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In the last blog I talked about “Women in the Boardroom -- the Truth”, and the response was amazing. It ranged from, “Hey, that was great information. I like the fact that you kept the three major points simple around being the best, be yourself and deliver, deliver, deliver”; to “You are a guy, you don't know what you are talking about. You have no idea what it is like for women in the boardroom“ (I knew that one was going to come). The most interesting one was “well, yeah, the three points you raised, those are so obvious. I didn't get anything out of it”.  

Let's go back and take each one of those three points individually and give some backdrop to them. The first thing is we know there is a huge effort to create opportunity for everyone regardless of gender, age, race, creed, academic background, religious background, sexual orientation, etc. Businesses are trying to say, “look, we are a gender-blind, colorblind, religion-blind place where we embrace diversity and inclusion. We want everyone that wants a job to feel like they can walk into an environment and be their best without expecting them to conform to what others believe is required - especially to the extent that that expectation has brought about discrimination and a lack of inclusion”.

That is a backdrop. It creates a whole host of opportunities clearly, but it also creates a lot of challenges. There are the external challenges around what other people do and what's that fight and how do you overcome that; and then there's the internal challenge around what do I have to do? How is it that the way I see the world might actually be limiting my success?

You've heard me talk about Stephen Covey's “Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People” - a great book classic. Everything in there is so insightful. It makes so much sense under the category of being the best you. The one point from the book that I always talk about is “let me stay within my circle of influence, and not my circle of concern”. What he meant by that is there are a lot of things that you are concerned about that you can't influence. As an example, the system is unfair in the way people treat folks in the board room, and treat women, minorities, gay, lesbian etc., the disabled - and you are absolutely right to be concerned about it. You should do whatever you can to the extent that you can actually influence the unfairness.

In my case, my way of influencing those specific things was to be the best me. That meant that as I dealt with everything that came up, I was consciously aware as to whether what I was doing made a difference for the people that came behind me, and each one of you will need to do this however you see best. As a student of the civil rights movement, when I look at Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and debate on who had the better strategy - nonviolence versus other - from my point of view, you need both voices in the conversation. You need both a Malcolm and a Martin.

That is the case as a woman in the boardroom or as anyone else. Yes, you have a clear right to be an advocate for making sure that there's parity and equity, and as a woman in the board room, you have a right to be the best you. You may choose to be more strategic about the battles you pick by demonstrating through performance that you can do the job. That tends to be my strong suit - demonstrating by performance. That is the perspective that I am taking. I am more of the Martin in this argument than Malcolm, and so I want to talk more about what that means - especially when we start talking about the mindset for success.

Women have unique challenges and unique obstacles to overcome and the most I can do is be sympathetic and hopefully not pile on. Clearly not knowingly pile on. But what I can tell you is that there are similarities with regard to being your best. I have found that it is not an issue of whether or not bad stuff's going to come your way. It is the issue of how you handle it when it does come your way.

Whether or not you are going to be victimized is not the question. Anyone that's tried to do business - anyone that's tried to do anything in this country - will be victimized. The question becomes do you adopt a victim mentality to the point that it totally debilitates you or prevents you from seeing opportunity? Does it bring about a victim mentality that precludes your ability to move forward to advance the cause for the mission and the goals you want? Does it prevent you from seeing opportunity that actually helps you to move forward and advance?

We all struggle with these challenges and struggles. Struggle is the human condition, and while we might feel like the struggle shouldn't be necessary, it is real. It is there. I don't really care who you are. You are going to struggle. You can have all the money in the world and you are probably just as helpless dealing with a sick child as someone with no money. You can probably get some expensive doctors, but you can't do a doggone thing about it. Struggle comes in many different forms and it hits everybody in some way or another. I am totally convinced of that. I think it is interesting when people say to me, “Oh, you have a great life. You don't struggle. You have too much money”.

Some people feel like struggle only happens to them and nobody else, but in this regard that is not the case. Everyone  encounters a struggle getting to the boardroom. I think the only people that probably didn't struggle were the first people that created the boardroom. Part of the struggle is to weed out the people that do not really have a good appreciation for what it takes to get there – that have not done what it takes to prove that they deserve to be there. It is designed to separate what we call the “wheat from the chaff;” the cream of the crop. It really and truly is designed that way.

