being liked

CAROLINA FRYER

Carolina and her family in the Eiffel Tower at the beginning of their 10 month trip around the world. 

Carolina and her family in the Eiffel Tower at the beginning of their 10 month trip around the world. 

CAROLINA FRYER
on luck, networking like a pro, and retaining your freedom

Carolina seems to operate on another plane than the rest of us. She just seems to know things that about career development that the rest of us have had to learn (or more likely, are still learning). The most exciting part about talking with Carolina is that she doesn’t just have an intuition about career development, she is also able to clearly articulate her ideas on the subject. (Of course, this is my take. She is much too modest to ever talk this way about herself.)

After getting her start at Proctor & Gamble, Carolina has had a successful career working with consumer packaged goods (CPG), driving innovation for WhiteWave Foods (makers of a lot of the natural food brands you know and love). She is now Managing Director at Mission Field, an agency focused on supporting Fortune 500 CPG companies with new product innovation with an entrepreneurial focus. Since she has been very much in the driver’s seat propelling her own advancement throughout her career, I was really happy to get her ideas on the subject.

Below, you’ll find the biggest takeaways I got from our conversation.

 

TAKEWAYS

1. LUCK DOESN'T JUST HAPPEN TO YOU

When Carolina was pursuing her MBA, she got a coveted internship at Proctor & Gamble just a few weeks into her program. Some might call her lucky. She went to a conference, showed up at the career fair, got an interview on site, and then *poof* she had the job.

Carolina acknowledges that it was extraordinary to have such a sought-after internship so early in her MBA program, but she also shared that there were a number of things that aligned to allow this to happen – luck being just part of it.

There is that famous quote by the Roman philosopher Seneca, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”.  Carolina likes to imagine this as an athletic stance. You can picture it – standing on the balls of your feet, eyes open, ready to jump when the ball comes your way.

So, in the case of Carolina and her MBA internship, while she was lucky to have the opportunity present itself, she also did her part and seized the opportunity. She was in that athletic stance at that conference.

I love the image of the athletic stance because it is empowering. I have come to believe that we can make our own luck. We do this by increasing our exposure to opportunities that may be advantageous for us, and then leaping when opportunity strikes. The more we say yes, the more likely we are to come across those “lucky” breaks.  

What does increasing exposure to opportunities look like? Well, the luckiest people I know share a number of characteristics:

  • They are not afraid to ask for things
  • They show up
  • They say yes often
  • They aren’t shy about letting others know what they’re looking for
  • They are willing to go with the flow and just see where things lead

If you’re like me, when you look at the characteristics listed above, it triggers a couple of things. First, like many women, I’ve been trained my whole life not to take up space. Asking for things and being transparent about the opportunities I’m looking for is really uncomfortable! Second, as a recovering perfectionist, saying yes to things that I’m not certain will be fun or interesting or beneficial does not come naturally to me.

The good news is that I believe that welcoming this type of luck and opportunity into your life is a skill that anyone can cultivate. It may take time and effort, but consider for a moment what you have to gain from the extra luck and opportunity that you welcome into your life!

 

2. YOU'RE AS STRONG AS YOUR NETWORK 

A couple years ago, Carolina went on 10 month around-the-world adventure with her husband and son. It was the result of many years of planning and a very intentional decision to quit her job and shake things up.

When she got back to Colorado and landed a great job within just a couple of months, people remarked at how lucky she was. (Are you seeing a theme here?)

What people didn’t see is that she met with nearly 50 (yes, FIFTY!!) people during the eight weeks after returning from her travels. She hustled for it. She reached out to her network and was explicit about what she was looking for, and it was through her network connections that she found her current position. She wasn’t just in her athletic stance, she was out there on the field making things happen.

Carolina has lots of thoughts on networking. Making connections with people seems to come naturally to her, but she’s also strategic about her networking efforts. Here are a few of her thoughts on the subject.  

