Board Members

Leaning In: Who's Sitting at the Table With You?

I'm all for Sheryl Sandberg's first tenet in her wonderful book, Lean In. That's where she says that women should Sit at the Table.

She's absolutely correct. Too often women are given opportunities - or are being kept from opportunities - as a result of that one behavior. If you don't sit at the table, you're not a player. You don't get the chance to shine. You're - in old fashioned terms - a wallflower.

But when you do sit at the table, be very, very aware of who's sitting there with you - because it's not always pretty. And even after all these years (given that I've been sitting at that table for decades) I'm still surprised by the backward, demeaning behaviors of too many of the men who sit there, too.

Here's just one example of how I know.

I had been invited by a Board member who knew me to meet the CEO of a new technology company on whose Board he was sitting. The Board member's thinking was that - even though the CEO already had a consultant with whom he was working - if the CEO and I "hit it off" I would give the organization's leader guidance that he wouldn't find elsewhere.

Frankly, that isn't quite the way I like to do business - but I like the Board member, he's a seriously good guy and, knowing how he felt about the company, I figured if I could help, I would.

That wasn't what the CEO wanted, however. And it quickly became clear he especially didn't want guidance from a woman.

How did I know the bit about a woman? He compared me to his wife.

This is a dead giveaway for when men aren't happy with what you're saying - or, possibly, your existence in their lives. Suddenly, they put you in the same category as their wives when they're not happy with them - as if you've created a "Honey Do" list for them to complete, rather than providing them with good guidance and input for them to consider.

They don't want to hear it. They don't want to do it. They don't want you there.

The meeting continued - because I'm polite - but, even in being polite, I made clear to the CEO that his behavior was unacceptable. He tried to fob it off as if he was just kidding, but as soon as I called him on his behavior, he backed off. Then he tried again. And I called him on it again.

We went a third round of that behavior before he realized I wasn't going to take it. That I wasn't willing to demean myself by letting him demean me just to get his business.

I had far more respect for myself than that.

What's most important about this for you is the corollary to Sit at the Table. You have to decide whether you want to sit at that particular table.

Because sometimes you don't. The key is to remember:

You always have options. Learn to see them and act upon them.

In this case, I wasn't willing to sit at the table with that CEO - at least not in the position the Board member had suggested. That didn't mean, however, that I didn't want to sit at the table. I liked the company and what it was doing. I liked the Board member. I wanted them to succeed.

So, I found another place to sit: As advisor to the Non-Executive Board members.

This worked out just fine - even for the CEO. He knew he couldn't take his shots at me in front of the Board so, instead, he learned to listen to what I had to say. It didn't happen the first time out...nor the second. But he got there and the company thrived under the shared guidance of the CEO, his Board...and me.

So, when you sit at the table, make sure you know who's sitting there with you. You may - or may not - like the company you'll be keeping. And, if you don't, don't stay. It's really not worth it.
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More on Leaning In:
   Leaning In: When You're Asked...Say Yes (llk)   Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success (llk)

Ron Johnson and the JCP Tragedy: It's All About the Board

I was out and about today, between meetings, when a friend and colleague - both of us great fans of Ron Johnson, the now former CEO of JC Penney - texted me "Ron is out."

I was sad but not surprised. It was looking like it would go this way for a while and I wondered whether the JCP Board would have the courage of its convictions.

After all, when they hired Mr. Johnson away from Apple, it wasn't like they didn't talk with him first. They had to have had an idea of what he might bring - in strategy, technology and customer orientation.

He had a track record - Target before Apple - so no surprises there, either.

So it's down to performance.

Were the numbers bad? Yes. Were they a surprise? No.

Because the strategy that Mr. Johnson laid out not long after taking over the position addressed the fact that the then current JCP customer base probably wouldn't be the base they'd have once all his changes were in place. The new base might be from the same socio-economic group - although even that had expanded parameters given Mr. Johnson's shop-within-a-shop boutique strategy - but it wouldn't be the same people.

