Thursday, March 31, 2011

Successful Women in Business

As I have made apparent, I'm in the market for a new career. While I haven't made any definite decisions I'm leaning toward business-centered options. I never thought that my life would lead toward the direction of business woman because I wasn't sure that I was cut out for it. After all I'm a sorority lover who adores children and I am looking forward to flexible work ours to spend time with my family (for now just Russell and me, but we hope to expand someday). Math is not my forte and above all, I've always pictured successful business women to be cut-throat, rigid, cold, authoritative and well you know the other word I'm looking for, and even more than all of those things- not family oriented.

Being in the North Carolina Triangle area, I am privileged to have easy access to two fantastic universities, UNC and Duke, both less than 10 minutes from my front door! It would be silly for me not to take advantage of these two valuable resources while I'm here so over the past week I have attended women's business conferences at both schools. What I found at these conferences has opened my eyes to the world of women in business and left me excited and ready to take the next step!

The women who gave lectures and answered panel questions were not at all frigid, cold or unpleasant. These women were like me! The qualities that they listed or modeled that make for successful business women were as follows: listener, talker, educator, love for learning, encourager, people-lover, strategic thinker, value for family (children or no children), passion for their work, and career balance. These women were at the top of the chain in their careers, CEOs, CFOs, entrepreneurs, bankers, consultants, Executive VPs, Army officers, you name it. Some women didn't even have MBAs and one woman has a very similar education background as me.I like doing a lot of the things that they like to do, our values are similar and they have families!

While these women enjoy being busy, multi-taskers, they all take the time to find balance in their lives. They set work boundaries and take time for their friends, families and hobbies. I heard over and over again, when you don't take time for yourself you burn out and you begin to hate what you're doing. When you don't love your job, you're not successful. This spoke to where I was before I resigned from my previous job. I was drained, uninspired, and not working to my full potential at work at home or in my relationships with others. This is not to say that everything always takes equal time and energy, but the women I listened to have made a commitment to make it work and make it work well.

I have held on to one quote from a panelist: "You can have it all, but you can't have it all all the time." I love this! In order to find fulfillment in your life, you have to believe that you CAN have it all and having it all is different for everyone. The biggest part is that you can't have it all ALL the time...and that's ok! To me this means that working hard doesn't take away from a social or family life. It doesn't mean that in order to have a fulfilling family and social life you can't have a career that you're passionate about that creates success. There are times when your energy and focus shifts more toward one aspect of life than the other but those other aspects that are not at the forefront of focus should never disappear. The shifting balance happens even throughout the day. The woman who said the above quote said that when she's at home, the majority of her focus is on what is happening at home and when she is at work, the opposite is true but nothing ever falls off the scale.

Anne Whitaker from Glaxco Smith Kline shared the 5 Simple Truths for successful business leaders:
P- passion
P- persistence
A- authenticity
R- resilience
C- courage

My favorites were passion, resilience and courage.

Passion: This truth made me look beyond the basics of what I like to do and really think about what I value and what I'm passionate about. Here is my list of passions: children, education, good parenting (funny since I'm not a parent), leadership, creativity, invention, sharing what I know, family time and empowering others. I like this list. I think it is really going to help me in choosing my career moves.

Resilience: The question was asked, "Is resilience a trait, a skill, a process? Her answer was all of the above. The main points of this truth were that you have to be able to bounce back and recover from stress, failure, and overall bad streaks in your day, week, month, year. In order to be able to recover you MUST take care of yourself. Mrs. Whitaker talked about being aware of where you draw your energy. If you have no energy, you cannot be resilient. Some of the places many people draw energy is from their faith/spiritual beliefs, keeping their work concurrent with their values, relationships, focus, physical activity. I think all of these things are important for me to remained focused, energized and resilient.

Courage: This is where I struggle the most. I have a fear of people finding out that I might not know what I'm doing, that I'm not good enough, or that my ideas aren't great. I have to be willing to take risks, make decisions, and be confident in my abilities. Only then will I have courage to dive in and create a successful career for myself. The best quote from this section was "you must overcome fear with knowledge".

My favorite speech came from Mrs. Susan Chambers head of the WalMart People Division (Human Resources). She talked about servant leadership. Usually this leadership style is considered by many to be weak, it's used to talk about people who have submissive personalities and it overall doesn't sound like a successful business leadership style at all. If you really think about what a servant leader is, I think you will find (at least I did) that these are the leaders that I look up to and desire to work for. Really, this is the type of leader I'd like to be! Mrs. Chambers began with an African proverb "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together". I really think this is the basis for a true servant leader. Here are the qualities she listed:

1. Listen and Then Act- learn the facts and listen to intention before you give feedback

2. Teach Rather Than Tell- be a helper when you're asking someone to do something new or difficult

3. Know The Pride of a Parent- find joy in the success of others on your team

4. Advocate- when you recommend great people, you look great

5. Be Vunerable AND Expect Great Things- this means don't be overly controlling, find the right times to say "yes" and say "no" but don't be a push over. Your team must know you expect only the best.

6. Be Transparent- don't be a liar.

7. Admit Your Mistakes- don't be a liar.

8. Don't Forget to Thank People- self explanatory

9. Leadership is a Privilege

10. NO ONE IS A SAINT!- you're not perfect just because you're at the top of the totem pole.

The most important point I got from her lecture was that being a servant leader doesn't mean you should fall into the background, be walked all over and be passed up for promotions. Promote yourself while promoting others.

The moral of the story- there are MANY successful women in business that are NORMAL, social, family oriented and I can even be one of them.

I have so much more to say but I will end here!


  1. I'm so excited for you!! You will be a great "business woman!!" You are so talented and I know you will be successful in whatever you do!!

  2. This was so inspiring! You are such a classy and smart woman. I am struggling with my career choice at the moment as well. I really hate my job right now. I think it is more because I feel so caught in between my family and my job. You sound so happy and I am so proud of you for being in charge of your life. I know this is a random comment but this blog struck a few chords in me.