“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” –Eleanor Roosevelt
And so started a transformational evening last week at The WSDM™, the well-being salon for women I’ve been hanging out at this year. The idea is that it provides a place for people to tell their stories in the hopes of inspiring other women. The result is that there are powerful takeaways, amazing perspective and no “business-y jargon” and platitudes that often happen at your typical industry conference.
So, I’m including 3 of my favorite stories from the event here in the hopes that it will inspire YOU with something you’re currently working through. (By the way, it was so hard to pick just three- all of the women on the panel were incredible.)
1. The Pumpkin Story: Allison Arden, the VP and Publisher of Advertising Age, informed me that you really can mail almost anything through the USPS. She heard you could mail fruit, for example. Just slap a stamp and address on an orange and it would arrive at your desired destination. So she mailed herself an orange, and a day later she received it. The point of this, really, was to get her to challenge what was really actually possible. In actually undertaking that seemingly small challenge, she opened herself up to what else was possible. So the next day, she was waiting for a client in a lobby of a hotel, and because she was early, she used the time to write on paper an outline for a book she’d had a vague idea about in her head. Then the next day, on a train somewhere, she opened up her laptop and wrote half the book. You see where this is going. A bunch of these steps (and yours could be smaller!) eventually turned into a book deal.
Lesson: Powerful leaders challenge what is possible- not just at work or with the team, but within their own lives.
2. The Bippity Boppity Boo Guy Story: Jennifer Zimmerman, Global Chief Strategy Officer of McGarryBowen, had a presentation coming up with a guy, dubbed Bippity Boppity Boo in her story, who was new-ish to the group. During the run through, he was sweating, stumbling, stuttering– you know, just plain nervous (we’ve all been there!). The head of the group told Jennifer that she was going to have to do the big presentation because no freaking way was that going to fly with BBB. Jennifer, without skipping a beat said, “It’s either both of us, or it’s neither of us- your choice. He’s going to be great, but if you still have reservations, you have the choice for neither of us to be there.” The head of the group backed down and BBB was stellar. It for sure took cajones, and in getting over that cojones threshold, she was able to instill confidence in BBB and he rose to the occasion. And now they’re life long colleague besties who have worked together for years. The end.
Lesson: Letting go of the need to react/swoop in/fix it and instead instilling confidence and allow what happens to happen is a huge mind shift, but when you’re able to be selfless in that way, you’re building life long partnerships and instilling your team with confidence in you and themselves.
3. “We are all humans having a work experience.” Kim Bates, the founder of the WSDM, taught me this. Well, I was already on board and knew it, but she made it real and tangible and a ‘thing’ for me. Kim told a story about her mentor who always wanted to measure things and make things quantifiable and understand the level to which employees were engaged. And throughout the years, in various matters, Kim would always tell him that we are all humans having a work experience. So when they were trying to figure out how to name a new IT security product so it would appeal to IT guys and gals, they decided to call it something with “Secure” in the name. Why? Because IT people’s biggest fear is a security breach that could cost them their job, which would then impact their ability to take care of their family. The product was a success. See? We’re all humans having a work experience.
Lesson: Being empathetic, while wonderful in its own right, doesn’t only have touchy feely benefits. In this case, it launched a product to success – because the ad agency understood the customer’s inner motivations.
I could seriously go on and on about the stories and lessons I learned and re-learned last night, but I did want to share three of my top three for any of ya’ll out there grappling with leadership issues. As a former leader in a successful organization, I was reminded of times when I rose to the occasion like these women did and do each and every day, and times when I did not. It’s inspiring to know good leadership, whether in an official job title capacity or just in life, is within all of our collective reach.