Or probably not.

Which meant for any thinking being (which one always hopes resides in the Boardroom) that this was going to be a years-long transition. The changes to the stores could be made in the short term, as could be the introduction of new, more fashionable product lines.

But it would take bravery and commitment on the part of the Board to hold firm when the "always darkest before the dawn" part of the change was going on. Because that would be the real transition period. The time when the old guard customers who never wanted any changes anyway had left and the new base was finding its way in.

These guys didn't pull it off. They caved. And they blamed it on the shareholders.

That argument doesn't hold up anymore either - for which every Board can blame Jeff Bezos and his strategy at Amazon. Bezos cares, of course, about his stock's performance - but he cares a lot more about reinvesting every penny he can into building out the business and capturing even more customers in even more product lines - now b2b and b2c.

His Board doesn't cave. They trust him and they're willing to wait with him as he builds the value of Amazon more and more...and then more.

I honestly believe that Ron Johnson could have done the same thing for JCP had he had the support - and courage - from his Board that was required. He didn't.

Add to that the newbie CEO mistakes he made (e.g., too much too fast with too high expectations of the acceptance of change by the customers and staff, backpedaling on decisions before they had a chance to be integrated, etc.) and you've got dominos just waiting to fall.

And fall they did.

But that still doesn't excuse the Board. They knew who they were hiring and what they were getting. It was their job to support him in every way they could.

So now we'll see what JCP turns into. For my part, as I watched the changes take place, for the first time in years not only was I willing to buy there again but I was recommending it - for product and shopping experience - to my friends. And they liked it, too.

Now I'm not so sure. If it's going to be the same customers as before with the same product lines, you can count me out.

It's a sad day for business. Short-termism won - again - and that's the biggest loss of all.
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Winning the Values War: Ellen DeGeneres, Ron Johnson and JCPenney (llk)

Lean In Applied: The Secret for Your Success

While I wholeheartedly recommend that you read the whole of Sheryl Sandberg's wonderful book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, there's one secret that will ensure your success from your start to wherever you want to go.

It's adopting what I've come to call The Zuckerberg Question as a mantra. That question is:

What would you do if you weren't afraid?

This question, consistently posed by Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is plastered and painted on the walls of Facebook and Ms. Sandberg correctly plasters it right up front in her book, using it as the subtitle to her first chapter.

Only it's not a subtitle. It's not a sub anything.

It's everything.

Because one of the most important things I learned as I worked with C-level executives and Board members is that - men and women, both - they make far too many of their decisions based on fear. Oh, they wouldn't admit it and they always had excuses - but, far too frequently, the decisions they made came from that one devastating emotion:

Fear.

As a result, those supposedly brave executives and Board members on whom employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers and local communities were relying didn't do the things they knew were right. Because they were afraid.

What or who were they afraid of? It varied - but there was always some outside entity that drove them in a direction they knew wasn't best but was workable. Sort of.

That led me, over the years. to consistently remind my clients - whether applied to a specific person, a competitor or the unknown 'other':

They don't matter.

Because they don't.

What does matter is that you do what you know is right - recognizing but not becoming a victim of your fear - moving ahead in achieving your goals for yourself and, if they're smart, your organization.

To solve that potential dilemma and get away from the fear requires putting it together with one of Ms. Sandberg's other early stage crucial points about what holds so many women back:

Likability and Success.

What it comes down to is that, for men, there's a positive correlation between success and being liked - whereas, for women it's exactly the opposite.

Yup. If you're a woman and you're successful, chances are people aren't going to either actually like you or think that you're as likable as you would be if you were successful and were a man.

Why do you think that Time magazine put the headline "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Successful" over their cover photograph of Ms. Sandberg? They weren't kidding - as the research Ms. Sandberg's cites in her book clearly demonstrates and as she, herself, has experienced since going live with her book and Foundation.

