the Korn Ferry Institute, and next up I will share with you how the traits previously outlined are the ingredients needed to become a CEO. The main question Korn Ferry poses though is, what values and interests or motivators, referred to as drivers, guided the women’s career decisions?

According to Korn Ferry the drive for these women CEOs was described in one word, challenge. Thriving on challenge, and having been less interested in competition was a huge factor for women CEOS. Korn Ferry found that routine job promotion is generally not enough to stake the thirst for challenge, and found that their interviewers stepped knowingly into less-than-desirable, ill-defined roles because they saw potential in these opportunities, like diamonds in the rough. Tell me, have you ever done that? I know that I have. I didn’t do it with the end potential that I wanted to be a CEO someday, but more for the potential that the opportunity would give me a skill I may have been missing, or teach me something I needed to learn. There have been times where I’ve been in a job that I wasn’t maybe crazy about, and kept telling myself that there would be a lesson or something I would gain from that experience no matter what. And, often times it doesn’t feel like that will be the case in the moment, but it always turns out that there is a lesson to learn in everything…whether big or small.

Now, to tackle the notion that women thrive on challenge and are less interested in competition. Korn Ferry also heard from their CEOs that sometimes they were so intensely focused on whatever challenges were before them that they neglected longer-term career planning and mastering the “political” aspects of the organization. A typical refrain they found was: “I was head-down, delivering results in my current role.” It is hard to not get caught up in that, especially if the thought of competition or playing office politics is not interesting. Korn Ferry found that they are largely disinterested in inside-the-company competition. They preferred to let their results speak for themselves. I have always been this way, but have also found that unless you have someone in your corner helping exhibit your good work, it can sometimes go unseen and not “speak for itself.” According to Korn Ferry, this challenge-centric mindset explains a striking observation from their interviews: 63% of the CEOs either didn’t mention organizational barriers or explicitly said they were not hindered by being a woman. In some cases, organizations were seamlessly facilitating their growth and grooming them for leadership. I guess I’m a little cynical, and find this surprising, but also somewhat comforting. Maybe a tide is turning a bit for women in the workforce?

Independence balanced with collaboration

Korn Ferry’s assessment also revealed higher-than-expected scores for a driver called independence. These scores also indicated another dynamic – these women were happy to get things done on their own, and overall Korn Ferry sees female CEOs exhibiting benchmark levels of collaboration, so this hasn’t impeded their desire to foster and lead teams, to build consensus or to share responsibility. Korn Ferry does explain however, that there is a cautionary flag here. Those who become overly autonomous in how they work can later find themselves without the support, networks, or advocacy that they need around them to become CEO and stay there. There’s that key again, support, networks and advocacy. Many of the women Korn Ferry interviewed had strong late-career sponsors who pushed their careers forward, but then discovered they didn’t have the broad support they needed for their agenda as CEO. Others found themselves blindsided by competitive executives, or without enough allies when they discovered others were waiting – or rooting – for them to fail. So, a little bit of politics and keeping your head up may be a better route to go in the long run?

So, then Korn Ferry posed the question, “why doesn’t such drive produce more female CEOs?” According to them, the fact that women must exhibit such a huge appetite for challenge to reach CEO speaks volumes about the systemic barriers many women still face. Their adaptations to that working environment, further, can harm their chances of success. So, there’s a fine line to toe here. According to Korn Ferry, we will never know, for instance, how many women didn’t become CEO because they were more independent than well-networked, or because their humility undermined how they were perceived, or because organizations didn’t recognize their drive. Those are very situational reasons and of course are hard to measure, but definitely something to make you think about. Finally, Korn Ferry discovered that multiple studies have documented that women are more likely than men to leave positions in which they are unsatisfied. That doesn’t mean work is difficult or unpleasant. The CEOs who were interviewed quit or turned down jobs when:

  • The company didn’t meet their standards for integrity
  • The role lacked a sense of larger purpose or
  • It was a place where people were treated very poorly

I think this is important to note. If it doesn’t feel right, morally or supporting a larger purpose, we will find something else to do or somewhere else to go. I have always believed, if you’re REALLY not happy…LEAVE! It does nothing for you to stick around when you are unhappy, and that goes for any situation!

So what type of things motivate women in the workforce? According to Korn Ferry, more are motivated by work-life balance. The participants in their interviews never shied away from hard work, and they took no shortcuts. But they did, on average, express more desire or work-life balance than Korn Ferry’s CEO benchmark. All of them were currently or had been married, and said they had supportive spouses, though some didn’t find that until a second marriage. According to Korn Ferry, being a CEO is not a one-person job, and this was acknowledged by the participants. A CEO’s partner has to “lean in” too. The partners of the women CEOs often took primary responsibility on the home front, managing the logistics and outsourcing of childcare, while choosing to stay home or take jobs with more flexibility. Some even said that their career affected what kind of mother they were. One said, for example, her children were resentful of her career commitments when they were young, but came to admire her accomplishments when they were older. I mean, I guess it’s nice that her children came to admire her eventually, but yikes – that kind of resentment is a bit scary if you ask me. According to Korn Ferry, many pointed out that being a mother added to their abilities as executive leaders and it gave them a particular grounding and sense of perspective, as well as gave them practice on patience and compassion, along with setting appropriate boundaries, creating clear expectations, and making unpopular decisions.

