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    Bouncing Back: Lessons for Women Business Leaders from Bikram Yoga

    September 12th, 2012

    photo credit: DennisSylvesterHurd via photo pin cc

    I recently celebrated my 10th month as a breast cancer survivor – and I have learned many lessons — but none so poignant as the lessons I learned when I took a Bikram Yoga class. I had taken many yoga classes prior to my diagnosis but thought that Bikram Yoga, with its rigorous postures combined with heat, was not an activity that I could easily participate in.

    Well, being an adventuresome woman with an openness to possibilities, I was drawn back to try a class. As I timidly entered the Bikram room I was overcome with heat and fear – what if my life had changed so dramatically that I could not do this? That was all I needed – an opportunity to overcome fear. As I struggled though adapting to the reality of not being able to do some of the exercises because I cannot lie on my chest, I started thinking of how I could extract lessons from this experience. I completed the class, have continued going back and want to share some of my observations with other women business leaders about how one “bounces back.”

    It’s not what you do but who you are, doing it
    As I accepted my limitations and did not measure myself against any one else – I was impressed with what I could do rather than what I couldn’t.

    Use fear as a motivator
    Feeling fearful for me is a signal that I am putting boundaries on myself. It is a good barometer for action – a signal to figure out barriers.

    Adopt a problem-solving mindset
    I had some issues to overcome – rather than use these limitations as excuses – I approached them as solvable problems. This allowed me to gain control of the situation rather than sink into the victim mode.

    Energy from the participants
    Drawing energy from the other students was extremely helpful. Pay attention to resources surrounding you.

    Stay open to possibilities
    If I would have approached the class expecting to perform as I did prior to surgery, I would have faced defeat without even trying.

    Embrace yourself with a smile
    This needs no explanation.

    I hope you are invigorated by challenges – I think they break the monotony!

    Guest Blog: A Man’s Viewpoint on Women Business Leaders and the “Them vs. Us” Syndrome

    August 28th, 2012


    Tom Peery reached out to me to discuss the concept presented in my blog “5 Pointers, How Women Business Leaders can Avoid the Them vs. Us Syndrome.” I was interested in his point of view and had not realized how pervasive this issue actually is. Feeling confident as a woman and not having had adverse reactions from men, Tom’s comments accompanied by his strong desire to change his upbringing and mindset was really enlightening.

    Here is the response that he shared with me:  ”I agree with Bridget Ayers’ response to Christopher Flett’s “What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business,” in that the competition is not between men and women, it is between one company and another.  Men who regard business like war have not experienced the horrors of combat, and may still be operating on the belief that “male” and stereotyped “masculinity” are the same thing.

    A more interesting approach is “What can women tell men about business?” Today’s gender roles are shifting as an expansion of societal definitions and needs, evolving from the formerly strict definitions of masculine stereotypes that once separated the sexes. I do not see that shift as a war between the sexes.

    Mr. Flett does not mention the many men today struggling to find their place in this shifting sand. I was born in 1944, and grew up stuffing emotions and viewing the role of “breadwinner” as my sole purpose in my marriage. Self-sufficiency was my ideal, competing against peers. I couldn’t nurture relationships. Believing that being rational and using reason were the only means of acquiring knowledge distanced me from my body’s intelligence, my emotions, meditation, dream work, intuition, and my sense as a spiritual being among other humans.

    In today’s workplace, corporate training emphasizes teamwork, communications and leadership skills. Professional training companies trumpet “soft” skills, aka skills previously defined as “feminine.”

    Female entrepreneurs are more familiar with the soft skills that young to middle-aged men are beginning to seek. For these explorers they can

    • provide a non-warlike competitive environment, a safe place to talk about fears, problems, hopes and desires.
    • assure men that an emotional life contributes to their personal growth–that because their anger is theirs, not caused by others, men can learn to soften their anger.
    • help men better communicate with themselves and others by being supportive rather than not.
    • reward inner company relationships, rather than pitting employee against employee”

    If you’d like to learn more about Tom and his philosophies on life, please visit his website at www.sodadwhatmakesaman.com.

