Stacy Brown-Philpot of TaskRabbit on Being a Black Woman in Silicon Valley

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The Detroit native studied at Penn and Stanford, worked for Goldman and Google, and now runs the gig economy pioneer that Ikea acquired in 2017.

Stacy Brown-Philpot didn’t grow up aspiring to be the chief executive of a technology company. Instead, she wanted to be an accountant.

While interning at an accounting firm in the 1990s, Ms. Brown-Philpot — who was raised by her mother in Detroit — worked for a partner who happened to be African-American. “I was like, ‘OK, there’s a black person who is a partner at this firm. This is something that I can accomplish.’”

But as Ms. Brown-Philpot acquired more experience and education, her ambitions grew, too. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1997, did a stint as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, then became an investment banker at Goldman Sachs in 1999.

She went back to college to get her graduate degree from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, then in 2003 joined Google, where Sheryl Sandberg became a mentor. At Google, Ms. Brown-Philpot assumed a series of leadership roles and founded the Black Googlers Network, an employee resource group.

After nine years at Google, she joined TaskRabbit — which lets people hire freelancers for odd jobs — as chief operating officer. She became chief executive in 2016, and last year, she sold the company to Ikea, the Swedish furniture giant.

This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted at TaskRabbit headquarters in San Francisco.

Tell me about your upbringing.

I grew up on the West Side of Detroit. My mom raised my brother and me by herself. We didn’t have a lot. My mother worked a job that didn’t pay a whole lot of money, so she had to make a lot of sacrifices. But she prioritized education. She would fall asleep helping us with our homework at night. She always taught us that no one can take your learning away from you. And with that, you can go anywhere and do anything.

So I focused on getting good grades. I wasn’t always a popular kid. I didn’t have the best clothes. But I was a smart kid. It’s cool to be smart in Silicon Valley. It’s not cool to be smart on the West Side of Detroit.

What was your first job?

I had a paper route with my brother. I would help him collect the money. I was like the C.F.O. of that operation, making sure we got paid.

And then you went to Penn.

I had no idea what an Ivy League school was. I was a fish out of water. My high school was 98 percent black. Penn was 6 percent black. So I had to find community. I had to figure out how was I going to succeed in this environment where most people don’t look like me, and don’t come from where I came from.

So where’d you find community?

There was a black college house. I didn’t live there. I would just go over there and spend time just sitting around with people that, you know, ate collard greens and fried chicken, just like I did growing up. It just made it safer for me and more confident for me to walk into a classroom and know I knew the answers and speak up.

Continue onto the New York Times to read the complete article.

How the women in charge of programming at CNN are changing the news we see

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CNN Digital has more women in leadership and on staff than ever, and their perspective is changing video storytelling.

“The best ideas come from people who don’t think like everybody else,” says Wendy Brundige, vice president of global video for CNN Digital. “So, it’s been really important to me to build a team of people who represent different kinds of backgrounds, who’ve had different kinds of experiences.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by four other women in leadership at the network when they talked to Fast Company in the run-up to covering the midterm elections, which had an unprecedented number of female candidates at the federal, state, and local levels.

Election coverage itself is just a flash in the news pan for these women who are collectively responsible for the creation and promotion of a massive amount of video reporting. CNN is just behind YouTube, Facebook, Netflix, and ESPN, yet still reaches over 2.2 billion people across the globe every month. The network asserts that they experience over 500 million starts a day, which they claim is more than any other news brand. Doing this work is a global staff of 660. Although they weren’t able to disclose actual specifics of the breakdown, CNN Digital currently has more women than men on staff.

This is significant. The news business has long suffered from a lack of female representation. Women make up just 32% of U.S. newsrooms (and women of color represent just 7.95% of U.S. print newsroom staff, 6.2% of local radio staff, and 12.6% of local TV news staff), while men get 62% of bylines and other credits in print, online, TV, and wire news, according to the most recent Status of Women in the U.S. Media study. The media industry has also faced criticism for a lack of racial diversity. Data from a 2016 survey by the American Society of News Editors found that underrepresented minorities represent less than 16.94% of newsroom personnel at traditional print and online news publications overall. CNN declined to disclose the racial and ethnic breakdown of its news staff.

