A few weeks ago, Gloria Steinem played herself on the CBS Emmy-winning show The Good Wife. Her role was brief but pivotal as she gave the titular character encouragement to run for state’s attorney. Up to that moment, the character had mostly disdained the idea; yet upon encountering Steinem’s words, she began to consider running. “Would you do a good job? You would,” Steinem said, and possibly changed the course of the character’s life (and no doubt the storylines of the show).
While it was clearly an interesting bit of stunt casting, it depicted a moment many successful people experience in their professional lives. Sometimes it occurs while weighing the pros and cons of a decision, like whether to pursue a risky new strategy at work or change fields altogether. Sometimes it centers around a more internal question, such as cultivating our own growth or realizing our ambitions. In any case, it’s a moment when someone we admire – a role model, a cultural icon, a company leader – provides a fresh perspective and the push we need to achieve our professional dreams.
In this scenario, Gloria Steinem acts as a sort of hybrid mentor/fairy godmother, giving you the exact advice and encouragement you need to grow into the next stage of your career. It got me thinking. If Gloria Steinem was in your ear, what would she tell you?
After some thought, I decided this is what she would say:
Don’t worry so much about being liked and accepted. Logically I know that no leader can please everyone all the time — yet the idea of saying something controversial or unpopular can make me flinch. Trying to appeal to the masses seems like a much safer road. But as someone who believes in authenticity, my goal is to embrace candor and sincerity over safety – and challenge the status quo when I believe it needs to change.
Resist the urge to match aggressive personalities. Those of us who work with a wide number of companies and colleagues occasionally come across people with aggressive communication styles. It’s often tempting to counter back with an equally aggressive approach. But I’m learning that the most effective path for me is to model mindfulness and thoughtful behavior that reflects my true values – regardless of how combative or overbearing the person across the table is becoming.
Embrace new challenges, and approach risks with enthusiasm and curiosity. I find there’s a flip side to succeeding in your career; your expertise turns into your comfort zone. But leadership growth means dealing with an inherent amount of risk and unfamiliar territory – at least it does for the kind of leader I intend to be. A good lesson for me (and probably many others) is not to shy away from new possibilities just because they involve a learning curve. Rather, I try to recognize that new responsibilities and challenges are precisely the areas that will help me grow.
So that’s the advice I imagine Gloria Steinem giving me. What about you? What do you think she (or another leader you admire) would tell you? What kind of encouragement or new perspectives would you hear? Take a moment and share in the comments.