Leadership Lessons from the Field: Executive Voices

The Georgetown University Women’s Leadership Institute is committed to generating evidence based, data driven prescriptions to empower real-world impact. Through this blog, GUWLI brings together c-suite executives, our corporate partners, and other leaders to share experiences from their fields and provide insight on gender intelligent leadership.

5 Insights on Swimming with Sharks without Being Eaten
January 12, 2017

Goldfish Wearing Fin Shark Swimming In Tempest - Business Concept

Goldfish Wearing Fin Shark Swimming In Tempest – Business Concept

I became SVP/CMO of USA TODAY at a relatively young age – 38. I’m proud of this accomplishment. While my marketing abilities and people management skills were good at that age, my political survival skills were not.

Why? I was naïve. I didn’t want to see that I was swimming in a shark infested pool.

▪ There are Always Sharks

Sharks are a fact of life in any situation, especially in the corporate world. I believe that most people are good, but there will always be sharks who prey on weakness. Their motivations are varied, but they will eat you alive if you let them.

▪ Women are Trained to Play Nice

Women are taught that they should be kind and well-behaved from an early age. Just look at toy commercials – girls are shown role-playing and taking turns. Boys are engaging in combat. Even at school, playing by the rules – turning your homework in on time, showing up to class – is how you get ahead and women do well. However, it is no surprise then that when we get to the real world, women think everyone is following the rules, while the men are looking for the upper-hand.

▪ Recognizing Sharks

We both have something to learn from each other. Women, myself included, can shy away from the “meanness” of the work-world while men lean-into it. What to do? Recognize the sharks and don’t let them eat you. Sharks come in all forms, male, female, young, old, bosses, peers, subordinates, Presidents.

▪ Sharks Cannot be Changed

They will eat you no matter how nice you are back to them. They simply don’t care about the rules, your competence, the “right” thing to do, so don’t get yourself worked up about why they are attacking you. They are who they are and they are not going to change because of you.

▪ Be Yourself, with Some Bite

Accept this and don’t be afraid to bite them back when you must. They’re sharks. It’s OK to bite them. If you want to beat them, your goal is to swim with them – not away from them – but not get eaten. This doesn’t mean you should be a shark, if that’s not who you are. I am not a shark, never will be, but I can swim with them now.

I have teeth. So, do you. Let’s not be afraid to use them.

Susan Lavington


Susan Lavington is an Executive, Business Leader, Digital Innovator and Strategist focused on delivering thoughtful and provocative strategies that position companies to compete more effectively. Where disruption is the new normal, she excels at assessing, aligning, and mobilizing new and existing resources to accelerate revenue growth.

Ms. Lavington is proud to have led some of the country’s most well-known brands through periods of great transition. She transformed business models and brought companies such as USA TODAY, Sterling Publishing/Barnes & Noble, Carr Workplaces, and George Washington University into the digital era through initiatives that span culture, operations, finance, product development, and marketing. In addition, Ms. Lavington has led start-ups such as usairways.com, B2Buy, and FundsFlo through their initial launch phases.


Why Well-Being is a Better Goal than Balance
September 2, 2016

Are you searching for balance? If so, you’re not alone. Trying to balance professional, family, and personal roles is a constant struggle for everyone. Workplaces are more demanding than ever, with little flexibility, limited support, and an expectation of 24/7 availability. The situation is especially challenging for women, most of whom still have primary responsibility for the housework and care giving.

Balance is impossible

It’s not surprising that we are all searching for balance, but it is unfortunate, because the pursuit of work-life balance is an impossible goal. There will always be moments when work interferes with life or life interferes with work. You may have to miss an important meeting because you need to take your mother to a doctor’s appointment. A last-minute deadline might prevent you from getting to your son’s tennis match. If balance is your goal, you will surely fail.

Benefits of well-being

A better goal is to improve your well-being. People with higher levels of well-being have psychological resources that help them handle the difficulties associated with trying to fulfill multiple roles. Having high well-being energizes you and boosts your self-confidence. It helps you think in more creative ways, so you can come up with solutions to better manage the chaos. People with high well-being are also more resilient.

How to increase well-being

So what contributes to your well-being? There are two main factors: feeling good and doing good. Feeling good is about experiencing positive emotions on a daily basis; doing good is about overall life satisfaction that comes from pursuing meaningful goals and making a positive impact. People who are high on the feeling-good and doing-good dimensions of well-being are thriving.

And now for the really good news: unlike balance, well-being is an achievable goal. Recent research in neuroscience shows that intentionally choosing thoughts and behaviors associated with well-being strengthens those neural circuits in your brain. Doing this over time changes your default mode to one of higher well-being. Well-being is a skill you can learn and get better at, just like playing the piano.

Practices associated with well-being include mindfulness, gratitude, hope, living your values, developing your strengths, and making a positive impact. My book, Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being, provides specific strategies for increasing both the feeling-good and doing-good dimensions of well-being.

So forget about balance and focus on boosting your well-being instead. Having a life full of joy and meaning will enable you to successfully deal with those out-of-balance days when not everything goes according to plan.