In an industry that reaches people of all genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and is supposed to prize objectivity, lack of diversity is a potentially huge stumbling block.

Cullen Daly, executive producer for CNN Digital Productions, says there are a lot of different factors that determine what gets covered. Some of it is based on the calendar, other times it’s news that’s bubbling at the moment, but deserves a more comprehensive look. “I’d say a lot of it has to do with innovation,” Daly says, “stories that we think could be told in new and different ways.” Chris James, who did the story on the trade war, told it through a different lens, she says. “He told it through what’s going to happen to people in the middle of the country.”

From left: Cullen Daly, S. Mitra Kalita, Courtney Coupe, Ashley Codianni, Wendy Brundige

Brundige takes a somewhat controversial stance when she says she believes that for too long, people have thought about diversity as mostly about race. While experts like Scott Page, the author of The Diversity Bonus, argues in favor of cognitive diversity (which occurs naturally among people of different backgrounds, regardless of race, gender, or other factors), it wasn’t that long ago that Apple’s former vice president of diversity and inclusion Denise Young Smith came under fire for stating that a room of “12 white, blue-eyed, blonde men” could be diverse.

“We have a lot of racial diversity in particular in my team in New York,” Brundige asserts, “but it’s most important to me to have geographic diversity and not just have a bunch of people who grew up in the Northeast and went to Ivy League schools.” Still, she’s quick to add that there’s room for improvement.

Taking another tack, S. Mitra Kalita, the senior vice president for news, opinion, and programming for CNN Digital, observes that sometimes differences can illuminate common ground, too. She grew up in northeast India. “It’s a very rural region, but Wendy’s family and my family both had cows,” Kalita says. “We look nothing alike, and you would never put the girl from Kentucky next to the girl from Assam, and yet our families are actually very surprisingly similar.”

The mission of CNN Digital, according to Kalita, is to find some common factor with your audience. “So, I don’t think your background can be divorced from that process of storytelling,” she says. As the mother of two, Kalita recalls how she felt when Brundige brought a story idea about a woman in Chicago who was on a quest to find out how her son died because he was left with marks all over his body. It was called “Beneath the Skin,” says Kalita, and remembers Brundige talking about the period between the death and the funeral and what that’s like for a mother. “That just haunted me for days,” she confesses. “I would argue that she probably had a similar reaction,” says Kalita, noting that the creators of the piece were also women. “So on projects like that, it’s wonderful to be able to bring yourself to the work, and have it enhance the work,” she says.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

How This Former MIT Professor And Google Engineer Used Holograms To Build A $28 Million Startup

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A red laser pointer shining through a raw chicken carcass may not seem like groundbreaking science, but for veteran technologist Mary Lou Jepsen, it’s worth $28 million in funding for her latest startup, Openwater.

Jepsen performed the chicken act as part of her August TED Talk to illustrate how her imaging-tech company is building cost-conscious body-scanning technology by using the same components one might find at a science fair. The laser pointer’s light made both skin and bone of the plucked fowl glow, revealing a tumor just under its flesh. This simple demonstration shows the science behind what Openwater is trying to achieve; wearable diagnostics made from consumer electronic parts that offer higher resolution than multimillion-dollar MRI machines but cost as much as a smartphone.

Just as the chicken’s tumor blocked the laser pointer light, which shone through the rest of the chicken’s flesh, Openwater’s wearables will capture images by recording light particles and the negative spaces where they fail to scatter. X-rays use radiation and MRI machines use a magnetic field and radio waves because they can go through the human body and produce an image. But so does “red light, infrared light,” Jepsen tells Forbes. “Guess which one is cheaper by a lot?”

It’s a method similar to how holograms are made, and it uses readily available camera and display chips you can find in a smartphone. It’s also an idea that took Jepsen’s skill set to consider, and perhaps her impressive CV to convince investors to buy in. The serial founder led the display divisions at Intel and the semi-secret research group Google X and helped develop Oculus after Facebook purchased the virtual reality headset company in 2014. But Openwater began with Princess Leia’s projected message to Obi Wan Kenobi, when Jepsen aimed her life at building holograms like the one she first saw in Star Wars.

Hooked by the lasers and optical illusions involved, Jepsen made her first hologram as an engineering undergrad at Brown. Later, she’d use her growing skill set to develop computer display screens and VR glasses at the top tech companies in the world.

