Category Archives: Blog

Why It Is Important to Take Vacation

fete de la musique
Musicians play on the streets of Paris at Fete de la Musique
coupe de monde
World Cup fans outside my window at 2:00 a.m.

By Joanie Connell

Taking two weeks off in itself is a great way to gain perspective on life. Traveling to another country is even better. I just returned from two weeks in Paris. During those two weeks I experienced a very different way of life. I was kept up till all hours of the night by the Fête de la Musique, an all-night music festival that takes place on the streets of Paris. I lost sleep because the fans of the World Cup celebrated on the streets too, by driving around with their horns on at 2:00 in the morning. During daylight hours, I was slowed down by traffic that was gridlocked due to protest marches and demonstrations and by strikes that delayed trains and planes coming in and out of Paris

None of that bothered me. Rather, I found it curiously intriguing. What bothered me–at least at first–was spending over a week without WiFi. The router in our apartment broke and the landlord didn’t seem to understand the urgency around fixing it promptly. I was planning to work while on vacation and was shut down. Public WiFi was no option. In France, free WiFi tends to be so slow it is unusable except for email—another curiosity. The French just don’t seem to have the same need for speed that Americans do.

What was I to do? Well, how about enjoy my vacation! I gave up worrying about work. I didn’t blog for two weeks. I stayed off Face Book and I hardly emailed. Rather, I immersed myself into French culture and leisure.

A funny thing happened. In more than one conversation, French people asked me why I was only on vacation for two weeks. They asked what else I would do during the summer for the rest of my vacation. I kept having to explain that this was my summer vacation and that I would be returning to work when I got home and that I was fortunate to be able to travel for two weeks because many Americans don’t have that kind of time. Now it was their turn to find my culture curiously intriguing.

Even if we only have 2 weeks of vacation per year, as compared to their typical 2 months of vacation, it makes all the difference in the world to get away from work for a while. It gives you perspective. Realizing that you’re dispensable, that the daily crisis at work really isn’t urgent or earth shattering, and that life has so much more to offer than work is truly important. Taking vacation helps to broaden your perspective and refocus your priorities in life.

As a consultant, I get an external perspective of companies. More often than not, I feel the office tension as I walk in. I see the desperate looks on executives’ faces as they try to do what they think the president wants. If the president decides he/she wants X, the executives send their teams into a frenzy to deliver X2. The executives advise me on what words to use or not use to appeal to the president’s idiosyncrasies. They demand that I turn in work proposals immediately and be available to perform without delay. They expect me to work after hours and on weekends like they do. I’ve learned my lesson because, when I do, they change their minds or the president isn’t available to look at it or the project gets canceled or something like that. We have all rushed around with elevated heart rates and stress levels for no real reason.

vacationEvery time I return from vacation, I gain perspective and vow not to get sucked into this lifestyle when I return. Sometimes I succeed. If more of us took time out to relax and gain perspective, we would probably be much less stressed at work. I highly recommend giving it a try. If anything, you’ll be less stressed for a while. If it catches on, we might make the workplace a better place for all of us.

Why Trust?

By Joanie Connell

handshakeThere are many reasons to distrust people, but what are some reasons to trust them? The biggest reason to trust people is because we are more productive when we cooperate.  This is true at the individual level, the team level, the organization level, and at the societal level. Humans are a social species; we are designed to live in groups, share responsibilities, and exchange goods and services with each other. We can’t do it all on our own. We do better when we build trusting relationships with others.

In terms of organizational language, the gains from trust can far outweigh the savings from distrust. Organizations need leaders who are transparent to increase innovation and share information responsibly. In today’s on-line world, employees can leak private information to anyone with simply a keystroke. Leaders need to be open, honest, and responsible with information and they need to be able to trust their employees to do the same.

Research on trust shows that trust predicts many desirable outcomes for organizations. At the employee level, increased trust corresponds with increased levels of job performance, prosocial behavior, organizational commitment, and commitment to a leader’s decisions. At the company level, higher levels of trust correspond to greater organizational performance, profitability, and customer satisfaction.

Even at the most basic level, trust is desirable because it can lead to better health. Think about it. When you trust and cooperate with people, you are less stressed than when you are worried about every little detail that others are handling and whether they are trying to stab you in the back. If something goes wrong, you trust that you can handle it. Isn’t that a better way to live?

Women: Increase Your Presence in Meetings

Lessowoman running meetingns from “Managing Yourself: Women, Find Your Voice” by Kathryn Heath, Jill Flynn, and Mary Davis Holt, in the June 14 issue of Harvard Business Review.

