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    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.

    Tips for Women Business Leaders to Disagree in a Positive Way

    June 29th, 2012

    Photo by takomabibelot

    For women business leaders, understanding yourself is the key to evaluating how you will react in group situations where you may not agree with what you are hearing. I was recently challenged by someone who was not happy with an action that I had taken. My immediate reaction was to get into a defensive position by defending my actions. I came away from the encounter feeling insecure and angry. When I actually stopped to analyze what had taken place I realized that, firstly, I had not been approached with diplomacy and secondly, my reaction was emotional.

    This is what I should have done; listen, process and buy time by saying, “I hear you but I may not actually agree with you.” This would have taken me beyond emotion into a logical place where the issue may have been efficiently solved.

    Here are some positive ways to intentionally disagree, condensed from a Forbes blog:

    Share your knowledge so others benefit
    Speak up to share your knowledge and expertise, and don’t let the fears of disagreement stop you. Make yourself a part of the conversation. People want to hear what you have to say.

    Mirror the person who is disagreeing
    When the person who disagrees with you speaks, make sure to respond by repeating what he or she has said word for word. For example, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but what you are saying is…” Once they’re under the impression that others are listening to and understanding them, they are then able to listen more carefully to what you have to say.

    Validate the person who is disagreeing
    As you respond with a conflicting opinion; first explain to the person that you understand what he or she is saying with a phrase such as “It makes sense to me that.” It helps you understand more fully the point of view that is different from your own. And it lowers people’s defenses so that they are open to what you have to say.

    Be prepared for contrary viewpoints
    Before attending a meeting in which disagreement might occur, imagine some potential reasons why others might question your point of view. Then come up with sound and logical arguments to counter these viewpoints.

    I know that I have to intentionally disconnect my feelings in tense situations, but it is not always that easy. The ideas here can be used as your own personal exercise prior to meetings to help prepare for potential disagreements. What techniques do you use to diffuse disagreements?


    How Women Business Leaders can Become Highly Respected Achievers

    June 26th, 2012

    photo by scott*eric

    I recently attended an International Woman’s Forum meeting with a small group of women business leaders. As I looked around the room, I realized that not only was I surrounded by women leaders, but they are all good people. I have never consciously thought of myself as a leader but rather organically moved into this role. Although I am not over burdened with self confidence, I find I do have a strong desire to lead — but with a focus on leading with authenticity.

    This article on becoming a respected leader from Forbes shows how leaders can combine good human characteristics with passion and leadership skills:

    1. Tempered Tenacity
      Respected achievers are incredibly tenacious. To a tenaciously driven person, there is never just one way to get there, and no one will convince them otherwise. However, the sort of achiever we’re talking about also keeps the well-being of others in mind, and if one of those alternate routes will result in unnecessarily harming someone else, then that route isn’t an option, period.
    2. Consistent Commitment
      While nurturing multiple visions is fine (assuming they are manageable), the respected achiever sets a high standard for her/himself that what they commit to do on a project, they fully intend to do and will make every reasonable effort to make it happen. The respected achievers’ standard of following through is consistently maintained whether or not adversity materializes, and others know that when they collaborate with a respected achiever it won’t be a waste of their time.
    3. Soulful Pragmatism
      Respected achievers are typically pragmatists – they focus on what works. But, implementing a pragmatic approach without being mindful of how changes will affect others isn’t commendable, it’s cruel. Respected achievers know this, so they balance an outcome focus with a situational awareness of the adjustments required by others, and they work with them to make those adjustments.
    4. Strategic Resolution
      Just like anyone else, respected achievers can become negative when things aren’t going well, and just like all of us, they may vent now and again about how crappy a situation is.  What they do not do, however, is drop anchor in that negative place and allow their negativity to feed itself and eventually seep into the perspectives of those around them. Instead, they experience the pain, recognize that whatever caused it (business or personal) is now part of their repertoire of experience, and then they resolve to strategically move on.
    5. Responsibility Ownership
      One less-than-admirable trait of many driven people is that they’re good at figuring out how to avoid taking responsibility for what went wrong. If that means throwing someone under the proverbial bus, so be it. Better him than me. But the respected achiever sees things differently in a couple of ways. First, if something went wrong due to a mistake made by the team, the respected achiever owns responsibility whether or not other team members do the same. Second, respected achievers are intuitively reciprocal people – they treat others in the manner they wish to be treated. Their embodiment of the “Golden Rule” is not situational; it’s a consistently applied maxim that guides their behavior.