  1. It’s important to have non-overlapping groups of people in your network. This one feels obvious, but I’ve never heard anyone articulate it before. Having a broad network exposes you to so many more opportunities than you would otherwise have access to if everyone in your network knows the same people. She advocates getting involved in areas that genuinely interest you and expand your horizons at the same time.

  2. Be generous. The more that you’re generous with others, the more folks will be in your corner. You want people to want to pick up your call when you need something. In Carolina’s case, she also feels that sharing what she’s learned with the next generation is the right thing to do.

  3. But, be generous without the expectation of future favors. The goal is to make and maintain genuine connections with people, because you are really interested in their views, you share a passion or have similar expertise and ambitions. It’s the idea of “paying it forward” - give often and freely and you will reap the benefits – sometimes when you least expect and most need it. It’s not about cultivating “useful” connections in the traditional network “meet & greet” sort of way.

  4. And, be in it for the long haul. Maintain your relationships over time and you’ll be surprised when old friends come back in and out of your life is surprising ways.

 

3. PRIORITIZING FREEDOM

Many of us know the feeling of being trapped in a job that we hate because we have to support ourselves…where every morning you need to give yourself a pep talk to get out of bed.

Well, Carolina has arranged her life so that she doesn’t have to experience that agony.

She has developed a Freedom Fund – a savings account she can use to cover living expenses in the event that she needs (or wants) to quit her job. She told me, “It gives you choices”. Just imagine what it would do for you to have the knowledge that you don’t have to work.

Building a savings safety net is not a subject that people talk about much, but there are some major benefits of saving up for yourself. If you like the job you’re in, you have the added psychological benefit of knowing that you are choosing to be there. You’re in the driver’s seat.

Would that feeling of freedom make you enjoy working more? Perhaps it would make you feel safer taking risks at work?

Obviously, the greatest benefit is that if you truly hate your job, you have the resources to make a change. You don’t have to suffer through it.

Sure, it’s not easy to eke out a bunch of savings, but it certainly is possible. It requires making it a priority. In Carolina’s case, she values the freedom that comes with financial security, and she’s worked toward that goal.

 

GINNY CORSI

Ginny addressing a group of women on the topics of leadership and risk-taking. 

Ginny addressing a group of women on the topics of leadership and risk-taking. 

GINNY CORSI
on authenticity, risk-taking, and life-long learning

 

Ginny is a magnetic individual. She is incredibly positive and engaging. It seems that she is at ease in every setting. In fact, she is so at ease with herself, that her ease becomes contagious. You can’t help but be at ease around her. It just might be her superpower.  

Things weren’t always so sunny for Ginny, though. By age 21, both of her parents had passed away. She didn’t have a safety net or models for success. She created both for herself.

Despite the major hardships she faced as a young person, she has been able to build a very successful career for herself. Glancing at her LinkedIn profile, you see a bunch of director-level positions. She ultimately built her own consulting business, Corsi Associates, which provides executive teambuilding and consulting. (It’s not a coincidence that her company carries her name. She built the business.)

 

TAKEWAYS

1. ALWAYS BE YOURSELF

Ginny has known me for about a year and is aware that I’ll be graduating soon and on the post-MBA job hunt. So, our conversation naturally turned to job interviews. Given Ginny’s superpower, what came out of her mouth was no surprise. She believes that people are looking for two qualities in their candidates:

  1. That you’re competent – (obviously, you have to be able to do the job)
  2. That you’re comfortable with yourself

Easier said than done, I know. But, I think that there is a lot of wisdom to this line of thinking. I decided it would be helpful to unpack why comfort with one’s self is so powerful. Here goes:  

  • Emotions are contagious! Think about some of the first dates that you’ve been on. *cringe* Sitting across the table from an awkward person you barely know can be excruciating. On the other hand, spending the evening with someone that is lighthearted and helps keep the conversation afloat can be a really good time! Interviews are kind of like first dates. You’re really checking each other out to see if you live up to each others’ expectations.
  • Authenticity is disarming. Interviewers are humans, that are hiring humans. You need to be relatable. If you have 105% of the qualifications, but the interviewer can’t see themselves working with you, you’re not getting the job.