"Beth Cabrera. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University"

“Beth Cabrera. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services/George Mason University”

Beth Cabrera, PhD, is the author of Beyond Happy: Women, Work, and Well-Being (ATD Press) and a senior scholar at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being. As a writer, researcher, and speaker, she helps individuals achieve greater success and well-being. Her leadership development programs focus on strengths, purpose, mindfulness, and workplace well-being. Blog: cabrerainsights.com Twitter: @bethcabrera


Difference is the Difference—Women Do it Differently
March 16, 2016

One of my business-change mantras is: Men and Women Are Different. We all know this intuitively, yet in the workplace there continues to exist the unquestioned assumption that men and women are the same. The same as leaders. The same as contributors. The same as team-builders. The same as decision makers. We are not the same. Equal, yes, but different without doubt. And in my role as change advisor, I consistently tell senior leaders that gender is a strategic business imperative, not a women’s issue. To remain relevant and capture the significant wealth and expanding talent  women bring to the market, you must embrace this fact: “difference is the difference maker.”*

One notable way in which men and women differ (and the science continues to confirm these differences**) can be seen in networking and business-building styles. Women experience success and find fulfillment in maintaining and sharing rich webs of relationships where everybody wins. This approach to networking is generally subtler, less direct, and wrapped around events intended to promote long-term, mutually beneficial connections. ***

I’ve been in a male-dominated industry for a long time. I knew women needed a channel for their network activities. I am very practical by nature and I know that numbers can speak louder than words.  So, I proposed an experiment to prove the business advantages to be had when we recognize and support the concept that women network differently than men. To this end, we created a Women’s Advisory Council, which brought ten women financial advisors together to design “women-centric” avenues to network, develop business, and recruit talent.

This group of women seized the opportunity. They created programs and events that cast aside typical old-school networking activities (weekend golf, early-morning or after-work outings…) in favor of philanthropic, social, and community/business forums to attract, nurture, and develop clients in settings where women are focused on common passions and feel comfortable, safe, and in-community.

. The upshot: the experiment was successful and the fact that the women involved significantly outperformed the Firm’s averages in their performance metrics did not go unnoticed.


The concept has been refined, formalized, funded, and has grown to more than thirty Councils (and growing) throughout the Firm, with ongoing impressive results.

Because women-centric networking is not a widespread, engrained business practice, women haven’t had a formal means to support other women. The councils brought women together with a common purpose—to build their practices—through which they shaped relationships, developed trust, and discovered mutually beneficial connections. When this happened, the women began to help, promote, support, and share best practices with one another. As a result the women, as group, flourished.

More importantly, these networks are becoming self-sustaining and intergenerational, much as men’s networks have over the years. Women now open and expand markets, create new business, and generate goodwill in ways that previously were not possible because of structural barriers. Not because anyone was willfully trying to inhibit change, it was because the “assumption that men and women are the same” remained unquestioned. When you question this, perspectives change and new possibilities emerge.

There is another important take-away from the Women’s Councils: successful women now have a channel through which to advise, support, and mentor younger women. Without the formal platform the Councils provide, women were fragmented and often felt isolated because there are so few women in their offices, or they found themselves trapped by the traditional business practices of the male-perspective status quo. The Councils facilitated a woman’s preference to build relationships and grow her business by focusing on things she and her clients and prospects are passionate about.

A Women’s Council is but one example of how women shine a different light. While it is absolutely imperative that the differences between men and women be recognized and applied in ways that make our organizations better and more successful, it is also incumbent upon women to own the change. We must support one another. We can do this at every level of the organization and in every walk of our lives, whether formal channels exist or not.

Each of us has found our way because of the work and support of other women—those who have gone before us and opened the way. Yes, there’s still much more to do in terms of diversity. But what we can do—and what has become my mantra to women is: Climb, Pause, Lift.  Those of you on the “rung” above, “pause” and “lift” those below, those coming behind you. Make championing the success of all women part of your everyday practices. Supporting one another is paramount to our success. Men have been doing this for years—we need to embrace this same concept but in a women-centric way.

The difference is becoming more and more welcomed as the mainstream changes. And don’t forget, there are many good men who support and champion our numerous and marvelous differences. But it is vital that we support one another.  I’ll have more about Climb, Pause Lift in a future piece.

*    One source for review: McKinsey Report: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth

**   For an overview of her female/male brain research, see this Tedx video by neuropsychiatrist, Louann Brizendine.

*** I also recommend this short, classic book by Carol Gilligan, A Different Voice, which helped lead the way for understanding the difference between men and women.

Lisa Cregan is Managing Director, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. She has more than 30 years of financial services field experience and has been a champion of and trendsetter for women since she entered the industry. Lisa holds a BA and MBA from Georgetown, sits on the board of The Women’s Sports Foundation, and brings her practical and inspiration insights on women and change to groups nationwide.


Turn the Tide, Create High Performing Work Environments

March 14, 2016

If there were a secret that would save you tens of thousands of dollars or more in your business every year, would you be interested? Did you know that changing just one thing about your organization could reduce employee turnover, maximize the productivity of your employees, and even increase customer satisfaction and loyalty?