At that time, however, holograms did not pay the bills. Because holography was viewed as a frivolous “technology looking for an application,” no one would fund it, Jepsen says. “I just had to figure out a way to support my habit. I basically lived all through my 20s on $12,000 a year just because I thought I’d die if I couldn’t make holograms,” Jepsen said.

Her pursuit of holograms bought her to Melbourne, Australia, where she worked as a professor of computer science at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and helped put holograms on the country’s paper money. In Cologne, Germany, she built some of the world’s largest holographic displays, including one of historic buildings projected on an entire city block. Still, she didn’t feel her work was taken seriously, so Jepsen figured she’d need a Ph.D.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

How Diversity Officers Change Corporate Culture

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Diversity executive

By 2045, people of color will make up the majority of the U.S. population.

That demographic shift, predicted by the U.S. Census Bureau, is one reason why companies are starting to take workplace diversity, inclusion and equity more seriously.

In corporate America, this has manifested in part through the proliferation of chief diversity officers, who are charged with creating policies and climates supportive of workers from an array of backgrounds.

As of 2012, 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies had diversity executives, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s becoming standard across companies,” says Allison Scott, chief research officer at the Kapor Center, which aims to increase diversity in the technology and entrepreneurship sectors. “I think that’s a promising and important sign.”

However, having a chief diversity officer on the payroll is not a panacea, researchers say.

“That all sounds good and well, but in the past there wasn’t as much accountability for it,” says Kisha Jones, assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University. “You could get an A for effort for attempting the different practices but not have to show how change happens.”

Still, the presence of a diversity executive in the C-suite is one sign job seekers should look for when assessing whether a company is equipped to hire and retain diverse workers and effectively market to the heterogeneous customer base of the future.

Learn more about what these officers do and other signs to look for when evaluating a company’s commitment to diversity.

Duties and Conditions for Success

The work of diversity officers, also known as equal opportunity professionals, cuts across departmental boundaries. They influence hiring, training and company cultural practices that relate to three “big buckets,” explains Archie Ervin, vice president and chief diversity officer at the Georgia Institute of Technology and president of the National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education.

Continue on to US News to read the complete article.

6 women who turned their side hustle into a full-time gig

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Quitting your job and turning your side hustle into a full-time role can be scary. These six women who did just that share what they learned along the way.

Some millennial professionals refuse to conform to a black-and-white definition of success and instead embrace the gray, confident in their ability to create a new palette. Many arrive at a certain kind of entrepreneurship–whether freelancing on the side or an Etsy shop that takes off–and many manage to  turn it into full-time employment.

Considering women are leading the charge of small business owners, it’s no surprise that so many women are turning away from traditional roles to develop their own companies. I should know, considering I’m one of them.

After being gainfully employed and taking on writing assignments for extra income, my 1099 hustle outgrew my corporate paycheck. This prompted me to branch out on my own, and I eventually hired a part-time assistant to help with research and invoicing. Like these women below, I learned a thing or two during the transition from “employee” to “boss.” If you have a goal of becoming your own boss, here’s how  to make it a reality.

FIND YOUR TRIBE

As a full-time graduate student at the University of Oregon, Jessica Hilbert was working double time to earn two degrees: one in law and another in business. Though she was already over-scheduled, she came up with the idea for Red Duck Foods, mainly because she was frustrated with condiment offerings that lacked healthy ingredients with robust flavors. Along with other students for a class project, she tackled her idea. After presenting french fries with ketchup that was wildly received, it was evident Hilbert was on to something. Then everything started moving: traveling to business plan competitions, raising $25,000 via Kickstarter. “All of those early proof points contributed to why the side hustle didn’t just evaporate. It wasn’t necessarily that I picked up the side hustle, it was almost like the side hustle picked me up, as it was a class project that just snowballed,” she explains.

She continued to grow Red Duck from January 2013 to September 2014, all while finishing business school. And once she graduated, she started studying to take the Oregon bar exam, when in mid-July, fate stepped in. Right before she was due to take the exam, she received a large purchase order that needed to be filled. “Because of the timelines, it meant that we would need to hand-label hundreds of jars of product. I spent hours, two days before the bar exam, hand labeling jars of ketchup,” she says. During this time, she knew, regardless of the outcome of her test, her whole heart was in Red Duck.