  • You instill trust. When your words and your body language are consistent, you’re believable. Your confidence in yourself communicates to your interviewer that they have no reason to doubt the words coming out of your mouth.

When you believe that you’re awesome, you’re much more likely to convince your interviewer to agree.

But how?! I have two pieces of advice:

  1. Fake it until you make it.

  2. Be really nice to yourself. Treat yourself like your own best friend.

 

2. ASK. JUST ASK. 

Having lost both parents at an early age, Ginny had the very real knowledge that her ability to support herself was a matter of survival. She told me a story about one of her early job interviews that includes a lesson in it.

She moved to a new community and went up for job at a local school. The superintendent let her know that he regretfully would be unable to offer her a job. (This is where the story would end for most of us. We’d thank the superintendent for kindly considering our application and ask him to keep in touch if anything else came available. Right?)

But not for Ginny. She had done her research before arriving in this town and knew that there was a small local paper. So, she asked the superintendent if he knew the managing editor and asked him to make a connection for her.

I thought this was craaazy!! This guy didn’t owe her anything! In fact, he had just given her a rejection of sorts by not extending a job offer at the school.

You know what, though? He did make that connection for her and she ended up getting that job over at the local paper. (As a little side note - it's worth mentioning that Ginny has paid this kindness forward generously throughout her career. She loves to use her personal friends and resources to help others in any way she can.)

I asked her where she got the audacity to make that first ask, and that brings us to another of Ginny’s operating principles:

 

3. PEOPLE ARE MOTIVATED BY THE ESCAPE FROM FEAR, NOT THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Ginny’s willingness to take risks didn’t come from courage (though she developed it later), she simply didn’t have another choice. She asked herself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” After losing both of her parents, the risk of getting a “no” from the superintendent when she asked for a connection was trivial.  

She was warm and likeable and created a situation where the superintendent wanted to help her. She gave him the opportunity to be generous.

Ginny found that the more risks she took, the more certain she was of her competencies, allowing her to take even more risks in the future. It’s a virtuous cycle. She also found that when she asked for things, she would get them (and then did her part to work her butt off to deliver on her promises). The result was that she became less fearful.

There are a couple of lessons that I’d like to pull out.

  1. Don’t pre-eliminate a possibility. I would venture to guess that most of us reading this would never think of making an ask like Ginny did. We are trained subtly (and directly) by our society that we shouldn’t impose on others or take up too much space. We jump to the end of the story and put ourselves in the minds of those we’re asking and make wild assumptions about what their answers may be. When we fear the answer may be “no”, we end the conversation before it even began. Ginny shows another option: be someone that people want to help, and then give them an opportunity to do so. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen?

  2. Adjust your lens. Many of us live with limiting beliefs that hold us back from living our lives to the fullest. A common limiting belief is that risk is scary and dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Did you catch that Ginny doesn’t credit courage for her risk taking? Necessity drove her to take risks, but then she noticed the results. She was attuned to the fact that her risks paid off. She allowed her worldview to shift based on her experiences. (Of course, she could have also looked for all the ways that life is dangerous and would have found plenty of evidence for that as well, but that’s no way to live.)

 

4. SEEK A FULFILLING LIFE, THE CAREER WILL FOLLOW 

As has been firmly established in this post, Ginny has had a tremendous career and achieved notable success. When I asked her about her secret, she told me that she just wanted life to be interesting.

She said, “If I had had a 5-year plan, I would have missed out on the most incredible career.”

She didn’t aim for status – she aimed for new challenges, tackling something different, not being bored, and learning opportunities. She trusted in herself that she could accomplish anything that she put her mind to, and she jumped at opportunities that came her way.

This approach has paid off for her. She has excelled in business and had incredible experiences that she cherishes.

I think the key here is that she reached. In reaching for the things that fulfilled her, she was always growing and finding new places to showcase her unique abilities.