By Joanie Connell

Last week I attended a webinar and was surprised at how useful it was. In it, Kathryn Heath summarized the findings of research she conducted with her co-authors about how women can increase their presence in meetings. A few key messages stood out to me as new and important and I’d like to share them with you.

Be actively present. This means to be engaged in the discussion, not reading emails, and to actively participate and capture others’ attention. Two things can greatly improve your presence in a meeting. First, be concise. To be concise, it helps to prepare statements in advance and practice them. Yes, that means actually rehearse what you are going to say. Women, more than men, tend to begin statements with preambles and qualifiers. Ditch the preambles and go straight for the message. You can qualify it later. Strong (sometimes blanket) statements grab people’s attention.

Make powerful statements that have a strong point of view. These statements also come out of the preparation piece. To know where you stand on an issue requires you to know what the important issues are, do your research on which position you ought to take and to know where others stand before you enter the meeting.

Being actively present also requires you to insert yourself into the discussion. I say “insert yourself” very deliberately because it is critical for you to take responsibility for being heard. Don’t wait around for others to ask you your opinion or wait around for you to get to your opinion when you are not concise. Don’t shut down when others interrupt you. The best advice I heard from Heath was: “Don’t let yourself be interrupted.” This message came from the men she interviewed. Have you ever watched men have a heated discussion? They interrupt each other, talk over each other, and talk louder and louder until they are heard. Don’t be afraid to “enter the ring” and engage in the competition for the floor.

Strategy helps. It’s not only about being the loudest or most aggressive. Timing is key. Be actively engaged by watching the conversation intensively. To use a sports metaphor, think of playing basketball or soccer and watching the ball intensively to jump in and steal the ball at just the right time. You are watching the person’s moves, anticipating where they are going and who they are going to pass the ball to.

The same strategy works in meetings. Make transformational statements and ask transformational questions at opportune moments to “steal” control of the conversation and take it in a new direction.

Heath and her co-authors offer more valuable advice, like ask for feedback and don’t ruminate over failed attempts in meetings. Prepare, practice, and persevere. It takes time to improve at anything. Keep at it until you feel that you are getting the results that you want.

One question that Heath did not address: What does it mean to be successful in meetings? Depending on the context, it could be to win, to have influence over a decision, or to help the team come up with the best solution possible. I would add to Heath’s advice that it is important to keep your goal in mind and not dominate the meeting purely for the sake of having a presence. This can alienate people, not get them on your side. Heath’s techniques can help you advance the team’s best interests if used for that purpose. After all, a good leader does, in fact, work for the team.

###

Special thanks to Becky Robinson of Weaving Influence for putting together this webinar and inviting me to attend.

Two Effective Ways to Give Feedback

By Joanie Connell

feedbackGiving feedback is a critical component of leadership. To develop your followers, you need to let them know how they can improve. Feedback should be specific and timely and, most importantly, constructive. Here are two models for delivering feedback that I use. They have both proven to be very effective.

Behavior-Impact-Behavior (BIB) Model:

I find the Behavior-Impact-Behavior (BIB) model to be the most effective. However, it is pretty direct and some situations may call for a softer approach. That’s when the Sandwich model is a good choice. You can also sandwich the BIB model inside positive feedback to use a combined BIB-Sandwich approach.

Behavior-Impact-Behavior Model (BIB)
 Example:
Behavior When you don’t respond to an email message quickly,
Impact of Behavior I assume you don’t care and I lose trust in you.
New Behavior If you reply, even to say you’ll get back to me later,
Impact of New Behavior I trust that you will respond when you are able.

The BIB model is effective because it lets the person understand how their behavior is being received by others. Often, people don’t realize how their behavior is received. They may assume that people receive their actions exactly the way they intend them to or be clueless in how their nonverbal cues contradict their verbal ones. For example, when someone says “I’m listening” as they are reading emails on their phone, the other person may feel brushed off. If the person says, “I feel like I’m not important when you read emails while I am talking to you,” it alerts the person to the impact of their behavior. If you give the person an alternative behavior with a positive impact, it helps redirect them to a pleasing result. For example, you could say, “when you put down your phone and make eye contact with me, it makes me feel like you really care about what I am saying.”

Sandwich Model:

I use the Sandwich model a lot, especially when giving feedback tofeedback 2 Millennials. Younger people, in general, may be more sensitive to feedback because they don’t have years of experience to fall back on. Millennials, as a generation, are more sensitive to negative feedback because they have been brought up in an era where there is an emphasis on raising self-esteem. Thus, they are more accustomed to positive feedback than direct, honest feedback. Sandwiching is reassuring to them yet gives them the opportunity to receive constructive criticism.