    Women Business Leaders Can Achieve Social Good through Social

    July 5th, 2012

    Photo by IvanWalsh.com

    I just returned from the inaugural Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (GLR) Communities Network Conference where my firm was a presenter. As a woman business leader and owner of a strategic communications consultancy, this was not only a great opportunity to discuss the importance of social media for advancing a purpose … but also for something more purposeful … the greater good.

    We also attended the conference to learn and share, and I think all of us attending were moved by a staggering statistic that surprised me: 74 percent of students who fail to read proficiently at third grade falter at later grades and often drop out. This was something that stood out to me not only as a speaker, but also as a mom.

    My fellow attendees set out to learn about this campaign, which was conceived by Ralph Smith, senior vice president at the Annie E. Casey Foundation. With compelling data to back it up, the campaign focuses on closing the gap in third-grade literacy to improve education outcomes and social consequences. Data also shows minorities and low-income children are at the highest risk.

    This seems logical, but how does this impact us? How do we change these statistics?

    We presented a session on “Social Media: Fueling Modern Movements in the Digital Age.” As I sat listening to my colleagues Melissa and Sam educate a room full of conference attendees about movements, explaining the theory and methodology behind creating a groundswell, citing that passion is the primary ingredient to fuel a movement, I was struck with the passion and philanthropic mindset around this campaign.

    I heard the most inspirational speeches given by several mayors, including those leading the charge in Denver, Sacramento and Providence, who had made a leadership commitment to this campaign. I heard from cities, counties and districts committed to improving third-grade literacy rates in their areas. I heard a commitment to ALL children – a promise that the passion goes beyond caring for “my” child but to all children who are powerless and depend on the powerful to make the right decisions. I was nodding in agreement when most leaders put forth the need to collaborate, to bring the entire community together for the children.

    I was proud to attend the conference – heartened by the fact that 600 people got together to advocate for the greater good .

    I admit it. I am caught in the movement.

    What are your thoughts and what movements have you or your organization been involved in?

    How Women Business Leaders can Create Better Meetings

    July 1st, 2012

    Photo by Voka - Kamer van Koophandel Limburg

    I have reached a point in my life where I am experiencing “meeting overload.” I really like the idea of collaborating and I am also committed to accountability. In my blog for women business leaders about making meetings fun and effective, I talk about the various characters around the table. Knowing whom you are dealing with helps frame your approach to the meeting. I always like to have an agenda, a meeting goal, expected outcomes and a system for tracking tasks and themes for the follow up meetings.

    In an American Express blog by Barry Moltz, he outlines some great meeting tips gleaned from Al Pittampalli’s new book, Read This Before Our Next Meeting. I think these meeting suggestions should be incorporated into all businesses meeting plans:

    1. Meet only to support a decision that has already been made
    The successful meeting must have “a bias for action.” According to Pittampalli, a meeting should only focus on two activities: Resolve conflict and to lead coordination of action.

    2. Move fast—end on time
    Set a time limit for each meeting. Pittampalli reminds us that “Every meeting costs a fortune. Spend it wisely.” Start and end on time by only discussing the relevant issues and actions that need to be taken right now.

    3. Limit attendees to the meeting
    The more people attending a meeting, the more people that need to agree to take an action. This slows down the meeting process. Pittampalli believes every attendee needs to ask themselves two questions before attending: Do I add critical value sitting in the meeting? Can I give my opinion in advance of the meeting?

    4. Reject attendees that are unprepared
    Create an agenda and send material in advance for everyone to be prepared. This way, the discussion can begin at the start of the meeting and no one needs to be “brought up to speed.” Pittampalli says that agendas need to state the problem, the alternatives and what decisions will be made at the meeting.

    5. Create committed action plans
    Pittampalli insists that every meeting should have a plan of action at its conclusion including: What action is being committed to, who is responsible for each action and when will it be completed?

    6. Work with brainstorms
    Pittampalli has detailed guidelines around how brainstorming exists inside effective meetings. These include only inviting people that are passionate about the idea and who can praise other people’s ideas liberally. Most importantly, use a strong outside facilitator that can lead a timely brainstorming session.

    I know it’s a challenging list considering all of the meeting-happy businesses out there, but I never met anyone yet who says honestly that they “love meetings.”  I am always thinking of ways to make the meeting process less painful, and I’d welcome your tips in the comments below.