KATICA ROY

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KATICA ROY
on gender equity, risk taking, and knowing your value

 

Katica Roy is an impressive individual.

As the daughter and sister of refugees, she fostered a deep reserve of grit, understanding the importance of always doing her best and never giving up. She leaned in throughout her career, choosing challenging roles, and rose to the position of Global VP in the Office of the CEO at a multinational enterprise software corporation. That’s a big position at a big company.

Then, she took a big leap.

She ventured out on her own to start a company to address gender inequity in the workplace. She makes a persuasive argument that we won’t achieve gender equity until we make it an economic issue. This is why she left her successful career and founded Pipeline, a company that makes software to increase financial performance of companies through operationalizing gender equity.

The data is strong that shows that diversity is good for business and that getting more women into all ranks of business improves financial outcomes. Essentially, Pipeline is software that connects to the company’s own human capital management system to “make recommendations that support improved financial performance for the organization, as well as growth for the individual”. It essentially ties gender diversity and inclusion directly to the economic outcomes for the companies that use it. A practical solution to a big problem.

(Told you she is impressive.)

Katica and I spent considerable time talking about the barriers that women face in achieving gender equity and also touched on a few other meaty topics. You’ll find my biggest takeaways below.

 

TAKEWAYS

1. GENDER EQUALITY REQUIRES STRUCTURAL SHIFTS

As a business woman still early in my career, the topic of gender equity is routinely on my mind. I have spent a lot of time researching the barriers that women face in business. Most of the articles and research I have read make a moral argument for gender equality, that it’s the right thing to push for. The trouble is, not everyone agrees (or cares), in fact, some people outright resist women’s advancement in business.

That’s why, when Katica shared her perspective that we won’t shift gender equity until we make it an economic issue, I felt the lightbulb go on. Gender equity is not just the right thing, it’s the smart thing.

And the data is strong that shows that diversity is good for business. Here are just a few tidbits to blow your mind:

There’s clearly a strong business case for increasing racial and gender diversity in our companies, but as Katica and the folks at Pipeline point out, we have to “fix the leaky pipeline”. It’s not enough to know that our businesses will benefit from diversity, we have make changes in how we hire, promote, and compensate women and minorities to reap their benefits. If we just stay our current course, It will take 168 years to reach gender equality in the US. :(

If you want to learn more about what’s getting in the way of gender equity, and some of the solutions that are bubbling up, check out the resources linked at the bottom of the page. There are a bunch of killer articles by Katica as well as the LeanIn.Org/McKinsey and World Economic Forum studies which are jam-packed with good info.

 

2. TAKE CALCULATED RISKS

Growing up in a single-parent household where the money was always tight, I developed a pretty strong aversion to risk. (It’s really hard to free-fall into uncertainty when there’s no safety net to catch you.)

I have worked for many years to get more comfortable with risk taking, but I am still blown away by people that believe in the power of their ideas and have enough fire in their bellies to go after their dreams.

Katica is one of those inspiring entrepreneurs. It took a lot of courage for her to leave her successful career at a global organization to invest time and money in creating, launching, and building Pipeline.

When I asked Katica about her thoughts on risk-taking, her responses were so good that I just started writing down everything she said, verbatim.

  • “Courage is a muscle ­­— when exercised it gets stronger.” I love this! Not only does it help you muster courage in the moment, keeping this little refrain in mind gives hope that these moments will get easier in the future.
  • “Mindfulness matters. There is a difference between how we feel and how we behave. I can feel the way I feel, but I don’t have to act on it.” Ya’ll, we don’t have to act out of fear! This reminds me of the popular saying “Feel the fear. Do it anyway.”, but goes a step further to give you a tiny roadmap for how to do what scares you. You pause. Check in with yourself. Question the fear…and then move. This approach acknowledges that jumping from fearing to doing isn’t straightforward or easy.

She also recognizes that there is a practical, tactical approach to risk-taking. “Don’t be foolhardy. Do your homework. Minimize the downside, and then jump.”  