Sandwich Model: Positive-Negative-Positive
Example:
Positive I appreciate how much effort you have put into this project. Your energy and commitment are impressive.
Negative I am concerned that you aren’t as focused as you need to be. I’d like to work with you to help you focus your efforts in a single direction so that your efforts will have greater impact.
Positive For example, you came up with an excellent solution to the marketing problem.   Let’s work on getting the Marketing Department on board with it.

The Sandwich model not only makes the feedback easier to take, it makes it easier to give too. If you are uncomfortable giving people negative feedback, the Sandwich model is for you. You can both start and end on a positive note. I recommend that you write out your feedback (at least in bullet points) before you give it as you start out. That way, you have a plan and you know where you need to go with it. Having a positive point to end on helps you get through the middle part.

Another way to help feedback go more smoothly is to frame it ahead of time so the recipient knows that something is coming their way. You can say “I need to talk to you about something” or “I need to give feedback 3you some feedback on the project you’re working on” or “let’s have a one-on-one to discuss your progress on the project” or something like that. These phrases tend to alert the person that something is up. You can also add “you’re doing a good job, but I need to give you some feedback (or direction) to help you move forward.” This is adding the positive to the framing to let the person know they’re not getting fired or anything. It’s just a little feedback.

Should You Spend Less on College?

money stackBy Joanie Connell

Parents and students beware! Don’t get suckered into taking out unaffordable college loans because you think you have to. You don’t.

The problem with financial models is they assume people make rational decisions. There’s nothing rational about overspending. People overspend for emotional and psychological reasons, not rational ones.

We overspend because…anxiety

  • We feel anxious: we need to keep up with the Joneses, we feel insecure about our abilities, looks, or status. (Salespeople prey on people’s anxieties to sell them things. See techniques used and a sales example.)
  • We want something really badly: we see a beautiful house and we have an overwhelming desire to own it. (Salespeople also create customer desire to sell. See techniques used and a sales example.)
  • We think we deserve it: we feel entitled to go to a good college because we are a member of a certain group or because we have worked hard to get good grades.
  • We invoke psychological defense mechanisms to believe we can afford what we are buying: we deny that interest rates will go up, we rationalize the luxury car is necessary to impress clients.

There are many more irrational reasons for overspending, but the point is we need to stop doing it.

OVERSPENDING ON COLLEGEgraduates

“Too many degrees are a waste of money. The return on higher education would be much better if college were cheaper.”

One of the biggest problems in our nation right now is that young people are overstretched with costly student loans and it’s limiting their ability to live independently. Financial analysts have shown that, for many people, the investment in college has a negative return. (See The Economist and The Wall Street Journal for recent articles). Why are people spending so much on college then?

“Four in 10 college graduates, according to a recent Gallup study, wind up in jobs that don’t require a college degree.”

Frankly, I think the biggest reason why young graduates are in great debt is because they thought they had to go to the college they chose to get a good job. This is driven by anxiety—the fear of not being attractive in a highly competitive job market. Evidence shows that expensive college degrees are not necessary for most jobs. Check out the College Planner for more on this and for advice.

“A study by the Harvard Business Review found that almost half of the top executives at Fortune 100 companies did not go to prestigious schools.”

Prestige is another driver for choosing a college. I think that parents are the main contributors to the prestige factor because it makes them feel more successful as parents to have their children go to more prestigious colleges. The Boston Globe reports on how parents are using Face Book as a bragging platform to boast about their children’s college acceptances.  Here is a great blog from the Huffington Post for all you parents out there who are doing this.

The Huffington Post provides a “ranking of the public colleges with the highest return on investment.”

Entitlement is another major factor. A high school student told me she wouldn’t consider going to the local state college, as she literally turned up her nose. I was confused because it was a good school at an even better price and her family had only modest means. She chose to go to a state college in a neighboring state and pay out-of-state fees instead. She also moved back home after graduating, burdened with large student loans.

These are all psychological reasons for choosing colleges that may turn an otherwise practical decision to an impractical one.

OVERSPENDING ON LIFESTYLEmoney roll

Student loans aren’t the only factor contributing to young people’s financial problems. The new grads feel entitled to a high standard of living right out of college. I have been surprised at how many 20-somethings I know who have lived in their own apartments, walking distance from the beach here in costly San Diego. Some of them have moved back home because they say the cost of living is too high for them to afford. Well, of course it is if you expect to have an apartment next to the beach! Seriously, who can afford that?

