Top 10 Habits of Highly Effective Women
Each October, Hawaii Business magazine’s Wahine Forum gathers over 800 professional women from around the Islands to network, learn and move forward together. Here is a condensed version of one panel discussion from last year’s forum, “Habits of Highly Successful Women,” where four successful women offered tips on becoming a leader, staying true to yourself and coping with too many demands.
Laura Beeman: Head Coach, UH Women’s Basketball
Meredith Ching: Senior VP, government and community relations, Alexander & Baldwin Inc.
Jan Sullivan: COO, Oceanit
Nadine Tenn Salle: MD, Chief of Pediatrics, The Queen’s Medical Center
Moderator: Susan Eichor, President and COO, aio
1. NOT SUPERWOMAN
Tenn Salle: “The more you realize Superwoman doesn’t exist, the more you can do what’s needed. Quite often in a hospital, to be effective, I have to break it down. I cannot do it all. I need to quickly assemble my team – that could be a nurse, the patient’s husband, a social worker – and begin to pull all of the things together. I then come across as a highly effective leader, but all I did was to recognize I can’t do everything, and there are a lot of very smart people around me, and I can orchestrate them to make this situation better, and possibly solve what’s going on at that moment.”
2. JUGGLING EVERYTHING
Beeman: “I’m fortune to work with a lot of young kids who keep me young at heart. But I have to admit when it is time to take a break. Liking each other is a huge part of our team’s success. The moment I walk in the door and I think, ‘I’m so tired of my assistant coaches, I’m so tired of these kids – I love them – but I’m tired of them,’ is the day I need to say we’re either doing a team-building activity, or I’m going home or to the beach. It may not be the most opportune time, but it keeps you sane. That allows you to continue to be effective, because the next day you’re refreshed, you may have better ideas and you like people again.”
Ching: “You need a lot of support systems and I had a great support system at home. We had paid childcare, but I also have a husband who does nontraditional things: He does all of the washing and cleaning, so I am very fortunate. The other thing is to remember you can’t do it all. Something’s got to give. Our house was a mess, and my daughter thought it was a special occasion when I cooked.”
3. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU?
Beeman: “I spent 14 years at a junior college where probably 60 percent of my kids were learning disabled. They came from single parents, and there was abuse in their lives, whether it was drug, alcohol or sexual abuse, or violence. So it was clear immediately that I could have a great impact on these young women.
“If I’m successful, it means my girls are successful, and that’s what drives me to get up and watch film at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning, and go to the practices, stay up late and do it all over again. Because if I can put together a good game plan and we win a ballgame, it boosts the confidence of the 15 young ladies I’m very fortunate to coach, and helps them in their lives.
“That ounce of confidence may keep them out of an abusive relationship, help them be an empowered woman with a child, help them get the confidence to graduate, and either start a business or walk into a business and say, ‘Hire me.’ And they’ll go back and think, ‘That’s because we beat Minnesota in an overtime when I was a junior.’ That drives me. I never want my team to say, ‘Coach Beeman let us down.’”
3. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU? PART II
Sullivan: “Why do we push ourselves? There are all kinds of reasons, but, for myself, it’s about confidence – self-confidence – and about taking risks. I do things I am not comfortable doing, and I do them on purpose. They say if you’re not growing, you’re in the process of dying, and I think that’s true. It’s easy to get comfortable doing things you’re good at. Doing things you’re not good at, that you might fail at – that’s when you learn.
“I’ll give you an example. When I started on the UH Board of Regents, I thought, ‘The thing I know the best is technology, real estate or land use.’ Instead, I set a goal to chair the budget and finance committee, because I figured it would be a good challenge for me. And it has been a huge challenge, but a great learning experience.”
4. DO SUCCESSFUL WOMEN AND MEN HAVE DIFFERENT HABITS?
Tenn Salle: “Before going into medicine, I studied electrical engineering and went to the Merchant Marine Academy, where the ratio was about 40 women to 1,000 men. I had to watch their ways. I’ve spent most of my life trying to prove I could do just like the guys, but at some point it dawned on me that, while I could do it, I am different. Guys come to situations differently. They’re less likely to cry over them or discuss them. They sort of stick to the goal, bond and pat each other on the back or the butt, depending on the sport. I think women approach situations differently, and we need to recognize that we do, and recognize it is a strength.”
Beeman: “There are a lot of things we have to do in every profession to prove our value and worth. But the one thing we can always rely on is women’s intuition. You know when something doesn’t feel right in a room. Vulnerability is something that I think women do a great job with. If we stop and listen, we can really get to the heart of a problem, and that goes back to intuition.”