Korn Ferry also found that women are motivated by purpose  and creating a positive culture. Purpose and mission were central to their messages as leaders and working to create a more positive culture was a primary way those women carried out purpose and mission in their companies.

So as Korn Ferry does for every section, they outline key takeaways for women and for organizations. I want to continue to highlight them for you because I think if you take nothing else away from these installments, you takeaway from this section something that could be useful for you in the future.

Takeaways for organizations

  • Organizations need to re-calibrate how they recognize ambition.
  • The drive in high-achieving women may not manifest as corporate-ladder climbing or jockeying for promotion.
  • Men who might be motivated more by advancement could be more willing to take any promotion as long as it progresses their careers.
  • If women hesitate or turn it down, this can be misconstrued by the organization as a disinterest.
  • Organizations also have a big problem if women aren’t interested in the top jobs that are offered.
  • Sr. leadership and c-suite roles need to be described in a way that captures the challenge and opportunity they present, as well as what outcomes are possible and needed. This is what speaks to women’s sense of purpose and desire to contribute value and shape culture.

Takeaways for women

  • To navigate into leadership roles, women have to resist inclinations to be overly self-reliant, which can be part of that “head down” focus.
  • They need to create a strategic network, because without those relationships they don’t have influence on the things that matter to them.
  • Results don’t speak for themselves; some positioning and packaging is needed for people to notice.
  • Women should seek out not just difficult challenges, but also “high visibility” ones.
  • Negotiating with a partner or spouse as to who takes a big job and who manages the personal side of life is crucial. This can have implications very early on, even in the kind of person who chooses one chooses as a partner.

I hope you enjoyed this installment! Next up I will examine some of the major turning points in women CEO’s lives that impacted their road to CEO per Korn Ferry’s research.

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Part One: Something we don’t talk about – Women CEOs

A couple of months ago I was attending a conference where they had a panel that consisted of Women CEOs, specifically in the utility industry. The panel participants were also the same CEOs who had been interviewed for a Korn Ferry Institute research project titled Women CEOs Speak – strategies for the next generation of female executives and how companies can pave the road. This project was also supported by The Rockefeller Foundation.

Korn Ferry is the preeminent global people and organizational advisory firm. They help leaders, organizations, and societies succeed by realizing the full power and potential of people. Korn Ferry Institute is Korn Ferry’s research and analytics arm, and was established to share intelligence and expert point of views on talent and leadership. They do this through studies, books and a quarterly magazine, Briefings. They aim to increase understanding of how strategic talent decisions contribute to competitive advantage, growth and success. So, as you can imagine I knew immediately that they would have an interesting take on women CEOs (or lack-there-of).

What motivates a study like this? When roughly 94% of Fortune 1,000 CEOs are men you may ask yourself, “what qualities drive the 6% who are women in the most elite reaches of corporate leadership?” To find out, the Korn Ferry Institute studied 57 women who have been CEO – 38 currently and 19 previously – at Fortune 1,000 – listed companies and others of similar size. They analyzed structured interviews with all 57 women and the results of psychometric assessments taken by two-thirds of them. The Rockefeller Foundation, which funded the research, wants to change the astounding fact that only 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2017. Re-read that again. Only 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were women in 2017. I know I have written a series in the past about women in the workforce, and I try hard to not sound like a hell-bent feminist (not that there’s anything wrong if that’s how you describe yourself) but I try hard to support women’s rights but also not be so into it that I don’t have a realistic viewpoint of what is going on. I think this study does just that by taking a very hard look at what is keeping women CEOs from becoming a norm and not a “nice-to-have” at companies. The Rockefeller Foundation, has established a target through it’s 100 x 25 initiative which is to have 100 women leading Fortune 500 companies by 2025. Korn Ferry’s portion of that initiative, called the CEO Pipeline Project, seeks to learn from the women who have already succeeded at becoming CEOs, and what women in the workforce now can do to take the CEO path, and most importantly, what companies and organizations can do to help women succeed along the path to CEO.

I have a copy of the study and found it moving so much so that I wanted to share it here, along with my thoughts – especially given that I have never had a desire to be a CEO, let alone even manage people. Nonetheless, I still felt it was interesting and useful information to share. Also, I feel as if this holds a special place in my heart. When I was working at the utility, I was present for the announcement of the utility’s first female CEO. It wasn’t lost on me that I was witnessing history, and she was also part of this study. I hope you enjoy what I have to share and reflect on with this topic.

To ground this research, Korn Ferry gathered publicly available biographical data about all female CEOs in 2017 Fortune 1,000 companies and compared that to a parallel example of male CEOs who led companies of the same revenue size. Interestingly, when demographically compared, male and female CEOs look very similar, and while the differences are subtle, they definitely add up. Here is a quick comparison:

  • The women were, on average, four years older when they got their very first CEO appointment, though it is worth noting that in the study’s male sample many CEOs were their company’s founder.
  • Overall, the women accrued more diverse experience by working in a greater average number of senior roles, functions, companies and industries.
  • The fortune 1,000 data also reveal that female CEOs are not spread evenly across industries.
  • They are in greater numbers in consumer goods, utilities, and finance (particularly insurance), but less represented in industrial companies and the health and life sciences.