What are reasonable expectations for a standard of living for a recent college graduate? A used car, an apartment with roommates and mismatched, self-assembled furniture in a rundown part of town would seem like a start. It takes time to earn money and save up to buy furnishings, piece by piece, and eventually make enough money to rent a nicer apartment or get a nicer car (emphasis on “or”). It’s not reasonable to expect to have all this right out of college, especially if you have loans to pay. It’s also part of the experience and the fun of being young.

All of the issues here are affected by the economy and demographics as well as psychological factors. Yes, it is more competitive to get into college these days and there is higher unemployment than at some times in our history. The standard of living has also increased so we should expect to have a higher standard of living than at previous times in history. Yet, young people are still financially overstretched and they don’t have to be. We don’t have control over all of these factors.  Yet we can take control of the psychological factors if we are aware and deliberately make practical choices.

Be wise. Make a practical decision on where to go to college. You will be thankful later.

Flexible Work Improves Employee Engagement

By Joanie Connell

surprisedA scary trend is emerging for companies to ban flexible work. Don’t do it. As explained in last week’s post about following along the fads without thinking, this is a bad idea.

The workplace is changing whether we like it or not. That is a constant. The workplace isn’t like it was and it won’t be like it is. The workplace requires our flexibility to keep up.

Why is this important? Because flexible work is inherent in today’s workplace. Some companies are trying to fight it, like Yahoo and Oracle, who have both recently implemented policies that ban working from home during business hours. This is a huge mistake.

working at homeWorkplace flexibility increases employee engagement. According to a recent Gallup study, remote workers are more engaged than on-site employees, and they work more hours too. The study found that a blend of working remotely and working on-site produces the greatest amount of employee engagement.

Those who spend less than 20% of their time working remotely are the most engaged… These employees likely enjoy an ideal balance of both worlds — the opportunities for collaboration and camaraderie with coworkers at the office and the relative sense of freedom that comes from working remotely… [T]hose who spend more than half of their time or all of their time working remotely have similar engagement to employees who do not work remotely.

On a more intuitive level, think about how the flexibility to work remotely has helped you and your organization. For example, how many people call in sick anymore? More often, they work at home when they are sick instead of taking the day off. Keeping the germs out of the office saves the whole team from getting it. People also increasingly work while on vacation. I don’t advocate this practice in general because I firmly believe that people need to take breaks, but if they are managing to balance their lives in this way, I support them.

When I was a professor and I had a baby, I made a point to spend time with my baby during the day when I could and work in the evenings and on weekends preparing my classes. Instead of 9-5, 5 days a week, I worked 7 days a week at various times. It was a great solution for me at the time and I was very effective at work. For example, my students loved it that I responded to their emails at night and on Saturday.

Now that my daughter is older, I still work flexibly but do other things, like exercise or meet a friend for coffee during the day. I still spread my work around at night and over the weekend because that suits me well. I mention this to make the point that flexibility is not only about family. People take advantage of flexible work to do many things, like go to the doctor’s and participate in hobbies. In San Diego, surfing is a way of life and there are numerous professionals who structure their work hours around the waves. I don’t know how good these folks are at surfing, but the ones I know are very effective at work.

Even if companies fight it, workplace flexibility is not going to go away. Technology has made it possible, global companies require it, and younger generations of workers expect it. Companies typically have two concerns about flexible work: (1) lack of control and (2) difficulty establishing a company culture. Both of these obstacles can be overcome with modern methods of managing and leading people. What these companies need to learn is that the workplace requires flexibility to keep up.  It’s better to embrace it than to fight it.

Stop and Think

by Joanie Connell

stop and thinkThe downside of operating at lightning speed is that we don’t have time to reflect on what we’re doing. We respond to challenges with knee-jerk reactions and leap onto the bandwagon without ever stopping to question whether this is the right way to go. We think it is right because everybody else is doing it and we don’t want to get left behind.

In today’s world, we are all under an enormous amount of pressure to do things quickly. We need to keep up with minute-by-minute stock prices, what is “trending now” on social media, whose kid is participating in the most extra-curriculars, which traffic lane is going the fastest, and what emails are already stacked up in our inboxes. It’s exhausting! Yet, we don’t stop. We keep running faster and faster, managing more and more information.overwhelmed

Ironically, the need for speed is slowing us down. Really. It. Is.

How could that possibly be? It is because we aren’t taking time to stop and think. When we run at full speed, we make careless mistakes. When we do too many things at once, we make haphazard decisions. When we feel pressure to keep up, we mindlessly follow the pack. If we don’t take time to stop and think, we may end up losing the race—remember the tortoise and the hare—and trampling others along the way.

