From a Mom
Karyn Schoenbart is CEO of The NPD Group, a global provider of information and advisory services to the world’s leading brands. A working mom, she often gave career advice to her daughter Danielle as she was growing up. By the time Danielle entered the workforce, she joked that she had received a “Mom. B.A” giving her a tremendous competitive advantage. Now years later, Karyn has written MOM.B.A: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next, based on her “lessons” to Danielle as well as on her thirty years of experience building a successful career. The book, filled with wise advice and numerous personal anecdotes, is noteworthy for Karyn’s candor and her delightful sense of humor. I recently spoke with Karyn about her favorite tips for those just starting out or climbing the corporate ladder.
Make a Good First Impression
What’s the best way to make a good first impression?
It starts with how you show up. It’s important to dress appropriately for the occasion. But that doesn’t mean it is a “one size fits all” rule. Dress the way that matters to the people who matter. And when in doubt, find out! A few years ago, we were looking for someone to fill an executive position that would report to me. One of the candidates came to the interview in a very low cut dress. She was clearly qualified, but we didn’t know what to make of her choosing that particular dress for the interview. In the end, we all agreed: The candidate’s attire demonstrated a lack of judgment, and we didn’t want someone with poor judgment helping to run our company. We didn’t hire her.
How you speak is also a reflection on you. Avoid bad vocal habits like the dreaded up-speak (where every sentence ends as though it is a question).
In my experience, people like it when you call them by name – it shows you care. Make it a practice to remember and use people’s names. My tip for remembering names is to use it three times when meeting them; when introduced, during the conversation and finally when saying goodbye. It really works!
How do you build a good relationship with the boss?
Be the person your boss can count on. Step up and go above and beyond. Every positive interaction that you have is like putting money in the bank. Then if there is a problem, you have something to withdraw. Think of criticism as an investment in you. Your boss is taking the time to help you be better.
It’s also a good idea to get to know your boss as a whole person. Find out what matters to him or her and show an interest. One way to break through is to check in on a Monday or Friday, which creates an opportunity to interact on a more personal level (i.e. do you have any interesting plans for the weekend?).
Survive the Bad Boss
What advice do you have for surviving the occasional bad boss?
You can learn as much from a “bad” boss as you can from a good one, and the distinction isn’t always clear at the time. For example, my first boss, Adam, was a nurturer – good, right? But then I felt stifled; Adam didn’t let me try things on my own. My next boss, Seth, practically ignored me, so I thought he was a bad boss, but it turned out this was just what I needed at that time because it forced me to make my own decisions and take accountability for myself. Negative experiences, such as surviving a tough boss, are like notches on your belt, providing you with valuable experience that will help you as you navigate your career journey. A variety of bosses and management styles will also help you adopt your own style and determine what kind of boss you want to be.
Talk about the difference between leadership and management.
You don’t need a title to be a leader. Leaders inspire others, they don’t just direct them. Leaders focus on the big picture and not just the day-to-day tactical issues. They inspire by using a multitude of communication techniques to paint a picture of the future so that others understand it and want to be a part of it. Leaders aren’t afraid to make decisions, and they embrace having “stars” work for them.
Dealing with Difficult Situations
What are some of the tactics you recommend for dealing with difficult situations?
When dealing with an angry person, the most important thing is to let them vent. Listen, listen, listen. Imagine that they are a glass of water filled to the top. They won’t hear anything you have to say until you let them empty out some of the water. Paraphrase back what they have said to make sure they know you have heard them. Don’t feel compelled to respond on the spot. Depending on the issue, it might be best to get back after you have had a chance to gather your thoughts and practice a response.
Difficult situations often occur when you have to tell someone “no.” Avoid saying “no” and instead try, “What I can do is …” because there is almost always something that you can do (even if it isn’t exactly what the person wanted).
And finally, if you are the one who is wrong, apologize sincerely. As I taught my daughter when she was growing up, “Sorry, but…” doesn’t cut it, because the “but” negates the apology.
Talk a little about balance.
I work very hard, but I also have a life. I guess you could call this balance. The most important thing is to decide what “having it all” means to you – which is different for each person. Then you can focus on those things and let some of the others go.
Prioritize and outsource as much as you can. Establish your own boundaries and compartmentalize (when I’m at work I’m there, and when I’m home I’m fully there). Be present in your present.
Most important, keep a sense of humor and don’t be too hard on yourself. My kids will never let me live down the time I forgot to feed them dinner, but they survived and we still laugh about it to this day.
For more information, see MOM.B.A: Essential Business Advice from One Generation to the Next.
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