Loving wine taught me to maximize strengths

I have a love of wine. I have been asked many times how did I learn about wine and know which wines to buy. I believe wine is a truly personal endeavor. It is all about what you like and what you enjoy. And the best part, is to learn about wine, you have to try a lot of wines as no two wines are exactly the same.  Sometimes I open a bottle and the wine is wonderful, other times it is fine but not one I will try again and a few times, the wine  gets poured down the sink. But I never lose the joy of opening a bottle and trying something new. The reason each bottle can be different is each wine maker has to take each wine harvest where they had the same fields, the same vines but different environment each year and determine its key attributes and work to highlight its strengths. Then as each harvest gets bottled, it can take on unique characterics. To achieve a vintage that stands out from the competition, a wine maker must capitalize on the strengths of each vintage.

Maximizing strengths of each component of the business

We have a member on our team that was struggling. We knew he was talented but the talent wasn’t being consistently displayed and he was failing in key areas that were critical for his success. We tried to prop him up by providing training in the areas of need, by giving him mentorship and hiring team members around him that displayed these necessary skills. After several conversations, we found that he had lost his way. He was playing in an area that was outside his core skill area and  he wasn’t passionate enough about it to embrace uncomfortableness of it to learn it. He was in a state of constant floundering.  What we learned was that we were playing to his weaknesses and not to his strengths. We had placed him in an area that didn’t allow him to use his core talents and passion to be successful. Just as every wine maker, analyzes his vintage to bring out the best in it, we need to do the same with our team members. We need to recognize and understand the areas that they can truly excel and place them in roles that give them this opportunity.

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The value in setting stretch goals

One of the largest accelerators in my career was a manager when I first started out telling me that I wasn’t up for an early promotion. I never took his words as demoralizing, I took them as genuine feedback on how to achieve the stretch goals I wanted. I also didn’t take that as a “no”. I simply took it as “try harder”, which is exactly what I did.  I asked him what I need to do to earn that promotion, I did it and I ended up getting that early promotion. In the end, the manager congratulated me for proving him wrong and I thanked him for setting the bar higher and  because it made me better. We’ve all heard the story of the grade the founder of FedEx got on his business plan for FedEx, or how Walt Disney was told he had no artistic talent, or how Kate Winslet was told she would never be a great actress. The assumptions are that their reviewer’s never saw their talent. I prefer to look at it as one of the steps they each had to take to strengthen their talent to achieve greatness. Would they have achieved the level of accomplishment or success if they weren’t told “no” or given a higher bar to reach. If they were told “nice job”, would they have just plodded along and achieved success but not greatness? We should think about this as we conduct performance reviews and give daily feedback to our teams. Are we helping them grow and achieve their success by only saying  “good job”? If we give them a higher bar, provide them specific and direct actions or improvements to make, could they achieve a higher level of success. If we challenge our team to reach their potential by giving them what may be the hard truth, aren’t we helping them be the best they can be?  Are you being their best manager by simplying patting them on their heads? Think about how you can restructure your words to actually motivate and encourage your team to stretch.

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How to Create Gender Diversity

There has been a lot of discussion around the lack of gender diversity in companies, while this is truly an issue across all industries, it is particularly evident in technology and even more so in the management ranks of software firms. Diving into the reasons for this dichotomy, you have to go as far back as elementary school because that is when many young girls opt out of science and math related subjects.  31% of girls in elementary school say they are good at math; but by middle school that number drops to 18%.  Yet, based on  a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development released in 2013,  15-year-old girls around the world, outperform boys in science and math. Girls interest lowers in science and math related subjects for multiple reasons: girls learn these subjects differently than boys and classes are taught to the boy’s learning traits; and a larger reason, which appears later in their professional careers as well, is girls may lack the confidence in subjects that  require testing, and dare I say, mistakes as of the learning process. Girls, as a generalization, have a tendency to prefer possessing the right answer each time and may choose not to take on a challenge unless they know they will do it perfectly.

The gender diversity takes on another twist when you consider women earn less than men across the board in any industry. In 2013, female full-time workers made only 78 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 22 percent ( http://www.iwpr.org/initiatives/pay-equity-and-discrimination#sthash.G0GzdgId.dpuf). Some of this delta can be explained by the larger proportion of males in leadership positions than females when looking at the average salaries across the genders. The decreasing interest rate in the science and math classes during formative school years combined with family and societal demands during childbearing years when women tend to take on less challenging and complex assignments particularly if they require after-hour time commitments or travel in order to focus more time with their families, the rate of women in the management ranks will naturally be lower than the men’s.  This is evident the S&P 500 the labor force which is made up of  45% women at the entry level, while at the mid management it drops to 37% and further drops to 25% at the  senior management level (see 2013 EEO-1 Survey Data as displayed by Catalyst. org http://www.catalyst.org/knowledge/women-sp-500-companies ) .

