“I didn’t even recognize I was unhappy at that time. It wasn’t until I attended a women’s leadership conference myself that I understood just how much I needed a change.”
I thought that was so incredible, as I sat watching my hand move at light-speed, vigorously attempting to capture every ounce of knowledge I could transcribe from her words. Enlightening, teaching and supporting other women in business is so clearly a full-circle process, yet it’s often difficult to see it that way.
Stacey Sargent has been working as with leaders and teams in business for the past 12 years, after making a sharp career change from being a Program Manager at Microsoft. She facilitates leadership and team programs, provides coaching and speaks at conferences at companies like Amazon, Expedia and Microsoft. She does a good portion of this work directly for the purpose of helping female leaders thrive. She recently spoke at Seer Interactive in Philadelphia, at a panel discussion called Women at Work, a series of candid conversations about cutting the bullshit and dispelling myths about women in business.
When I realized I couldn’t attend the event due to travel, I had to seek out a conversation with Stacey, who despite being on a cross-country road trip still made the time to teach me lessons I could never forget. She’s one of those unique individuals that can somehow manage to instill trust and friendship in you within moments, and later motivate you to be better and stronger in all that you do. The advice is raw, accurate and relatively uncommon to hear that it resonated with me in remarkable ways. These are lessons we can all benefit from as women and people, striving to understand who we are and what we are capable of.
1. Who we are in life is who we are at work.
This statement is essentially Stacey’s motto and encompasses everything she teaches. It applies to both men and women, but women specifically can feel the pressure to establish different identities when in positions of power. As much as we talk about work-life balance, you’re still the same person living one life. If you dedicate yourself to growing as a person, then that same growth translates directly into how you perform at work.
2. You aren’t alone in your fears as a woman striving for a successful career.
Stacey conducts an exercise where she has all of the women in the room write down their biggest fear or setback on a note card. Then, she has them pass the note cards around to the other women to read. At first, the women “kind of hate her,” but then an overwhelming amount of relief starts to assume the room. The women start realizing how much they relate to the fears the other women wrote down on the notecards in their hands. It makes them understand that they aren’t alone. It’s something we all forget at times.
3. 80% of what we do is because of emotions. A successful career doesn’t derive from a detachment from emotions, it comes from understanding them.
This is one of those ‘bullshit business myths’ that Stacey works so diligently to dismantle. As human beings, we will always carry our emotions. We use them in everything we do, decision-making, negotiation, loving, caring and arguing. It is physiologically impossible to ‘check your emotions at the door.’ And if emotions drive 80% of what we do, the very important things we do, why wouldn’t everyone work to understand them and use them effectively? As women, one of the hurdles we have to overcome with the patriarchy and general sexism is the stereotype that women are over-emotional. Trying to bottle and repress your emotions won’t help you succeed. You have to work to understand how you feel and then practice choosing how you respond to those feelings. Use that skill to move you in the direction you want to go. That’s how you cultivate success.
4. Loving yourself is a never-ending journey, not a destination.
Stacey cringes at cliche statements about having to love yourself before you can love someone else or achieve some measure of success and confidence. “No one completely loves themselves, that’s crap. I don’t even completely love myself, but I can love others and I can be happy. It’s something you have to always work on.” Self-assurance and confidence are some of those life skills that translate into work skills, and they’re something you can’t expect to suddenly achieve one day.
5. If you don’t take risks, you can’t expect tremendous growth.
“The worst thing that could happen is that it doesn’t work out. So what? Most women will apply for a job they’re 90% qualified for, while men will apply for a job they’re only 50% qualified for. Why is that? Why are we as women afraid to risk something we aren’t completely sure will work out?” You have to take risks. You have to put yourself at there, even at the risk of denial.
6. Blaming the system only gets you so far. You have to understand what you can actively do to make life better for yourself and other women.
“Once we held a session where women went around the room and cited all the factors that make success and growth more challenging professionally for women. Everything they said was 100% accurate about the system, but we arrived at a point in the session where I said ‘Ok, now what? We can end the session right now, or we can figure out what we can personally do to change things?’ and that started a different kind of conversation.”
7. You have to believe you deserve the same coaching and teaching as male leaders do, and then advocate for yourself.
When women ask about Stacey’s services, there is often back-and-forth. They feel like they have to negotiate pricing down more often and really explain that they deserve the training. Most women will start asking for lower pricing or less services before they even make a request to their management. When men request the services, Stacey has found they go in directly with the full package and it gets approved. Though there are obviously many other factors involved here and funding for women’s groups is often limited, she also wonders if some of these women aren’t asking for less without even asking for what they need. It makes sense that superiors would be less likely to believe in the power of leadership coaching for women if we don’t seem to believe in it either. Ask for what you need for your professional development and know you deserve it, then negotiate down if you need to.
8. Emotional intelligence is one of the best things you can invest in.
Not only is it critical to understand your own emotions, but it’s absolutely necessary to strive to understand the emotions of the people around you as well. Again, who we are as people is the same as who we are at work.
9. You have to build your personal board of directors.
It matters who you have in your circle to support, guide and understand you from a personal and professional standpoint. Stacey teaches that you need a variety of people on your team, including supporters, door-openers and innovators. Supporters stand by you and bring you encouragement. Door-openers are the connections that bring you new opportunities. And lastly, innovators at the people that challenge how you think and introduce you to enlightening perspectives. These are the people that help you expand and improve.
10. People can’t help you if you don’t tell them what you need.
As women, we often rely on one another for support and guidance. We have a network of friends, colleagues and managers that we reach out to in our times of trial and tribulations. The problem is that we don’t always tell them what we are looking for. Stacey coaches other women to let people know what they need in different situations, a rock to listen, a friend for support or a coach to support you in finding your own answers with challenging questions.
11. There is rarely a ‘big moment’ where everything makes sense and you realize you’ve found your calling, therefore achieving happiness and success as a woman. Some people will wait a lifetime for that moment and ultimately be disappointed.
You’re supposed to change direction. You’re never going to stop learning about who you are. Success is all about turning self-awareness into action, and following the path you create for yourself. “You’re a leader every day.” Stacey said about young women like myself and how we can start to prepare for the road ahead, no matter how ambiguous that future may seem. “Learn yourself. Figure out what it takes for you to take risks and act on that.” There isn’t one big moment because you can have those moments every day if you decide to chase them. Ultimately, that power is in your hands.
To connect with and learn more about Stacey Sargent, you can check out her LinkedIn and on her website. You can also head over to Amazon to grab a copy of her book. You can find out more about Seer Interactive Events in Philadelphia like “Women at Work.”