A personal introduction during a business meeting or the reading of a speaker’s bio is a typical way to get to know someone in our business life. It’s fun to visualize the illustrious journey of our colleagues, leaders in companies, and famous guides and visionaries as we listen to their introductions and Bios. The stories these introductions tell are like the stories we post on social media sites including Facebook and LinkedIn. It all sounds so wonderful.
It’s completely normal to list all the highlights of the path we have taken in our formal and even informal introductions. You can easily find the highlights of my career in my LinkedIn profile. But the power of the path we’ve taken lies not in highlights, but rather in the lowlights, obstacles, and missteps.
The Journey Beyond the Highlights
I recently completed a 2-week business trip to India with my business partner. We were visiting 4 cities and many partners and potential partners of our company Get Digital Velocity. The last stop was with a technology company I have been doing advisory work with for over a year. It happened to be Women’s Week, which, at this company included daily sessions from various women leaders and industry experts. I was honored and humbled to be asked to speak.
This was an excellent opportunity to let my guard down, be vulnerable, and speak about the journey beyond the professional Bio. For me, the events which occurred prior to a new position or a promotion often included a significant low-light, obstacle, or frankly a significant misstep.
I think it’s important to note, I did not come up with the idea of sharing the journey beyond the highlights. One of the companies I worked for, Johnson & Johnson (J&J), had strong diversity initiatives and affinity groups. The J&J Women’s group would have a conference each year which included a panel where the panelist would talk about the Journey Beyond the Bio. The J&J Affinity Networks, including the Women’s Network, was a key factor in not only very favorable Diversity metrics but also strong business results and consistency in being rated a Top Place to Work.
Circling back to the recent Women’s Week event, here’s are just 3 of the lowlights I shared:
- A common recurring theme of being impatient and labeled overly aggressive in pushing my ideas and agenda – sometimes you must learn a lesson repeatedly before a course correction is made. As a leader who pushes a lot of change, there’s a fine line I need to make sure I don’t cross, and if I do cross, I recognize it early and adjust.
- Completely missing the unwritten rules and industry trends during a business unit-wide project I was leading. This led to the first time I hit a glass ceiling – and I hit it hard.
- Not recognizing the strength of some cultural differences during the beginning of an Expat assignment which almost took me out of a role and sent me back to the US.
What many people miss about the lowlights, obstacles and missteps of their career, is these are the catalyst for peaks in personal transformation and growth. I believe there are two triggers for personal transformation and growth: deliberately stepping outside our comfort zone and being pushed outside our comfort zone through difficult times and experiences. The most powerful trigger is often the latter.
Of the three I shared above from my career, all led to times of accelerated growth in my career, promotions once growth was achieved, and more importantly accelerating learning I could apply to contribute to business growth and outcomes.
My experience pales in comparison to great teachers and leaders in the world around us. Leaders like Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Nelson Mandela, Napoleon Hill, even Einstein and Edison. The obstacles and struggles in their lives shaped them into incredible leaders and role models.
Women in the Workplace
One of the great outcomes of the first time I hit a glass ceiling was becoming an effective mentor for women and men who don’t fit the typical Corporate mold. Prior to hitting the first glass ceiling, I believed you had to do something wrong to hit one. I really didn’t do anything wrong that first time, although there were things I could have done differently if I was more aware of the nuances of Women’s Journey in the workplace. I was determined to learn and share these nuances.
So, after I hit the first glass ceiling, I went into heavy research mode. One of the best resources recommended to me at the time by one of my mentors was a book called “Play Like a Man, Win Like a Women” by Gail Evans. The author utilizes a lot of research to scientifically explain the typical differences between men and women and the strengths women bring to the workplace. Women’s strengths in the workplace include: collaboration, team building, listening, innovation, and empathy to name a few.
Another great source of information on Women in the Workplace is the Catalyst organization (www.catalyst.org). There are strong business reasons to embrace diversity in the workplace. According to Catalyst:
“Leaders who embrace a more holistic view of diversity, equity, and inclusion can build a more innovative and collaborative workforce, which is associated with increased productivity and better business results.”1
To embrace a holistic view, it’s important to understand the unconscious bias which occurs in the workplace. Catalyst has some great resources on this topic. One unconscious bias Catalyst points out really resonates with me as I experienced it throughout my career.
In general, when a woman is promoted to senior levels, she is assumed incompetent until she proves herself, while a man is assumed competent until he screws up. I really don’t like generalizations, but I experienced this personally and observed it many times. Catalyst describes this unconscious bias as follows:
“Because some people see women as less competent than men, they may undervalue their accomplishments and overvalue their mistakes. Research shows that feedback given to women tends to be vague and focused on communication style, while men are given specific feedback that tends to be tied to business goals and technical skills that accelerate advancement.”
The Strengthening Case for Women Leaders
We are living in one of the most amazing times in human history as we exit the Industrial Age and Enter The Next AgeTM. The speed of business is accelerating at a rapid pace and work is becoming much more distributed. As Talent pools work in teams with members located in different buildings, at home and even in different parts of the world, there is a need for technology-based collaboration tools. More importantly, skills in collaboration, empathy and relationship building are required, the same skills at which women excel.
An exponential growth in technology is the trigger moving us into The Next AgeTM. Some of these exponential technologies include Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things, and Cognitive Automation. These technologies combined with others are creating smart machines and even a new kind of ‘coworker’.
According to Catalyst, “while machines are getting smarter, they don’t possess the same abilities as humans to listen, empathize, and relate to other people. As more routine tasks are automated, inclusive interpersonal skills will become even more essential—companies will need leaders who can build diverse and collaborative teams that integrate and optimize both tech and human resources.”3 And talk about diverse, some of our future team members will be human and some will be automated processes and robots.
I leave you with these thoughts:
- Embrace the obstacles and challenges which come your way as these are times you will grow the most. Reflect on the lowlights of your career journey and appreciate them as the true highlights.
- Whether constructive or not, feedback is a gift. Feedback is often the first glimpse into a misstep or obstacle. Resist the initial tendency to make excuses or explain it away and find the lesson learned and opportunity to grow.
- There has never been a better time to embrace women in the workplace and promote more women into leadership roles. Women’s skills in collaboration, listening, empathy and relationship building are required as more distributed teams and new AI co-workers become commonplace.
- Catalyst https://catalyst.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/WomenFutureofWork_Oct2019.pdf Para 2
- Catalyst https://www.catalyst.org/2020/01/02/interrupt-unconscious-bias/
- Catalyst https://catalyst.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/WomenFutureofWork_Oct2019.pdf
About the Author:
Kerrie is passionate about business transformation and getting as many companies as possible on their journey to The Next Age™. Kerrie is a #1 Bestselling Business Author and CEO of Hoffman Digital, an ecosystem of companies “Igniting the Human Experience at Work”. This includes Strategic Advisor at GAVS, Partner at Get Digital Velocity, and Digital Advisor at FocalPoint Business Coaching.