For Hilbert, her tribe was the reason for her success. “Seek out and find a group of people who you can associate with, and that you want to share the good and the bad times with. They don’t have to be within your organization, or even in the same industry. They just have to be people who you want to share a laugh or a ranting session with,” she says.

HAVE A VISION

For many years, Diana Wright co-owned a fashion production company in New York that created presentations for top designers, from Cynthia Rowley and Pamella Roland to Bill Blass, Halston, and more. Since she was in the fashion industry, she was used to jumping in to complete hair and makeup in a bind to ensure the show continued to go smoothly. During New York Fashion Week, she created a sliding ponytail holder to pull up a model’s hair backstage by cutting an elastic band in half and stringing it through a toggle. At the time, she says it was a crude quick fix, but it worked so well that models asked to keep them. It wasn’t until a client asked if she could create jeweled versions for the runway that she realized the true opportunity.

It took a year from ideation until her product, Pulleez, to hit the runway. Soon after, Henri Bendel approached Wright to carry them at their Fifth Avenue flagship, and a year later, Pulleez appeared on QVC. Thanks to a key partnership with pros in manufacturing and design engineering, she was able to meet these orders and grow a sustainable business. What prompted her to go for it was recognizing the need and staying true to her vision. For any entrepreneur in the product space, she says this is crucial. “My business knowledge has evolved exponentially since I started Pulleez, but the brand message has never changed: We want to offer every woman and girl with long hair an easy-to-use, functional hair accessory that can make a simple ponytail look glamorous enough for her to meet her friends or walk down the runway,” she says.

Continue onto Fast Company to read the complete article.

How This Interior Designer Turned Paint Into Profit

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Suburban Detroit may not be the epicenter of interior design, but that’s exactly where Nicole Gibbons, the CEO and founder of Clare, a direct-to-consumer paint line, got her start.

When she was growing up, Gibbons’ mother was a decorator and although Gibbons’ first job out of college was Director of Public Relations for a mass market retailer, she launched a design blog as her creative outlet. “It was truly just a place for me to talk about all the things I loved,” said Gibbons.

For a decade, her nights and weekends were spent pursuing her side hustle: designing for clients. But in 2008 the recession hit, and it wasn’t a good time to leave her day job to take a risk on starting her own full-time business. By 2013, the economy was looking up, though, and inspired by the Martha Stewart model of bringing design to the masses, Gibbons decided to take the leap.

Her first step was to build up her interior design clientele in and around New York City. Simultaneously, Gibbons started positioning herself as a design influencer. She appeared on Rachael Ray, HGTV, and spent three seasons on Home Made Simple on the Oprah Network. “All the while I was thinking about what kind of business I could build,” she added.

By then the first wave of direct-to-consumer brands had launched, with companies like Warby Parker in 2010 and Casper in 2014. “That’s when I had a light bulb moment around paint,” she said. “It’s something that’s really painful to shop for.” So painful in fact that it took one of Gibbons’ friends two months to pick a paint color that she ended up hating in the end.

Gibbons started out by networking in the paint industry to learn as much as she could about the marketing and manufacturing of paint. In the process she learned that the paint industry hasn’t changed the way it operates or sells its products in over a century. One woman she spoke with, who worked in the paint research and development space, even admitted that she hated shopping for paint. “That was a huge vote of confidence that I was onto something,” Gibbons explained. “People kept telling me that they wished someone would figure this out.”

And that’s exactly what Gibbons set out to do when she launched Clare.

Her first goal was to create a shopping experience for paint that was a lot more inspiring than the aisles of your local hardware or big box store, where a single paint brand has more than 3,000 colors to choose from.

The typical journey for someone who wants to paint their house is this: Narrow down from thousands of colors to a handful you want to try on your wall. Buy an eight-ounce jar of paint. Go home. Paint your wall. Wait for paint to dry. All the colors look almost exactly the same. Go back to the store and test more colors until you find the right one. Wait in line to get the paint mixed. If you have a job, which many of us do, you’re probably at the store on the weekend when it’s the busiest. Next you head over to the tool aisle, which is just as confusing as the paint aisle.