The next question Korn Ferry asked themselves to ground their research, was: “is 100 x 25 attainable?” The answer is yes, but the pace needs to accelerate. They found that in higher-revenue Fortune 500 companies, women held the CEO role at 32 companies in mid-2017, up from 12 just a decade earlier and two in 1997! Now, this next fact surprised me, especially in comparison to other countries…it currently takes 269 days on average to place a female CEO in the US – which is 30% longer than the 207 days to place a male CEO. When compared to Europe and Middle East markets, there is no such delay and women are placed 14% faster than men, and in Asia-Pacific where they placed women 22% more quickly. What Korn Ferry says this suggests is that boards of directors in the US still aren’t open to female CEOs as boards in other countries. So, what gives?

Before I dive a bit deeper, for those of you who have the analytic mind (not me), I will outline the Korn Ferry Institute’s research tools:

  • Korn Ferry conducted structured interviews with the 57 CEOs, asking about key events in each woman’s career progression, including pivoted experiences, set-backs, and factors that enabled or hindered her success. These were analyzed and coded to determine common themes.
  • Their assessment for executive leaders specifically measured:
    • Traits: A person’s inclinations and aptitudes, such as personality traits and intellectual capacity. Traits also include attributes such as assertiveness, risk-taking, optimism, and confidence.
    • Drivers: Deeply held values and internal motivators that guide a person’s actions and decisions. A desire for power, challenge, or work-life balance are things we categorize as drivers.
    • Competencies: The observable skills essential to management success, such as innovation and strategic vision.

Some of the main characteristics identified were personal fortitude and courage – or what they like to call “the right stuff.” That’s what female CEOs exhibited in their assessment scores, beginning with their traits. According to Korn Ferry, their mean score matched their CEO benchmark on 16 of 20 traits, including persistence, need for achievement, curiosity, focus, assertiveness, risk-taking, and empathy. I know, as a woman, that I have many of those characteristics myself, and they are among the characteristics about myself that I am most proud of, so it was no surprise to see those reflected in their study. The places in which women deviated from the benchmark were in humility, confidence, credibility and openness to difference.

I have always believed that how you are brought up and just your own personal makeup is identified early on in life. Korn Ferry’s study found similarly, that personal traits are not immutable, but they are established early in life and difficult to alter. So, the close alignment to the CEO benchmark suggests that these women had the style and mindset of a CEO early in their careers. I thought this was so interesting! So, remember when you hear someone say – that little girl will be a CEO someday…they just might be on to something!

Additionally, Korn Ferry found that humility and valuing others reign over confidence, ambition and drive growth out of early formative experiences, and their outlook is optimistic and fearless. I’ll break them down below:

Humility and valuing others reign over confidence

  • High humility scores indicate a lack of self-absorption and more importantly, an expressed appreciation of others.
  • These women are very willing to give credit to people and situations that contributed to their success.
  • The female CEOs repeatedly made note of people who’d helped and supported them.
  • Credibility is generally shorthand for delivering on your word, but in their assessment it also captures something better described as dutifulness or “good soldier” behavior.

These are so interesting to me. All of those characteristics described above are exactly what I like to see in a leader, and I know for a fact I have made gripes and complaints of a leader lacking in all of those areas. Why isn’t this the norm in all leaders? Maybe that’s the problem – it should be the norm, but it is hard to come by. Could there be a direct correlation between that and the lack of female leadership? Maybe!

Ambition and drive grow out of early formative experiences

  • In the interviews, they heard that these traits have deep roots.
  • Asked about “key events in your career progression that contributed to your development as a person or a leader,” many spoke first not of their career but of their childhood. In their interviews, 23% of the key events the CEOs chose to discuss were about personal experiences unrelated to work.
  • Parents instilled resilience, high expectations, and a strong work ethic in their daughters. Some CEOs had particularly difficult childhoods – a parent was ill or deceased, for example – and they had to take on responsibilities when quite young.
  • More than 40% of the CEOs earned undergraduate college degrees in science, math or engineering. This prevalence of STEM degrees may seem surprising, but similar rates are seen in male CEOs as well.
  • Another 19% studied business, economics, or finance, while 21% were in the arts and humanities.

Their outlook is optimistic and fearless

  • Generally speaking, the women CEOs were not at all cynical about the corporate world they entered.
  • Their traits scores and interviews both indicated that they are highly optimistic, trusting, sociable and empathetic.
  • The interviews underscored how much emphasis these women placed on being authentic and remaining true to themselves.
  • Compromising on their values – or on their vision – is not in their makeup, even if it would mean turning down some opportunities for advancement.
  • Some said they didn’t feel they could give their all to a goal, strategy, or company that they didn’t believe in.
  • These women seek input at critical stages, then solidly make up their mind. And these women are exceptionally focused on pursuing their own vision.