    5 Ways Women Business Leaders can Achieve More Impact with Social Media

    June 17th, 2012

    photo by Marc_Smith

    Most women business leaders would agree that social media is an important component of a company’s successful marketing strategy. Many have a blog, Twitter account and a Facebook page. The paramount goal for most businesses is increased sales or a measurable return on investment. However, what can be confusing about social media participation is how to effectively maximize your time investment in these platforms.

    Here are five questions from Lee Odden that you need to ask. Your answers will help you identify your brand and achieve more impact from your social media efforts.

    1. Who are you?
      What do you want to be known for? What do you stand for? What’s unique about you?
    2. What makes you special?
      How are you incorporating your professional “unique selling proposition” into your social content, sharing, and engagement?
    3. Have you looked in the social mirror?
      Have you looked at the past 20 tweets that you’ve published? Do the same on LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, or other social networks you’re involved with. When looking at 10 or 20 social content objects together, you can see what kinds of messages you’re sending and determine if those threads support your social objectives or not.
    4. Are you reactive or proactive?
      Are you thinking about the impact of your social content on others or is it mostly a form of self-expression in the moment? If you have professional objectives from your social participation, think about that each time you tweet, update, or comment.
    5. What’s it like to experience you on the social web?
      Rather than viewing each tweet, update, comment, or blog post as a stand-alone engagement effort, think about how others will view the cumulative of your social engagement. What memes can be found within your own social content streams? Do they support what you stand for? Do they reinforce what you want to be known for?

    While your messaging and content development are key to creating a social media presence, understanding and listening to your audience can’t be stressed enough.  But don’t be discouraged if you don’t have thousands of followers or “likes” immediately – it takes time and effort.

    Why Women Business Leaders Need to Delegate More

    June 15th, 2012

    photo by Yandle

    I never realized how difficult it was for me to delegate until I was blessed with Ella, an intern extraordinaire. I have had much success mentoring young women by having them shadow me. But my new intern took this one step further by taking over some of my tasks. These included getting me organized, managing my schedule and travel plans and generally making my life easier. I cannot imagine how difficult and frustrating this must have been for her. I was holding the chaos on my desk close to my chest, as she relentlessly tried to assume command. After a few weeks, I have to say that the mentoring went both ways – I learned to delegate, and I guess she learned about life as a woman business leader.

    Here’s a good list of things you need to delegate, condensed from an article by Fabienne Frederickson:

    1. Delegate anything that does not make you money
      If you’re doing something that doesn’t make you money, it’s not your “brilliance work” – those activities you perform that bring in the most amount of money using the least amount of time and effort. I want you to look at how much you earn per hour when you’re doing your brilliance work. Now, consider how much you’re not earning when you’re doing other work you could be paying someone else to do.
    2. Delegate anything that you’re not good at doing
      If you’re not good at doing something, chances are you’re not enjoying it, not doing it well and taking longer to do it than someone else would. For me, that task is bookkeeping. I spent way too many hours struggling to keep up my books until I finally realized it was best to have someone else do the job.
    3. Delegate what you don’t know how to do
      I don’t know how to code HTML or how to build a website. But I know that if I want to get more clients and make more money, then I have to have a professional web presence. That means hiring someone who’s got great coding and website skills, and delegating that work to them—which is exactly what I did.
    4. Delegate what you don’t have time to do
      When I started my business, I kept my own schedule and at first, this made sense. But over time the more clients I brought on and the busier my calendar became, the more time it took to schedule–and reschedule–meetings.

    It’s been working out for both of us, but I do admit I probably put up more of a fight than I imagined! For me, delegating was easier said than done, but I highly recommend it for anyone who feels overwhelmed. You probably are!

    7 Ways Women Business Leaders can be Memorable

    June 13th, 2012

    photo by antony_mayfield

    I have often written about the importance of maintaining one’s sense of self by understanding and maintaining your authenticity. My lesson came early in life as I immigrated to New York from Johannesburg, South Africa with a young family. Upon arrival, I realized that culturally, I was quite at ease. But my accent was, and continues to be, a dead giveaway. It immediately establishes my authenticity and thus, even if I want to, I cannot retreat into the status quo.