Instead, Clare has only 55 of the best colors in the best finishes, Gibbons explained. No more going back and forth to the store each time you want to try a new color. The company offers peel and stick color built with a high-tech color matching system that takes into account how much natural light your space gets, your existing furniture, and the colors you already have in the room. It also eliminates the need for testing multiple paint swatches on your wall.“We’ve created a suite of high quality tools so that even an unskilled painter can achieve high quality results. We bundle together everything from paint to tools. And we also have tons of online content that offer tips and inspiration,” said Gibbons.

In 2017 Gibbons built out the business, focusing on supply chain logistics and market research. “My goal was to get the business to the place where I could raise capital,” she said.

Her first step was to talk to people who had raised capital before. “I didn’t have a physical product or any traction so I had a bigger challenge than most,” Gibbons said. “When you’re raising pre-product you have to sell a vision. You can’t just have a compelling story. You have to give investors the confidence that you can execute on your vision.”

When Gibbons first pitched Clare to investors, she already knew who her suppliers would be and she had all the relationships in place in order to execute. “I spent all year working on it. I ate, breathed and slept paint. When the time came to talk to investors, I had a really clear path forward and a clear plan.”

Gibbons took her first investor meetings in September 2017 and by the end of October she had an oversubscribed round, raising $2 million, exceeding her initial target of $1.6 million.

Continue onto Forbes to read the complete article.

Which Coding Language Should You Learn?

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It’s a great time to learn how to code. Whether you’re looking to reinvent your career and become a developer, leverage a new skill in your current job, or just better understand what the developers on your team are up to, there has never been a better time to get into programming.

There’s been an explosion of coding boot camps and online resources to help you get started. But it’s a double-edged sword: with near-unlimited resources, countless different languages—and a rabbit hole of passionate voices debating which are the easiest to learn, best to help you get a job, and so on—where do you start?

The best way to learn to code is to stop endlessly analyzing what to learn and just start. So, with a giant disclaimer that these aren’t all of the languages you could consider learning to start your coding journey, here are a few languages you can learn.

JavaScript

Great for: beginners, aspiring software engineers

Think of the difference between dynamic, automatically updating Gmail account and your old static Hotmail, which needed to be reloaded to see new messages. That fundamental change was thanks to JavaScript. And, as one of the most popular languages out there, it’s still bringing websites to life in new, exciting ways. It has a ton of resources and tools available to help you use it effectively, and it opens you up to a ton of software engineering jobs. It can basically do everything, and if you’re going to be a full stack developer, you simply can’t avoid it.

Ruby

Great for: beginners, aspiring software engineers

Ruby was specifically designed by its inventor Yukihiro Matsumoto to make programmers happy, and it’s delivered upon that objective: Ruby is accessible and reads like English, allowing new programmers to focus right away on the fundamental concepts and logic, rather than basic syntax. Even beginners can start building right away. The teachers at the Flatiron School find Ruby to be extremely effective at helping students learn how to think like programmers, break problems down, express themselves technically, abstract ideas, and work together with other programmers. (The Flatiron Co-founder Avi is a little obsessed with it, too.)

Python

Great for: budding data scientists

There’s a massive amount of data out there. Companies that harness it can create better products and understand their businesses better; companies that don’t lose their competitive edge and get left behind. But while at its core, data science may be similar to your high school stats class, with so much data (hundreds of millions of records), your old spreadsheet is the wrong tool for the job. That’s where code comes in. The R language is super specific to statistics, whereas Python is a general-purpose language that happens to have great tooling available to make it a perfect language for data science. It’s actually similar to Ruby in a lot of ways: easy to read, forgiving for beginners, and there’s a passionate community around it, devoted to creating and improving the tooling to make Python even more powerful.

Swift

Great for: mobile developers, developers breaking out of their comfort zone

For beginners hoping to get into mobile app development, now is the perfect time to dive into Swift. It’s new enough that there is a lot of energy and excitement around it. Each year, Apple holds their Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) where Apple engineers discuss the intricacies of Swift along with all the new and exciting features (don’t be surprised if it inspires you to try implementing all the new concepts into your own apps). But it’s also been around long enough that the early kinks have been worked out, and the open source community has grown significantly. If you’re already a programmer, learning Swift is a way to get out of your comfort zone—the constraints iOS puts on your code forces you to, as Apple would say, “think different.”