What I especially appreciate about this study, is that they highlight key takeaways from each section for women and then separately for organizations. As you can imagine, especially given the numbers Korn Ferry offered about the slowness in approving women CEOs, organizations and companies can still take a word of advice on how to cultivate and identify potential women CEOs. To give you a taste of how Korn Ferry offers key takeaways for each section, below I have listed the takeaways for the information just outlined.

Takeaways for organizations

  • The traits that made these women CEO material – curiosity, willingness to take risks, persistence, and a need for achievement – were reinforced early in their lives. But these traits are not rare among women, and can be further cultivated in the workplace.

Takeaways for Women

  • An education in science, math or engineering sets a strong foundation for becoming a business leader.
  • While confidence is important, tempering it with equally high levels of humility doesn’t seem to have hurt these CEO’s careers.
  • Women should also pay attention to the issue of openness to difference. Women who are in the minority in an office might presume they are sufficiently exposed to differing (in this case, male) points of view. But CEOs aggressively seek out others’ opinions as they shape their own strategic vision.

I hope you have found this first installment of the Korn Ferry Institute’s “Women CEOs Speak” interesting. To really give you a detailed idea about what characteristics are most prominent in women CEOs is a great way to ground the study and to kick off my series of posts. Next up I will share with you how the traits outlined by Korn Ferry in this blog post are the ingredients needed to become a CEO. The main question Korn Ferry poses though is, what values and interests or motivators, referred to as drivers, guided the women’s career decisions?

Let me know what you think about this blog post and anything else you’d like to share about female CEOs!

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Book Review Part Two: The Confidence Effect by Grace Killelea

This is part two of my book review of Grace Killelea’s “The Confidence Effect.” If yo haven’t read part one, definitely take some time to read through it. Where we left off was discussing Killelea’s 4Rs of Success. This second installment will discuss her take on understanding and mastering relationships and how important that is to the Confidence Effect.

We will start with relationships. According to Killelea, the first tool in moving from competence to confidence involves understanding and mastering the power of relationships. This is often an area people think they should navigate alone, but according to Killelea, the fact is that powerful relationships can greatly enhance and accelerate our ladder to success. I know that I keep saying I love the message Killelea is trying to convey, but folks…it’s so true! We often think that the work place is no place for relationships (and I’m not referring to romantic relationships), but legitimate connections with the people you work with. Killelea considers this “the power of relationships.” Our relationships are connected to our networking abilities, which she considers one of the “secret ingredients” to becoming confident to the core.

Many women form fun, lasting, and friendly relationships at work that don’t necessarily contribute to their growth as potential leaders but do promote their physical and emotional well-being. This is healthy and good. It enhances our experience at work. I most definitely can relate to this, and at times to a fault. I have a number of very special relationships I have made at a number of my previous places of work, and while they didn’t all necessarily benefit me in terms of promotion etc., they gave me an emotional sense of worth at work, which at times can be very lacking when it comes to your day-to-day activities and deadlines.  According to Killelea, these powerful relationships come in many different forms:

  • The team member who supports, challenges, nurtures, and enlightens you
  • The manager who drives you to excel
  • The peer who supports, encourages, and aids your desire for personal and professional growth
  • The mentor who continually questions and challenges your choices, often with a positive result
  • The people you trust who tell you the truth
  • The leader who inspires you
  • The powerful allies and sponsors who can open doors and provide you with opportunities

I have always been brought up to kill people with kindness…no matter what. I have even been criticized at work for being, “too nice.” But, you know what? People have nice things to say about me. I haven’t been labeled unapproachable or someone who always says “no.” That is extremely important to me, because it better reflects exactly who I am outside of work. Here is one of the main reasons why, because you never know – peers become managers, managers become leaders, and team members get promoted, shifted, downsized, or move on to different organizations or companies. According to Killelea, the larger and more powerful your network, the more dynamic, changing and powerful you become as you grow along with it. And, consequently, the fewer relationships you’ve fostered in and out of the workplace, the fewer resources you’ll be able to draw on in times of need.

The next topic is something I personally experience and believe is so important: mentors, sponsors, advocates, and champions. It’s important to note here that these are not one in the same, but indeed have different roles they play in your life. EVP and COO of Cox Communications, Jill Campbell, insists on the matter of mentors versus sponsors, “People talk a lot about having mentors. I think that’s important. But I think it’s equally important that you have a sponsor. Women tend to think that their work is going to get them there, but they’ve got to figure out somebody in the organization that is going to take notice of them and who says, ‘Wait a minute! What about Jean?'” According to Killelea, identify advocates and develop an authentic relationship with them. The key here for me is the word “authentic.” Don’t choose someone to be your sponsor because he or she is a director or a VP and can help you climb the latter. In actuality, that person probably won’t want to give you five minutes because 1. they are generally very busy people and 2. they will pick up on how un-authentic or authentic you truly are.