5. WHAT MADE YOU A LEADER?
Tenn Salle: “It’s a culmination of a lot of things, but mainly I think it’s that I work hard. I’m old enough to be from a time when we used to have to leave the basketball court because the guys were going to practice, and they had preference over us. I’m from a time that, when I showed up to engineering meetings, they would ask me to get coffee because I was the wrong gender, and I’m probably a bit too brown. But you try not to take a lot of this personally, and you work through your job, and you work through what gives you passion.
“Somewhere along the line, I went into medicine. I fell on my face a lot, because I was trained as an engineer. I had to relearn a lot. I didn’t think I was going to make it. When I became chief, it was after putting in a lot of time and due diligence, sitting on the committees.
“But I also think I haven’t yet gotten to where I’m supposed to be. I have a high-achieving colleague, one of those guys who makes you wonder, ‘What the heck am I doing?’ But he asked me a question that stopped me cold: ‘So, Nadine, what do you think you are going to be doing in the next five years?’ I couldn’t answer. You are asking me the question as though I’m at the pinnacle of my career, and he asked the question like, ‘But you’ve only begun! You’re just achieving confidence as a professional, now is when the real fun begins.’”
6. AS LEADERS, HOW DO WE OPEN DOORS FOR THE NEXT GENERATION OF WOMEN LEADERS?
Beeman: “At UH, we take our young women through a leadership council as we evolve through our season. We’ll take four or five of the young women and say, ‘Chances are you’re going to be a captain; let’s talk about leadership and what it means.’ I’m from the school of thought that says when you lead, you serve. Leadership is not about saying, ‘You’re going to do it my way.’ I also don’t think it’s making your service so obvious that you seem like a martyr. I think you step up and you say, ‘I am a leader, I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to fall flat on my face, and that’s when I need you to pick me up.’ Leaders need to admit they’re going to be wrong at times, but that it’s coming from the right place.
“Leadership means choosing the harder right over the easier wrong. When you’re dealing with young women, the easier wrong is so much easier to choose every day. We talk about, ‘You’re going to be at a party, one of your teammates is going to be drinking, a guy is going to hit on her, she’ll want to go with him. What do you do?’ You grab her by the hair and you pull her out. And the next day you talk about it, even if she’s mad.
“If they can do the right thing with their peers, then they can do the right things when they step into a business, and it’s, ‘Do I change this number so I can meet this quota?’ or ‘Do I lie about why I was really late?’ And you can really bring it home to these young women on that level of, ‘This is why you don’t cheat on a test. You may not get caught, but this is why you don’t.’”
7. WHAT KIND OF MENTORS HELPED YOU?
Tenn Salle: “Mentorships are so important. You are not just there to receive mentoring – at some point, you need to be a mentor. It’s a part of contributing to this journey we’re all on. It’s impossible to be an effective and accomplished woman without being a leader. You cannot be a leader unless you perceive yourself as part of a team. To be part of a team, you have to be an example for others, and you have to mentor. Not just when they meet you for coffee. You’re mentoring constantly.
“The very people who had the biggest impact on me were the ones who were supposed to be my enemies. So white men have had incredible impact on my life. (Laughs) I remember when I was an engineer, one of the commanders came up to me and said, ‘You know what your problem is, Nadine? You’re always trying to bat a thousand.’ I played basketball, I rowed crew, but I didn’t play baseball, so it took me a minute to figure out what he meant. He was telling me you’ve got to be willing to make mistakes.
“Another mentor said, ‘You don’t have to be one thing in life. You can be anything you want.’ I thought when I graduated with my degree I was supposed to do that until I died. He goes, ‘No, that’s training ground, that’s just a beginning.’ That was huge, and it had never even occurred to me.”
Ching: “I think mentorship – having a mentor and being a mentor – is very important in this town, because relationships are the key to most everything you do here.”
8. WHAT DO YOU DO TO RECHARGE?
Sullivan: “For me, going outside and doing something active is important, just to let off steam. I’ve found I have to be really disciplined, because there’s always something to do. So I try to keep a schedule. One thing I love to do that I will always do at least once a week is surf. I still do that. There’s nothing to me like going out on the water and being quiet. That’s my stress relief.”
Tenn Salle: “I’ve recently recognized that I need to devote significant time to intellectual creativity. I’m very organized, and I do my job well, but, man, I’m a machine. The problem is you can become so much of a machine that you cannot step back, be creative and go to the next level. I now recognize that, step back and ask myself larger questions, more creative questions.”