Still not sure where to start? That’s OK! There’s really no correct first language to learn. The important thing is to consider what you’re excited to build, what language will help you do that, and then to just start learning!

In the end, this is why schools like Flatiron School doesn’t focus on teaching one specific technology. It wants you to learn how to learn—the only coding skill that will be never become obsolete. You don’t see Fortran or ColdFusion developers anymore. Similarly, you probably won’t be a Ruby or JavaScript developer in 10 years. Eventually, you will need to know more than one language if you want to have an awesome career and build amazing things. If you become skilled at learning languages, you’ll be ready to keep pace with technology as it changes.

Source: This piece was originally published by WeWork, which provides companies with the space, technology, and services they need to success.

Take Your Publishing Career to the Next Level with a Writing Re-TREAT

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Many people want to be authors. They have ideas for a novel, or have dreams of having a best seller, but they are often so caught up in the day-to-day duties and stresses of life that they rarely get time to simply focus on telling their story.

One expert writing coach says the best way to combat that block is to opt for a re-TREAT, which will give you the guidance, time, space, inspiration, and tools to focus on your story and help move your career along. Plus, she has an exclusive manor house retreat coming up May 5-10, 2019 in England. With only six slots, spots are filling quickly.

“You owe it to yourself to have some time to focus on your writing,” explains Annalisa Parent, fiction writing coach, author, and international speaker. “If not now, then when? If you take action now to get serious about finishing your book, just think of where you will be a year from now, five years from now. This is the time to put your dreams first.”

Parent runs workshops and retreats around the world, helping to guide countless writers to start, complete, and sell their novel. The 2019 Writing Gym England Retreat will be held in Devon, England in a historic country manor located on the edge of Exmoor, a national park famous for its beautiful coastline and spectacular views. The retreat will offer writers five days and five nights of relaxing, peaceful, and focused opportunities to tap into their creativity, learn more of their craft, and focus on writing.

The 2019 Writing Gym England Retreat includes:

  • Daily guided writing sessions led by Parent, where participants will engage in a feedback-response process that is based on neuroscience and how the brain learns and creates best. This is geared to help people advance quickly and boost their creative confidence.
  • Afternoon tea and coffee session where people can relax, mingle, and be at peace.
  • Open writing sessions, as well as time to enjoy the garden and views to get inspiration, and an optional group literary tour of Coleridge Way the path poets such as Coleridge, Byron and Shelley walked to get inspiration.
  • Writer’s discussions each evening on publishing topics, plus a one-on-one session with Parent to discuss your manuscript
  • Three home-cooked meals per day that are made from fresh local ingredients. Foods being served include free-range eggs, leg of Exmoor lamb, a full English breakfast, and fruit compote from the manor house garden.
  • An exclusive group with a focused intent, with the retreat being limited to only six participants.

“If you want to be a writer, this is where you need to be,” Linda Butler, a participant at last year’s retreat said of the experience.  “If you’re serious about writing and you’re serious about learning your process and who you are, then find a way to make the sacrifice to get into her programs. They’re some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Janiel Miller, another participant said.

To see first-hand what the retreat is like, go toThe Writing Gym Writer’s Retreat in Devon England. To hear what her attendees had to say from her past England Retreat visit: Date with the Muse. For more information about Annalisa Parent, her book Storytelling for Pantsers: How to Write and Revise your Novel Without and Outline, and her coaching services, visit her site at: datewiththemuse.com. For more information on how to become a published author, download her free e-book The Six Secrets to go from Struggling Writer to Published Author here: datewiththemuse.com/6secrets.

About Annalisa Parent

Annalisa Parent has worked with writers all over the world. She offers writing coaching services that have been instrumental in helping writers to go from idea to publishable piece and have the confidence to take their work to the market. Parent focuses on three main areas: Quality, Clarity and Creative Flow, all through a neuroscientific approach. For more information on her services and to set up a chat about publishing, visit her site at: datewiththemuse.com.

How to Talk to Your Boss (When the Questions Get Tricky)

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Portrait of business woman smiling

Landing a job doesn’t mean your days of navigating difficult questions are over. You should be prepared to handle uncomfortable queries, an especially tricky feat when it’s coming from your boss.

