INTRODUCTION TO "NICE GIRLS ON TOP"
I chose the title of this book because it counteracts any notion that “nice” girls or women cannot succeed in business. Other books will tell you differently, but I believe, and studies show, that being compassionate is actually a key ingredient to being a highly effective leader. By fostering team spirit and empowering others to do their best, you can move your company to the top and have fun doing it!
The methods a leader uses to bring about an effective performance from an individual or a team can vary greatly. Some leaders use fear and intimidation to get results while others adopt a hands-off approach, believing that it is up to individuals to “sink or swim” in a competitive society. However, using compassion to inspire and lead is not only the right thing to do, it is also the most effective means of getting positive results from a team and each team member.
As mothers and nurturers, women have an instinct for compassionate and supportive leadership. Studies show that female leaders often bring new perspectives to companies and lead teams that thrive on mutual support and collaboration rather than a top down patriarchy. Such a refreshing leadership approach has been adopted by many companies in this new information age we live in and actually works better than the old dictatorial methods.
Being nice (i.e., compassionate, kind, nurturing, etc.) may come more naturally to women, but these traits are not exclusive to women. Many men in business have succeeded by employing the kind and compassionate methods described in this book. Still, this book is primarily aimed at women who are discouraged from following their natural nurturing instincts in a misguided attempt to succeed in the same manner that men frequently have in the past. As the evidence in this book shows, there is no need for women in leadership to feel that they have to choose between being nice and being effective, because one leads to the other.
Unfortunately, though, women have been getting mixed signals for years. First, women were told that they had to “act like men” in order to succeed. But women who assert themselves are often unfairly criticized.
If women are approaching the task of leadership with confusion today, it is no wonder. For many years, women rarely had the opportunity to move to the top of any company. Many of the women who did break through, though, felt that they had to act in a brutish manner and play along with the fear-based patriarchy of male-dominated leadership. For me, personally, that was a big disappointment. I saw a lot of women going against their better nature and didn’t feel I could look up to them. I was looking for female role models and was saddened when these women in high places acted in this manner.
I can understand why some women in leadership have tended to act like brutes, though. Like me, they were looking for female role models and did not see many, if any, in the business world. So, in turn, these women emulated the stereotype of what was considered the successful male boss, someone who was usually ego-driven and commanded others to do his bidding. Adding strength to this tendency for many years was the belief that being nice and being a woman was a losing combination in business. Women, in general, were viewed as too soft or weak to be part of the tough “survivor of the fittest” male-dominated business world. Many female leaders who were lucky enough to move up the ladder in business felt that they had to act as tough and intimidating as their male counterparts in order to break down doors and crack the glass ceilings.
Where does such bad treatment of each other find its roots? For years, many businesses and corporations were set up as hierarchies and were led by fear. This model dates back to the industrial age where the machine was valued more than the person. In the industrial age, management modeled their industries after the military. Of course, the military is not the workplace, so that was never the right fit. Military leadership involves depersonalizing people. The reason for this is that soldiers are going “as a unit” into situations where they may be killed. Individual ideas in this case can be dangerous. When the industrial age came along, companies took the military’s hierarchical system and applied it to people on the assembly lines. Managers would walk down the line, yelling and keeping everyone on task, and the corporate structure started expanding above that. Even today, in many corporations, employees are made to feel that their feelings and opinions do not matter. They are part of a machine, so they should just do their jobs and keep their mouths shut.
We no longer live in the industrial age, but rather in the information age where people and individual ideas should be valued. Companies like the highly successful Google, Dreamworks Animation SKG, and J.M. Smucker realize this fact, as shown in a February 2010 Fortune magazine study. Under their management styles, employees are free to exhibit their individual talents more often and to explore new ideas. Employees are increasingly treated with kindness and respect, creating an atmosphere in which they are more likely to do their best. People are not being micromanaged to such an extreme that they are always in fear of making mistakes or, even worse, losing their jobs. In turn, the best and the brightest people want to work for companies that implement such a management style.
Not only is the new management model of being kind and respecting employees being touted more and more, but scientific studies have demonstrated that if you treat your employees with kindness and respect, you will get better performance.