CARELESS MISTAKES

Typos, bugs, and safety recalls are often caused by careless mistakes. We are racing to meet deadlines, under pressure to get torace car print or to market quickly, and we work fast without checking it over. Careless mistakes cost us time and money. For example, the most common reason for the IRS to reject an income tax return is because of a careless mistake, like the person forgot to sign the form. A rejection is usually accompanied by a fine. Thus, slowing down to proofread your tax form could speed things up and save you money.

As much as we like to think that we are good at multitasking, the evidence is to the contrary, especially when it comes to complex tasks. Of course, doing a load of laundry while you are washing the dishes is fairly benign (unless you forget about the laundry). Texting while driving is not. At work, we read email during meetings and wonder why our meetings are so ineffective. At home, we do our homework while instant messaging. It’s hard to concentrate on more than one thing at a time. You can shift back and forth, but even then you may lose time reintegrating yourself into each task. Often, completing a task before you move to another can save you time.

CROWD MENTALITY

Much of our world is online and crowd driven. Add time pressures to the mix and we end up with impulsive, irrational decisions that are made carelessly, without contemplation. Stock market crashes, fads, and riots are caused by a crowd mentality. We lose ourselves in the presence of a crowd. It’s called “deindividuation” in social crowdpsychological terms. When we get caught up in the excitement and momentum of a crowd, we lose our judgment and do things we wouldn’t normally do on our own. Riots after sporting events are a good example. Most sports fans would not smash car windows and set fire to things on their own, but when they get caught up in the post-game fury of a stadium full of fans, they can find themselves doing extreme things. The same is true in business.

Online interactions have a similar effect. People deindividuate when they are online. For example we’ve all seen people post comments on blogs or send emails that they would never say in person. We feel less personally accountable online, similar to when we are in a crowd. And what are we doing online? Creating crowds! People these days define their value by their numbers of followers, friends, likes and retweets. The news reports on what is “trending now” on social media to acknowledge what the largest numbers of people are doing and saying. It may be “trending” but it doesn’t mean it is a good idea.

SOCIAL COMPARISON

People feel better about themselves when they are better than someone else. When you get a B on a test, you feel better when you find out someone else got a C. Social comparison is a way to feel better about yourself by thinking or saying negative things about other people. Gossiping is the quintessential example.

The flip side of putting others down to make ourselves feel good is to compete with others to do better. To feel good, we want to outdo our neighbors, coworkers, classmates, FB friends, and Tcompetitionwitter followers. For example, if my friend is taking 4 AP classes, I should take 5. If the competitor is decreasing costs by 5%, we should decrease by 10%. If my coworker works 10 hours a day, I should work 12. If my teammate runs 12 miles a day, I should run 15. This also manifests with opinions and positions. If others in my political party are moderately liberal/conservative, I will be more liberal/conservative to show I am better or more committed to the group. After enough people do that, the party is broadcasting extremist statements. This is called “group polarization.” We all know what calamities that can lead to.

It’s tpauseime to stop and think.

It’s time to slow down and check our work to avoid careless mistakes. It’s time to pause and make well thought-out decisions to make sure we are doing what we want to do. It’s time to question the crowd to see if it is going in a direction we think is valuable for us to follow. The cost of not thinking is far greater.

Do Differences between Generations Matter?

 by Joanie Connell

diversityDifferences between Generations

Now, more than ever, people are talking about how different the generations are in the workplace. Skeptics wonder: are they different? Aren’t we all just people in the workplace? What’s the big deal about generations? The answers are: yes and yes, and it’s not a big deal but it is something to be aware of. Yes, we are all just people and we differ along a number of dimensions, the generation in which we were born being one of them.

There are two major reasons why generations differ. First, people of different generations are different ages and people change as they mature.   A parent of four has different needs and values than a college intern, for example. Second, people of different generations grow up in different times. My grandmother grew up during the Great Depression and wouldn’t dream of throwing away a piece of aluminum foil (which used to be tin foil). My daughter is growing up in an age where breakfast is a candy bar and is enclosed in a disposable wrapper. People’s values change alongside the advances in technology and shifts in affluence, among other things.

What Differentiates the Generations?