(For those of you old enough to remember - or want to find it on YouTube - it's all reminiscent of the supposedly tongue-in-cheek, but very intentional Kelly LeBrock Pantene commercial, "Don't Hate Me Because I'm Beautiful.")

So let's take a look at this for a moment.

When you're dealing with success, you'll find that there are generally three kinds of people in an organization:
  • The Glommers (people who ride your success),
  • The Underminers (people who do everything they can to take away your success), and
  • The Supporters (people who believe in what you're doing and support it with their own actions).
Frankly, you're not going to avoid any of them so the trick is to plan for them even before you've achieved your success. Then remind yourself of that plan every day as you see them pop up.

So, let's play for a moment. Let's say an opportunity arises and you want to move on it - or at least you think you do. Here's what you do in five easy steps:
  1. Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren't afraid?
  2. Using that answer as a foundation, put together a plan or a means of demonstrating why you're the right person or you've got the right solution.
  3. Don't wait for permission to execute. Do it. Act on it. Find all the ways you can to move forward what you're offering or have to offer, positioned in such a way that others simultaneously see the value of your solution and how valuable you are because you're the one who came up with it and knows how to execute on it successfully. That's because you're already doing so - whether in stealth mode (so that no one can steal your solution or your success) or outwardly (if there's low risk of theft of your Intellectual Property...because that's what your solution is).
  4. Remind yourself that you're not afraid - and if you find yourself falling back into fear, ask The Zuckerberg Question again: What would I do if I weren't afraid? then move forward with your fears back in check.
  5. Watch those around you. Look for who is falling into each of the categories - Glommers, Underminers and Supporters - and act accordingly. Specifically: 
  • Build with the Supporters. Get them more involved. Learn from them. Incorporate their ideas. Make your idea or solution even bigger than it was. Remember - you're not afraid and that means that there are no limits on your thinking.
  • Study the Underminers. Figure out their strategy and the arguments they're using (or trying to use) to undermine what you're trying to do. Then reverse engineer them so that you preemptively build on what they're trying to do and undermine them before they can undermine you. Other than that, ignore them. They don't matter.
  • Keep an eye on the Glommers. For the most part, they don't matter either - but, depending upon how they use what you're doing to fulfill their own agenda, you want to be aware of any personal or professional undermining that they may create. 
And, throughout, don't sweat being liked. Clearly, based on the categories, some folks will and some folks won't.

For the ones that do like you and show it by supporting what you're doing, good for them. They're the smart kids and you want them in your cadre.

For the ones who don't, they don't matter. Seriously. They don't.

There are over six billion people in the world. Some of them are at work with you. Most of them aren't. Keep that six billion number in mind when you lean in - because for the ones who are waiting to lean in and simply need a catalyst, that's you.

Because you're not afraid.
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More on Leaning In:
   Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In: Why the Time is Now (llk)
   Preparing to Win: When you Lean In...there be monsters (llk)
Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (sandberg)
The Lean In Foundation

Leadership: Broken Promises

I've been on a tear lately. I admit it. And my poor, hapless customers have been the recipients.

I've been holding them to their promises.

When I was a little girl, I learned from my father - an entrepreneur in his own right - that your word was your bond. That you didn't say anything that you didn't fully intend to deliver on.  That a handshake was as good as a contract - better, in fact, because a handshake was you putting your integrity on the line.

You kept your promises.

If you didn't you were a liar. Sometimes a cheat. Always someone not to be altogether trusted.

Not now and, possibly, not going forward.

That's why I've been on a tear. It bothers me that:

  • Executives say things to their employees that, in their heads, they think they're going to do - but, in reality, know that they won't.
  • Customers say to their suppliers that they're doing a deal - and then renege on it, whether in whole or in part or in any way at all.
  • Compensation Committees on Boards promise shareholders that they'll ensure that CEOs are fairly paid for their accomplishments - and then give the CEOs far more than they deserve.

