“I had a job to do so I did it”, is what my stepdad told me about being a 20 something year old dropped into the middle of Vietnam. He never really talked about Vietnam much but I knew that my stepdad was a true patriot.
This is the first part of a four series blog regarding the four military men that shaped my professional career. It’s a tribute to those that have made me emotionally tough enough for business.
“Feet on the floor, Theodora”. Those are the words I heard every morning growing up if my dad beat my alarm clock. He wasn’t there to be my friend or pretend to be my boyfriend, like so many of my friends’ fathers. He was there to teach me discipline and how to be an adult.
While my dad grew up in a family of resource, he did not rely on it. Upon graduating high school he joined the Air Force Academy to pave his own path. The Air Force Academy has a philosophy that first you need to be a great follower. Then you can become a great leader. He flew in Vietnam and returned home to fly jets for Delta Air Lines. He took his G.I. bill and went to Law School. He practiced law and flew with Delta for over 30 years.
When your father is an attorney/pilot you may anticipate that his youngest daughter might reap some reward of his financial success. Being the fourth child, his patience at that point was spent and he relied on the style that suited him the best – military. I grew up in an affluent town and ran in “popular” crowd. I recall being jealous of my friend’s father’s in the sense that they would spoil them with gifts and attention. I
remember a friend of mine receiving a new
convertible BMW for her 15th birthday. On my 15th birthday, I was permitted to find a job to pay for the things I wanted. So, I worked a lot and sometimes late and that’s when I’d wake up to “feet on the floor, Theodora”.
My friend’s parents would also be involved with their teachers. If the child disagreed with the teacher, the parent would get involved. I would see my friends’ parents show up at school and verbally shake a fist at teachers for their kids. I recall once that I had an issue with a math teacher, and I brought it to my father’s attention with the anticipation that he would handle it for me. His response to me was, “he has the grade book, so he is in control.” Essentially my dad said that he wasn’t willing to help me. I thought it was cold, but I decided that I would talk to the teacher myself. It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, but it taught me a lesson in the chain of command.
Even with food in the house, he was militant. If you didn’t like what was on the menu, or you had a special request for the grocery store it was met with silence. If you wanted something that was off the meal-plan than you had to buy it yourself. I asked him once if he’d pick me up some salad dressing if I paid him for it and he said, “I’m not going down that aisle, you need to pick it up yourself”.
We had a lot of rules regarding cleanliness and chores. Most of my friends had maids or a stay at home mom that handled that type of stuff. On Friday’s if I wanted to do something after work he would ask if my room was ready for “inspection”. He’d halfway joke about breaking out the white gloves, but I knew he would if he thought I had slacked off so even the lampshades were dusted on a weekly basis.
My father did do a good job of telling me that he loved me. He said it, and still says it, all of the time. But growing up, he was raising me to be self-reliant. If I wanted anything, I was going to have to work for it. This skill has directly translated to my success in the workplace as an adult. He taught me some key military values: nobody deserves special treatment, handle your own problems, and if you want something, you need to work for it.
As a woman in business, I learned these fundamentals at an early stage which has propelled me forward. Every morning I wake up with a voice in my head saying “Feet on the floor, Theodora.”
EMOTIONALLY COMPROMISED LEADERSHIP
“Don’t let your emotions undermine your business”, is what I was told by a 40 something male boss when I was an early 20’s something emotional female. “Operate under facts and data and your business life will be more fruitful”, he said. At the time, I thought he was being insensitive but later learned that he was indeed correct.
What happens when a leader allows their emotions to compromise their business? Nothing good, I can tell you that. And chances are that the leader is immensely insecure which compromises the business in its entirety. I am not suggesting that the leader act as if emotions don’t matter. I am suggesting that leaders should have the ability to manage their own emotions and also be able to influence and recognize others’ emotions. By recognizing the emotions of others, a true leader can then fully utilize facts and data to influence the emotions of others on their team. And by managing their own emotions, a leader can overcome many business obstacles.