You may face one or more of these awkward questions at some point in your career. Here are ways you can respond to them professionally and keep the relationship with your boss intact.

 

  1. “Are you looking for a new job?”

If you’re putting yourself back on the job market, tell the truth. Chances are that your

boss has a good reason for asking, so a denial will only make you look bad. But don’t overshare. This question isn’t an invitation to air all your complaints about the position or the company. When responding, keep the focus on you and your career.

Keep the answer short and to the point: “I’m interested in exploring positions in a different industry. “I’m thinking about relocating to another city.” “A former colleague contacted me about an exciting opportunity, and I feel I should look into it.” “I’m looking for a position with more flexibility.” “I don’t feel I’m making much progress here.”

Be polite and emphasize that you’re committed to performing your current job to the best of your ability.

  1. “Have you heard the latest about Jamie?”
    Co-workers who spread rumors are difficult enough to deal with, but having a boss who engages in office gossip is a potential landmine. You don’t want to sound disapproving or like a Goody Two-Shoes. Your best option is to offer a noncommittal response, such as, “I really haven’t heard,” and then either change the topic or try to leave the conversation. Maintain an attitude of polite disinterest. Once your boss realizes you’re not a gossiper, he or she will drop the subject.

 

  1. “How would you rate my performance as a manager?”
    This question is particularly tricky because you might not know your boss’s motivation. Has upper management requested that he or she seek feedback from employees, is the person just fishing for compliments, or is he or she genuinely interested in constructive criticism?

To remain on safe ground, lead with positive feedback. Then choose one aspect of the person’s managerial style that could use some work, and make it actionable. For example, “The next time there’s a new project, I’d like a little more guidance so I don’t go in the wrong direction.”
 

  1. “How would you rate your performance during Q1?”
    Balance is key. Outline what you did well, and reference tangible results, such as exceeding goals or meeting tight deadlines. Then discuss a few ways you might do better next time. To show you’re serious about self-improvement, ask your boss for an assessment—and any tips for Q2.

 

  1. “Can you take on this project (that no one else will do)?”
    You may feel pressure to say yes to every request to maintain a good relationship with your boss. While it’s occasionally necessary to “take one for the team,” you need to be honest about how Project X will affect your present workload and whether it’s within the scope of your job description.

If you’re genuinely reluctant to lead this project, tell your manager that you simply don’t have the bandwidth to do it justice and get all of your regular assignments done on time. But also think about what may happen if you agree: If leading Project X will win you points with the boss and prove your leadership skills, it might be worth the extra work to say yes—this time.

Source: careerbuilder.com

How Executives Can Stay Calm Under Pressure

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As an executive, you might find it difficult to stay calm during stressful times. “One of the toughest things a CEO or executive can do today is stay focused and steady when the business is under stress,” says Stephen Miles of TMG, which advises Fortune 500 C-suites on leadership. “Something like a stock price dip can send the company into overreaction mode—trying to fix things that aren’t even broken.”

Uncertainty can cause even the strongest executives to react in negative ways. “2018 has brought enormous uncertainty around everything from trade policy to interest rates to energy prices,” says TMG’s Courtney Hamilton. “This causes wild fluctuations not only in markets, but in companies themselves, as they try to jump ahead of changes and second-guess strategy, usually with bad results.” Leading in a “wartime” full of uncertainty is very different from leading during a time of growth, says Hamilton. “As one CEO that we worked with said, ‘My very best peace-time advisor was my worst team member in a crisis.'”

During these times of stress and uncertainty, three common toxic behaviors among executives can derail a company. These emotional impulses not only are ineffective but also magnify problems and affect all members of the management team.

