Emily Bennington specializes in two distinct forms of career transition: college students entering the workforce and women leaders entering executive management. Her work deep dives into what Stephen Covey famously referred to as “the space” between stimulus and response where she challenges executives to choose mindful, values-centered action. Emily is the author of Who Says It’s a Man’s World: The Girls’ Guide to Corporate Domination and the coauthor of Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job, a book she wrote with her first boss and mentor Skip Lineberg. Emily has led training programs for numerous Fortune 500 companies and has been featured in business press ranging from CNN, ABC, and Fox to the Wall Street Journal, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan. She is also a contributing writer for Monster.com and a featured blogger for Forbes Woman.
Here’s an excerpt from my interview of her. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Before discussing Who Says It’s a Man’s World, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest impact on your professional development? How so?
Bennington: Definitely my first boss and Effective Immediately co-author Skip Lineberg. At the beginning of my career, Skip really spent a lot of time coaching and challenging me to be better. One example I’ll never forget was when I had my first performance review and asked for a raise, Skip made me “demonstrate I was worth it” by successfully completing a series of projects ranging from writing a review of How to Win Friends and Influence People to finding a logistical “problem” in the office and solving it using TQM processes. At the time, a lot of my friends and family were puzzled by this, wondering why he didn’t just give me the raise I’d already earned, but I knew better. I saw Skip’s challenge as an opportunity to prove to him that I was not only worth more money, but more responsibility as well. Since then, our relationship has evolved into more of a partnership than a mentor / student connection, but I’m so blessed that we’re still able to work together after all these years.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Bennington: My personal and professional growth under Skip’s leadership made me want to offer a similar experience to others in their career. It truly was the turning point that set the stage for everything I do now.
Morris: What do you know about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?
Bennington: I wasted a lot of time in my 20s “looking for the path.” I was constantly planning for a life that would begin 2-4 years in the future when I lived in a particular city, had a particular credential, and achieved particular things. Looking back, I wish I had recognized earlier that I was already on the path. We all are.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to Who Says It’s a Man’s World. When and why did you decide to write it?
Bennington: It all started with dirty Tupperware. Years ago when I was promoted to a director-level position for a corporate accounting firm, I found myself with an assistant for the first time in my career. And I remember being nervous about delegating assignments because she had been with the company for about 15 years and I didn’t want to come off as the bossy new kid. So the first time I went to pass her the baton on a job, I noticed she had some dirty Tupperware from lunch sitting on the corner of her desk. In a flash I reverted back to my waitress days in college. I picked up a few pieces and said, “Can I take this for you?” Turns out, I was SO worried about coming across as too assertive that I overcompensated and made myself look weak. After that, I started thinking about all the “little” ways I was undermining my power at work and I created the survey to see if others were experiencing the same thing. The survey became the foundation for Who Says It’s a Man’s World.
Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?
Bennington: My first book, Effective Immediately, is full of really prescriptive advice on things you should DO if you want to stand out at work. I assumed this book would follow that same path but – literally in the middle of writing it – I realized that success actually starts with how you THINK. I ended up rearranging a lot of the text, but the end result is definitely stronger for it.
Morris: When formulating questions for this interview, I rejected the phrase “working women” because all of the women in my life since childhood were working…but few were paid — [begin italics] and usually under-paid [end italics] — as was my mother, a single parent. So I use the term “employed women.” Do you have a problem with that? Please explain.
Bennington: I have two young sons so I agree that it’s all work – just some jobs pay better than others. That said, I believe that every woman should have a way to support herself and I learned this first-hand through the hardships of my mother. She never had a career and, as a result, she hasn’t always had the freedom to walk away from situations and relationships that weren’t serving her. I teach career success because I want all women to have the safety – and I mean that literally – that financial independence provides.
Morris: In your opinion, what are the “must-have trade-offs” for employed mothers?