Your organization’s workplace climate is created by various things, including the expectations of management, the way employees treat each other, the amount of pressure and competition in the environment, and the way mistakes and problems are handled. A climate can be positive – friendly, relaxed, respectful, inviting, inclusive, and encouraging. Or it can be negative – toxic, harmful, angry, exclusive, and extremely high-pressure. The environment in which your employees are expected to work – especially the way they are treated by their co-workers and management – significantly affects their attitudes, and therefore, their productivity, creativity, and loyalty. Customers also feel the climate of an organization, affecting their satisfaction and even their willingness to give you their business.

Consider these statistics. Seventy percent of employees in the U.S., and 87% world-wide, are dissatisfied and disengaged in the workplace, according to Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report. One of the most critical issues causing this dissatisfaction is the climate of the workplace. In an article published by Harvard Business Review in 2013, Christine Porath, Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and Christine Pearson, Professor of Global Leadership at Thunderbird School of Global Management, discussed incivility in the workplace – which is largely responsible for a negative, toxic working environment. They found that among workers who’ve been on the receiving end of incivility:

  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident
  • 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined
  • 66% said that their performance declined
  • 63% lost work time avoiding the offender
  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work
  • 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers
  • 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment

The cost of a toxic workplace is clear. But the benefits of a positive workplace go beyond just eliminating these costs. Satisfied employees results in:

  • Better engagement
  • Improved team work
  • More effective communication and collaboration
  • Increased innovation
  • Willingness to make personal sacrifices
  • Loyalty to their company and its products
  • Better organization reputation

A good, productive climate in the workplace attracts top talent. Overcoming a negative, toxic environment and creating a positive, inclusive workplace is one of the single most important steps to building a better business.

Obviously it is up to executives, managers, and team leaders to be proactive in creating a positive work climate. There will be unavoidable conflicts and interpersonal relationship problems as teams of individuals work together. Leaders need the skills to leverage these conflicts in positive, engaging ways. Employees need tools to understand why their buttons get pushed in the first place and why they most often react unproductively. They need strategies to minimize feeling triggered in difficult situations in the future and opportunities to develop the capacity to provide critical leadership to resolve unproductive conflicts to help teams and individuals refocus on organizational goals.

That is the purpose of my book, Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace. This fast-read is a rich source of practical, accessible, and proven tools to help leaders, managers, and employees create and maintain environments of respect, productivity, and high-performance.

I have been researching, training, and writing about navigating difficult situations in the workplace for 25 years. As a trainer, consultant, speaker, and coach I’ve helped thousands of individuals and organizations rise above toxic workplace situations and create more productive, inclusive work environments that unleash the power, passion, and creativity of every employee. Many books and trainings provide tips to “manage difficult people.” If we only focus on identifying the few extremely dysfunctional employees in work environments, we miss the reality that all of us, at some point in our careers, do and say things that are unproductive and disruptive in the workplace. The key is to skill-up all employees with the tools to not only engage others in difficult situations, but also to change any of their own behaviors that may be contributing to the unproductive dynamics.

My book Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace goes beyond dealing with the surface behaviors to help readers understand the underlying issues that fuel unproductive reactions and learn to interrupt the “Triggering Event Cycle” before negative behaviors undermine productivity and teamwork.

You can’t afford to ignore toxic behavior any longer. Begin today to establish a positive, supportive work environment. Intentionally build a culture of respect and inclusion and reap the benefits of engaged, motivated employees who are invested in the success of your organization.

As a thank you for reading my blog, please download a free PDF of my book, Turn The Tide from my website, www.drkathyobear.com/book-pdf. The ebook is also available on Amazon.

And if you would to schedule a free Strategy Session with me, please visit www.drkathyobear.com/complimentary-session.

Kathy Obear, Ed.D., Alliance for Change Consulting and Coaching
In writing her book, Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace, Dr. Kathy Obear pulled from her 30 years of experience as an organizational development consultant and trainer as well as her experiences as a Certified Life Coach and Executive Coach. Dr. Obear is the Co-Founder of the Social Justice Training Institute (www.sjti.org) and is regarded as an expert at training leaders and facilitators to navigate difficult dialogues and triggering events in the workplace. 


Mindfully Fearless—face one fear, each day, every day
December 16, 2015

I have the good fortune in my role as a field leader for a global financial services company and as a speaker and advisor on the bottom-line importance of women in workplace to coach early- and mid-career women. Recently, during a panel discussion, a young woman asked: “Tell us, please. How did you do it? How did you face your fears? I would like to be fearless, but I’m just not.” This was a big question. As women, we all knew she was really asking: How do I find my voice; how do I stand equally with men; and how do I consistently find the confidence to share ideas and comments and not undercut my own value?

I said: “You realize just now you were fearless. That’s how you do it; you just do it. But it takes conviction and practice. You have to make being fearless part of your everyday routine. You have to be mindfully fearless. Just ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I do this?”