A lot of work went into launching Pipeline. She didn’t blindly fall. If she had found that there wasn’t a market for Pipeline or that it couldn’t be done technologically, I’m sure she wouldn’t have pursued it.

Good news: you can remove a lot of the risk in risk-taking just by doing your homework.

 

3. SERVE A HIGHER PURPOSE

When I asked Katica how she manages the desire to be liked, her answer surprised me. She told me, “My value is that I’m a truth-teller. That’s not always popular, but it’s valuable.” Of course, she clarified that she is mindful to say things in such a way that the people she’s telling would be receptive. “It’s not about being nice, it’s about being effective”. It’s about identifying what the important goal is (the success of the project), and working toward that end.

She knows the value she provides in a team or an organization, which provides a higher purpose that is greater than her desire to be liked.

This reminded me of what Sarah Williamson had said to me just a few days before – that being respected is different than being liked. It’s about doing the right thing, even if it’s hard.

One final thing on this topic: I think it’s very powerful to find (and flex) the thing that provides value to your organization. But, don’t forget — you must use that power wisely.

Sure, it’s not about being nice, but being effective means that your approach needs to be appropriate for the situation. If you’re a truth-teller like Katica, then you need to make sure to read your audience and deliver your message in a way that they’ll be open to. If you’re decisive, you might need to bring others along in your decision-making process. If you’re good at predicting roadblocks, you may have to keep an open mind so that you’re not obstructionist.

You get the point.

 

HERE’S THAT BONUS MATERIAL I PROMISED:

From Katica:

LeanIn.Org/McKinsey & Company:

World Economic Forum:

SARAH WILLIAMSON

Sarah with her husband and two little girls. 

Sarah with her husband and two little girls. 

SARAH WILLIAMSON
on sponsorship, being liked, and leaning in

 

It’s always a little awkward to cold-call a complete stranger and ask them to share all their wisdom on career development with you over coffee.

Lucky for me, Sarah is exactly what you hope for – she is warm, accomplished, and incredibly generous.

She has progressed admirably through the ranks of Medtronic, a global leader in medical technology and services, where she currently serves as the Director of Strategy and Business Development for Patient Monitoring. In addition to her heavy-duty director role at Medtronic, she is also a hands-on mom to two little girls, an avid runner, and an advocate for inclusion and diversity. With all that on her plate, I was grateful that she set aside an hour on her calendar to get coffee and chat with me. (See? Super generous.)

I rarely come into these conversations with a strong idea of what I want to get out of them. I do a little research on LinkedIn and learn what I can about the companies that they work for. I ask questions that relate to what I know about them and topics that I’m interested in, but I often find that when I ask a successful person about their career and let the conversation unfold organically, the insights and takeaways tend to find me. I’m attuned to listening for the key learnings, and I always walk away enriched.

Below, you’ll find what stuck out to me from my conversation with Sarah.

 

TAKEAWAYS

1. SPONSORSHIP IS CRITICAL

A few years ago, Sarah moved into a position at Medtronic where she really excelled. She was killing it. She was an expert on her subject matter and got to travel all over the world training others and guiding their strategy and implementation. Her boss noticed her exceptional work and went to bat for her, sponsoring her for a big promotion.  

While her work spoke for itself, she was also fortunate to have a boss that saw the value she brought to the company. Because of his sponsorship, she was able to move from that individual contributor role directly into a director position – an extraordinary feat in a company as large and structured as Medtronic.

Given the importance of sponsorship in Sarah’s story, it feels worth taking a quick pause to talk about the difference between sponsorship and mentorship. Through this personal project of reaching out to accomplished women and asking them to share their insights with me, I have been lucky to collect a bunch of badass mentors that have been very generous with their rich wisdom. Their input has changed the way that I think about my career and personal development. A handful have even gone on to sponsor me in big and little ways.

The key difference between mentorship and sponsorship is that mentors advise, while sponsors put their support for you into action.