Most of all, it bothers me that those on the receiving end - whether employees, suppliers or shareholders - feel that they can't do anything about the situation.

You're wrong if you feel that way. And you're wrong if you don't do something about it.

After all, in your personal life...

When you promise that you're going to do something - or even that you'll do your best - you keep those promises, don't you? And...

...when someone gives a promise to you, you expect them to keep it, don't you?

This is no different.

Because when someone breaks a promise to you in your personal life, you question whether you want to have them as part of your life any longer. From friends to your local dry cleaner, it's the same thing. Promises made and broken lead to decisions that end friendships and ensure you'll find other providers of services that you can trust.

So, if you're making promises that you know you can't or won't keep - stop it.

If something has changed, let the person on the receiving end know. Chances are, they'll understand.

If you're on the receiving end of promises that are consistently broken, go on a tear. Hold the person who's making those promises to their word - even if it's just by reminding them that they said what they did.

It's time for honesty and integrity to come back into vogue. It's time for everyone to keep their promises.

Executive Compensation: How Fear, Scarcity and the Wrong Measures Drive the System

Over a decade ago, I wrote an article entitled, "Worth Every Penny" for a local Silicon Valley business publication. My position was that the entrepreneurs who were building their dreams into companies should be compensated for the work they were doing.

My reasons for making that particular case at the time were that:
  • The entrepreneurs were building a new industry
  • They bootstrapped in for months and years before getting their funding
  • I had no idea that they were burning cash as stupidly as they were once they had it - nor that their investors were allowing them to do so.
This was the beginning of the executive compensation anger that is so rampant now.  Frankly, had I known then exactly how insane the compensation system would become for executives in all industries, I'd never have written the article at all.

If we want we can go into the blah-blah-blah of:
  • The reactive VC/Angel investment model of the day that led everyone to jump on the bandwagon and get their bucks in first (which led, interestingly enough, to the need to legislate to protect stupid investments by dentists - or stupid dentists, you choose)
  • The fear that someone else would take over the market before there was - or would be - a market
  • How eyeballs were considered currency...
You know the rest.

In fact, as you look at the newest social media IPOs out there, in some ways we're seeing the same thing.  Plus ça change...

But I digress.

Today, as the Governor of the Bank of England is calling for cuts in bankers' compensation, I listened to an interview with Ralph Silva, Director and Banking Analyst with SRN, talking about that subject.  He said:
"The assumption is that the actual shareholders care. The truth is if you tell the shareholders how much these senior executives are getting paid they're probably going to want them to get paid more. Why? Because they want the best of the best and the shareholders simply don't have a problem with these huge salaries."
Yes, in fact, they do have a problem with them.  Fund managers - in the form of shareholders - may not...but even they're getting a clue.  Because, just as eyeballs were considered currency in the lead-up to the DotCom Bust, so, too, are the measures of executive "success" tied to completely wrong measures now.

What, you ask, are those measures?  In too many cases, as long as the guy - or, in far fewer cases, woman - shows up, the money flows into their pockets in the form of cash, stock, options, perks....You name it.

The logic of this argument comes from the thought that there is a scarcity of talent to run these organizations.  That, too, is wrong.  In fact, too many executives currently in those positions make exactly the case for their own demise - because, clearly, the decisions they're making aren't good ones.

How do we know?  Because the measures that underlie what is considered "success" in these organizations are flawed.  Where there is no growth, there is no success.  Where there is only short-term thinking, there is no future.

The problem is, by the time the shareholders Mr. Silva is talking about realize their mistake, the executives in charge will have moved onto greener pastures in their next jobs.

It's time to get a clue.  Executive compensation is out of whack - but it's fixable.  Change the measures and create accountability for those in their positions.  At the same time, forget the fear and scarcity argument and look at the real talent pool that exists.

Very quickly and without too much difficulty, compensation and audit committees will find that there are a lot more good choices - at much more reasonable prices - than they think exist now.