I have someone who began as an advocate for me while he was a director, and my boss, and who eventually became my mentor as he moved into a higher leadership level of VP. We established an authentic relationship that to this day means very much to me, and while he advocated and helped me move through my career, once he stepped into a busier and more demanding role he became my mentor and someone I could come to with work-related issues or tough decisions I knew I was going to have to make. He is that person who will ALWAYS give it to me straight. I came to him one day very upset because I had gotten some feedback that I felt was completely erroneous. He put it into perspective for me. While he didn’t agree that the feedback I received was 100% accurate, he did want me to think about it in a way of, “what if a tiny bit of it was true?” Then what? While I was surprised by it, I also understood what he was trying to do. Everyone needs someone like that in their professional life.

Killelea says that advocates are at tables that you are not, and they can open doors for you. They can speak on your behalf, and really fight a battle for you or get in front of you, when you would never have the opportunity or you don’t know the opportunities that exist. An example I have of the importance of an advocate was during a scary time where layoffs were happening. I lost all of my team during that layoff. Only two of us were left standing, and we were reorganized onto other teams. I was also brand new to that team (only about 3 months) so I felt even more vulnerable to losing my job than most. When I realized I was OK and I was staying I had to leave the office to get some air. I had never, and have yet to experience this since, but literally it felt like the air had been sucked out of the room. On my way out of the office to go for a walk around the block, I ran into that person I described above. He asked me if I was OK. I told him yes, but that I had lost all of my team and had been moved to a new team. He told me that when he saw the plan for layoffs the first thing he asked was if “Nikki was going to be OK.” He told me that if I had been on the layoff list he would have figured out a place for me on his team. That meant more to me than anything…especially given the day I had been having. That is an advocate (BTW he was still at the director level – remember, I mentioned that he moved from advocate to mentor for me over time).

Simply put by Killelea, relationships strengthen your network, and in turn, your network strengthens your organizational brand. Remember, all of your workplace behavior reflects on your brand. The stronger your brand, the stronger your confidence level – real and perceived. Killelea says to think of your brand as as the unwritten – but undeniable – “echo” that remains after you leave the room. So, ask yourself:

  • What is left behind for people to remember?
  • What is the impression that remains long after you’re gone?
  • How did you treat people?
  • What did you say?
  • How did you say it?
  • Whom did you say it to?
  • How was it received?

For women especially, how you treat people and how proficient you are in your current role is what really helps determine how strong – or weak – your personal brands may be. Killelea explains that a good place to start building those relationships is also through LinkedIn, which has become such an important platform to have as updated in real time as possible. Killelea also points out that many times women think they’re networking when, in fact, they’re not – so Killelea has a basic definition: IPO: Information, Power and Opportunity.

Information – Networking is first and foremost an information gathering – and giving exercise. If you’re socializing, great, but don’t call it networking. If you come away from a social, business, or marketing event and know nothing more than you did when you arrived, then you’re not networking. Collecting a handful of business cards is not networking.

Power – Power comes from knowledge, which is why all three of the IPO components are so vitally important to your networking activities.

Opportunity – too many women all think that opportunity will magically waltz into their cubicles and whisk them away to the corner office. They believe the world is “fair,” they will be promoted. Fact is, opportunity is waiting to be discovered around every corner, in every new relationship, and at every meeting.

Killelea says that one of the many misconceptions about networking is that it requires a stern, stiff, and well-rehearsed elevator speech with which to introduce or “sell” yourself. When in fact, IPO – information, power and opportunity – is the fuel that jump starts new information and cements new relationships. Be genuine and your authentic self and the rest will follow when it comes to networking, plus you’ll be more comfortable and not feel like you’re selling a version of yourself to someone.

Another section of the book I found useful was about delegation. Working hard is not the answer. For too many women, working hard seems to be the answer to everything, as if by doing everything, all at once, by ourselves, we can prove we’re worthy of that promotion, raise, or corner office. According to Killelea, in having this perspective we may overlook those team and subordinate relationships that can help us achieve more with less. Learning to delegate allows you the space and the time to lift your head among the crush of work to build your brand and network.

Something that strikes me, and I often see happen, and as Killelea points out, as we move into more senior roles, the work should become less tactical (operational) and more strategic (high-level leadership). This is true and all find and good unless you delegate and then quickly step in to micromanage. This happens I think frequently and unconsciously with women, however we have got to let the reins go! A good delegator, does just, delegates, and then if it looks like it’s going south and the person needs some help, then it’s time to step in and help right the situation. Help is the key word there, not yank it from that persons hands and take it over to fix it yourself. Fail fast, but give your team the chance to do it first. According to Killelea, true delegation relies on trust: trusting team members to do the job to your standards even when you’re not there to micromanage them every step of the way.

I could go on and on about how great this book is, but then you wouldn’t have to go read it yourself, so I’ll wrap things up. As I mentioned in my first installment of this review, I had picked the book up at a time where I don’t think I was in the right head space to receive it. I think that books such as Killelea’s really have to come to you at the right time, but I hope that just by reading this blog post you have a good taste of what the book has for you. It helped me think introspectively, as well as take a look at and examine how I may come off to others. I was able to take inventory of where I am now, how I got here and the people who helped me along the way. I encourage you to do yourself a favor and read it for yourself (and take notes), it’s well worth the time!