1 Focusing on “process” vs. opportunism. One of the most common stress responses is to get bogged down in the small details, slowing things down so that they move at a bureaucratic pace. “Getting bogged down in these less mission-critical process items just deflates the team and misses the opportunity to think creatively about solutions,” says TMG’s Matt Bedwell. “The executive may think that stomping on or calling out someone on, say, breaking the travel policy is being helpful and additive to the quest for a good outcome—when it’s just demoralizing to everyone.”
2 Being egocentric and deflecting blame. Executives displaying this behavior during stressful times maneuver to ensure that one of their peers gets all of the scrutiny—effectively taking the heat off from themselves. They can become highly emotional and personalize every discussion, making the team totally ineffective in its pursuit of developing plans that will lead it out of the mess. “For CEOs, you must re-assess all members of your team to understand their capabilities in this new reality,” says Bedwell. “Unfortunately, you need to be ready for some of your highest performers to disappoint you.”
3 Going into panic mode and wanting to change everything. When a high-performing business starts to underperform, the natural reaction is to panic and begin to examine and change everything. “People generally have good intent and want to be part of the solution, but in their quest to solve problems, they often start to change things that are perfectly good and do not need to be changed,” says Bedwell. “You cannot panic or get caught up in the flurry to ‘activate’ and start doing something.”

To combat these derailers, CEOs need to take on these leadership behaviors.

“Go slow to go fast.” The “go slow” component means to step back and diagnose before activating on those things that require intervention – and not everything requires intervention. Ruthless focus and prioritization is equally important in a stress event; you cannot be overcome by your organization’s quest to “do things.”

Be the absorber. Underperformance requires the CEO as a leader to be calm, cool, and collected, and “absorb” the stress and panic on the team. The CEO must then be the focuser, redirecting the energy to help everyone focus on the problem, the facts, the supporting data, and the proposed solutions. The moment a CEO panics, there is a 100X amplification into the company, and then people start to worry about the implications for them and are not focused on leading through the issues.

Remain fact-based and data-driven. CEOs must ensure that someone is collecting the data and validating or refuting “gut instinct” and anecdotal information. CEOs should be careful not to be overly influenced by the best communicator or presenter on the team – or by the person he or she last spoke with. Being fact-based and data-driven will require CEOs to be consistently Socratic and seeking to understand with context.

“Moving from good times into much more difficult times challenges every executive, making it critically important for CEOs to adopt a different leadership style,” says Miles. “And as difficult becomes the norm, there will be greater need to adjust to how your talent is behaving in real time, and prioritize what’s needed to dig in rather than overreact.”

Source: The Miles Group

Tesla Taps Robyn Denholm To Replace Elon Musk As Board Chair

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Tesla said company director Robyn Denholm will replace Elon Musk as its board chair, fulfilling a key requirement of a Securities and Exchange Commission settlement that arose from the billionaire entrepreneur’s ill-advised tweets about taking the company private.

The selection of Denholm, who joined Tesla’s board in 2014, indicates a preference for an independent executive who’s also an insider highly familiar with the company’s expanding auto and energy businesses. In accepting the job, she’ll leave her position as CFO and head of strategy for Australia’s Telstra Corp. to focus full time on Tesla, the electric-car company said in a statement.

“I believe in this company, I believe in its mission and I look forward to helping Elon and the Tesla team achieve sustainable profitability and drive long-term shareholder value,” Denholm said in a blog post.

The move comes ahead of a deadline—apparently next week—for Musk to relinquish the chairman role he’s held since 2004. While he’s allowed to retain a board seat, the Palo Alto, California, company must also add two new independent board members by about year-end to reduce what appears to have been a high degree of compliance with the charismatic executive’s wishes.

The SEC filed suit against Musk in September claimed that his August 7 comments on Twitter of having “funding secured” to take Tesla private at $420 a share constituted securities fraud, since that statement was untrue and he knew it, or should have.

Musk agreed on September 30 to settlement terms, which also require him and Tesla to each pay a $20 million fine. It was the only option for him to avoid being forced out entirely if he’d fought the SEC suit in court and lost.

“Robyn has extensive experience in both the tech and auto industries, and she has made significant contributions as a Tesla Board member over the past four years in helping us become a profitable company,” Musk said in the statement. “I look forward to working even more closely with Robyn as we continue accelerating the advent of sustainable energy.”

Prior to joining Telstra, Denholm had been executive vice president and CFO of networking equipment maker Juniper Networks. She’s also worked for Sun Microsystems, Toyota’s Australian unit and at Arthur Andersen & Co.

Musk will serve as a resource for Denholm during her transition out of Telstra. She’ll also temporarily give up her role as Tesla’s Audit Committee chair until she relocates full time to Silicon Valley. She will continue to act as a resource for Telstra and receive an annual retainer of $300,000 per year from the telecommunications company and stock allotments, according to Tesla.

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