Here is how to navigate the struggle. The biggest thing you have to do is have the right mindset. This is not a question of if people can get into the boardroom - people get into the boardroom every single day. They do, and it is not always the same old people. New people come in. Innovation requires growth. Innovation requires new ideas. Innovation requires seeing things in ways that have not been seen before. Most companies that have been around for 10 20, 50, a hundred or more years have had to bring in new ideas, new innovation, and a whole host of things.  You have to say ”I want to build a company that gets me into the boardroom for the purpose of creating the legacy that I want to create for myself, my family and my community, and I believe that I am uniquely qualified to take on this challenge and make it happen”.

The question then becomes who are you to believe that you can make this happen and what do you need to do to get there? What I am talking about again is mind set. I will share with you my story. One of my coachesJen Kemm is amazing - a brand master. She owns a company called KemmCom as well the Master Brand Institute and she works with small business owners and entrepreneurs on building legacy brands. She has worked with a lot of famous people and she talks about her core values because one of the things that she understands, especially around a personality brand, is you need to stand for something.

I was thinking about that and I asked myself “what actually are my brand values”? I have five of them. I will name them all for you: Respect, Excellence, Legacy, Innovation and Candor.  As I started thinking about those, I realized that those five are not something that I just put down on a sheet of paper and came up with because my coach told me I needed to have core values. Those are things that have actually guided and governed my life since I can recall. They are who I am. I do believe in showing respect to others even when it is not shown. I definitely believe in excellence. I try my level best to make sure that if it has the Dobbins name on it - it is quality. It reflects excellence. It requires thought. It shows that detail matters. I may find a few things here and there that need added attention, but it is not because I was sloppy and didn't care. It was truly an oversight and will be corrected, and in some cases it may actually be intentional, but not because I didn't care. That's just something that my grandparents instilled in me. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right. Legacy.

For those of you that have read the Bible, there's a phrase in it “to whom much is given, much is required“. If you keep reading, it says “to whom even more is given, even more is required”, and I just believe that my life was meant to stand for something; to make a difference; to make it easier for the people behind me, including my own family. Clearly I believe that I am here to make a difference - to make an impact - and there is going to be legacy. I don't need to be Henry Ford and have a company named after me. If I leave the face of this planet knowing that I made it easier for somebody else, I am comfortable with that as a legacy innovation. I think my Mom would tell you -  going back to age seven - that I was always looking at new ways of doing things.

I love this millennial generation, because they are questioning everything, and rightfully so. There's a healthy tension between “here's the way we've always done it”, and revisiting "why". You know, Why do we do it that way? This is the heart of innovation. I have always thought - and I think it is the engineer in me - that there has got to be another easier, faster, better way to achieve an outcome, so innovation has been a part of who I am from the very beginning.

I have always disliked the phrase, “let me be honest with you”. Let me be frank and tell you why I hate that phrase. If somebody says ”let me be honest”, I think, “well, have you not been honest previously? Have you been dishonest? Why did you feel the need to tell me?” It had never occurred to me that you weren't honest, but now that you are saying “let me be honest”, I need to rethink everything you ever told me. Under Candor, what I tend to say is “let me be candid; let me be frank; let me be direct”. I tend to be candid just sharing with you what I believe and what I know, so my core values are excellent indicators of who I am and how I approach things.

You'll need to come up with your own list of your core values. Once you understand that when people know who you are, what you stand for, what you believe in, what motivates you, what drives you, there will be a huge impact on your employees, and there is going to be a bigger impact on the relationship that you have with your corporate customers. The mindset around how you see yourself; what your values are; how those issues help you to overcome struggle; and how they help you to overcome disadvantage is going to help you overcome a number of roadblocks that may be thrown your way. All of that is going to be huge, but there are going to be challenges.

More things to distract you and take you off task and off your goal will manifest, but you've got to have the mental toughness to make sure they don't take you off your game nor off your path or focus. It is easy for it to happen, and then you blame the system. Yes, it is going to be an uphill battle against the system and against “the man”, but I have done it and you can do it too. Others are currently doing it as well, so it is not an unachievable goal nor an insurmountable task.

It is more of "do you have the right mindset to get you there and are you willing to stay focused"? What I am going to leave you with is develop your list of values. Find some that work for you and have them guide you through the challenges that are ahead. As you do that, it is going to become very clear what types of business will work for you versus those that won't. Not all business is good business, so you are going to need to know what you need to walk away from; and what it is you want to embrace and get more of. As the old adage says, “to thy own self be true”.

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