Still, many companies are stuck in the past when it comes to their treatment of employees, not realizing that the old way of leading by fear actually leads to many unwanted results, such as stress-related illnesses, lowered employee performance, and negative views of employers by employees. It is true that many companies have human resources departments that protect people’s civil rights, but being kind or compassionate is still not viewed as a requirement. Being “nice” is still considered by many in the business world to be a weakness, as if your employees will walk all over you if you show them any kindness.
Because of that, women are still getting mixed signals. Women hear, “Be yourselves, but be tough like men.” Books are still being printed with titles that begin with “Nice Girls Don’t Get...” The basic message that both men and women still get is that, in terms of business, it does not pay to be nice.
According to the information age management model, it pays really well to be nice! As the aforementioned Fortune magazine study demonstrates, companies that employ compassionate business practices are some of the most profitable companies in America today.
In terms of leadership, what is the proper definition of “nice”? As used herein, it simply means to act as a compassionate guide or mentor who inspires and empowers others to do their best. Being “nice” does not mean being a pushover, though, nor does it mean accepting less than the best results possible. As this book demonstrates, highly effective team leaders are often the most compassionate as well.
For this book, I interviewed five women. Each of them was chosen not only because she is highly successful in her field as a leader, but also because she is universally regarded by her employees and co-workers as being fair and compassionate. Being “nice” is not merely a moral choice; all of these women know that it makes them successful leaders, and it does. In the following chapters, we hear specifically how these leaders, who are demonstrably both compassionate (or “nice”) and effective, meet the common challenges that arise in leading a successful company or enterprise. We also get to hear their insights into how they developed their compassionate leadership styles and who inspired them to believe that positive results can best be achieved through such positive leadership techniques. They have made a choice to be good role models and have not allowed themselves to take the “low road” to becoming successful at the expense of others. In this book, they offer guidance about how to lead in a kind and compassionate manner and be successful.
I have designed this book to simulate a transcript of a women’s panel on compassionate and highly effective leadership. In this simulated panel discussion taken from the interviews, I ask the questions and the panel answers, giving valuable information for anyone who wants to brush up on their leadership skills. You may notice some repetition in what people are saying, but it only proves the point that certain techniques work and are implemented by the best leaders.
This book is divided into three parts. In the first part, I ask questions about the development of the interviewees’ leadership skills. These women learned in different ways: by learning from their own families, by taking advantage of opportunities in school, by volunteering, by being mothers, and by learning from role models and mentors. The purpose of this section is to let you, the reader, know that you may have learned or are still learning such leadership skills in your everyday interactions. You may or may not have had the ideal family or school experience. Maybe you cannot even think of a good leadership role model in your life, but upon reflection, you may find that you have learned compassionate and effective leadership skills in some of these circumstances nonetheless.
The second part deals with leading a team or staff in a compassionate and highly effective manner. Again, I ask the panel questions, and the panel gives answers that will help guide you if you are new to leadership, if you would like to improve your skills, or if you simply need a reminder of good leadership methods. This section can serve as a “go to” guide whenever you find yourself in a predicament with your staff.
Finally, the third part deals with advantages and disadvantages of being a woman in a leadership role at work. The panel shares their views about how being a woman can help or hinder in a work environment that still may be confusing for many female leaders.
So, without further ado, I would like to introduce you to this wonderful panel…five nice girls who are definitely on top!
Jennifer O'Connell is Executive Vice President of the television production company Shed Media US. In her capacity, Jennifer serves not only as an executive developing shows, but also serves as Executive Producer of many of the company’s successful television shows, which include NBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?, Bravo's The Real Housewives of New York City, and Bravo’s Bethenny Getting Married. Jennifer also served as an Executive Producer on NBC’s The Marriage Ref (created by Jerry Seinfeld).
Previously, Jennifer served several years as an executive at NBC as Vice President of Alternative Programming (reality shows) as well as Vice President of Movies, where she oversaw the development of such hit programs as The Biggest Loser and the Emmy Award-winning The Matthew Shepard Story.
A sixteen-year veteran of the television industry, Jennifer also served as a creative executive at both the Disney Channel and Family Channel. In addition, Jennifer is a member of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors.
Jennifer received a bachelor’s degree in speech communications from Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts.