In my career as a female technology company executive,  I have found there are three key ways that women can excel in technology management roles.   By developing these skills, women are able to take on new challenges and rise to higher levels within an organization.

Confident: Women have a tendency to not make the ‘ask’ , women assume they will be recognized for their work and opportunities will follow.  A man will straight up ask for the raise, ask for the promotion, ask for the job, ask for the more challenging assignment. This is an area where women need to act more like a man.  Show the confidence in their own skills and be willing to stand up for them.  Women’s desire for perfection also appears here when looking at new assignments or new positions. Internal research at HP showed that women apply for open jobs only if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, whereas men respond to the posting if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements. Women need to be more willing to take chances and use past experiences to demonstrate their ability to take on new roles. And frankly, there is nothing wrong with a little ‘faking it until you make” when you have the confidence to try until you are successful. (see McKinsey Quarterly “ A Business Case for Women” http://dca.org.au/app/webroot/files/file/gender%20documents/Business%20Case%20for%20Women%20Mckinsey%20sept08.pdf) Capable: Women need to continue to build their skills, learn new technologies and take on challenges and complex assignments that may be outside their comfort zone. Women need to be comfortable with the process of trying and learning.  It is difficult to demonstrate the ability to advance to the next level until they have continuously gone  above what is expected of them in order to establish they have the desire, skills and expertise to take on larger roles. Contribute: Women must be present to be considered. Given the larger demands on time that leadership roles present, as well as the timing in women’s career when she is likely to start a family, women drop out of the workforce or decline to take on larger roles within an organization  in order to create a work/life balance that is appropriate for their families.  Balancing a family and a leadership role is time challenging. You have to want it to make it work. It’s about finding a support system to help you create your own sense of balance and achievement as well as a willingness to make choices on the priorities that are important and a willingness to not feel guilty about the areas you choose not to focus upon.  This is most definitely an evolving art that changes as your family grows up and your work role iterates.

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Skating Lessons: Learning to Fall

I recently took my girls ice skating. Both of them have been skating before and have had a few lessons. After making it around the rink one time, my oldest daughter falls. As I reach down to help her up,  she states “ Mom, I know how to get up, that is the first thing they teach you- is to how to fall and how to get up”.   What an enlightened statement!

Everything we are taught from day one is how to be perfect. Get an 100% on a test, get an A in the subject, be the first in your class, be a star performer. We have school systems that teach to the test, rather than teach to the objective. Nowhere does our systems teach and reward learning to try. We are never taught to fail, much less how to get back up again. 

This creates mindsets  that we need to get it right the first time, every time, which creates conservative and cautious  behaviors. This seems counterintuitive to the skills and attributes of the team members we want on our team. We want individuals to take risks, try something new, and move our companies forward. But this isn’t possible if our reward systems only value the right answer every time. 

I failed in my first attempt to be CFO. It was a miserable place to be – knowing that I tried and I didn’t get it right. And then, after a bit, I brushed myself off and went on to apply the lessons I learned to my next CFO role. It was the most valuable lesson of my career. I learned that I could stretch outside my comfort zone, try something new, fail and still be successful. That lesson allowed me to take smart risks freely going forward because I realized that failing wasn’t such a bad thing – it was just a learning experience.

To help everyone get more comfortable with failing consider this sport analagy – probably the one and only one you will ever see in my blogs.  Every sport player gets cheered when they  hit the objective only a certain percentage of the time: hole in one, home runs, ice skating scores etc,.  These achievements  don’t happen every day even for athletes who practice doing them  every day. Why do we expect our team members to do it right  the first time? Everyone needs some practice, some tries and the comfort zone to know they will be rewarded for the try. Then, and only then, will the odds work in their favor and  the company’s favor.

Consider your reward systems, do you have any that give kudos to someone who tried but maybe did not succeed? How about do you create a safety zone, give air cover to your team members who stretch outside their comfortable zone?  What are you doing to create an environment of learning for individuals to take a smart risk?

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Having it All

Many working parents are trying to figure out how to manage their work/life balance. Everyone is trying to figure out how to have it all. I remember after working a hard day at the office, prior to having kids, collapsing into bed and stating to my husband “I don’t know how people with kids can do, we don’t have kids and this is hard”.  After having kids, I thought I figured it out. You smash more into a day by sleeping less. After a few years of pure exhaustion, I realized that wasn’t the way to a happy life. I started to see the light when a friend told me, “You can have it all, you just have to define what all means to you”. It took awhile for the meaning of this statement to sink in but once I realized that I have the power and the right to define what I wanted, life got a lot easier.