Bennington: For starters, go for the “big money.” In other words, what can you do that will be the most important, the most visible, and have the most impact? When it comes to prioritizing time, your kids aren’t all that different from your boss in this respect. If they are old enough – just ask them. Say something like “I can only make one event this month – either the lunch or the assembly. Which one would you prefer I attend?” The fact that they have a voice in the decision will help them feel better about it – not to mention they’re learning a valuable lesson in time management too. Also, if you’re on a crazy air-tight schedule, don’t allow yourself to get talked into anything behind-the-scenes. You may get a gold star from the PTA for selling the most raffle tickets, but your daughter probably couldn’t care less. So before you commit to anything, think about whether she will notice. If the answer is no, well, there’s your answer.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Emily cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
A paradox for our times: One’s career and personal life are separate…and inseparable
The work-life balance is an issue that has fascinated me for decades. Hence my interest in this book in which Matthew Kelly claims that, in fact, the work-life balance is a “myth” that people must “get beyond” to achieve their personal and professional satisfaction.” As he observes in the Introduction, “While the work-life balance discussion was introduced with the very best if intentions – namely, to help people deal with mounting pressures surrounding both personal and professional life in the modern world – in many ways the idea never had a chance because the term itself was fatally flawed.” Kelly believes that individual destiny and organizational destiny are “intertwined.” Yes, you can consider work life from personal life separately but they cannot be separated. What to do? Kelley wrote this book in response to that question.
These are a few of several dozen key points that caught my eye:
o “I have come to the conclusion that people don’t really need or want balance.” Rather, they need and want “a satisfying experience of life.” (Page x)
o “The crisis of the modern world is a crisis of ideas. Ideas shape our lives and the world. Thought determines action. It would not be too soon for us to learn that ideas have very real consequences.” (19)
o “If it is to be sustained, our satisfaction has to be something that transcends external circumstances. It cannot be something that we put in the hands of things that are completely beyond our control.” (47)
o “Continuous change is now an accepted part of life and business. The waves of change are constantly crashing on the shore of our lives, but it is a well-defined value structure that allows us to thrive in the midst of the change. It us the unchanging that allows us to make sense of the change.” (79)
o “There are five facets to the process [of increasing the level of personal and professional satisfaction that we experience in our lives]: (1) Assessment, (2) Priorities, (3) Core Habits, (4) Weekly Strategy Session, and (5) Quarterly Review. All of these are interconnected and play either a macro or micro role within the overall process. To neglect one is to tamper with the system, which always leads the system to break down.” (107)
o “The most important part of any system is accountability…I have noticed that most people can do something for a few days, or a few weeks, but over time they tend to slip back into old self-destructive ways. That’s why we need doctors, managers, parents, leaders, role models, and mentors.” (134)
The Personal and Professional Satisfaction System that Kelly explains and strongly recommends – indeed any system – can only provide a framework (albeit one that is to some extent self-correcting) and its effectiveness depends almost entirely by the person who adopts it and then applies it. Viewed as a journey, the process of increasing one’s level of personal and professional satisfaction is not automatic. Although the ultimate destination is certain, efforts to get there will encounter doubts, distractions, ambiguities, resistance (at least some of it self-generated), and temporary setbacks. The “balance” to which Kelly frequently refers evokes the image of a spinning gyroscope rather than an up-and-down see saw (or teeter totter) because its steady rotation is maintained amidst changes in location. A sturdy moral “compass” and a well-defined value structure ensure both proper balance and steady progress.
Years ago, Stephen Covey observed that people spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important. I agree and so does Matthew Kelley. “To lay your head on your pillow at night, knowing that who you are and what you do make sense…now, that is satisfaction.” We are also well-advised to recall advice from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”
A rock-solid framework for “understanding how habits work and a guide for experimenting with how they might change”
This is not an easy book to describe because Charles Duhigg offers such a wealth of information in so many different areas. For example:
o What a habit is…and isn’t
o What the habit loop is and does
o How and why we form good and bad habits
o Why it is so difficult to sustain good habits and so easy to sustain bad ones
o Which external influences most effectively manipulate both good and bad habits
o How to defend good habits
o How to break bad habits
o How and why our habits reveal our values
In Part One, Duhigg focuses on how habits emerge within individual lives; in the next, he examines the habits of successful companies and organizations; and then in Part Three, he looks at the habits of societies. “We now know why habits emerge, how they change, and the science behind their mechanics. We know how to break them into parts and rebuild them to our specifications. We know how to make people eat less, exercise more, work more efficiently, and live healthier lives. Transforming a habit isn’t necessarily easy or quick. It isn’t always simple. But it is possible. And now we know why.” Also how.
There in a brief passage is the essence of what motivated Duhigg to write this book and also perhaps, just perhaps, a sufficient reason for people who read it to then rebuild their habits to their expectations, based on what they have learned from the book.