I believe that the key to finding someone to put their neck out for you requires two things: they need to know you and they need to believe in what you can do. That means doing really good work and investing in building relationships. In Sarah’s case, she did her part to do outstanding work and build trust with her boss. Because of this, he was able to see her strong work track record and believe in her enough to put the weight of his position and influence behind moving her into a more senior role.

In Sarah’s case, it was her boss that sponsored her. You won’t always be lucky enough to have a direct supervisor fight for you. But here’s the thing, sponsors come in all shapes and sizes and roles. You don’t know now who might be able to flex a little in your favor down the road. You’d do well to make sure you’re fostering relationships in your life and network.

 

2. BEING RESPECTED > BEING LIKED

Managing the desire to be liked is a topic that I’ve been trying to sort out for a while. Although it’s a very human feeling to want to be liked, it’s a complicated topic for women in business. Sheryl Sandberg shined a light on the double bind that women face in her 2013 book Lean In. She talks about the fact that if women want to be successful in business, we can’t simply be competent, we must also be likeable. When women act assertively or competitively, they are deviating from the social norms that they are expected to adhere to and then they get punished for not being gentle, nurturing, or collaborative enough. Men don’t face the same consequences when their peers and subordinates don’t see them as warm and friendly. The stakes are high for women in business. (It’s not fair...I know.)  

With this in mind, I asked Sarah about her thoughts on battling the desire to be liked. Her answer was surprisingly profound for its simplicity:

Being liked is different than being respected.”

This was the answer that I didn’t know I was looking for!

It’s impossible to make everyone happy all the time, especially when you’re trying to make sh!t happen. But, Sarah opened my mind to consider that being liked may be the wrong target. This revelation reminded me of a conversation I had with the CEO of Oregon Food Bank, Susannah Morgan, who always asks herself and her team “What is this in service of?”. It’s a unifying question that gets people outside of their own biases, agendas, and egos and clarifies that the decisions being made should be in service of a shared mission.

I think we can use the same approach for our personal career development, with respect serving as the guide. Perhaps a better question for this case is, “What is my motivation?”. When the hustle for others’ approval glares its ugly head, we can use the lens of maintaining the respect of those that deserve it to help evaluate options and make the best decision…even when it isn’t popular or easy.

(Of course, this won’t make the pain when others don’t like us sting any less, but perhaps it can help us sleep a little better at night.)

 

3. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN IT’S OKAY TO NOT “LEAN IN”

As Sarah was recounting the steps she had taken in her career for me, there was a little moment that stuck out to me. There was a time in her career when she chose not to “lean in”. She had done impressive work as a 20-something, returned for her MBA, and then held a director position directly out of grad school. She started building a family and with the arrival of her second child, her life was full. While she still made a strong contribution at work, she took her foot off the throttle a bit realizing that it wasn’t the right time to be asking to be assigned to extra, challenging projects or take on loads more responsibility. When life settled down some, she leaned back in and moved on to greater challenges.

This stuck out to me because ever since Lean In, business women have been focusing on their ambitions and challenging each other to take on more responsibility at work. This societal change in discourse around gender and business makes it a really exciting and hopeful time for women to expand their roles and responsibilities at work.

It’s also a heavy lift.

Many of the high-achieving women I know have felt charged with the task of leaning in, not just for our own career advancement, but also to support the greater community of women in the workplace. Sarah shows us that we can take a more nuanced approach to our career development and see it in the context of our whole lives.

There will be times in our lives when the leaning can (or should) be in another direction. A lot of us ambitious women gain a lot of meaning and personal satisfaction from the work that we do. It’s so easy for that to consume all of our energy. It’s important to recognize that there may be times in my life when our families or friends or personal development require us to pull back a bit and just manage what we have currently on our plates, resisting the pressure to reach for the next big challenge.

We need give ourselves permission to do that. Leaning in will be there for us when we want to get back to it.   

BONUS: VIDEO

Sarah was chosen by CU - Boulder to highlight how incredible the graduates of the Leeds School of Business are. See her in action, kicking butt at work and home.