The Five Most Important Lessons I Have Learned

Technology Staff Editor
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During my years in the corporate world, I've learned some lessons and, from them, formed a few guiding principles that have served me well. I'd like to share them with you. 1. Speak Up With Authority In business meetings, many women raise their hands and wait to be called on. However, if you do this in a high-tech environment with a room full of Type A personalities, you will end up with a tired arm and a seldom-heard voice. Instead, jump right in and state your views with confidence. I've noticed that men rarely say, "I think X may be the case." Rather, they make statements as though they were facts. For example, early in my marriage I was very impressed with my husband's knowledge of sports statistics, which he frequently rattled off with great confidence. One day, however, his best friend challenged him on an NFL statistic. My husband was wrong, which I would never have suspected because of the self-assured way in which he expressed himself. The point is that gaining credibility and becoming viewed as a leader depends, in part, on how authoritatively you present your views and ideas to colleagues. 2. Think Positively In the words of the late commentator Earl Nightingale, "You become what you think about." The vision that you have of yourself for the future will guide you to do what is necessary to get you there. So make your vision a positive one. Part of this process requires embracing your fears. If you are afraid of public speaking, for example, imagine yourself becoming an articulate and dynamic public speaker in a year or two and that is what you will become. If you are afraid of making cold calls, turn it into a game and imagine yourself having fun playing the game. Also, be on the lookout for inspiration. I keep a small notebook for recording tips and philosophies from others, the struggles they have overcome and quotes that ring true. When I need to remind myself of positive ideas, I refer to my inspiration book. 3. Don't Dwell on Mistakes I heard a quote once that we are not measured by the mistakes we make but how we recover from them. In a day-to-day job, everyone makes mistakes. It is important to take responsibility without a lot of excuses and move on. Figure out tonight how you can be better tomorrow. 4. Control Your Own Destiny It is important to know which battles you can win and to realize that, sometimes, only you can give yourself what you deserve. In my first position after college, I was a product manager and a sales analyst. It was a great job that gave me the knowledge base upon which I built my career. But I also learned some not-so-pleasant lessons along the way. I was outperforming my peers based on my manager's criteria, such as volume of proposals completed, most profitable wins, etc. Yet one day I learned that a male colleague's salary was 25 percent higher than mine. I asked my manager for an explanation. He agreed that I was the better performer, but explained that this fellow had a wife and three children to support. (These were the days when things like that were actually said.) I decided then that I would go into sales, which would put me in control of my own earnings destiny. I have never looked back. 5. Prepare And Prioritize In this fast-paced world, you must still take time to prepare. Even a 10-minute discussion with an executive or a customer should be well-thought-out and clear. Women have always been good at multitasking, though with instant messages, pagers, cell phones and e-mail, we have taken the juggling act to new heights. I heard a statistic recently that it takes the brain 15 minutes to fully engage in a topic. If we bounce all over the place, how productive are we really? Because of our interruption-driven work culture, it's more important than ever to block out time to actually get things done. You'll find that the higher your position, the more people want your time. When I first became a director, I got some good advice: I give each of many of the people requesting my time 15 minutes. They get to the point and complete the business at hand. If an hour is set aside, people seem to feel the need to fill the full hour. Similarly, I have 30 to 60 minutes of time scheduled with each of my team members every other week. It's also important to keep business communications to the point. Our technology-centric culture has created short attention spans. It often works to communicate journalistically; express your "headline" and then make your points clear and easy to understand. These are all common-sense credos. But sometimes we need to remind ourselves to speak up, stay positive, move forward and effectively manage our time -- basics that pay big dividends.
Dawn Duross is the director of operations for federal channels at Cisco.


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