One of Duhigg’s most valuable insights (among the several dozen he shares) is that organizations as well as individuals can develop bad habits or allow them to develop. For example, tolerating incivility and thus condoning it, conducting performance evaluations unfairly and/or inconsistently, and under-valuing employees and/or customers. However, in that event, only individuals can break those organizational bad habits and only if their habits are equal to that challenge. Duhigg devotes all of Part Two (Chapters 4-7) to a through explanation of how best to respond to that challenge. Stephen Covey also has much of value to say about what that requires of people in his classic, The 7 Habits 0f Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
How to make complex decisions and recommendations about the best way to deploy assets
In a book I very much admire, Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis assert that what really matters “is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right.” They go on to suggest that effective leaders “not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”
One of the most challenging decision a leader must make, every day and often many times each day, involves allocation of resources, especially of time. It is a common complaint among C-level executives with whom I have worked closely that their daily agenda comes under severe attack almost immediately after they arrive at work. I agree with Stephen Covey that many (most?) executives spend too much time with what’s urgent and not enough with what’s important. I also agree with Steve Sashihara that many (most?) of these same executives need to “change the fundamental approach to how their organizations are led, decisions are made [about but not limited to allocation of resources], and assets are managed,” especially those for whom they are primarily responsible.
Sashihara focuses on companies in which there has been reinvention of the decision-making process in order to maximize all of the company’s assets. They include Amazon, Google, Marriott, McDonald’s, UPS, and Walmart. However different these companies may be, here is what they share in common: Their leaders asked the right questions such as these and then obtained the answers needed to make the correct decisions with regard to optimizing assets and resources:
o What are our under-utilized assets?
o Where and how are repetitive decisions about key assets being made?
o When and how are we forecasting? How accurate are our forecasts?
o When and about what are we repeatedly having lengthy debates over strategy decisions or operational issues?
o What does “best” mean?
It is important to keep in mind that, as Sashihara explains, optimization is presented not simply as a technology “but as a set of principles and a way of thinking that are achieving superior business results as they reshape businesses, industries, and the competitive landscape.” Indeed, it not only harnesses the new breed of software but also makes explicit recommendations that help business leaders to achieve their organization’s strategic goals. “This is particularly useful in areas where the data are voluminous and change rapidly, which when you think about it, are those facing just about every manager today.”
Readers will appreciate Sashihara’s provision of a “Final Note” section at the end of each chapter that can help to facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points. He also includes other reader-friendly devices throughout his narrative, such as Figures, checklists, and mini-commentaries that may seem to be digressions but, in fact, complement the flow of his narrative.
I commend Sashihara for achieving his objective to “create a clear, compelling picture of the power and potential of Optimization, so that a great number of people across industries and disciplines will be motivated to step up and take a ‘swing’ at turning the images presented here into reality, now and well into the future.”
In other words, do much more and do it better with much less, faster, and at a much lower cost, with fewer people involved.
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out the aforementioned Judgment as well as Kevin Murray’s Language of Leaders: How Top CEOs Communicate to Inspire, Influence, and Achieve Results and Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Power of Persuasion.
Here you go – this is my list of the Best of 2011 in a number of categories.
Best Business Book: The 3rd Alternative by Stephen Covey (New York: Free Press) – this book explains and promotes a tired “win-win” philosophy in a fresh way, opening up applications in multiple contexts for many people who give lip service to the concept likely have never thought of before. It didn’t stay on the best-seller lists long enough.
Best Non-Fiction Book: The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough (New York: Simon & Schuster) – I didn’t think he could ever top the biography he wrote called Truman, but this is a highly readable, novel-like approach of an important segment of American history, as played out overseas.
A close second: Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero by Chris Matthews (New York: Simon & Schuster) – I’ve read a lot of books about JFK, and many a lot longer than this one, but I have never learned so much as I did with this account. Lots of inside information from an outside perspective by this MSNBC giant.
Best Fiction Book: 11-22-63 by Stephen King (New York: Scribner) – A fantasy about a high school teacher who travels back in time, attempting to change history, with the first stop in 1958. Quite a story! The picture of the author on the inside cover makes him look so intense!
Best Movie: Shame starring Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. directed by Steve McQueen (Fox Searchlight films) - this is not entertaining, and a very difficult movie to watch, but it demonstrates the challenges that 3-5 million Americans with sex addictions face better than any documentary ever has or could.
