Not thinking of myself any differently than my male colleagues, doing the right thing for the business, and playing as a team are three I try to follow even as challenges are thrown my way.
When I was 5 years old my dad taught me how to play softball. He was a little league coach of my older brother’s baseball team and I used to tag along to practices. My father was determined I was going to play just as well as the boys and he was especially determined that I would not “throw like a girl”. We would spend hours together in the front yard throwing the ball back and forth. As he was teaching me technique and speed, he would motivate me saying I’d be the best player if they let girls on baseball teams. It made me competitive and I felt invincible. This complete confidence in me made me believe I could do anything I wanted to, regardless of my gender. I never thought of myself different in business than any of my male colleagues.
I went on to play several sports throughout school and when I went to work, I started up a co-ed softball team with colleagues. Finally I was able to play with the boys! I was both a player and a coach and found I had to work extra hard to win the respect of my male teammates. On one occasion, one of the guys on the team didn’t like me being the coach and became quite belligerent and demeaning towards me. He threatened to quit unless I put him in the position he wanted to play. However, it was not the right decision for the team and I knew he was trying to force me to tears in hopes his bullying would work. It almost worked as I did want to break into tears and give him what he wanted as it seemed easier. I went home, cried on my boyfriend’s shoulder and then remembered my dad! That night as the team prepared to play the game, I called out the starting line-up, including the bully playing the position I thought he was more suited for. He walked out of the game. I kept it together and we played and won the game. Afterwards, several of the guys congratulated me on my coaching.
Like my father, I am very competitive so it wasn’t a surprise that competitor was my top strength when I took the “StrengthFinders”* test for the first time. My entire career is filled with winning business against competitors and growing business for our company. However, it’s never been as an individual, it’s always been as a team. The old saying there is no “I” in team is another lesson my father taught me and I’ve adhered to throughout my career. Business is a team sport and when one individual thinks they are bigger than the company itself, it’s certain to end in disaster and history is littered with failed businesses because of this. My own experience of this was as a member of the Executive Committee of a global company. Unfortunately, there were several individuals on the EC who only looked after themselves and their own part of the business, regardless of the impact to the overall company. It ended in the worst possible way as we had to eventually sell the company to a smaller competitor of ours. I’m convinced if we worked as a team, the sale would not have happened.
Sports and my father helped define who I am and I feel fortunate I had the influence that I did. Looking back on it now, the best life lessons I’ve ever learned come from this early part of my life. Thanks dad!