The environment in which people grow up is partially responsible for who they become. Beyond the basic factors, such as food and shelter, attitudes and important events, such as 911 and WWII, influence people’s outlooks on life and their way of being. A generation shares the experience of growing up during certain events and is influenced by the prevailing attitudes of their caretakers. Obviously, individuals within a generation may react differently to the same events, but overall, a person’s generation can be a group to which he or she belongs. Understanding differences—and similarities—between groups can help the groups appreciate each other’s perspectives. The table below outlines the key factors that influenced each generation. Knowing that the Silents grew up during the Great Depression, for example, can help Baby Boomers and Millennials, who grew up in more affluent times, understand why they approach money matters differently.

Defining Moments of Generations

Generations in the Workplace

My great grandmother told me stories of going out on dates in horse drawn carriages. My daughter doesn’t know how to open a car window without pressing a button. These two people never met, but I have interacted with both of them. I have gotten wisdom from both of them. One taught me patience, while the other taught me to stop and smell the roses—literally! Similarly, at work, we can all learn from each other even though it may require a higher level of understanding.

Millennials: The New Generation

Millennials, the newest generation at work, have gotten a lot of attention. They are noticeably different from the other generations in the workplace. Of course, some of this has to do with their youth. Younger people tend to be more idealistic, full of energy, and confident of their immortality than older people. They tend to have fewer responsibilities and are less concerned about planning for the future than perhaps they ought to be. On average, the previous generations were that way too. It’s part of the adult development process. Some of the attention the Millennials have gotten is due to their youth, but there is more than just that.

Look at the differences in the defining moments of the Millennials compared to other generations. For example, look at parental advocacy vs. latchkey vs. discipline. Kids in these different generations grow up with much different perspectives by the parenting styles alone. Latchkey kids grow up having to fend for themselves and, as such, are much more independent in their work styles. Disciplined children grow up with respect for hierarchy. Children who are advocated for grow up more dependent on others to solve their problems for them and less respectful of hierarchy. Understanding how people come to the office with different perspectives and expectations helps people work together. It can also help people appreciate alternative viewpoints.

Generations Working Together

The four generations in the workplace today provide diversity in their approaches to work. They also provide diversity in perspectives and experiences that can be of great use in developing products, innovating, and thoroughly considering alternatives. As with all forms of diversity, appreciating differences is important to working together. But understanding what is behind the differences brings collaborative relationships to a deeper level. Stay tuned for more on generational differences to help you leverage the generational diversity in your workplace.

To Women in Business: Lessons from Female Heavy Metal Singers

By Joanie Connell and John Thornburgh

Letangry women’s face it: women in the workplace aren’t exactly known for supporting each other.

Rosa Brooks exemplifies this with her recent Washington Post op-ed piece titled “Recline, don’t ‘Lean In’ (Why I hate Sheryl Sandberg).” In the op-ed, Brooks attacks Sandberg’s “meticulously coiffed hair,” among other things. Can you imagine a man writing a piece like this? While Brooks’ article raises many points worthy of consideration, it’s unfortunate that she preyed on the stereotype of women cat-fighting to grab the attention of the media. The documentary film Miss Representation captures many more examples of how women tear down other women in the workplace and the media.

Research supports the notion that women don’t support women at work. For example, the 2014 Survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute found that women who bully target other women 68% of the time, whereas men who bully tend to target both men and women more equally (43% and 57%, respectively). “Why do mature, normally reasonable women do this to each other?” Asks Lisa Quast in her recent Forbes article. Good question! Quest offers many reasons, as does Amy Tennery in her recent article in Time. Competitive threat, stereotype threat, lack of training in team sports, and tokenism in a male dominated business world are a few explanations given.

Alice Eagly and Linda Carli, in their thoroughly researchedwoman with man at work book, Through the Labyrinth, explain that women have to be assertive yet feminine and work their way up the ladder in a more subtle, convoluted way than men. If women act like men, they are perceived as “bitches” (our word not theirs). That is a fate worse than death to any aspiring business woman. It doesn’t have to be this way though and women heavy metal singers are proving it.

You don’t have to be a fan of heavy metal music to recognize that it is the epitome of a male dominated culture. The “good old boys” consist of Aerosmith, Metallica, Van Halen, Scorpions, and Black Sabbath, to Kissname a few. They are a menacing, shrieking, growling, aggressive bunch, and metal fans aren’t known for being particularly feminist. Discussion boards on metal sites such as Blabbermouth.net are filled with misogynistic comments about how women don’t belong, and when one leading female-fronted band opened for Metallica in France, the audience booed as soon as the band took the stage. Record labels haven’t always helped either. For example, Delain singer (and Gender Studies graduate student) Charlotte Wessels had to fight efforts by her previous label to Photoshop her legs.

