People can be inspired to do great things in their professional careers, but eventually actions need to be taken. But today’s professional landscape is crowded and uber-competitive. It’s difficult to go from being inspired to do great things to actually doing them. Like any other progression, there are steps to be taken along the way and actions one can take to make sure they get where they want to be.
That was the theme of the recent kickoff event from the new partnership between Ogilvy & Mather New York’s Women’s Leadership Professional Network and American Express’s Women’s Interest Network. The partnership of these two strong organizations will provide new and different opportunities for women to further their professional growth and advance their careers. The “Turning Inspiration Into Action” event began with a keynote address from Made By Many Managing Director Leslie Bradshaw. Four successful professionals took the stage next, joining up for a spirited panel discussion on how women can successfully lead, advance their careers, and actions to take when in the process of turning inspiration into action.
Give and take
Bradshaw’s keynote focused on the key ingredients for launching a business or advancing one’s career. Networking was a key theme throughout the day—as it often is for discussions of leadership. Bradshaw urged the audience to create what she called a “reciprocal advisory network”. It’s a bit of networking give-and-take. Bradshaw suggested reaching out to people and ask what you could do for them and to do it before they need something from you. Even if they don’t need your expertise at the moment, you’ve planted the seed. When the time comes that they may need someone with your expertise, they’ll remember who reached out to them.
Alessandra Lariu, Executive Creative Director at frog and Co-Founder of SheSays and Broadli, made an intriguing point during the panel discussion and audience Q&A. An audience member mentioned a time when she was urged to stop using the word “Just” so much in her emails (as in, “Just wanted to check in”). It sparked a discussion about how women present themselves in their communications, and whether or not they should be cognizant of the language they use. Lariu said that being authentic is most important. “If it’s you, do it. If it’s not you, don’t do it,” she said. She challenged the notion that there are ways women should be in leadership positions; maybe it’s the ideas of what makes a good leader that should change to adapt to how women act, and not the other way around.
Build your squad
Bradshaw stressed the importance of being both internally networked and externally networked, and to be willing to both nurture younger talent while learning from mentors. But it’s important to also choose quality over quantity. When she’s networking, Bradshaw says she likes to only walk away with two business cards from people who she had good conversations with, rather than leaving with 10 business cards of people she barely talked to. For Bradshaw it’s about building strong, two-way relationships. And it harkens back to her point about giving and taking: when you offer to help someone out with something, they’ll be more willing to help you when you need them.
No yes-men or yes-women
During the panel, Claudine Woo, a consultant, coach and advisor for tech and biotech startups, talked about balancing self-trust with working with other people. She touched on the importance of having intuitive and open-minded people around her. Deethi Sharma Kapur, CEO and Founder of FoodtoEat, mentioned the importance of feedback. It echoed one of Bradshaw’s key pieces of advice, that getting something out to market is crucial. Otherwise, it’s just an idea, and there’s no better way of knowing how something will work than getting in the hands of actual users. But also, Bradshaw urged to avoid leaning on friends and family when getting feedback. They’ll be too kind. Instead, find unbiased strangers who will give you more honest feedback. Kapur echoed: “Surround yourself with people who will critique you.”
Source data, but trust your gut
When starting a business or launching a product, it’s very difficult to know when you have the right amount of feedback. Sharma touched on FoodtoEat evolving through time, adapting to the market and the feedback she was getting. But it’s difficult to know when, exactly, is the right time to make a change, or to take your business or product in a different direction. There’s no magic set of data or perfect number. “Make, test, learn,” Bradshaw urged. “Have enough [data] so that you’re not the only person in the room who thinks it’s a good idea”, Sharma said. Ultimately, it’s about trusting the process and, yes, your gut feeling. Sometimes the best way to help move an idea into action is to simply trust yourself and go out and do it.
If the opening event was any indication, the partnership between Ogilvy & Mather’s Women’s Leadership Professional Network and American Express’s Women’s Interest Network is sure to be a fruitful and important one. The success stories on display at the kick-off are proof that there are steps women can take to turn inspiration into action and become leaders and influencers in any industry.