What separates those women who figuratively hit it “out of the park” from others who plateau earlier in their careers? Surprisingly, not much. They still worry about their kids, lose their keys, and suffer gut-wrenching setbacks. Below are four pieces of advice gleaned from literally hundreds of interviews with highly successful females like Margot Fraser of Birkenstock and Billie Williamson whose service includes board member of Ernst and Young Americas and US Executive Boards
Who knows you?
Susie Selby owns a small, but successful winery. Imagine her delight when her wine, of the over 6500 wineries in the country, was selected by the White House. Asking the Usher (who purchases the wine) how her wine was selected, he responded, “Years ago, I was traveling through the wine country. No one knew me. I visited your tasting room and told you I had just landed my dream job. Without asking me what that job was, you replied, ‘Well, that calls for a celebration!’ You then took me to conduct a special barrel tasting. It was the single most unsolicited act of hospitality I’ve ever received, and I’ve never forgotten it.” That once tiny winery in Sonoma County has now served several presidents, Tony Blair, Sheryl Crow, Robert Redford and Alicia Keyes.
Never Underestimate the Power of the Third Party Endorsement:
Which is more convincing? “I’m awesome.” or, “Liz is awesome.” Make it as easy as possible for others to support you. For example: You get an email from another department thanking you for the great job you did speaking at their brown bag luncheon. Thank them for their kind words and ask if it is ok to forward that email to your boss.
Keep Your Pitch Perfect:
You never know who links to whom, so be ready to “pitch” anytime. If it can save you time or money, it’s worth being ready with your request or message. You might find the answer in the elevator, at the barista or on the side of soccer field.
For example, Jaqui Zwick shared a dream of creating a Children’s Village — a foster-care community in California that keeps siblings together and raises children in a multi-generational, enriched environment. She joined a group of committed individuals determined to bring that vision to life.
Jaqui attended a yoga class and sometimes joined the group members and instructor for lunch afterwards. One day, while waiting for their Bistro meal to be served, Jaqui mentioned her dream and work for the Children’s Village. The Yoga teacher, Audrey, paused and said, “My sister is interested in getting her children involved in a effort likes yours. Imagine Jaqui’s thrill when she learned that the Yoga instructor’s sister, Jennifer, is married to football superstar, Joe Montana, one of the most popular sports figure of all time. That casual post-Yoga conversation ultimately led to highly visible and extremely generous sponsorship for the Children’s Village.
Take Hits With Humor:
Madeleine Albright was the US Ambassador to the United Nations when Iraq invaded Kuwait. When she criticized Saddam Hussein’s actions, a poem appeared in the Iraqi press calling her “an unparalleled serpent”. Taking the hit with humor, she chose to wear a vintage snake pin to the next meeting with Iraqi officials.
There isn’t a single very successful female in my hundreds of interviews who didn’t suffer some kind of setback: an unfair lousy performance appraisal, passed over for promotion, public relations nightmare, or highly visible project failure. What happens matters. What’s even more critical is how you respond. Those who can’t recover from a setback with humor will ultimately become whiny, cynical or fearful. Those who can, get results. You don’t need to be Zooey Deschanel or Melissa McCarthy. It does mean you need to put the setback into perspective and put on an emotional band-aid. Give yourself a finite amount of time to be miserable, and then get back into the action.
Whether leading in a crisis or interacting with a demeaning jerk, top female executives find the lighter side of otherwise dark and stressful circumstances. They can laugh at themselves and manage to keep things in perspective. If you find yourself losing your sense of humor, take a break before your stress fractures your relationships.
Author of newly launched Pass It On: Priceless Advice from Highly Successful Women, Liz Cornish is a leading expert in coaching women from middle management through executive levels to create and sustain top performance. She has trained thousands of women individuals and groups on leadership effectiveness with clients including Fortune Brand, Nestle, Ernst and Young, AAA, eBay, Yahoo! and numerous financial institutions.