How have women broken into the male-dominated metal culture? If you aren’t a fan of heavy metal music, you might be surprised to know that there is a strong feminine presence developing. If you are an American (metal fan or not), you may be particularly unaware of this trend. That is because it’s largely a European trend. (Coincidentally, European business women are faring better than American ones too. What’s up, America?)

Women in business could learn a thing or two from women in metal. They know how to support each other and break into a male-dominated business.

What are female heavy metal singers doing that gets them ahead? First of all, they are not afraid to be themselves—feminine and beautiful and a stark contrast to the male singers. Secondly, they are notoriously supportive of each other. For example, established women metal singers regularly collaborate with up-and-coming artists they like, helping them to grab the spotlight. For example, Amy Lee of Evanescence performed with up-and-comer Lzzy Hale of Halestorm several times recently while they were on tour together. This helped promote Halestorm’s breakthrough. Lee explained: “It’s cool to have another female on the road. Not just because it inspires me musically—because it does—it makes me feel this sort of pride and ‘yeah, go get’em’ when I see a chick rocking.”

women metal supporting each other clippedHighly successful women metal singers, far from being divas who want all the glory for themselves, also regularly collaborate on each other’s albums. This delights fans and is a win-win for the artists. For example, Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish) appeared with Sharon den Adel on Within Temptation’s latest album. In the “making of” video, Sharon relays that the media had been pitting the two singers against each other for years and asking the two of them to comment on each other, even though they had never met. When they finally did meet for this endeavor, they clicked instantly and sang a beautiful duet together.

Women in metal are also highly supportive of each other online. They promote each other’s work on Facebook, and for a time even had an official support network called Eve’s Apple with over forty members worldwide. This group Eve's Apple at MFVFrecently declared “mission accomplished” and ended its formal role, but the members remain sisters who look out for each other and advise each other about the music business. One of Eve’s Apple’s leaders, VK Lynne, explains “in the media today, competition between women is very pervasive. It’s not just talked about. It’s fostered, and it’s supported, and it’s encouraged. And at Eve’s Apple, we believe that not only is that not healthy but we simply don’t want it and so we won’t do it.” There’s nothing stopping women in the more traditional workplace from doing the same.

It’s okay to be different from men and sometimes it’s even better.

What if women business leaders started just being themselves instead of tirelessly tight-roping across the line between masculine assertiveness and feminine modesty? There is diverse meetingalready research out there that shows companies with gender-diverse management boards perform better. What if women were valued for being women in the world of business? If women supported women, there might be enough women leaders to make that happen. Female heavy metal singers have; they are definitely not like men and no one wants them to be.

Share the spotlight with an up-and-comer.

How cool would it be if high profile women business leaders helped up-and-coming women to “grab the spotlight?” Men do that for each other. It’s called “sponsoring” someone. It’s putting your name on the woman presentingline for the other person’s success and highlighting the other person to help them get ahead. Women tend to avoid this and see more junior women as a threat. For example, as reported in Science Magazine, a recent study found that, “in academia, women collaborate less with their same-sex juniors” than men do. Women see that there are so few slots available to women in the higher echelon that they don’t want someone else to take theirs. If there were more women in the higher echelons, women wouldn’t see other women as threats because there would be room enough for everyone.

Metal women singers see other women as helping their cause, not hindering it—the more the better. As explained by French singer Clémentine Delauney, “[We] can help and protect each other instead of being rivals. … There are not a limited number of places in the scene. Jealousy is ridiculous and doesn’t help you get better.” When metal women singers sponsor other women, the only threat to them is if the women don’t do a good job. Thus, they do their best to bring the other women up, not push them down. At Eve’s Apple: “We wanted to help new singers understand the music industry and we wanted to show everybody that the female fronted rock/metal scene is not about bitch fights, gossip and diet marathons. It was the beginning of a new family and a whole new world opened up to many of us when we found out that we are not alone—and not lonely—in this business.”

Move from collaborative to collaborating.

Women are known for having a more collaborative leadership style than men, but that is not the same thing as collaborating. The collaborative leadership style is more democratic and consensus-driven than directive and authoritarian. Although women may be more collaborative, they don’t necessarily collaborate with each other.

A photo essay in BusinessWeek shows 11 business partnerships that changed the world, like Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. They are almost entirely partnerships between men and none are entirely between women. What would it look like if women leaders collaborated with each other to change the world? Women in music are leading the way. In addition to heavy metal singers, pop singers, like Britney Spears, Madonna, Mariah Carey, and Whitney Houston have made top hits by singing together. Many business initiatives exist to encourage women to collaborate with each other, particularly in science and technology. The idea is clearly out there. Let’s see more women do it.