I learned to face fears as a young woman. I grew up riding horses, competing equally against men at the highest levels. This taught me: (1) the importance of persistence and skill building; (2) to develop a trusting relationship with the horse, which meant pushing my limits and learning also to trust myself because if I didn’t trust myself my 1200-pound horse was not going follow my lead; and (3) to constantly assess the situation and adjust and readjust to the moment without pause.

Mindfully Fearless

These skills helped me immensely early in my career when there were some serious institutional hurdles for women in the areas of acceptance and career development. The truth is I still rely on them as a matter of course.

If you’ve participated in sports, then you’ll have experienced some version of the above. Your experiences and skills are transferable to the workplace and can support the development of your career…and learning to be fearless. If the discipline of competitive sports is not part of your background, fear not. You can, like all of us, with practice, develop the ability to respond fearlessly in the moment and put this ability to good, practical use.

What I suggested to the fearless questioner –and now to you more formally below– is to make the commitment to Face One Fear, Each Day, Every Day. Do it even when you’d rather not! Make this a routine.

Practice what I call being mindfully fearless, and day by day and opportunity by opportunity you will build the skills and confidence to stand up, to speak up, and to be seen. And, more specifically, you will hone your fearlessness skills to expand your network; find mentors; develop relationships; let others know your goals and aspirations; and, perhaps most importantly, ask for what you want, whether it be a stretch assignment, a specific job role, a salary increase, or flexing your schedule.

Start Being Mindfully Fearless, Today!

The objective is to face up to at least one fear or fear-inducing situation a day — no matter how large or small, or seemingly insignificant. The goal is to welcome being mindfully fearless into your life and to let the practice transform you. Below is a snapshot of the process for becoming mindfully fearless.

Reflect: Look honestly at yourself. Reflect upon these questions: When am I most uncertain of myself? When and where am I most likely not to share my ideas? When was the last time I wished I had acted, but didn’t? What are my fears, both large and small? What do I wish people could see about me that I’m not showing? Make a list of the frustrations and fears that you have and want to change. Add new ones to the list as they arise; remove those that you’ve addressed.

Respond: With better awareness of your fears, frustrations, and hesitancies, identify and be attuned to opportunities to be mindfully fearless. Use these opportunities (at work or otherwise) to act in ways that are different than your current fashion of responding to this situation. Trust yourself. For example, if you’re hesitant to speak in a meeting, make it a point to say something you otherwise would not have said. Remember the questioner I introduced above: asking the question itself was an act of fearlessness.

Record: Keep a daily log of how, where, and when you were mindfully fearless. Include notes: How you felt. How your response was received. What was the outcome? How this was different than not responding or not facing your fear? What did you learn from the experience? You’ll be surprised how quickly this list grows and how diverse the settings are in which you no longer allow your fears to constrain or limit you.

Rejoice: Give yourself credit for having the courage and commitment to change and be more of who you’d like to be in the workplace and in the rest of your life. As women, we’re often toughest on ourselves – we should give ourselves credit for the hard work we do to be genuine and to follow our passions. It’s important that you recognize and rejoice in your successes and your commitment to being mindfully fearless. (I keep a photo in my office of me on my favorite horse jumping a huge cross-country hurdle as a constant reminder to be vigilant. A colleague puts colored dots on her office window to celebrate her mindfully fearless “wins.”)

Reward: As being mindfully fearless becomes familiar and routine, you’ll see in both subtle and obvious ways how your life and career begin to move in ways that are self-guided and rewarding…and you’ll find support from new champions. That said, beyond rejoicing; make it a point to reward yourself for your commitment to change, for your courage to consistently and evermore transparently confront your fears and doubts. You can do this in a way that best fits your style. Do it quarterly or after a significant win. Just do it. Whatever reward you choose, make it something tangible and something you savor.

Stand and commit to being mindfully fearless. All will benefit from your brilliance!

Lisa Cregan is Managing Director, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. She has more than 30 years of financial services field experience and has been a champion of and trendsetter for women since she entered the industry. Lisa holds a BA and MBA from Georgetown, sits on the board of The Women’s Sports Foundation, and brings her practical and inspiration insights on women and change to groups nationwide.


Some Things I Know about Working with Men
November 30, 2015

As a female executive field leader at a global financial services company, I’m frequently invited by businesses, women’s organizations, and educational institutions to share my story, experiences, and insights of successfully making my way in an industry that was, and has been, almost “exclusively male” since I began my career. And, without fail, the question I’m asked most frequently by early-career women, especially those about to transition from graduate school and step into that first or next-level career-guiding job, goes something like this: “Do you have any advice for someone going into the XYZ industry?” I understand what they’re really asking: “Can you tell me how to navigate the business waters of working in a male-dominated industry?” This what I tell them:

Be Yourself. Trust your skills, talents, values, and your desire to build the career and life you imagine. Don’t be afraid to go for what you want, and never, never sell yourself short or acquiesce to something lesser because you’re being told that’s what you should do. Don’t walk on eggshells, always do the right thing, never listen to naysayers, and trust your gut.