    Here are some great pointers from Jeff Hayden on how to be memorable and enjoy the process at the same time:

    1. Don’t see … Do
      Anyone can share opinions about movies, TV or even books. That’s why opinions are quickly forgotten. What you say isn’t interesting; what you do is interesting. Spend your life doing instead of watching.
    2. Do something unusual
      We like to think we’re unique, but roughly speaking we’re all the same, and similar isn’t memorable. Occasionally do something different. Work from a coffee shop one day just to see what you learn about other people… and about yourself. Your goal isn’t to accomplish something worthwhile; the goal is to collect experiences.
    3. Embark on a worthless mission
      Remember when you were young and followed stupid ideas to their illogical conclusions? Do something, just once, that adults no longer do. Pick something it doesn’t make sense to do a certain way and do it that way. You’ll remember it forever—and so will other people.
    4. Embrace a cause
      People care about—and remember—people who care. When you stand for something you stand apart.
    5. Let other people spread the word
      People who brag are not remembered for what they’ve done; they’re remembered for the fact they brag. Do good things and other people will find out. The less you say, the more people remember.
    6. Get over yourself
      Most of the time your professional life is like a hamster wheel of resume padding: You avoid all possibility of failure while maximizing the odds of success in order to ensure your achievement graph climbs up and up and up. Stop trying to seem perfect. Accept your faults.
    7. Be gracious when you fail
      When you do, people will definitely remember you because people who are willing to fail are rare… and because people who display grace and humility, especially in the face of defeat, are incredibly rare.

    As women business leaders, we must accept and embrace our uniqueness. No one can afford mediocrity if you are to achieve real success. How have you leveraged your innate abilities and true self to become more successful?

    6 Ideas Women Business Leaders Can Use to Become Excellent at Anything

    June 8th, 2012

    photo by Courtney Dirks


    As I come to grips with adjusting to life post breast cancer trauma, I find myself struggling with what it is I really want to do. I realize that I have developed skills over the years through my experiences as a woman business leader, but I also acknowledge that I have been juggling too may balls in the air. I have always talked about focus and understanding what it is that you are really good at and honing your skills.

    Now, as I look at my options ahead, I realize that whatever I choose to do has to be something that makes a difference in others’ lives. Cultivating the focus means surpassing failures and setbacks, and spending my time working toward that goal, never allowing failure to be an option.

    Tony Schwartz outlines some worthwhile ways to achieve excellence below:

    1. Pursue what you love
      Passion is an incredible motivator. It fuels focus, resilience, and perseverance.
    2. Do the hardest work first
      We all move instinctively toward pleasure and away from pain. Most great performers, Ericsson and others have found, delay gratification and take on the difficult work of practice in the mornings, before they do anything else. That’s when most of us have the most energy and the fewest distractions.
    3. Practice intensely, without interruption for short periods of no longer than 90 minutes and then take a break
      Ninety minutes appears to be the maximum amount of time that we can bring the highest level of focus to any given activity. The evidence is equally strong that great performers practice no more than 4 ½ hours a day.
    4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses
      The simpler and more precise the feedback, the more equipped you are to make adjustments. Too much feedback, too continuously can create cognitive overload, increase anxiety, and interfere with learning.
    5. Take regular renewal breaks
      Relaxing after intense effort not only provides an opportunity to rejuvenate, but also to metabolize and embed learning. It’s also during rest that the right hemisphere becomes more dominant, which can lead to creative breakthroughs.
    6. Ritualize practice
      The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to build rituals — specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.

    Tony wrote the list above after realizing he could achieve things he never thought possible. But, to do that takes much effort and deliberate actions. Is there anything you’d add to the list?

    Women Business Leaders: Look at the Big Picture and the Little Picture, Too

    June 1st, 2012

    photo by: krossbow

    I have been struggling with my to do lists lately. I have one for groceries, birthdays etc. And another one for work  must-dos, phone calls, writing proposals, letters, preparing for meetings and more. But the most important one–and one that I never seem to get to–is preparing strategies and big picture plans. Whether these tasks are coded by quadrants, colored pens or any other organizational tools, the bottom line is that I never seem to get to the bottom of the list.

    Here are some ways to ensure that you are staying on track to accomplish both your big picture and little picture goals, condensed from a great article by Vic Lawrence.

