5 Insights on Swimming with Sharks without Being Eaten | Author: Susan Lavington

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.



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I am 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, I excel at assessing, aligning, and mobilizing new and existing resources to accelerate revenue growth.

I am proud to have led some of the country’s most well-known brands through periods of great transition. I 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, I’ve led start-ups such as usairways.com, B2Buy, and FundsFlo through their initial launch phases.

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