Don’t Act a Man. Many industries remain predominately male-centric. The mistake many young women make is to try out-man the men (this always reminds me of the padded shouldered, suit-and-tie women of the 1980s.) If you do, you will be seen as too aggressive, too tough, not feminine enough and it will inhibit your ability to build strong relationships and have your talents and successes recognized. It’s not right, and even though many men are working hard to change, that’s still the reality of it. You also can be penalized for being seen by men as “feminine,” meaning being too soft, not tough enough. This is part of the Double Bind women experience in the workplace. Experience taught me to overcome and to retool the competitive drive to prove myself by trying to out-man-the men; it’s a path to avoid. Have the confidence to be yourself.

Learn to communicate with men. Remember that men and women are different. Communicate in ways that allow a man to hear you, see you, and appreciate your talents. (Again, maybe not right, but that’s still the way it is.) Learn the general traits and communication styles men bring to the workplace. For instance, men tend to be rational, problem solve, see things as black & white, apply linear thinking, don’t ask questions, and put relationships and feelings aside when finding solutions. This often means you do not have to tell lots of back-story, the relationships involved, or some of the second or third levels of nuance and connections. My advice is to start with the end: “Here’s what needs to happen.” “Here’s the problem or issue.” If you have a solution, offer it. If you want him to do something, be prepared with the actions required: “I would like you to do A, B, C.” Men, generally, care less how a problem is solved than solving it efficiently and effectively. Men find problem solving as one way to demonstrate competence. (Hence, comes shorthand for one form of this: Mansplaining.) In conjunction, usually I already had a solution or suggestion at hand for any problem I was raising, which my manager would often then support or tweak and come to believe was his own, which further served to build the relationship and have my competence noticed.

When, I learned to trust myself and to approach men in ways that were familiar and natural to them, my relationship with men improved dramatically, my insights and suggestions were welcomed and sought, and my career path opened in ways that I’d never imagined.

There’s much more to say about the above, especially the Double Bind and the scope of the general differences between men and women. Given that, I don’t want you to believe that I place the entire onus for change on women. I absolutely do not. The above are key lessons I learned to create my career in a male-dominate industry. This assumes, naturally, that you work hard, meet deadlines, do great work, and push for stretch assignments (which is a topic for another time).

As for changing the status quo, I work directly with male leaders to have them recognize and appreciate the difference between men and women. We are equal, but different. I present a strong business case for women and diversity as marketplaces become more women-centric and more diverse generally. My goal is to have leaders and decision makers recognize that these differences are the difference-maker to business success and organizational culture change. While change unfolds, I still rely on the few tricks I learned early in my career. I know they can help you, too.

Lisa_Cregan Standing_10_15Lisa Cregan is Managing Director, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. She has more than 30 years of financial services field experience and has been a champion of and trendsetter for women since she entered the industry. Lisa holds a BA and MBA from Georgetown, sits on the board of The Women’s Sports Foundation, and brings her practial and inspiration insights on women & change to groups nationwide.


Navigating Your Career Through Change
November 15, 2015
Work hard and your career will progress, right? Wrong – this is FALSE and this myth holds many women back in their career progression. The truth is hard work is only one factor to career success, and this is especially true in today’s quickly evolving global economy where the only certainty is in fact change. Women Leaders are well versed on the subject of what it really takes to move their career forward and how to lead transformation in their organizations in this ‘new normal’ business environment.

Career CompassWhat does this ‘new normal’ look like? Technology has accelerated the pace of change and the globalization of business. (It took the telephone 75 years to reach 100million customers, while it took Candy Crush only 1 year to reach 100m customers!) While technology has enabled flexible working and led to the viability of virtual teams, it’s also made business more complex & competitive. Restructurings are no longer one-offs or extraordinary times, but rather common place across all industries & sectors. It’s now a given that you won’t have a job for life and thus the responsibility for progressing your career falls firmly on your shoulders . While your company, your manager, or the HR department may support your goals, YOU must be in the driving seat.

In the midst of this economic transformation , how do I avoid getting stuck in the old and take advantage of the new? Here are my top three tips (S-I-S) for a successful career navigation plan:

S – Stretch yourself – Achieving work-life balance remains a dream if we’re not also investing in the work piece. Be proactive in pushing forward the strategic direction of your career and take risks (albeit well thought out) in order to experience personal growth. Think about what you need to develop further in order to move in the direction you want to move – especially when it comes to building the right relationships and letting others know what you have to offer and how you can ‘solve the problem’.

I – Invest in relationships – When women talk about ‘success’ it’s intertwined with success in our personal lives, so investing in relationships means investing both personally and professionally.   It’s also the personal relationships that give us the support and grounding we need to sustain our professional lives. Looking back on my own 30+years in business, it’s the relationships with colleagues, managers and clients that I remember most, rather than meeting deadlines or delivering projects. The irony of course is that profits & people are intricately linked.

S Speak up – As a career consultant I have met so many incredibly talented and competent women over the years and I often hear frustration that career progression has been stymied. Visibility is so often the Achilles heel. If others don’t know you, how can they know the great work you do? In a world of constant restructurings and revised business strategies, it’s nearly impossible for others just to see the work you do – they’re simply too busy! They themselves are trying to cope. At the end of the day, we all want meaning in our work, and this is why it’s critical to let others know what you’re achieving and suggesting how you might assist them . This approach not only benefits you, but it also benefits your colleagues, your bosses, your company and your industry as it puts you in a position to reach your full potential and have maximum impact on the business.

