Eyes Up @ Darden #2 – Strategy, Self Awareness and 27 women – 27 opinions!

I’m writing another entry again today as I fear tomorrow night the pressure of the business simulation may take over!  What a day we had today…. it is so long (23 years to be exact) since I sat in a purely academic environment and just soaked it up without being under a particular company banner.  Even though the subject matter is directly related to my day to day life, it feels slightly liberating and a little bit self indulgent at the same time.  But more later about female guilt and inferiority complexes…

When you put 27 diverse women in a room even for an hour, you’re always going to have some interesting times… and we’re certainly on a voyage of discovery.  There are people here from industry, government agencies, the military, hospitality and of course finance – to name a few – and they come from legal, accounting, marketing, operations and many other disciplines.  Add to this they have come from the UK, various parts of the USA, Nigeria, Turkey, Dubai and of course Australia, and you can see that despite the gender similarities, there are many differences.

The day started with a 2.5 mile power walk in the dark – it was about 7 degrees out so we needed to walk fast….. the keener exercisers ran or swam even earlier.  Then straight into a day of strategy and leadership case studies covering Taren Swam (Nickolodeon), Christine Day (Starbucks/LuluLemon) and finally words of wisdom from Sheryl Sandberg.  The learning style at Darden is interactive – there is nowhere to hide in the room.  Each Professor teaching showed accomplished presentation skills and challenged us to respond and comment on the written material and further questioning.  It was amazing how many different views there were on each of these well known leaders – particularly when we were asked if we would like to work with these people ourselves, or what the message/story was that was being told.  There were some very strong views and considerable emotion in the room on several points.

With 27 women in the room, sometimes it felt like there were 27 opinions… I was left wondering how the discussion would have been with an equal representation of men in the room.  It seemed as if every point made could be applied equally to men in certain circumstances, and some members of the group alluded to this being  the case in their areas of expertise where men frequently take a back seat.  But I think we’ve all felt the female imposter syndrome at some point plus a healthy dose of parent guilt for those of us who have been working mothers.

My main takeaway was that we need to be very careful how we judge, as without self awareness of our own natural and often unconscious bias, we may be too quick to interpret words, actions and appearances, and our emotions may take over our ability to walk in the other person’s shoes and see their point of view.

In case I don’t post again for a couple of days, I thoroughly recommend this TED talk to you all – especially if you’re a parent.  It’s about creating a growth mindset to encourage learning and change awareness, and is beautifully presented by Eduardo Brinceno: www.youtube.com/watch?v=pN34FNbOKXc

I’ll leave you with my favourite quote of the day from the Professor who presented to us on Strategy:

“Strategy is the MSG of the Business world” – nicely put!!

Eyes Up @ Darden – #1 – the honeymoon is over!

Welcome to the first special edition of Eyes Up – coming to you as I attend the Women’s Leadership Program at the Darden Business School, University of Virginia – yes that is in the USA!  I was fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship by the Women in Banking and Finance (WiBF) organisation and TurksLegal in Sydney to attend this well renowned program this year, so for the next week this blog will share my progress and thoughts during the course.

The honeymoon really is over as this trip gave my new husband Mark and I the opportunity to spend a beautiful 6 days holidaying in New York – a place neither of us have visited for some time.  It really has come a long way – last time I was there, anywhere below 42nd St was a no go zone for tourists.  We had a great time seeing the sights, catching up with some old friends of Mark’s, eating, drinking and of course shopping… good job I left some space in my bags when I left Australia – thanks to 25% off at DvF yesterday, I should now be the best dressed person on this course!

I’ve just arrived in Charlottesville to a chilling but sunny autumn day – the guy at the airport apologising profusely as I had to wait a whole 15 minutes for a cab …. he has obviously never been to Sydney Airport. Was I supposed to tip him?  Never quite sure here.. The countryside is rolling green hills and paddocks around here and everyone seems relaxed – everyone except the other attendee for the course I met at reception – we both exchanged names quickly then muttered quietly “Please tell me you haven’t done ALL the reading yet…”  Sighs of relief all round as we both realised that everyone is probably in the same boat given the mountain of pre-work and assignments that arrived just as I went on vacation – I’m blaming the dodgy hotel internet connection for my slackness but the tequila may have had a say in that too.