Managing your emotions may be a hard business habit to break. It took me several years in my late 20’s to really understand how to take criticism as a compliment. While I still haven’t mastered managing my emotions, I do consider myself ahead of the game. Here are a few thought processes to help you manage your emotions:
Evaluate – take the time to (as objectively) evaluate the scenario. When I have harsh feedback, instead of immediately responding, my canned response is, “let me get back to you on that.” In some circumstances, it’s something I can resolve in a brisk walk and in others I need to sleep on it.
Resolve – be active in finding the solution to the scenario to cause the emotion. This will help you work through the process of your emotions as well as give you a positive experience in finding a solution
Communicate – While working toward the solution, clearly articulate in a non-emotional manner your methodology in your scenario. This will give the critic the opportunity to understand why and lead to less friction in the future.
Understand that emotions were developed as survival mechanisms and are hardwired into our biology, just like metabolic processes and muscular reflexes, so it is okay and biologically correct to experience emotions. When I experience a leader that rules by emotion, I know that they will not be in that role for long. Ruling without facts and data and running on an emotional high only suffices the need for yourself and not the business at hand. It’s best to take a pause, evaluate, communicate, and move along.
Yesterday, as I showed up to the office late, not as put together as I would have liked and otherwise flooding with emotion over personal “nonsense”, she offered another piece of advice that I will keep in my arsenal as I move forward in my career. Interestingly enough, it is one I’ve heard her say to candidates in the past as they consider job offers so that they may not make any decisions with a distracted mind: “The biggest life moves are marriage, children, home buying and career moves. Take a minute. Sleep on it.” I translated this message into the following:
“I just don’t see how you have the time to always look so put together”, said a former fulltime working mom who recently transitioned into a stay at home mom. She is an incredible mom and had invited me to a party over the summer with some of her new, stay at home mom friends. She had organized the party to break up the long summer of having the kids out of school. It was a mid-week chance for the moms and the kids to catch up. I arrived at 10:00 AM party ready for the day to find the rest of the moms in yoga pants and without makeup. It was a Wednesday, but it wouldn’t have mattered to me if it was a Saturday, if it’s after 8:30AM, I am ready for the day.
Truth be told, the reason why I get ready for the day even on the weekends, is because I do not have time. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s true. When you are responsible for juggling kids, a company, and multiple civic/charitable causes, you don’t have time. Especially to make mid-day clothing changes or to go home and take a shower. While I do take a change of shoes with me on the weekend, I rarely change my clothes throughout the day and my hair and makeup can usually make it into the evening for whatever we have on the social agenda. It’s a huge time-saver and I never have that awkward moment in the grocery that some do when they aren’t feeling presentable.
Also on the topic was our local Burn Boot Camp. Several of the women were raving about it and the social aspect of the group. It came around to me and I mentioned that I workout in my basement with some free weights, an elliptical, and some Youtube videos. Plus, I have a park across the street in which I can walk. I legitimately do not have time to drive to workout and I am not interested in the social benefits of group fitness, as I have a full social calendar. A mom piped up and said she “didn’t have the time to work out either” but later rattled off a list of the TV shows she was watching on Netflix.
Speaking of TV, the topic took center stage at the party. One thing all of the moms had in common was a love for watching TV shows. In an attempt to be inclusive of me, one of the mom’s asked what I watch. I realized that I have no idea of what’s on TV, but I love listening to NPR in the morning while I am getting dressed. I immediately felt like a huge nerd…huge nerd… so I also said that I listen to their non-news programming on Sunday’s when I am cooking dinner for the week. I cook on Sunday’s for most of the week to save time during the busy week. This was met with awe and silence. I explained that 3 hours on Sunday afternoon/evening saves me 6 hours during the week. My make-up and day to night presentable appearance were excused in this one simple concept of cooking multiple meals, double batching and freezing to save time in between practices and school engagements.
What I really wanted to say to the group overall, is this – you are only an hour away from proactively managing your day. Wake up an hour earlier, get ready for the day, have your workout finished and take a few hours on Sunday to manage your week. As you sit down and think of how to accomplish your resolutions for the year, consider waking up an hour earlier and see how it can change your day, week, and life.