While change can be a scary thing, it can also create tremendous opportunities for career growth. Embrace the change and figure out how to position yourself so that you can play at your best in a way that supports and achieves the business goals. Like any smart business person, align your offering (your talents, skills, relationships, etc) to the needs of the client or business. That’s the key to navigating your career through change!

Women in Business

Following nearly 30+ years in business, Christine Brown-Quinn, embarked on a new career in 2010 as The Female Capitalist® to share with professional women globally, practical, hands-on business strategies for career progression. Through her webinars and in-person workshops, Christine unveils what really matters in getting ahead in the corporate world. As a former Managing Director in International Finance, Christine is well versed in what it takes to forge a thriving career in highly pressurized, alpha environments.
@FemaleCapital #CareerTip #womeninbusiness
Georgetown University, College ‘82


Leading thriving teams – better to be warm or tough?
November 11, 2015

FishAngela, a Technology Director in a major global organization came into our coaching session deflated. She was renowned for her warm, inspiring style which created engaged teams. And yet the team leading a key strategic project had given a poor performance on a budget proposal which cost them future funding. She felt embarrassed. “How could they have failed to recognise the importance of this meeting and the need to be joined up and coherent?” She was clear that this was unacceptable and she needed to send a clear message. But how could she do this without destroying morale or scaring her team?

Over the years coaching women, I’ve noticed how often this theme comes up. Women are often seen as having strengths in building teams, creating the kind of warmth that gives others the sense that you have their backs. This creates openness which is the foundation for the levels of trust that teams need to do high quality thinking. Team members thrive on being engaged, consulted and involved. When they feel part of something that matters, they give more.

And this isn’t enough. They also want clear direction from a competent leader. And (they might not voice it) they want the confidence of knowing they will be held to account – both by the leader and by each other. It may not be comfortable, but it leads to the sweet satisfaction of results and success.

When I shared the idea for this blog with a colleague, she commented that women leaders often asked “How do I lead and still be ‘nice’? We talk about men getting in touch with their feminine side- how about women getting in touch with their masculine side? And there’s so much research indicating how fine the line is for women between confident and assertive versus pushy and aggressive.

It seems to me that it’s not an ‘either or’ situation. The challenge is to combine warmth (an appreciating, open, encouraging style) with toughness (giving clear direction and setting clear expectations for task delivery) It’s the old adage of finding the right balance, in each moment, of support and challenge. So what might you do?

Know that warmth matters and harness it! Cultivate an appreciating, appropriately open and encouraging style. Hold onto this as the foundation for trust.

Be clear about the direction of travel and hold the course. To do that you will need to be clear where you are headed and what your expectations are for task delivery (I often find that when team members know the goal, they set more demanding expectations than their leaders)

Hold others to account – both for what they deliver (the results and outcomes you need to achieve together) and how they do it (the behaviors they demonstrate). As one senior leader said, “it isn’t OK to get the result and leave 10 dead bodies behind you round here”. When a team is clear on their shared direction and goals, knows the behaviors they will adhere to and hold each other to account, the results follow.

And what about Angela? She placed 2 pieces of paper on the floor to represent her warm and tough sides and spoke to her (imaginary at the time) team from each place. Neither felt right. I invited her to stand with one foot on each. Her physiology changed, she stood up and looked directly at them. Her words were something like “I’m disappointed. We have a serious issue. It’s not OK that we showed up ill prepared and disjointed. We’ve lost funds for a project I care deeply about that is crucial to the future of the organization. Now we have to work out how to rebuild this and remove the silo thinking that caused this.” Subsequently, she reflected on how liberating and empowering it felt to welcome her “bad ass” style (and I’d call it tough, confident and assertive – rightly so).

So here’s a question for you to mull on. I invite you to take a couple of minutes to note your immediate thoughts (and I would love to hear your thoughts and reactions)

If you knew that, by combining warmth, openness, clear direction and holding others to account your team will thrive, what would change for you? What would you do?

Alyse is Managing Director of Eye 2 Eye Development and a renowned Executive Coach and facilitator based in the UK. She has worked with leadership talent across the world for over 25 years and increasingly specializes in creating the conditions for female talent to thrive in global organizations as well as supporting female entrepreneurs to start and develop their businesses. She is the author of the Team Health Check, a bespoke tool which enables teams to pinpoint how to enhance their performance. You can trial this for your team free at www.theteamhealthcheck.com.


Golf Builds Resilient Leaders
October 25, 2015

Women On Course

Re-sil-ience – The ability to cope in the face of stress and disaster.
It can happen at any given moment. At work, at home and in my experience, even on the golf course, you may find yourself in a difficult situation. It’s resilience that helps you recover quickly.

Resilience is a trait that people frequently use to describe me as a successful leader and entrepreneur. I have certainly encountered challenges throughout my career, but I credit my time on the golf course for strengthening my ability to deal with problems and seemingly impossible situations.