    Big Picture Productivity
    The following are four dimensions of big-picture productivity that fit firmly into the realm of personal development. Keeping an eye on how you’re doing with these will keep you heading in a solid, forward-moving and very productive direction:
    1-Taking initiative
    If you have developed a pattern of merely reacting to situations, circumstances and other people, you need to start looking for opportunities to take initiative. You can’t just wait for things to get better, you need to actively start making it happen.
    2-Envisioning your future
    What kind of person do you want to be? What do you want to accomplish in your life? When you answer those questions, then you can map out goals and objectives and an action plan for getting there.
    3-Saying no
    Another critical thing to develop is the power to say no to those things that aren’t helping you move forward.  When you say no to the things that hold you down, you’re automatically saying yes to a whole new world of possibilities.
    4-Seeking common ground
    To keep yourself moving in a positive and productive forward direction, you need to cooperate with others in the areas upon which you can agree. By emphasizing what you have in common with others, the differences and disagreements that remain won’t hold both parties hostage.

    Little-Picture Productivity
    Now that you know what to pay attention to in the big picture, there are also all kinds of things you can do to be more productive when you actually start working on any given task or project. Things to try at this level include the following:
    1-Work on the tough stuff first
    It can really help to start tackling the thorniest problems when you’re at your freshest. Once your energy starts to drain, take a break or switch to another task that’s less difficult. Note that this doesn’t necessarily mean first thing in the morning, it means figuring out your most productive times of day.
    2-Eliminate distractions
    This can be tough in the digital age when various social media, websites and email keep demanding your attention. This also means making sure you’re working in a physical environment that helps you be productive. A change of location once in a while may need to be explored if you get stuck.
    3-Get the tools you need
    A cook that doesn’t have any pots, pans, utensils or raw ingredients is going to have a tough time preparing a meal. If you don’t have what you need for a task or project, re-schedule it until you do, otherwise you’re wasting valuable time.

    I admit that although I have the best of intentions, I don’t follow all of the suggestions all the time.  I think I need to buckle down with pen and paper and follow these tips. I know that once I get it done, I’ll be better prepared to follow through on my intentions.

    How Women Business Leaders Can Recover from a Business Crisis

    May 16th, 2012

    by filipe.garcia

    I recently reconnected with several of my high school classmates. This may not seem unusual except for one detail – we attended school in Johannesburg, South Africa and have now spread to locations throughout the world. This was undoubtedly one of the positives that occurred after my diagnosis with breast cancer – the fact that my high school friends reached out to me with sincere compassion and caring. Another plus was that there is a virtual group where many of our classmates stay connected and share life’s ups and downs.

    One of the women in the group reached out to the rest of us as she was maneuvering through some tough business issues. I am going to share a wise response that came from a former classmate and renowned doctor who now practices in Orlando, Fla:

    • When your life is overwhelming and you feel that you are losing control –focus on the issues that you can manage.
    • Identify the things in your personal and financial life that you can manage, pay very strict attention to them and ignore the rest.  You will find that you can begin picking up the pieces as you recover from your crisis.
    • Pay attention to yourself, your health and mental health. It is more important than ever that you eat right and exercise and try to relax – these are things you can control.
    • Pay attention to your family and friends. Do not lose sight of them, do not let them fall apart with everything else.
    • Identify the one or two or three things of your finances that you can possibly control, no matter how insignificant, and focus intently on them.
    • As you recover from the crisis, you will start again picking up the pieces, in a controlled, gradient fashion. As you begin getting things under control, even after possibly losing much, you can start rebuilding in a much more deliberate fashion with a more solid foundation.

    Finally, remember there are things you CAN do. Here is an “exercise” that you can use to make sure you are taking care of the important things. Follow the sequence and you’ll find that there are three dynamics at play here:

    • Self (Dynamic 1),
    • Social, family and friends (Dynamic 2)
    • Financial, the outside people, partners, creditors, etc. (Dynamic 3)

    You MUST start with Dynamic 1, you cannot succeed in 2 without success in 1, and you cannot succeed in 3 without 1 and 2 in control. I hope I have offered some useful take-ways for those of you undergoing a difficult challenge.