Annie. Obstacles and Difficulties, Accomplishments, Success and Significance

posted September 4th, 2009 by Janet Graham - One Comment

Obstacles and Difficulties

I asked Annie what she considered the major obstacles or difficulties she had faced during her career and what she did when she was facing them. She said, thinking about her second career, stepping into a role that was going to be tough, which she knew was going to be tough when she agreed to take it, she says she simply didn’t realize how incredibly tough it was going to be. It was tough in terms of the internal employee chaos and organizational chaos which existed at the time and her reception in the stakeholder community she was dealing with, including customer stakeholders, based on their view that she was the wrong choice for the position and the organization was going to go to “hell in a hand basket” as a consequence of her hiring. At the same time, the press was all over her and the situation in a very negative way. She says she remembers after the first few weeks, going home at night and thinking about what she had done, what she had taken on. She says she woke up one day thought to herself: “You know what, what you have to do is just get out and talk to people, talk to the stakeholders, talk to the press, talk to your customers, talk and listen and listen and listen, so that you can build relationships one-on-one, person-by-person, day-by-day and it’s going to mean a lot of travel. And it turned out to be a lot of meetings with groups and individuals, on and on and over and over and over again, but I just knew that that was going to be the only way because I couldn’t do this in a superficial way.  It had to be a meaningful dialogue with many, many, many stakeholders and I did that for the first 18 months.  Basically that’s all I did but it worked.  So it was just finding a rational way to approach it and I’m not sure what made me wake up and just think of the answer, although I am certain it came from my introspective side … and it sounds very simplistic… but I look back and I think that it was the right thing to do.  It was logical, it was simple, it’s what needed to be done and it paid off.  So that was one of the toughest situations I think for me, stepping into that role and not being wanted or accepted, being seen as the wrong person for it, but it turned out to be a great opportunity anyway and if I had it to do again I would”.

And I asked Annie when she considered her career in its entirety what she would do differently, if anything and she said she would probably try to move outside of the organization she was in for 26 years earlier and do other things.  She says the second career she had was 5 years long.  It was also in financial services but it was very different and it was wonderful and so if she had it to do again, she probably would have stepped away and tried to do something else for another 5 years or whatever and maybe somewhere else, maybe in a different country.  She says she missed that and she does regret it.

I asked her to describe her impression of the difference between her experience and the experience of a male peer or colleague. She says: “I think… well even in my first career when I was getting promotions I think a lot of the scepticism that I would get, and then certainly in my second career, wouldn’t have happened to a man.  I mean, stakeholders, the press, they wouldn’t have been all over it the way they were with me and I think in large part that was because I was a woman.  On the other hand, I must say that as I became a senior female executive, the attention that I got was so great that sometimes I felt like people were always sort of clawing at me; come here and speak to this group and, you know, speak at this event or come to this and that, simply because I was a woman.  So it was good on one hand, if you’re trying to raise the profile of the entity that you’re managing but it felt at times relentless and I don’t think a man, good or bad in that position, would necessarily get that kind of a spotlight shone on them.  Internally, I always felt that as a woman I was subject to more scrutiny by employees and colleagues than a man would be.  A man could just sort of go about his business.  And I also felt scared to death about making mistakes because I knew if I failed, failed badly, I would be in the spotlight much more and my performance would be more rigorously scrutinized and criticized more so than for a man in the same circumstances.  So there’s good and bad to that because I think it makes you tougher.  It certainly made me better at public speaking and dealing with the media but sometimes it was hard, it was exhausting, and I felt it was so unfair”.

Proudest Accomplishments

I asked Annie about her proudest accomplishments at work and she said her proudest accomplishments at work are the customers who still come up to her and ask her whether she remembers when she did this or she did that for them.  They tell her they have never forgotten how she helped them in some way. They say she always really took to heart what they were complaining about or where they needed her to step in and she did it for them.  She says many times she doesn’t remember the situation, she honestly doesn’t and she simply says thank you but all the same it means a lot to her. She says she still has employees, especially at the first financial institution where she worked, who will come up and say to her which she claims is not true, in fact, she says it’s a total exaggeration: “things have never been the same here since you left”.  And she says that “kind of makes me feel good”.  So she says: “I think it was being able to make the tough decisions but doing it in such a way that employees respected me and customers appreciated that I would try to help them”.