Shake off the bad shots. What happens when your ball is behind a tree, in the sand trap, or even in someone’s living room – yes, my friend once hit a ball through a window. Golf has taught me to accept reality and focus on solutions. Bad things do happen to good people, and even the best laid plans can become derailed unexpectedly. The faster you accept difficult situations, the sooner you can devise options to move beyond them.

Golf carts don’t have review mirrors. Nor are they equipped with crystal balls to see the future! I’ve seen rounds blow up as golfers waste energy complaining about what they did wrong or can’t do. The same is true for those who fret about the potentially bad outcomes that lie ahead. I’m guilty of missing chances to break 100 when the mere sight of water and sand on the final few holes signaled impending doom. Golf has taught me to take purposeful action toward the target ahead. My game has improved greatly by making the most of the skills and resources I have in the present moment. By keeping my focus on the immediate shot at hand, I’ve been able to turn in a double digit scorecard! 

Know when you’ve had enough fun. Setbacks are inevitable and some golf holes just don’t play like you intended. Sometimes I’ll put the ball in my pocket and call it quits – but just for that hole, not the entire game. Golf has shown me that failure is temporary. There’s always another hole ahead. A fresh start and another opportunity to put your talents and skills to work.

There’s more than one way to score. I met a self-described perfectionist at a Women on Course golf event who was giving golf one last try. This successful attorney was only interested in playing to win. As I watched her on the first tee I knew this would not end well. Golf has taught me to have realistic expectations. Afterwards in the clubhouse, I expected to see a defeated golfer, but she was all smiles. Did she really develop an LPGA golf swing in one afternoon? Not exactly, but she did score an unexpected outcome – a new business relationship.

People play golf in the rain. Days before hosting major golf events I would start obsessing about the weather. (Hence the affectionate nickname from my staff ‘Doppler Donna’) The first time I learned that golf courses don’t close due to rain I went into panic mode. I had a major sponsor expecting me to deliver a capacity crowd, and the women were dropping like flies. Golf has helped me see that challenges are not the end of the world. There is a distinct difference between having a big problem, and making a problem big. By looking at this day as one in many, I snapped into action with an alternate agenda – one that became a popular indoor event format down the road.

Most valuable lesson. Let’s face it. Golf can be a difficult game to master, almost as difficult as starting and building a business. Golf keeps me focused on what I can control. In business as in golf there are many things you can’t change, but you do have the power to decide how to react, adapt and respond. Practice resiliency on the golf course and you will be amazed how it will trickle into your work and your life!

Donna Hoffman, Speaker and Founder of Women on Course, is now on tour, inspiring women leaders through golf. Come join us at WomenOnCourse – a national event platform connecting like-minded women. (www.womenoncourse.com).


Uncharted Territory – the “Messy Middle”
October 11, 2015

There is no argument that the pace and success of professional progress for women in the workplace, as a group, has stalled at unacceptably low levels. In my mind, the argument revolves around not only why has progress stalled, but also who is best positioned to address this stall and accelerate the rate of progress for women? There are far too many “self help” books for women suggesting that the solution lies in their behavior and readiness for advancement, so I propose a different take on the problem.

After successfully rising through the “meritocracy” or beginning phase of a career, but before reaching the level to be considered for Board appointment, the most senior level of accomplishment in business, women (as well as men) must navigate the “Messy Middle” of the corporate career obstacle course. Data indicates that a significant number of highly educated women are opting out of corporate careers during this “Messy Middle” period. A recent study (footnote) suggests that 65% of working mothers with elite educations are out of the workforce before the age of 54, compared to a 7% rate for men.

While true for some, I do not accept the conventional wisdom that women, particularly working mothers, are leaving the workforce to care for or spend more time with family, and that the solution therefore lies primarily in advancing gender neutrality in care-giving (which would surely be a good thing. nonetheless.) I believe, and have been told this by several women, that the politically correct “exit interview” response is to attribute the departure to family related reasons. One woman even told me she was asked by her company to give that reason for leaving, despite having a host of other issues.

I believe the challenge of retention of talented women, particularly at mid-career, is one that corporations have to step up to and address. What are the spoken and unspoken forces at work within the corporate culture that may under-value and at times diminish the contributions and accomplishments of women during the mid-career phase of their careers? At this mid-point in a career benchmarks for performance of executives are less tangible and quantifiable. Issues can be overt or subtle, common to business in general or industry specific. There are no quick fixes.

Women at particular stages in their careers can benefit from one or more of the proliferation of “self help” books on the market. They can also benefit from tactical programs, such as affinity groups and mentoring programs, that companies put into place to help women help themselves. I would argue that collectively, however, women can benefit most if workplaces, particularly corporations, invest time, financial and human resources in dissecting their corporate culture to identify norms and traditional practices that are not gender neutral in their impact. Once identified, the difficult work of establishing new, gender-neutral norms must take place.

The evidence is indisputable. Women are opting out in great numbers before they reach the level of consideration for C-Suite succession planning exercises and Board nominations. With this backdrop, only the most accomplished and persistent women will reach the CEO and Board levels, with gender parity at the C-Suite and Board levels virtually unattainable.