Promote other women’s work in social media

Social media has been called a narcissist’s heaven because it is a venue to shamelessly self-promote and see yourself on screen. However, experts in social media suggest that the best way to get out there is to promote others. Metal women singers have learned this, and so can women business leaders. Some women have started. For example, Oprah promotes women and is currently supporting Lavern Chatman for congress. Lean In promotes women and offers Lean In Circles as a way of sharing and learning together. This is start, but let’s see more!

Learning from heavy metal singers is not as much of a stretch as you might think. Music is art, but it is also a business. Heavy metal female singers are making deliberate business decisions to collaborate with and support other women. As a result, female metal stars are growing in popularity, with more bands, releases, and fans each year. The Pretty Reckless (featuring ex-Cindy Lou Who, Taylor Momsen), recently topped U.S. rock radio, only the second female-fronted band rock onin the last 24 years to do so, after Halestorm last year. Both bands benefited from the support of veteran Evanescence, and both bands in turn have supported other female-fronted bands.

Rock on, heavy metal women, rock on!

Contributors:
Joanie Connell has 15 years experience as an organizational consultant and has a Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley (http://www.flexibleworksolutions.com).

John Thornburgh is a contributor to Sonic Cathedral, a webzine devoted to female-fronted metal (http://www.soniccathedral.com/webzine/).

Thanks to Tim Tronckoe for permission to use his photograph of Eve’s Apple at the Metal Female Voices Festival in Belgium (https://www.facebook.com/tim.tronckoe).

Images of Sharon den Adel and Tarja Turunen are from Within Temptation’s “Paradise (What About Us?)” music video.

Tech Tips for Presentations

  man on computerBy Joanie Connell

How much time do you waste in meetings—in web meetings or in person—waiting for the technology to work? Here are some tips for making your meetings more efficient.

  • Find out what kind of technology you’ll be using for your presentation.
    • Your own laptop? USB or other connector? If you have an Apple computer, make sure there is a plug adaptor for the projector cable.
    • Someone else’s computer? Apple or PC? What software is installed on the computer?
    • Do you need audio for your presentation? If so, make sure there will be sound.
    • Do you need the Internet for your presentation? Figure out wifi or other connections in advance, not to mention firewalls and passwords needed.
  • Get there early to set up and make sure it works.
    • If you can do a dry run the day before, that is the best in case there is a problem.
    • If it’s “just in time,” get there at least a half hour early. I recommend 45 minutes but some people won’t be willing to meet you that early. Perhaps you can meet the IT person early to set up.
    • If the person who is hosting you is not tech savvy, get someone who is to help you out, like an IT person. If something goes wrong, you’ll need them. Ask them to stick around for 5 minutes after you start to make sure everything is going smoothly. If the meeting is critical, have the IT person stay the whole time.

I gave a presentation last week in an auditorium full of people. I followed the steps above and still had a major tech failure. Per the host’s instructions, I put my presentation files on a memory stick and plugged it into his laptop. I opened the PowerPoint presentation and tested the videos I was planning to use a half hour before the meeting. Everything worked perfectly. Then, between the times that others spoke and when I got up to speak, the computer ran a hardware scan and installed some updates. (It was clear he hadn’t used his laptop in some time.) When I got up to speak, my video files were blocked. There I stood, in front of an auditorium full of people, trying to figure out why my videos wouldn’t run, wishing I had insisted on using my own laptop.

This is why it is important to always have a backup solution (or two or three). Here are some tips for backup solutions.

  • If you are using your own laptop, bring a memory stick with the presentation in case you have to switch to someone else’s computer.
  • If you are supposed to use someone else’s computer, bring your own laptop anyway. Bring a power cable! Bring extra cables to connect with various projectors and the Internet. Some people still use old equipment and not everyone has wifi available.
  • If you need the Internet for your presentation, bring a wireless modem. However, I highly recommend you find a way around depending on an Internet connection for your presentation. Download the files ahead of time if possible. You may find you’re presenting in a cinderblock room in the middle of a building and there is no signal on your cellular modem.
  • Make a PDF copy of your presentation.
  • Bring paper (yes paper!) copies of handouts.
  • Email out slides or resources to the host and/or participants ahead of time.

The most important backup solution is to bring your sense of humor along. Stay flexible and move forward even if the technology doesn’t work. Talk through a video example, write on the white board (bring pens!), or turn it into an interactive discussion. It’s even better if you have a backup plan thought out in advance, but no matter what; don’t let a technology glitch stop you from getting your message across. Humans have been communicating for centuries without computers. We haven’t lost the ability yet.