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Book Review Part One: The Confidence Effect by Grace Killelea

A little over a year ago my former company’s employee resource group brought Grace Killelea to the office to speak with a group of employees during a lunch and learn. She was coming to talk to us about her book, “The Confidence Effect” – Every Woman’s Guide to the Attitude That Attracts Success. I have to say that she was very motivating and I thought her message was important and spot on, however I don’t think the message was appropriate for me at the time. I was going through a rough spot at work – I had a couple of curve balls thrown my way at the time that were really stretching me as a professional and was helping me frame where I thought I needed to go next in my career. In all honesty, when I grabbed her book on my way out of the session with her, I tried to read it on the way home on the train that night and just couldn’t open my mind enough to absorb it. So, I shelved it and thought I would get back to it eventually.

Well, fast forward to about a month ago. I decided to pick it up, and wouldn’t you know…many things about my professional life had changed. I was in a different role – same company, but I was also in the process of interviewing with a new company for a position that would grow my experience exponentially. So, when I picked up the book to finally read it, while I had a lot going on (more than when I tried to pick it up the first time), my head space was somewhere very different.

I have enjoyed reading the book so much, and again found myself actively reading Killelea’s book, highlighting up a storm! So, similarly to how I reviewed All the Single Ladies, I will review the Confidence Effect by Grace Killelea – and have broken it into separate blog posts. Essentially, what The Confidence Effect aims to do is, “shatter this “good girl” conditioning, and provide the practical tools you need to showcase your qualities and skills – without being cocky or annoying. Instead, you’ll draw from your core of competence to build a professional brand that attracts attention, resources, and promotions.”

Killelea starts the book by discussing the idea of moving from competence to confidence. I think this is so important. As women we may have more competence than any other person in the room, but do you have the confidence that is just as important? According to Killelea, “In order to be truly confident, it’s critical to understand the delicate relationship between competence and confidence as they apply to your workplace brand as well as your leadership potential.” She emphasizes that both are equally important, but for too long women have relied on competence rather than confidence to show off their kills. This is important to think about because, similarly to my previous book review I did, we find ourselves at a point in time when there are more women in the workforce than ever, yet we remain woefully underrepresented in leadership positions at the top, or for that matter even NEAR the top. To reinforce this, according to the Center for American Progress, “Women…hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs…and since 2002, have outnumbered men in earning undergraduate business degrees. And yet, women have not moved up to positions of prominence and power in America at anywhere near the rate that they have based on their representation and early success in higher education and in the entry-level workforce.” This should not be news to any of you, and I have to say I have been fortunate enough to have strong, powerful women leaders that I have reported to or who have run the company or organization I was working in, but still we see this under representation year after year.

According to Killelea, what she has discovered along her own personal journey to authenticity, leadership, and career satisfaction is that competence is absolutely critical to success. You must be good at what you do. You must exceed expectations. I couldn’t agree with this more. If you can show someone you are competent and capable of doing a good job, that is the one thing that could end up mattering more to your boss than anything else. However, according to Killelea, competence is only half the equation. You need to combine it with confidence to truly crack the code.

So, what is confidence in this case? The definition is different to many people, but one of the best definitions Killelea shares is one that Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of the book Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know (Harper-Business, 2014), provide a definition of confidence. “Confidence is not, as we once believed, just feeling good about yourself,” they write, “If women simply needed a few words of reassurance, they’d have commandeered the corner office a long time ago. Perhaps the clearest and most useful definition of confidence we came across was the one supplied by Richard Petty, a Psychology professor at Ohio State University, who has spent decades focused on the subject. ‘Confidence’ he told us, ‘is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.'”

So what does it mean to possess the Confidence Effect? I mean, it is the title of Killelea’s book after all. According to Killelea, it means confidence to the core – the place where we’re the most powerful, the most authentic, the most self-reliant, and the most connected to our skills and abilities. This is striking, because as she says, it is the place where you are the most powerful. I love this. Of course possessing the confidence effect is the place where you are the most powerful – when you are confident in your convictions and who you are there is no stopping you. It also means you are the most authentic (love this). Authenticity is so very important and in my experience it is the one characteristic  you can detect in someone immediately, which I also believe connects directly to whether you can trust someone.

Killelea developed the Confidence Effect over more than 30 years of experience working with women and found that we often question our own competence, feel like we are under a microscope, and perhaps even feel unable to meet the demands of leadership positions. I feel like this is equivalent to the way some of us look at ourselves in the mirror – criticizing and not confident about your hair, weight, skin etc. It’s unnecessary and can become completely debilitating in some ways. As a result, according to Killelea, we miss out on building the relationships and workplace brand that can put us where we want to go and give us the confidence we need to take risks, believe in ourselves and perform to our potential. However, confidence is not enough. You also have to have gravitas.