Ching: “At night, I like to watch mindless TV or movies. (Laughs) In the morning, I do exercise regularly Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 6 a.m. because I know when my day starts, but I never know when my day ends. The bigger recharges are travelling with my family. That’s our time alone, our time together.”
9. CAREER WISDOM
Ching: “Think like a woman, but act like a man. In my experience, many men use meetings as stages – they’re there to say something, to perform – and when you do that you’re not watching the meeting dynamics. I’m a true believer in meeting dynamics: trying to understand who the decision maker is, who the influencer is, who listens to whom. You will be able to affect a lot more change if you listen, analyze information like an intuitive woman, then act like a man and say it, and be willing to take risks.”
Sullivan: “Be open to taking risks, and look for opportunities. There’s a saying, ‘Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.’ A lot of us are so focused on reaching concrete goals that we fail to see there are many opportunities around us, and sometimes you have to open your eyes, and take a risk that you may not have planned on.”
Tenn Salle: “Choose what you’re passionate about. It shapes you in a way you cannot imagine. It’s the thing that will get you out of bed in the middle of the night, and make you work a little longer. You have a responsibility to be a leader in whatever you do. Women are supposed to be the ones that care for the family and the community. And I think we have the responsibility to be leaders, but first we have to feel that we can lead, that we can make a change and that we are responsible for making a change.”
10. HOW DID YOU RAISE YOUNG CHILDREN AND ADVANCE IN YOUR CAREER, WITHOUT FEELING GUILTY?
Ching: The short answer is that you will feel guilty, but, in the end, they turn out fine. (Laughs) I remember dropping my daughter off at preschool when she was 3 with my husband and the babysitter, who’d been with her forever. As we walked away, she cried out for Auntie Kit. She didn’t cry out for her mom and dad. At first I was totally crestfallen, but it’s the price you pay, and it’s not major. We have a wonderful relationship now, and it works out.
Beeman: When I was a child, my parents worked a lot, but when they were with me, they were present. They might have been working 50, 60 hours, but when my dad was with me, showing me how to shoot a basket, or my mom was teaching me how to bake cookies, they were there. I didn’t care about the 60 hours, I cared about the five minutes, the 10 minutes, the hour I got, because they were completely present.
QUESTIONS FROM THE AUDIENCE:
“I’m a new leader in a male-dominated industry. I’m being reached out to, nonstop, every day. I’m having a hard time finding a balance between maintaining my voice and being creative, answering emails and being productive, and generally being efficient. What advice do you have?”
Sullivan: “Make a list. Making lists is shorthand for prioritizing. There has got to be 50 percent of that which is not important. You just have to weed out the unimportant and put at the top of the list the things that are important. Only you know what your priorities are. I make little buckets of things, categorize and figure out which ones I need to do right away, and which ones I don’t.”
Tenn Salle: “I’m a list person, too, and that has been one of the strongest tools I’ve had. But, at some point, I needed to take my lists and give them to someone else. You need to establish that assistance, because otherwise it’s impossible.”
Beeman: “I’ll tack on honesty. You’re new, so you’re being judged. Be honest with them. That is a huge strength and a great quality of a leader – the ability to say, ‘I’m going to get to you when I can; I am really overwhelmed right now.’ A great way to put it is, ‘Thank you for all of these questions. I’m going to get back to you and, no, it may not be in your time frame, but it is very important to me.’ “
How do you keep your team motivated?
Beeman: “Threats. (Laughs) No, when we talk as a team, it’s a lot of listening. It’s a lot of me saying, ‘Tell me what you’re thinking, tell me where you want to go, and why,’ and then we get down to nuts and bolts. And the nuts and bolts are: ‘You’ve told me what you want, now tell me what you’re willing to do.’ I tell people all the time: ‘I want a million dollars, but I’m not in a profession that’s going to get me that, so do I really want it?’
“My players can tell me they want to win, tell me they want to be the best thing that’s ever hit Hawaii, but if they’re not in the gym, then they’re not doing the things they need to do to reach those goals. So the motivation comes from honest conversations about wanting something and the lengths they’ll go to back it up. Sometimes in business we get driven on goals, goals, goals, but we don’t really talk about process. Process to me is very important and, if you believe in it, that’s going to motivate you and you will hit those goals.
“Some people are intrinsically motivated, while some people need a carrot. That’s when, as a coach, you have to figure out what that carrot is. Is it yelling at kids? Or laughing? Or crying? I ask my players: ‘Young ladies, what do you need in order to be your best?’ It’s finding what they want. My job is to not treat everybody equally. My job is to treat people in a way that will get them to perform their best.”