– Barbara Krumsiek, GUWLI Senior Industry Fellow


“Why Aren’t We There Yet?”
October 3, 2015


In my speech at the 3rd Annual Women Leadership Forum in Vienna, Austria (9/16/15), I asked the audience of top women executives in Austrian enterprises to consider the question “Why Aren’t We There Yet?” I highlighted the dilemma faced by mid-career women.  After successfully rising through the “meritocracy” or beginning phase of a career, but before reaching the level to be considered for Board appointment, the most senior level of accomplishment in business, women, as well as men, must navigate the “Messy Middle” of the corporate career obstacle course. Data indicates that a significant number of highly educated women are opting out of corporate careers during this “Messy Middle” period. A recent study (Joni Hersch, Vanderbilt University Law School, 2013) suggests that an alarming 65% of working mothers with elite educations are out of the workforce before the age of 54, compared to a 7% rate for men.

Rather than accept the conventional wisdom that women are leaving the workforce to care for family, which may be true for some, I challenged the audience to consider the forces at work within the corporation – the corporate culture – that may under-value and at times diminish the contributions and accomplishments of women during the mid-career phase.  At this middle point in a career benchmarks for performance of executives are less tangible and quantifiable.

While women at particular stages in their careers can benefit from the proliferation of “self help” books available to them as individuals, I argue that collectively, women can benefit if corporations invest time, financial and human resources in dissecting their corporate culture to identify norms and traditional practices that are not gender neutral in their impact.

The evidence is indisputable.  Women are opting out before they can reach the level of consideration for C-Suite succession planning exercises and Board nominations.  With this backdrop, only the most accomplished and persistent women will reach the CEO and Board levels, with gender neutrality at these senior levels virtually unattainable.

– Barbara Krumsiek, GUWLI Senior Industry Fellow


Great Leaders Share Their Vulnerabilities along with Their Vision
September 25, 2015


Whether working with clients one on one, or speaking at events with hundreds of attendees, one question always comes up: how much to share. In this paradoxical age of “digital openness” and at the same time security concerns about privacy, many people default to sharing less. It can be tricky and scary, who knows what will be held against you. However, when building your reputation through trust and empathy, listening to other’s stories as well as sharing your own is a critical skill. Especially if you choose to lead, then your vulnerabilities are key to bringing others on board with your vision.

  1. Develop your vision

As you explore your world, whether it is local, regional, national, or global, think about what you see wrong that you want to play a role in fixing. What is it that bothers you – is it homelessness, is it how people think about problems? A leader is intentional about making a difference by improving something for a group of people. It could be your direct team, vendors, clients, and family; the beauty is you get to choose the leadership role you want to play.

  1. Step back and identify your key stories

You do not have to share everything. I recommend that you identify a few key stories that are authentic, meaningful, and worth sharing in so far as they help you provide and convey your vision for your family, team, company, industry, and beyond. It is important to have stories that make you approachable and human. I always have several key stories that I have shared so many times it is easy to do so whether I am networking, coaching, or delivering a speech. They are stories where I can laugh at myself, where I have learned something, or some remarkable moment that highlights a reason for why I do the work I do. What teachable moments stick out for you that are candidates for sharing? List out those moments and see which ones align and support your vision.

  1. Stories need Substance & Soundbites

As you develop your vision and your stories, be sure they also resonate with your audience. Craft your message, review it with key people and get feedback. For women and men, it is important to test the waters with your stories. You will need to substantiate your story at some point, as well as create soundbites that get the attention of your audience. With substance and soundbites, your story will connect emotionally as well as be remembered.

I encourage you to think about what you can share about your journey that will help build trust with your audience, without sacrificing your security. It is what makes us human that brings us closer and can move us forward. When we participant with Sheryl Sandberg sharing her story of loss on Facebook, or watch Hillary Clinton speaking about her mother on video, there are places and ways to share unique experiences in person and online that resonate and meet your audience where they are. It is these stories that bring us together to bring about change and move people forward.

Join the Georgetown community (and beyond) at the Annual Georgetown Conference for Women in Business in November. There will be opportunities to learn more about leadership, gender intelligence, and closing the salary gap. In addition, you can network and build relationships while sharing and practicing your own stories and soundbites. See you there!

Be your best self,

Jen Dalton

Connect with Jen on LinkedIn, Twitter @BrandMirror, or Facebook/BrandMirror.

Jen Dalton, CEO of BrandMirror, has over 15 years of experience in strategy, marketing and coaching. In 2012, she made a gutsy move into the entrepreneurship space, launching her branding business and became a certified master personal branding strategist. She specializes in building your digital thought leadership on LinkedIn and other social media. She has spoken to and coached thousands of individuals and entrepreneurs about defining their brands, crafting their stories, and how to stand out. She is an international speaker and has worked with companies like GE, IBM, Capital One, 1776, C-Lever, and more. In addition, Jen joined the Executive Coaching team in 2014 at Georgetown University and works with their Executive MBA candidates. She believes you need to be a noise-breaker, not a noise-maker.