According to Killelea, gravitas is the presence we feel deep down inside. Without an air of gravitas – which is the sense of weight and “grit” deep in our guts – it’s hard to feel the confidence we need to lead: to lead ourselves, our teams, our divisions, and ultimately, our organizations. It lends an air of credibility – of gravity – to our actions. It adds weight, depth, and character to our personalities, and it allows us to temper our emotions with data, analysis, and proven delivered results. So, according to Killelea, if women are not showing up confidently, proudly, and ready and willing to lead, if we’re not raising our hands or stepping forward with that grit and power behind us, then typically, the organization overlooks us and promotes men. You might ask why, and hopefully this doesn’t offend any of my male readers – but it also shouldn’t come as any surprise – men tend to exhibit those traits even if they’re not as competent. Men just generally show up, stand out, raise their hands, take charge – even take command – regardless of whether they possess the skills such leadership positions demand.

How many of you have seen this? The male counterpart who enters the company as an analyst, and within a year is promoted to senior analyst, a year from that supervisor, then maybe a year or two from that to manager etc.? We’ve all seen it. But, was he actually qualified for it? In some cases no. He just made sure to always add something to the meeting, especially if there was a member of leadership in attendance, he raises his hand and asks questions – whether a good question or not, he still asked it – and  is always finding something to talk to your VP or Director about in the kitchen. This person may not even produce that much work but everyone knows him, thinks he is engaged because he always asks questions and takes the time to interact in the hallway. That guy gets promoted over the woman who keeps her head down and works ten hours a day, but isn’t known by name or face because she doesn’t ask questions or engage during meetings. I have to admit, I am at times guilty of this. I’m an observer by nature and I will never say something just to say something. I would rather have all of the information before I raise my hand or ask a question. It’s what makes me, me. BUT, occasionally you have to step out of that to be noticed.

To help with this hesitation that I know I’m not alone in possessing, is from Ines Temple, President and CEO of Lee Hecht Harrison, Peru, shares, “I learned some mantras years ago that I repeat to myself when I’m in certain situations. They are, ‘I am strong, I am able, and I am calm.'” This is spot on. Anything you can say to yourself or do that will reset or derail the negative train of thought or the hesitation of not feeling worthy enough is a must. Find a mantra, or borrow Ines’ and reset that train of thought.

According to Killelea, success is about striking the right balance between competence and confidence, and confidence alone won’t cut it. Bravado, bluster and popularity alone won’t get you where you want to go. So, remember that guy I mentioned earlier? He might begin climbing the ladder, but he won’t make it to the top. Those supremely confident men and women who, despite their gravitas, simply don’t execute. They don’t deliver, they don’t delegate, and most importantly they don’t meet deadlines. They use emotions rather than facts and logic and as a result, they are incompetent.

So, how do you “show up, stand out and take charge?” Killelea has the 4 Rs of success for this:

  1. Relationships: We can’t go it alone, nor should we try. Relationships are at the center of The Confidence Effect because they allow us to network in a way that accelerates both our personal and career growth.
  2. Reputation: How you perceive yourself has a huge influence on how others perceive you. Reputations, like respect are earned. The book shows you how to let what’s inside out so that you can show more of your true authentic self at work – and everyplace else.
  3. Results: If we are to believe in ourselves and allow others to believe in us, we must deliver results. Confidence is like a mirror we hold up to reflect our accomplishments; the more we deliver, the more confidence we have.
  4. Resilience: Finally, we must have the big picture in mind to weather the storms, rise to the challenges, and avoid the potholes and outright roadblocks that are part and parcel of our ultimate journey to success.

I want to break these down a tiny little bit because I agree with them so much. For example, relationships – this is so true. We really can’t do it alone because the ability to create and maintain relationships is at the heart of success. People who I have made good relationships and connections with, whether I consciously did or not, have proven to be beneficial in my career. If someone enjoys you and feels like they have a good connection with you, they will remember that forever and you will be the first person they think of when they need to fill a position or need a thought leader on a topic that maybe you know a lot about.

Reputation – isn’t this everything? Someone’s career can end because of a bad reputation, or in some cases not even start! Killelea says how you perceive yourself has a huge influence on how others perceive you. This is so true! If you respect yourself enough to be proud of who you are and what you do – i.e. your reputation – then that will radiate to your coworkers and leaders as well.

Results – I think this is important. I recently wrote a blog post for work on a topic that while I had a lot of notes on, I hadn’t quite become an expert on. But, my VP believed that I could write that blog post, she provided me feedback, and ultimately I was able to deliver a great result because she believed that I could deliver it. This meant everything to my confidence and my ability to jump feet first into a topic or project that I might not know EVERYTHING about.

Resilience – This is the part where you have to have the big picture in mind. If you can understand clearly what the end result of something is, you can get through the fire drills and roadblocks that might try to derail you. I think this is my biggest takeaway because sometimes we really can get bogged down in what we are trying to accomplish in the moment, and the things in the way of that, as opposed to looking at the big picture and realizing that despite the roadblocks you are still making progress toward the ultimate goal. This will help you rise to the challenge and ultimately succeed.

I hope you’ve enjoyed part one. The next installation will be about understanding and mastering relationships and how important that is to the confidence effect.