    Have you worked with someone you feel fit the model above for a highly respected leader? Please share your story with us and tell us how this person influenced you in finding your own leadership style.

    5 Ways Women Business Leaders can use Content and Social to Improve their Business Blog

    June 22nd, 2012

    photo by: Maria Reyes-McDavis

    As blogging has become a mainstream communications tool for businesses, I find that the requests from clients to consult with them about creating or improving their business blogs are increasing. As a woman business leader and business owner, my blog has not only amplified my visibility on a personal level, but has also helped me develop new business alliances I would never have had the opportunity to pursue. Blogging is no longer an adjunct to an overall marketing plan, it’s an essential part of a communications strategy.

    Even though I have been blogging professionally for years, I’m always on the alert for ways to improve my blogging effectiveness. Here are five tips from Lee Odden that offer some really sound blogging basics to get you started or build on your existing blog:

    1. Customer. Problem. Solution.
      Gather information related to what your target audience wants, likes and needs are in relation to your industry, company, products and services. Other audience considerations include the people who influence buyers but may never be buyers themselves—journalists, other bloggers, industry analysts, business and marketing partners, existing customers, current employees and potential employees.
    2. Define the topics.
      Once you’ve decided on goals, audience and key value propositions the blog will communicate, the next step towards constructing a great corporate blogging plan is to identify the topics. The outcome of this exercise is the start of your blog editorial plan. In fact, any content or media produced and promoted through a business blog should be leveraging search engine optimization (SEO) best practices. Being visible through search as well as sharable through social networks is a powerful combination.
    3. What’s the story? Plan the narrative.
      Storytelling is one of the things that’s most often missing in many SEO-centric efforts towards blogging. Planning topics for specific audiences is great, but tying them together through a themed content plan, topics and keywords is even better. That means a story expressed through text, images, audio, video, interactive applications and any other content or media that can deliver the customer/brand experience in a meaningful way.
    4. Attract & grow your audience.
      One of the most effective models for business blogging and community development uses a hub. We like a hub and spoke model of content marketing and social network engagement which allows for a deep, topical repository of knowledge to be supported by a constellation of social networks and other channels of content sharing. The combination of links and off-site engagement can expose the brand’s expertise to the media as well as new audiences that are not currently aware of the brand’s blog.
    5. Set goals, monitor progress, measure results, refine and repeat.
      With any content marketing, it’s important to engage in an adaptable cycle designed to make iterative improvements to content effectiveness. That means based on goals, monitor progress through key performance indicators like  blog comments, links, mentions, referred social network traffic, referred search engine traffic and the behaviors of visitors once they arrive on the blog.

    The five tips above will help you start your blog’s content marketing strategy, but to be truly effective, you will need to continually adapt, change and restructure your social media marketing and monitoring.

    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.

    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?

    Why Every Woman Business Leader Needs to be Adaptively Strategic

    May 20th, 2012

    photo by Sean MacEntee

    Most of the work that I do in my firm involves leading with a clear understanding of the end goal and developing strategies to get there. Whether its for my client’s business or mine, strategic principles prevail. As a women business leader, I have had to use many of my innate traits to employ original and effective strategies. Drawing upon guiding principles of authenticity, intuition, curiosity and experience, I have enjoyed the notion of being adaptive and nimble.

    Here are six things you can do to be adaptively strategic:

    Most of the focus at most companies is on what’s directly ahead. The leaders lack “peripheral vision.” This can leave your company vulnerable to rivals who detect and act on ambiguous signals. To anticipate well, you must:

    • Look for game-changing information at the periphery of your industry
    • Search beyond the current boundaries of your business
    • Build wide external networks to help you scan the horizon better

    Think Critically
    Conventional wisdom opens you to fewer raised eyebrows and second guessing. But if you swallow every management fad, herdlike belief, and safe opinion at face value, your company loses all competitive advantage. Critical thinkers question everything. To master this skill you must force yourself to:

    • Reframe problems to get to the bottom of things, in terms of root causes
    • Challenge current beliefs and mindsets, including your own
    • Uncover hypocrisy, manipulation, and bias in organizational decisions

    Ambiguity is unsettling. Faced with it, the temptation is to reach for a fast (and potentially wrongheaded) solution.  A good strategic leader holds steady, synthesizing information from many sources before developing a viewpoint.