Best Sporting News: Paterno and Penn State Fall – this is not a happy story, but time unravels strange tales, and a giant in a successful program faces the music, and we cannot ignore it; at the Ticket City Bowl on Monday, I saw two t-shirts: one said, “Joe Knows Football,” and another, “What Does Joe Know?“ Unfortunately, with his diminishing physical condition, we may never find out.
Best Entertainer: Taylor Swift – a 22-year old captivates audiences and the music world with original songs from the heart, and she bonds with her listeners of all ages at concerts in ways that we have not seen since the Beatles; the song Story of Us will resonate with many people who have had heartbreaking relationships
Best Television Program: Friday Night Lights – when its final episode aired this spring, I realized how good it was, and how much I will miss it; if you never saw it, purchase the series on DVD’s.
Best News Story: Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami in May – riveting images of horror and sorrow followed by amazing stories of international and personal help and relief show the greatest contrast in bad and good that you could ask to see, and there still remains a lot of work to do.
What do you think? Let’s talk about it.
“In order to improve your game, you must study the endgame before everything else, for whereas the endings can be studied and mastered by themselves, the middle game and the opening must be studied in relation to the endgame.” Jose Raul Capablanca, Cuban Chess player who was world champion from 1921 to 1927, one of the greatest players of all time). (p. ix).
Quoted by John Mauldin in Endgame: The End of the Debt Supercycle and How it Changes Everything
So, if you have to prepare a presentation, here’s how to think about it.
How do you want it to end? — or — What do you want/intend your audience to do?
What do you want your audience to think, feel, or do, as they leave your presentation? (to “Do” is the ultimate consideration). — This is what you ask as you plan the ending of your presentation.
Then, what is the content that will lead them to that point? — This is what you ask, and answer, as you develop the middle of your presentation.
Then, how do you get them to listen and engage with your message? How do you set up the problem/situation/challenge? — This is what you ask to plan your beginning.
Or, to put it in simple terms: “Begin with the end in mind.” (Stephen Covey — Habit #2)
I am amazed how fascinated we are with the future. Years ago, Stephen Covey told us that the best way to predict the future was to create it.
We also seem to love to read about it. Here is one more new book that tells us what the United States will look like in 2025. The book is called The Next Boom by Jack Plunkett (BizExecs Press, 2010).
In the book, Plunkett predicts that we will add 40 million people to the United States population in the next 15 years. He predicts a greater presence of engineers and scientists in countries such as China, India, and Brazil. And, he believes we will see a rise in the production of goods and services from markets in Southeast Asia and Africa.
I remember how much I loved to present synopses in 1999-2000 of The Long Boom by Peter Schwartz, Peter Leyden, and Joel Hyatt (Perseus Books, 1999). I have to admit that it really feels good to read about a prosperous future.
But what a crash when that future is not fulfilled! The “long boom” wasn’t very long. The “next boom” may never bloom, or boom.
Speaking only for myself, I am not willing to take the risk. Needless to say, I won’t be reading this one or presenting it at our synopsis. I’ve crashed once too often about unfulfilled futures.
But that is just me. What about you? Do you like reading about the future?
Let’s talk about it!
Years ago, Stephen Covey suggested that many (most?) executives spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough on what is important. In Chapter 1 of this book, John Kotter suggests that, in fact, the problem is that many (most?) workers — including executives — do not have “a true sense of urgency [that is a] highly positive and highly focused force [and] the result of people, up and down the hierarchy, who provide the leadership needed to create and re-create this increasingly important asset. These sorts of people use a strategy that aims at the heart as well as the mind. They use four sets of tactics.” Kotter devotes the balance of his book to explaining what the strategy and tactics are, why they are essential to the success of individuals as well as to the success of their organization, and how those who read his book can execute the strategy and tactics to achieve the given objectives, whatever they may be.
It is important to note that, for many years, Kotter has conducted rigorous and extensive research of his own on employee engagement and has a wide and deep range of hands-on experience with hundreds of major corporations that were either planning change initiatives or had only recently embarked on them. In three of his published works (Leading Change, The Heart of Change with Dan Cohen, and Our Iceberg Is Melting), he explains why more than 70% of change initiatives fail. “The number-one problem [organizations] have is all about creating a sense of urgency – and that’s the first step in a series of actions needed to succeed in a changing world…Winners first make sure that a sufficient number of people feel a true sense of urgency to look for an organization’s critical opportunities and hazards now.” It is not that Kotter disagrees with Covey. On the contrary. If I understand what Kotter shares in this book, one of his key points is that workers must devote most of their time to what is most important…and do so by creating and recreating “a true sense of urgency” at all levels and in all areas.