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Adulting: Leaving Behind a Place I’ve Called Home for Almost Eight Years

I am a very loyal person. I’m a loyal customer, friend, sibling, daughter, spouse (to someone eventually hah!), and employee, so making a decision to go, to break up, to do something different, go somewhere different is often an anxiety riddled thing for me.

I was presented with an opportunity that I really couldn’t turn a blind eye to. Someone I had worked with some years back reached out because there was an opening on his team. He said I was the first person he thought of and wanted to chat with me about the role, if I was interested. Now, I had been pretty actively toying with the idea of looking for a new position externally, but nothing was really moving in that direction for me – quite frankly folks, it is very competitive and cut throat out there these days – so, I thought “sure, might as well hear what the position is all about.” I have to admit, I wasn’t sold on it at first. I was really having a hard time understanding from our conversation what the role entailed, and I was coming to the conclusion that this would definitely be a growth role for me because, while I am fully capable of learning and doing the job, I also didn’t have some of what they were looking for on my resume.

So, feeling like I was probably not going to be that great of a fit, but still having a little part of my intuition telling me to at least talk to the hiring manager, I said sure – give my info to your boss, I would love to speak with her. Boy am I glad that I did! She really broke down the role for me, explained how the team worked, and outlined expectations for the role. Not to mention we just had a fantastic conversation. She too worked at my company for a number of years and we had many people in common. She told me that she likes to hire people that her current staff know well and have worked with in the past, and that she definitely wanted to have me come in for an in-person interview. She warned me she was moving fast, so the in-person was set up for the following week.

This all fell during the holidays, which are generally pretty quiet for me work-wise, so I was able to take advantage of some of the time I already planned off, to take the phone calls and have an in-person interview. It all seemed to fall into place almost too easily. Generally, in person interviews have me so anxious and nervous. I actually compare it to the build-up I feel before running a race – it’s like 2-4 hours of your life, you can do it. It may sound ridiculous, but it works for me, and applies just the same to psyching yourself up for a job interview.

Anyway, the in-person interview went really well, 3 hours total – 3 people, 1 hour each, and then I was on my way. Within a week I had a phone call from the hiring manager with what I think was seeking reassurance that I was indeed interested in the position, and if they were to make me an offer that was desirable and in my pay range (which I had previously given them), that I would accept. Another week later and I had a verbal offer, and a formal offer followed less than 24 hours later. Like I said, she wanted to move quickly, and quickly we were moving.

My anxiety was a mess leading up to waiting for an offer, then subsided for about 2.2 seconds and catapulted back up upon accepting because, now I’ve got to tell some of my best friends, and mentors that I’m leaving. I explained this to someone by comparing it to breaking up with someone who literally does not see it coming at all. The shock of a lifetime.

Making this decision was not easy for me. I will often put my feelings aside for someone else’s happiness, I will also often times sacrifice things for the better of a relationship, friendship or family, so making this decision felt oddly out of my comfort zone. I was about to say, “I’m going to do this for me. For the advancement of my career, for my savings and future investments…for me. Not for anyone else.” I ultimately accepted the offer and then promptly told my boss that I was giving him my two week notice. That was the whole “breaking up with someone who doesn’t see it coming thing.” He didn’t see it coming…poor guy. But he understood the offer I was getting and that it was a really amazing opportunity.

I have to say, everyone has been excited for me, sad – but also very excited for me. I’m letting go of a lot my daily routine: coffee every morning at about 9 a.m. with my co-worker, lunch a couple times a week with my group of buddies, the occasional check-in with my mentors, and the happy hours and vent sessions over bottles of wine that have come to be part of me and my social life. That is all going to be changing. I’m not just leaving the company I’ve been with for almost 8 years, but I’m leaving some of the greatest people I’ve ever met, I’m leaving San Francisco – which is with both enthusiasm and a bit of sadness – my commute in is absolutely awful on the train every morning. I’m trading in going into an office every day for working from home about 90% of the time. It’s going to be a VERY big change for me, but one I think is necessary, because as I have thought about making this big move and change, I realized that it’s been a very long time since I have really shaken up my life – for better or for worse. I’ve generally stayed in my bubble of friends, travel with the same people, go out with the same people – which don’t get me wrong is totally fine, but I would say I haven’t shaken life up in about 5 years so it’s definitely time.

I accepted a position at a different company on their digital grid marketing team. As some of you know, I have been in the energy industry for about 8 years, so in terms of jumping into a new industry, I at least won’t have that learning curve. But, this new role will really round out my experience and take me into the marketing field where I can be challenged and learn new things. I’ll be managing social media marketing and events management for the team. All things I know I am capable of doing and excited to embark on.

I had to realize that in both relationships and work, we can grow so complacent and not even realize it sometimes, so taking this leap is huge. It’s massively scary but also really exciting. I will miss everyone from my company, and many of those people I will see even after I leave – I have made some seriously awesome friends for life which is a priceless thing and something I will always be thankful for.

So, my words to you and words that I am borrowing from one of my favorite retail owners (Evy’s Tree), “do scary things.” You only regret the chances you didn’t take, so cheers to just going for it and I’m excited to share the journey with all of you!

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