Elizabeth Amini is the CEO of Anti-AgingGames.com, which features games scientifically designed to stimulate brain function. These memory and focus games were designed by a panel of expert neurobehavioral scientists in collaboration with Nolan Bushnell, the Founder of Atari and Chuck E. Cheese. The Anti-AgingGames system also gives tips on how to reduce the risk of early memory loss. The games are fun and easy and designed for people over 35.
Elizabeth’s Anti-Aging Games business plan won the USC Business Plan contest as well as the YPO (Young Presidents' Organization) award for promising new companies. While many of her company’s competitors focus on nursing and retirement homes, Anti-AgingGames.com targets people who are one or two generations younger because, they reason, brain fitness programs are more effective if training starts earlier.
Before receiving her master’s degree in business at the University of Southern California (USC), Elizabeth graduated with a bachelor’s degree in cognitive science (the study of the brain) with a focus on pre-medicine from Occidental College in Los Angeles. Realizing she didn’t want to become a doctor, Elizabeth tried various careers, including running her own graphic design company, leading a research study at JPL/NASA, heading up her own business consulting firm, and being a strategy consultant at one of the top management consulting firms in the world.
Social responsibility is very important to Elizabeth. Anti-AgingGames.com donates 20% of its pre-tax profits to improve lives around the world, including taking medicine, supplies, and clean water access to refugee camps, disaster areas, and poverty-stricken areas around the world through carefully screened nonprofit partners.
Alma Robinson has been the Executive Director of California Lawyers for the Arts (C.L.A.) for nearly 30 years. This non-profit organization, with three offices in California, establishes a bridge between the arts and legal communities so that artists and art groups may gain greater competence in handling the legal and business aspects of their creative activities.
Alma has many career achievements that include: developing a seven-agency collaboration providing cultural enrichment activities for 5,000 San Francisco youth (Culture Core), developing a national mediation network (Arts Resolution Services) with collaborating art/law organizations in Houston, New York City, Chicago, Denver, St. Louis and Washington, D.C., and developing a technical assistance program focused on opportunities for the arts at converted military bases with support from the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) Design Arts Program.
Alma is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the California Arts Council Director’s Award for Outstanding Leadership as well as the Women’s Caucus for Art (Northern CA Region) Lifetime Achievement Award.
Alma received a bachelor’s degree in history from Middlebury College in Vermont and a juris doctor degree from Stanford University Law School.
Melanie Merians has two occupations, both in the non-profit arena. After five years of working for Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles, Melanie recently moved on to become the Chief Development and Communications Officer for Covenant House California, a statewide agency serving homeless and at-risk youth. Melanie also works in a voluntary capacity as the U.S. Western Territory Women’s Leader of the Soka Gakkai International-USA (SGI-USA), a Buddhist lay organization committed to peace, culture, and education.
Melanie’s business leadership style is informed by her Buddhist practice which acknowledges the vast and respect-worthy potential of all. Instead of a typical corporate hierarchy, she prefers to build trust by creating an effective matrix-style system where teams interface, experience tremendous synergy, and accomplish set goals.
In her position with the SGI-USA, Melanie inspires others in the practice of Buddhism by giving motivational speeches, leading meetings, and encouraging individuals to use the humanistic principles of Buddhism to challenge themselves to become better people and lead contributive lives.
Melanie received a bachelor’s degree in theater at Vassar College in New York, a certificate in filmmaking at New York University, and spent several years as an executive working in international and domestic film distribution.
Note: At the time of this interview, Melanie was still working at the Girl Scouts of Greater Los Angeles in an executive capacity.
Lane Jensen has had a variety of careers, starting as an owner of a chain of restaurants and then as producer and executive producer in the advertising and entertainment industries. She is currently working as the Vice President of Operations for Frameworks Music.
During Lane’s career, she produced the Emmy Award winning main titles for the show Six Feet Under, the Emmy Award nominated titles for Desperate Housewives, and numerous other main titles and television commercials while working with the nationally recognized motion graphics firms yU+Co and Digital Kitchen. She has worked with ad agencies, television networks, corporations, and film production companies such as Columbia Pictures, MGM, Fox, HBO, CBS, DDB, Euro RSCG Paris among others. Lane is highly skilled in overseeing productions and creating an atmosphere for the creative to excel.
Lane attended the Kansas City Art Institute and graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor’s degree in art.