Inspiring Women: Wit, Wisdom, and Well-Being

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Women may still be struggling to enter the C-suite, but we’ve nonetheless taken on incredible roles in business, as well as just about every endeavor traditionally dominated by men.

By Debra Walton (Chief Content Officer, Thomson Reuters)

I recently had the privilege of attending the Thomson Reuters CEO Circle in Langkawi, Malaysia. While there, I tuned into CNN, where I watched General Motors chief executive Mary Barra face intense questioning from congressional representatives about the recall crisis currently engulfing the automaker. I thought she handled herself extremely well in the kind of situation even the most seasoned executive rarely has to face.

Shortly after that I watched a brief interview with Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and author of the recently published book, “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder.” I was taken by her down-to-earth and practical comments on the importance of health and happiness to a successful career.

You Don't Have to Be Mary Barra or Arianna Huffington to Make a Difference

Women may still be struggling to enter the C-suite, but we’ve nonetheless taken on incredible roles in business, as well as just about every endeavor traditionally dominated by men. More importantly, I feel like there is a growing sisterhood of women ready to support each other, learn from each other and step up as the role models our daughters need.

In my daily life at Thomson Reuters, I meet many women who can only be called awesome. Not just staff and clients, but women we cross paths with in the course of business. They may not be as well-known as Mary Barra or Arianna Huffington, but they are just as influential in their own spheres of operation.

In this space, I’d like to begin sharing some of the lessons I’ve learned from the awesome women I’ve been fortunate enough to meet.

I’ll start with executive coach and researcher into women’s leadership, Cathy Flavin-McDonald, with whom I had the pleasure to spend time at the CEO Circle. Cathy spoke to a group of 37 women from Thomson Reuters who through their success at the company had earned an invitation to join us in Malaysia. I think it’s safe to say Cathy learned as much from our diverse group of women as we did from her.

Turn up the Positives and Turn Down the Negatives

In her speech, Cathy made a few important points. Current research, she said, shows the importance of “positivity ratios,” i.e. engaged : disengaged. To stay highly engaged and at your best over a long period of time, it’s best to turn up the positives and turn down the negatives. You can’t entirely eliminate negatives and you shouldn’t want to, as conflict and failure are essential to growth. But your relationship with things that cause discomfort or struggle should be as constructive as possible.

Here are more of Cathy’s key points, distilled from her talk at the CEO Circle:

  • Compared to male leaders, women tend to self-rate their confidence as lower. To counter this, it’s crucial to remember successes and build upon them, replaying as if they were a favorite song when you’re seeking the next challenge. The point is not to over-analyze success, but to feel it in a visceral way. With one foot on past achievement, vaulting to the next one will be easier.

  • Listening to the success stories of other women, even those we don’t know well, can help everybody turn up the positive side of the dial.

  • Identifying mistakes and failures is important; a perfectionist mindset can end up limiting your career potential. The point is to use mistakes to help grow and sharpen performance. Failure is essential to success and it’s unequivocally part of everyone’s reality. Those who can make friends with failure can unleash a power that will propel them to the next level of excellence.

  • None of us can achieve our potential if we don’t stumble and fall, and success is never a straight-line upward trajectory. Rather, it’s a series of upwardly moving circles. The dips teach us something, which propels us to the next level.

  • “Optimalist” is better term than “perfectionist.” The optimalist mindset invites questions such as “How can I add the most value in the time I have,” instead of “What is the perfect work product?”

  • Research shows that one of the top predictors of high-performing executive women’s engagement is their alignment with a spouse or partner. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg has talked a lot about this. Executive leadership can be lonely, and partners who let us rely on them can be crucial both when we’re thriving and when we’re demonstrating our imperfections. We need to be authentic with them, appreciate them, and make time to nurture the relationship.

  • Getting in the habit of expressing daily gratitude (verbally or in a journal) can strengthen relationships and boost your own happiness. Being appreciative of oneself and others helps teams better perform and builds confidence to take on new challenges.

I hope you’ll find these ideas as valuable as I have. I to plan share more such insight in the future. We can all learn from remarkable women—and from their keen insights into success.

This piece originally appeared on Medium on April 15.

What’s the best piece of wisdom you’ve heard from a female CEO?


About the guest blogger: Debra Walton is currently the Chief Content Officer at Thomson Reuters and an executive sponsor of the Thomson Reuters Women’s Network. Follow her on Twitter at @Debra_Walton.