    To get good at this, you have to:

    • Seek patterns in multiple sources of data
    • Encourage others to do the same
    • Question prevailing assumptions and test multiple hypotheses simultaneously

    Many leaders fall prey to “analysis paralysis.” You have to develop processes and enforce them, so that you arrive at a “good enough” position. To do that well, you have to:

    • Carefully frame the decision to get to the crux of the matter
    • Balance speed, rigor, quality and agility. Leave perfection to higher powers
    • Take a stand even with incomplete information and amid diverse views

    Total consensus is rare. A strategic leader must foster open dialogue, build trust and engage key stakeholders, especially when views diverge.

    To pull that off, you need to:

    • Understand what drives other people’s agendas, including what remains hidden
    • Bring tough issues to the surface, even when it’s uncomfortable
    • Assess risk tolerance and follow through to build the necessary support

    As your company grows, honest feedback is harder and harder to come by.  You have to do what you can to keep it coming. This is crucial because success and failure–especially failure–are valuable sources of organizational learning.

    Here’s what you need to do:

    • Encourage and exemplify honest, rigorous debriefs to extract lessons
    • Shift course quickly if you realize you’re off track
    • Celebrate both success and (well-intentioned) failures that provide insight

    30 Tweeting Tips for Women Business Leaders

    May 8th, 2012

    As the owner of a strategic marketing and communications firm, the biggest Twitter fear I hear as my clients pursue a social media presence is this: “What should I Tweet about?”

    Personally, I enjoy Tweeting and blogging and posting to Facebook for myself and my company. But, as a woman business leader and business owner, I’m not surprised to hear this question. One of the challenges with Twitter is the 140-character limit. Many find this to be the most daunting aspect … how do you say what you want to say in 140 characters or less? For me, that’s not a problem. But I’ve been at it for a while. If I think back to when I first started, I think it was mostly an issue of just doing it. Once you get into the habit, it becomes much easier.

    My advice is to give it a try and look over this list of “30 Things to Tweet About,” from blogger Sorav Jain for inspiration:

    1. New announcements from your brand
    2. Teaser previews of offerings you are working on
    3. Related interesting news from the industry
    4. Trivia related to your product: history, technology, anything!
    5. Ask for suggestions: people love to help someone out
    6. Events you are holding: this informs as well as gets you attendees
    7. Events you are participating in: this shows you are active
    8. Witty one-liners: this can be (appropriate) jokes, daily wisdom, or just about anything else
    9. Helping people find opportunities: Helping people solve problems is the best thing you can do to promote your brand
    10. Popular events: tweet about the upcoming sports events, festivals, etc
    11. Unexpected developments: Was Gmail down today? Tweet about it!
    12. Regular industry news: yup, this doesn’t hurt if mixed in
    13. Sales announcements: Tweet about any sales announcements you might have
    14. Job openings: Tell people about open positions, both with your brand and at other places you know
    15. Ask for customer feedback: Invite people to share their experiences with your brand
    16. Participate in the relevant hashtags, and get more visibility
    17. Set up and announce tweet chats based on brand-related hashtags
    18. Follow people and make acknowledgement via tweets
    19. Thank people who have recently followed you
    20. Post the latest updates from your blog along with the link
    21. Direct people to other social media channels you own by tweeting about them
    22. Search on your brand name and respond to tweets that are about you
    23. Create Twitter lists of industry-relevant analysts, well-wishers or customers, and announce the lists publically. This sends a positive message to the mentioned people
    24. Participate in trending topics and viral hashtags to rope in some attention. Ensure your opinions are related to your brand
    25. Tweet-greet your followers daily. Saying small things like “good morning,” or asking about their health goes a long way in forging ties
    26. Tweet and tag your best employee of the week. This keeps the staff motivated and gives them a platform
    27. Announce weekly deal, tweetpon (coupon), etc., and evaluate its viral reach to understand how influential your brand is
    28. For B2B brands, find out analysts on Twitter and build up conversations with them. Twitter is the best place for making your opinion heard
    29. Give daily twitter tips on usage of your brand’s products/service or on the basis of the industry expertise. Tips sell well on Twitter
    30. Make regular #FF Friday Follow recommendations or announce fan of the week with some incentives or freebies to the winners

    Many of these tips are extremely helpful and will provide you with ideas for months. I’m always looking for more tips, though, so give me yours and I’ll add them to the list.