Sometimes you hear something that resonates so deeply it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. These moments are rare, but I experienced one while attending Google Zeitgeist 2013. As always, Google had gathered luminaries from the worlds of technology, the arts, media, charity, business and politics to inspire, educate and enlighten. My Eureka moment was delivered by 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner and Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, who said: "You can never leave footprints that last if you're walking on tiptoes". To me, this was a truly beautiful way to encapsulate diving into the deep end of life.
Staying attuned to the wisdom of others and hearing personal stories is hugely useful for personal and career development, and I try to keep my ears and eyes constantly open. So, here are some snippets that have resonated with me from successful, inspirational women in the business world, each of which I hope may apply more widely:
1. Define your 'superpower'
I met a wonderful female CEO recently who talked about the importance of pinpointing your 'superpower': the single quality you are best known and admired for. My instant reaction was one of panic, as I tried to figure out what mine is. What she really meant is what are you known for. What power is ascribed to you and you alone. So whilst it sounds a bit dull I realised that mine is to do with confidence; in myself, my team, my company, my beliefs, and that this is then translated into clients having confidence in me. That's what clients value... (I hope!) it's not misplaced confidence but a glass more-than-half-full approach that corresponds with actively problem-solving on their behalf. So, I decided that my superpower is giving others confidence. (I would prefer a better one like invisibility or the ability to fly!)
2. 'Be interesting and interested'
You don't have to hold court in every meeting, but don't go if you have nothing to say. If you feel unconfident about the field of expertise or detail don't blag it, but do offer a point of view. This might be from the perspective of a consumer, or based on your mum's, gran's, child's experience, or, of course, your own; they are all valid. People can never say a subjective opinion is wrong; it's an opinion, therefore it's valid.
And remember that almost everything is interesting in some form or another. If you make an effort to learn, you'll learn. If you don't, you won't.
3. Take a 'gift' to every meeting
A coach once told me to 'take a gift' when meeting clients, especially for the first time. What she meant was to take something unexpected - a fact, a piece of information they won't know, an article that might be relevant, something that shows that you have put in thought and consideration for the individual. They will remember you, and value you. But don't rely on this alone. Preparation does make a difference. Before a meeting, ensure you know what you want to get out of it and that you have prepared for it. (We rehearse a minimum of two timed run-throughs for a new business pitch.) Don't hope it will go well and run to time. Practise, time it, get better.
4. Don't assume you will be thanked
Women can look for a pat on the back, or worse, metaphorically on the head. Often, that just doesn't happen. People move on very quickly and forget the hard graft it took to get to an outcome - they usually remember the result, or the lead player. The work behind the work, whilst massively important, can be ignored, taken for granted and the role of team player is not as well respected as you might assume. Make sure this doesn't happen. How? Be in the room. As Sheyl Sandbery says, 'sit at the table'. Don't do all the work and then not attend the big meetings. Insist on going. Put your hand up for a key role. Say something (interesting!). In other words don't hide behind your work and think that's enough. It isn't, you probably won't get thanked and someone else will, so you have to front it.
5. Be a nice person...bitches don't win.
Just remember to be a nice person; it's not that hard and it will be remembered. People also remember rudeness. Linked to this, always be nice to PAs. PAs will help some and deliberately not help others. Ditto IT helpdesks and receptionists. Some people are incredibly rude to those in 'lesser' positions and more fool them. The old saying is true; you will meet the same people on the way down as on the way up. You don't need to make anyone else feel inferior in order to get on, but also, when behaviour is unacceptable, call it out. Don't suffer or stew in silence and bitch about it with friends. Confront and set the boundaries in which you operate best and feel most comfortable.
As a final point, and in many ways linked to number 5, beware of the 'scarcity syndrome': thinking that only one woman can win. It's not true, it's not helpful and there' a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.