Success and Significance

I asked Annie what she considered to be her greatest success at work and she said: “Maybe again it’s the fact that, as many women who have climbed the ladder have done, it’s on the backs of the women that have come before us that we’ve been able to do this, but I would hope that I’m another back that the women that are coming up now have felt they were able to climb on and I was able to make their climb easier and that they were going to be able to get to where they wanted to go in small part because I got there ahead of them and so I feel that is an accomplishment for me”.

And I asked her what she considered to be her work of greatest significance and she said: “It’s not my work work, it’s actually my charitable work and my volunteer work that I feel is of the greatest significance, both when I was working and having a career and today. I still do a lot of this type of work.  In fact, I’m chairing the Board of United Way in our city this year and a couple of years ago I co-chaired the campaign and we broke the fifty million dollar mark for the first time. Doing fund-raising and contributing to volunteer organizations either by sitting on their boards or doing fund-raising for them or getting involved in other things brings me great satisfaction.  And I can now use the profile I have to do that sort of thing and I feel most proud about that”.

I asked Annie what she thought people would find most interesting about her story and she said she wasn’t sure what they would find interesting but in terms of her story being different in the sense of her answers being compared to a man’s answers to some of the questions I had asked her, she thought their focus wouldn’t be the same. For example, a man would focus more on actual business achievements like completion of a merger or a takeover or building a business or increasing market value etc compared to her perception of her greatest successes and work of greatest significance.

I asked Annie what’s next for her. She said: “I’m enjoying life right now.  I’m sitting on boards beyond just charitable ones.  The other boards I’m sitting on are all just diverse, challenging organizations, especially in today’s environment, so you know every time I go to a board meeting it’s something new, something exciting, something challenging that I’m learning from and I find that… it’s just like a whole education in different sectors and businesses for me, meeting great people because there are great people on these boards, and travelling both for these boards but also with friends and family.  I’m really enjoying that and I don’t see that changing for some time.  I don’t want to get back into the workplace on a full time basis.  I’m too old.  I really believe, you know, and I say this to young women too, you need to have intellectual intelligence to be successful and you need emotional intelligence to be successful but you also need the capacity to be successful because especially if you have children and a home life and friends and a job that takes you everywhere and maybe you do have to speak publicly or deal with the media and employees, you’ve got to have tremendous capacity.  Sometimes these jobs are 7/24 and you have to know your own capacity because if you’re not up for it… you can’t walk into a room full of employees waiting to hear you speak, dragging your ass because you just got off a plane and looking like you really don’t want to be there… you’ve got to be up all the time and that’s a big part of the big jobs.  So you’ve got to have those three things and for me, I think, the capacity is gone.  I would not be up to a tough, tough challenge at my age but I love the way my life is now”.

What Strikes Me?

Sometimes we are find ourselves in profoundly tough circumstances which in the end lead to tremendous opportunities which cause us to stretch and grow to be the best we can be

The learning which comes from changing jobs, companies, industries, geographies

Sometimes our most significant work is not related to our “work work” at all

Our greatest accomplishments are often simply making a difference in someone else’s life or circumstances and there are times we are not aware we are doing it and do not recall it later

To succeed at the most at senior levels requires three things intellectual intelligence, emotional intelligence and capacity

What Strikes You?

Please add your comments.

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “Annie. Obstacles and Difficulties, Accomplishments, Success and Significance”

Comment from Multi-tasker
Time September 5, 2009 at 12:08 pm

So true that men define success differently than women. They are focused on titles, money and specifics; women on the other hand look at the whole picture – the perfect balance of work , family, life and well being. Don’t get me wrong – we want the title and money too. 🙂

Write a comment

You need to login to post comments!