Tonight’s welcome dinner starts soon – we have to present our 40 character “Tweet” saying what we want to get out of the program.  The only time I tweet is when I post a link to this blog so I had a practice go last week – it appears even my typical text messages go for longer than 140 characters!  After some thought (and another Martini) I came up with this:

My #bigbreak when & how? #untappedpotential #needsponsors

This was actually a challenging exercise – the pre work has involved watching Sheryl Sandberg’s well known address from 2013 again (http://www.hbs.edu/about/video.aspx?v=1_u93gc4ho if you haven’t seen it) – I’m having to face the fear of looking like an idiot in even coming up with the tweet!

The other confronting piece of pre-work was a best self exercise.  This involved asking a large circle of family, friends and work colleagues to give up to 3 examples of when they’ve seen me at their best and what traits they admired.  I had to write my own version first then interweave themes from the feedback in the final version – very hard to look at yourself that way, it would be much easier to ask what I did badly!  But extremely rewarding to get the feedback and realise that some things I thought people never noticed, they actually did.

So here I go off to make friends with the other attendees  – who are probably also sitting in their rooms right now desperately reading up for tomorrow…I’ll keep you posted as time allows…. wish me luck and let’s hope I can keep my Eyes Up!!

Eyes Up #3 – Life is like a box of chocolates…..

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If you’ve seen the movie Forrest Gump, you’ll smile as you remember the line “My Momma always said, Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

As a control freak, my advice would be “look at the inside of the lid Forrest, you’ll see exactly what you’re getting, no surprises”.  My rational side says don’t take the risk, do your research, consider your choice, look for your favourite first, and so on.

But this approach, whilst “safe”, misses the mark – unless you have a serious food allergy, ANY chocolate is a fabulous treat – and there is the chance you may be surprised by trying something new and finding you really love it.

At some time in our lives, it seems most of us stop taking risks and stick to what we know and are comfortable with.  Of course, I’ve encouraged my kids to “try things” when I’ve considered it appropriate – try this fish, or a different vegetable, a new sport or a new musical instrument; their privileged upbringing allows them many opportunities.  It’s easy to discuss how stepping outside our comfort zone – just a little – has benefits at home and work.  But what happens when life serves up things we didn’t plan for and can’t control?  Serious illness, accidents, redundancies, relationship breakdowns, financial problems.  These things have not been packaged up and delivered with a bow from Cadbury online; they happen to ordinary people we all know each and every day, often out of the blue.

This is the point where I think Momma Gump has it right.  Life is unpredictable; you can plan and try to control what you can, but as Forrest’s story shows, eventually amazing things can happen as a result of even tragic events.  In my case, the movie wasn’t enough – when crisis hit me hard I needed several well qualified medical practitioners, some medication and some very good friends to get my mind to realise the glass is ALWAYS half full.  But once that realisation really hit home, it has become incredibly powerful in all areas of my life.

Growing up in England I was hardly a water baby – once living in Sydney, I was at best suspicious of the surf – by no means comfortable in the water.  But my newly liberated, post medicated self was persuaded a few years ago to take up the challenge to try surfing.  Totally ridiculous you might think – but that first day getting pounded in the white water unleashed a previously hidden surf chick, and struggling bruised (and bleeding!) from the shallows that first day I had unexpectedly found a new passion.

If you’d told me even 5 years ago what my life would look like today, I would have chuckled politely, rolled my eyes and shown you to the door.  Sure, I’ve been to some dark places, and challenges exist very day – but life is surprising, delightful and full of unexpected joy – largely because I no longer look at the inside of the chocolate box lid, I keep my eyes up and just dive on in.