Friday, June 24, 2011

Building Support Carefully

We have been looking at ways to apply the well-honed political skills of Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, to our career challenges, especially if we work in large organizations resistant to change. The first two skills were knowing whom to consult and choosing your battles. The third key component is building support carefully when you want to make a real difference.

The first step is identifying the stakeholders - the people who have a vested interest in the status quo and the people who will benefit from the proposed change. Take the time to discuss with each player her concerns and goals. Identify common ground, as well as issues that may divide you. Don't assume you know where each person is coming from; we often project our preconceptions on others and misread the true situation.

Building support doesn't start when you have a specific proposal to move forward. Focus on building strong business relationships on an ongoing basis, as I outline in this article. Remember, patience is an important ingredient in the change process. Be clear about your vision. Communicate frequently. Be open to feedback. Give people some time to make the idea their own. By building support carefully, you will greatly increase your chances of success.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Picking your battles

Ruth Simmons, the president of Brown University, has well-honed political skills, including knowing whom to consult; choosing her battles; and carefully building support. She uses these skills to carry out her vision for the University. How can you use these skills to advance your vision and your career? We have talked about consultation. Let's look at picking your battles when you tackle change within your organization or focus on your individual career goals.

There is no simple formula for deciding when to push against the usual resistance to change or when to sit back. You have to analyze each situation on its own facts and merits. Here are a few questions to ask yourself. What is at stake? Will the contemplated change lead to significant improvement? What are the risks of failure? Who are the stakeholders and how committed are they to the status quo? What change strategies are open to you? Do you have strong allies?

There are always risks to being a change agent, and the possible downside can be scary. Nothing is won without taking a chance, however. Be smart about picking your battles, and you will greatly increase your chances of success. Good luck!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yet she has certain well-honed political skills...

"Yet she has certain well-honed political skills: she knows whom to consult; she chooses her battles; and she carefully builds support."

This was how the author of a New Yorker profile of Ruth Simmons, President of Brown University, summed up her key skills for getting things done in a complex and high-stakes environment. Let's examine each of the three skills, starting today with consultation.

"She knows whom to consult." This is all about "soft power" - using diplomacy, shared values, and effective communication to get input from key stakeholders and to ensure that your objectives are aligned with their interests. Identifying the people to consult can be trickier than it might seem at first. Seek out people with influence, not just organization-chart power. Don't limit yourself to people within your company or department. Trusted former colleagues and third-parties may offer an invaluable objective perspective.

I work with my clients to identify the people in their world who can help them meet their career goals. We use a simple diagram of concentric circles to place key players in position, moving from immediate work environment to broader industry components. This is the first step in knowing whom to consult. Ruth Simmons is a role mode for us all!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Headwaters - a poem about taking risks

I want to share with you this amazing poem by Ellen Bryant Voigt. It speaks to me of the fear and necessity of taking risks, of moving out of our comfort zone.


I made a large mistake I left my house I went into the world it was not
the most perilous hostile part but I couldn't tell among the people there

who needed what no tracks in the snow no boot pointed
toward me or away no snow as in my dooryard I clung

to my own life-raft I had room on it for only me you're not surprised
it grew smaller and smaller or maybe I grew larger and heavier

but don't you think I'm doing better in this regard I try to do better

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You Have To Do What the Guys Do

"You have to do what the guys do." That was a comment by a top-notch woman scientist during a round table discussion with four highly regarded women scientists recently conducted by The New York Times. You can read an excerpt by clicking here. The women talked about the challenges and satisfactions they had experienced in building their careers. They had to be tough - made of titanium!

Since 2005, I have worked with dozens of women physicians and scientists at a world-renowned academic medical center. I have heard many of the same stories shared by the women featured in the article. One recurring theme is the reluctance of women to promote their achievements with the same vigor used by men. A man will say his results are the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel, and he did it all by himself. A woman will say her results were very favorable and give credit to her collaborators. Some women fear that if they come on too strong, they will be considered pushy and overbearing. Finding the sweet spot of self-promotion continues to be a challenge for many talented, accomplished women professionals.

I advise my clients to move out of their comfort zone and take some chances in telling the story of their achievements and vision for the future. With their innate sense of fair play and professionalism, there is little chance they will go too far. You go, girl!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Do You Know What You Want To Be When You Grow Up?

Some people know what they want to be from the time they are little kids. Rosalyn S. Yalow, a Nobel Laureate, knew she wanted to be a scientist from the time she was 8 years old, as reported in her obituary. Dr. Yalow overcame daunting obstacles to have a remarkable career in her chosen field and became the second woman to earn a Nobel Prize in Medicine. Her story shows the rewards of keeping your eye on the prize in the face of resistance, rejection and even hostility.

Some of us are still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. Our careers evolve as we gain experience and respond to opportunities. We develop a set of skills that can be applied in different settings. We learn that transformative leadership is transferable and that the ability to think strategically will solve a whole range of problems.

Try to figure out which group you belong to. There is value in either approach but only if it fits your personality. Look for role models for your career style. Then commit your energy and your abilities to make it work for you.