Permission to Say “No”

I discovered I could give myself permission to say “no” to things. That those evenings out with acquaintances that I felt I had to accept because I might upset someone, when sleep was so much more important, I had the ability not to accept the invitation. That saying “yes” every time someone asked me to contribute to a committee, to donate time to this objective or to help out at the kid’s school, was not a requirement. I had the power to choose. I could choose the things that were important to me and fit into my schedule. I could say, this is important to me but not this year. I could say, I would love to but I just don’t feel like I could give it my all because I would be overextended. I had a choice. I could prioritize what was most important and I could define what “all” looked like to me. We have choices, some choices have consequences that are difficult, but we all have choices. We need to empower ourselves to make those choices, accept them as our choices and create the life that makes us happy.

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Being a Team Player

Throughout elementary, junior and high school I was always involved in some team activity, whether it was girl scouts or sports. I love the camaraderie, the laughter, the support. I love that as a group we could accomplish more as a team then anyone of us could achieve individually.

 One important lesson I learned, after determining out that I wasn’t a very talented athlete and I did not have the passion to become one, is that there was still a role for me to play for the love of the game and team. As a second-string varsity basketball player, my role was to push, challenge and drive the first string to do  better. My role was to prepare them for the next game. And this role, was extremely important, because I was helping them win something for all of us, the team.   Everyone on a team has a role to play, we need to embrace the role, own it and use it to propel the whole team forward.


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Modern Parenthood

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the hardship women have in learning how to breaking through the glass ceiling, as well as, negotiating for equal pay. What hasn’t been discussed are some of the benefits we have compared to men. Society has placed an expectation on women being the primarily caregiver at home with only a nod to the men who wants to stay home or contribute to the family as well.  With this societal expectation, women have been given choices that the men are wishing to have.  While women may struggle to be seen as equals, we should applaud that we also have choices men do not when it comes to work/life balance and spending time with our kids.

Enter the Working Dad

It starts at the very beginning. It is acceptable by society to ask a women while she is pregnant – are you going back to work? A women has a choice when children are introduced into the family to take a step back in their careers or to give careers up completely. It is a conversation that is ‘normal’. However, have you ever asked a man “are you staying home from work when the baby comes?” Typically, you don’t even ask, “are you taking time off when the baby comes”. At most, the question is “ how much vacation time are you taking when the baby arrives”.

In the last ten years, I have seen more men want to take a more prominent role in being part of their kids lives, and with this is the same constant push-pull and shall I say it, guilt, that comes with balancing out work and family.  In addition to the challenges men have with trying to balance their work with their kids, they have the additional pressure of being looked at as being in the wrong place when trying to participate in their kids lives. What women hasn’t at least thought at a school meeting, “what is he doing here” or “wow, a dad showing up”? Instead, the room should be filled with fathers and the mothers should expect them to be there.

Merging Family and Work

I have been in many situations where I have had to say “I can’t attend that meeting at that time because I need to go to my child’s X”. But I have very seldom heard a father say the same thing. Not because they aren’t thinking it but because they are afraid to say it. I have known several dads to state after the fact, “I missed my child’s event because of this meeting”.   For women, while we may have to work twice as hard to get places on some days, we have been given the opportunity to create a balance as best as we are able, even if it means leaving work early to take our kids to the doctor and then logging back on after the kids go to bed.

Modern Parenthood

In a 2013 study by Pew Research Center titled “Modern Parenthood” of the 2,511 adults polled, 50% of the men said they struggled with juggling work and family, this is not far behind the 56% of the women who stated the same thing. In addition, 50% of the men said they would choose to stay home if money was no object. A benefit granted to women by society norms in many situations. It is acceptable for a women to say – I am going to take a step back in my career in whatever form that looks like. Women have the ability to choose. A girlfriend of mine decided recently to make a decision to step back from her managerial position because she wanted to have more time with her kids. This is a choice to self-select out a leadership role. It is a choice that other women would applaud however if a man made that same decision he likely would not receive the same response.

Women may have limitations placed on them that we need to overcome, but we are also granted choices that others do not have. We should be thankful for these choices.


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Learning From Everyone You Meet

Life has always been filled with people who want to be better than the next person, who think they can only get ahead if someone else is pushed down. I do not think it’s about being better than the next person, I think its about being a better person. I have been blessed with knowing and working with talented individuals throughout my life and I have learned something from every one of them. How to do something better, learn something new, do something differently and just as important learning not to repeat some of their mistakes. I found that self improvement, learning, evolving and growing was my personal challenge. That someone else could set a higher bar for me to achieve because there will always be someone better than me in some aspect but the only person I needed to better than, was the person I was yesterday.   Competing against another team member can be destructive because someone has to lose, but competing against myself, allows me to be a team member that can encourage growth in the full team.



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