Emily Bennington's subtitle, "The Girls' Guide to Corporate Domination," is an apt description for this book--although the utility of the knowledge it contained is certainly not limited to women.
The book's begins with a real-life scenario, an intern vs. intern struggle at a large firm.
Both interns hoped to land full-time employment. One of the intern's behavior sounds straight out of an Oliver Stone "Wall Street" movie (although the author makes a comparison to the ice queen in "The Devil Wears Prada").
The good news is that this person is not the heroine of the anecdote. Instead, she's Bennington's example of behavior that is deadly to a career path.
A three-prong action plan
The book is divided into three parts, which the author summarizes as "Cut the Crap", "Call in the Good Stuff", and "Align with What Works."
"Cut the Crap" starts with self-awareness.
It is about taking responsibility for yourself, making daily commitments, getting rid of negativity, and mindfully managing stress. In this section of the book, the author also gives us what she explains are the top three career-killers and how to handle them.
These three villains are negativity bias, grudges, and worry--not pleasant stuff. But there are practical actions you can take to move past these.
Negativity bias is the internal voice that immediately kills a new idea. The action suggested is to pick someone you find annoying and each time the negative thought enters your mind, put it in that person's voice and it becomes much easier to dismiss.
Grudges are grudges--let it go! You can't pick your co-workers, but you do have to work with them. Bennington says that holding a grudge is worse for the person who's holding it.
Worry she defines as freaking out over things you can't control. Worrying doesn't change outcomes and you become distracted by "what if's" rather than "what's now" and leaves you distracted and not fully engaged.
The way to handle worry is to ask yourself what about a situation can you control and know that is the only thing worth focusing on.
As the author succinctly states, "If you are living in chaos, it is being created by the choices you are making. Period".
Handling emotional challenges
Another aspect that the book tackles is what the author describes as "Mommy Guilt." This is one of Bennington's more female-centered sections, yet it could really be applied to fathers, as well. Practical advice on how to proactively manage your schedule and set priorities is given but the book also goes more in-depth to discuss trade-offs for working mothers.
As a working mother, I found the author put it very well when she stated that "having it all doesn't mean being it all." I wish I had been given that advice before my kids were teenagers. Almost any working mother can relate to running thru Target looking for Glad Ware and cookies on a last-minute quest.
The author moves into social skills which starts with a chapter entitled "indirect, emotions and tears (oh my!)." The biology behind why women have a tendency to cry more than men is not a matter of weakness but different biology or hardwiring, which the author describes as a "Hallelujah! Moment."
Women have six times as much prolactin in their bodies as men and their tear ducts are twice as large--add that to some differences in brain function and you get gushing tears, basically. The author then makes the point that you are not your thoughts but the driver of your thoughts--subtle difference; massive impact.
Moving past your norm
What I've discussed so far is a lot, but it's actually only the beginning for Bennington.
Competition is discussed more from a self-awareness point of view than in the social skills context. Bennington includes "how to handle tricky situations at work" roundups, to demonstrate how to navigate specific social situations. Examples include how to politely pushback when you have been given a totally unrealistic deadline; how to strategically handle a colleague taking credit for your work; and what to do when you are on the receiving end of an inappropriate advance.
Part Two of the book, "Call in the Good Stuff," covers what to do when you've cleared out all the baggage discussed in the first section. It's about focusing on being one's best, identifying the virtues that we want to define us, and understanding and maintaining the focus on how to achieve those.
The author shares a very interesting list of 13 virtues and intentions that were Benjamin Franklin's. The patriot compiled his list when he was 20. His list would still be relevant today. To give an example, he included the virtue of "Sincerity," with the intention "Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly and if you speak, speak accordingly." Very practical and just as relevant today as in 1726, when originally written.
Bennington follows this with her own 11-point list of virtues, which is a very interesting, modern take on life's challenges.
A section on ways to earn respect on the job includes a variety of tips as well as pitfalls to avoid--like not making stupid excuses and poor meeting prep. For business newcomers, the author includes a chapter that is a note to new grads but can certainly be a refresher for the rest of us. The "must-have skills" include communication, critical thinking, and problem solving.
A useful piece of advice from the author is "E-mail is not your medium for resolving a disagreement--so stop!" In building real relationships, it's a face-to-face game.
Working with teams
For team development, the author also gives 100 coaching questions to help you engage your team. This is a very useful section for anyone, male or female, who manages staff. When you read through the questions, you will be surprised at how little you may know of the people you spend most of your day with. And when those same people make you crazy, problem-solving and anger management techniques round out Part Two.
If you want your team to invest in you, you have to invest in them, Bennington maintains. An example of some of the coaching questions which will help you engage your team would be:
• Tell me about your past work experience.
• How do you stay organized?
• How do you see yourself best contributing to this team?
• What new skills would you like to learn?
• What do you like best and least about your job?
• What is the best thing we can do, in your opinion, to improve our client service?
This is just a sample. The author gives 100 different ones and categorizes them in areas such as "Getting to know you"; "Work-style"; "Goals and Development"; "Job Satisfaction"; "Operational"; "Business Development"; "Aligning Expectations"; "When Co-workers Are In Disagreement"; and "Underperformance."
This section reminded me about a personal experience at another bank I'd worked for. The bank hired a new leader, who was a woman in a man's world. I recall being very disappointed that she never seemed to connect to the team that worked for her. She did not inquiry about anyone's experience level or find out what else they could do to contribute. She alienated a senior team member who held everyone's respect and when she eventually moved on, we were happy to wish her well.
But no tears were shed.
Ending on a leadership note
After all this great information, the final section "Align With What Works" is about leadership. It is about thinking of yourself as a leader, building influence, and turning your colleagues into champions.
To understand where you are in the context of leadership, the author suggests you ask yourself, "Can teammates trust me?"
If your co-workers cannot trust you, you have no influence. Trust is built on dependability.
It means you are capable of being high level and strategic but also not afraid to do the work and get your hands dirty.
The author ends with sharing her "Philosophy of Success":
• Be your best.
• Do your best.
• Work hard.
• Never give up.
In the author’s words
“I hate the phrase ‘work/life balance.’ It’s rubbish. ‘Life’ doesn’t stop when you’re in the office and, if you’re like most people, ‘work’ doesn’t stop when you’re at home. For too long we’ve been trying to measure the success of one part of lives against the other, which usually causes us to fail at both. So let’s focus on something else.” —Emily Bennington