In this context, I am reminded of a hospital emergency room. Its success requires adequate resources as well as a highly skilled staff with cross-functional capabilities. All of its members share “a true sense of urgency” when responding to all manner of health crises. More often than not, they are treating strangers about whom they know little (if anything) and sometimes must deal with a life-or-death situation. There is no time for complacency. Everyone must be fully engaged. For the ER team to be successful, its members must be both intellectually and emotionally committed to assist those entrusted to their care. There is no place on the team for anyone who is unwilling and/or unable to accept these responsibilities.
Kotter’s point (and I wholeheartedly agree) is that no team can succeed unless and until each of its members feels as well as understands “a true sense of urgency” and that is as true of executives and those on the shop floor as it is of ERs. “Get that right and you are off to a great start. Get that right and you can produce results that you very much want, and the world very much needs.” The other three tactics are best revealed within Kotter’s narrative, in context. Now I wish to shift my attention to some material in Chapter 6 as Kotter discusses two perspectives on the nature of crises. “The first group, by far the larger, sees crises as horrid events, and for obvious reasons.” Therefore, every effort is to avoid them or at least to prepare for them with comprehensive plans for crisis management and damage control. “A very different perspective on the nature of crises is described with the metaphor of a `burning platform.’ In this view, crises are not necessarily bad and may, under certain conditions, actually be required to succeed in an increasingly changing world.”
Which perspective is correct? “Neither,” Kotter responds, and then he explains various downside risks of a damage control mind-set or when using a crisis to reduce complacency and create. Again, what he recommends is best revealed within the narrative. However, I want to reassure those who read this brief commentary that Kotter fully appreciates the potential value of that contingency planning and crisis management. (He is a world-renowned expert on both.) He also clearly aware of problems that could occur when crying “Wolf!” in the absence of such a threat. In this context, his objective is to help his reader to understand how and why there are times when judicious use of created crisis can be appropriate.
That said, “any naiveté about the downside risks can cause disaster” and for that reason, he identifies and briefly discusses four “Big Mistakes” (Pages 136-141) and then suggests that crises can be used to create true urgency if eight principles he recommends are followed. (Please see Pages 142-143.) In a world in which change is the only constant and seems to be occurring at an every-increasing velocity, Kotter notes that “finding opportunities in crises probably reduces your overall risk.” It seems to me that in this chapter, Kotter explores a previously neglected dimension of crisis of management, and once again, he indicates still other applications of the eight-step pattern introduced in the aforementioned earlier books, Leading Change, The Heart of Change with Dan Cohen, and Our Iceberg Is Melting.
Although significantly different in most ways, all high-performance companies seem to have a culture in which a majority of those involved take pride in what they achieve but are convinced that there is always room for improvement, that they can always do better. They are never satisfied. They view mistakes, errors, detours, dry wells, blind alleys, etc. as valuable learning opportunities. Their change initiatives to sustain improvement tend to be customer-driven and with, you guessed it, “a true sense of urgency.”
Is this also true of your culture? If not, I urge you to read this book first and then each of the other three to prepare yourself to attract and engage others in urgently needed change initiatives. If not now, when? If not you, who?
In Thrive on Pressure recently published by McGraw Hill, Graham Jones shares his thoughts about how to “lead and succeed when times get tough.” Here is what he has to say about developing “mental toughness”:
• Pressure assumes at least two forms: pressure that is externally imposed and pressure that is self-imposed by either actively seeking it in the environment or through creating it within your own mind.
• Pressure can either facilitate or debilitate performance, depending on how you respond to it.
• Mental toughness can be developed.
• Mental toughness enables you to cope with and even thrive on pressure.
• Mental toughness comprises four key skills that form the foundation of sustained high performance: staying in control under stress, channeling your motivation to work for you, strengthening your self-belief, and directing your focus to the things that matter.
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“Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re probably right.” Henry Ford
“Champions get up when they can’t.” Jack Dempsey
“Spend less time on what is urgent and more time on what is important.” Stephen Covey
“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Reinhold Niebuhr
“Mental toughness is to physical as four is to one.” Bob Knight