Liz’s 2009 Leadership Salon Series
remarks by elisa speranza
February 26, 2009
When Nice Ladies Finish First
I have a sign in my office that reads: “Be Nice or Leave.” Throughout my career, I’ve often heard from supervisors “you’re too nice.” Fortunately, I decided to ignore their advice to adopt a tougher, less caring attitude. I think this is a trap for women leaders in particular, and luckily I have found a company that embraces values such as compassion, teamwork, and respect.
If I had to sum up my leadership style in one word, it would be “positive.” I am a true believer in the “abundance model,” focusing on outcomes rather than problems through an affirmative orientation. There is solid academic research demonstrating that companies focused on positive leadership attributes are more profitable, more innovative, and retain customers and employees better. I have found that leadership attributes such as honesty, integrity, humility, communication, empathy, and demonstrating values (walking the talk) are highly prized and effective.
Here are some nuggets of advice collected over the years from my mentors and role models (including Liz Levin). Some of it seems pretty simple, but I’m often amazed at how many people don’t do these things; then they wonder why they are struggling.
- Be yourself—even if people tell you you are “too nice”
- Bloom where you’re planted; don’t focus on the org chart, focus on leadership advancement vs. career advancement
- Have a positive attitude
- Listen with empathy
- Seek first to understand before forming an opinion
- Be humble
- Don’t bad-mouth the firm
- Your perception of you is only one data point: seek feedback
- Maintain relationships/networks relentlessly (I enter every business card into Outlook Contacts—I have 3998 Contacts as of today, and so far 270 Facebook friends)
- Choose people for teams who are not alike, and not like you
- Be an inspiration—reach back, mentor
- Write thank-you notes
- Get back to people—be responsive and helpful; keep commitments
- Coach teams from the heart
- Everyone is a potential ally
- Wait until the next morning before responding from emotion
- Don’t whine—be constructive
- Women viewed as competent are often less likeable, men don’t usually pay that price or have to make that trade-off. Women need to keep that in mind and try to walk the line. Men need to help us break that cycle.
- Be aware, correct perceptions, help other women (generational difference)
- Choose your battles
- Share the credit
- Express differences and fit in, effect change and maintain legitimacy, push back and conform [Deborah Myerson, Stanford, Tempered Radicals]
- Make your numbers—it won’t matter how nice you are if you’re not also successful
Thanks so much for indulging me by listening to my stories. I was truly humbled looking around the room at all those talented people, many of whom have shared their wisdom, support and encouragement with me over the years. Liz and Chuck’s house is truly a special place, and I loved all the infrastructure views out every window.
As we head in to Spring (finally!), I can only add: GO RED SOX!
To order your own “Be Nice or Leave” sign, visit www.drbobart.net.
Here’s a link to the New York Times obituary on my friend Antoinette K-Doe, whom I mentioned during my talk. She never met a stranger.
As some of you lingered at the end, I mentioned my friend Erin’s side project, the non-profit gift basket company Henry’s Hearts. Their baskets are gorgeous, and the proceeds go to a very special cause. Visit www.henryshearts.org to learn more.
Here’s a list of relevant reading:
- Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey
- Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office: Eight Strategies for Winning in Business Without Being a Jerk, by Russ Edelman, Tim Hiltabiddle (a family friend) and Charles Manz
- Her Place at the Table, by Deborah Kolb and Carol Frohlinger
- What Men Don’t Tell Women About Business, by Christopher Flett
- Positive Leadership and related work by Kim Cameron, University of Michigan
- Tempered Radicals by Deborah Myerson of Stanford University
- Making the Impossible Possible, the Rocky Flats story, by Cameron & Lavine
- Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni
- “Centered Leadership: How Talented Women Thrive” in McKinsey Quarterly September 2008, by Joanna Barsh Susie Cranston and Rebecca Craske
about elisa speranza and ch2m hill
Elisa M. Speranza
A recognized leader in the North American water profession, Ms. Speranza is President of CH2M HILL’s Operations & Maintenance Business Group (OMI). She directs operations, administration, and client relations for the 1700+ person division, and is responsible for establishing and achieving the company’s vision, market strategy and performance objectives.
From 1992 to 1996, she was Deputy Director of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority and previously was a Project Manager for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission. Earlier work focused on issues such as public housing, community development, mass transit, and elective politics.
Ms. Speranza is the Vice President of the global nonprofit Water For People, which helps facilitate clean water and sanitation solutions to people in developing countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boston College and a masters in public administration from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. A lifelong Bostonian and rabid Red Sox fan, she now lives in New Orleans and Denver.
Contact: Elisa M. Speranza, President, O&M Business Group, CH2M HILL, 9193 S. Jamaica St., Suite 400, Englewood, CO 80112; 720.286.1151 (office phone); email@example.com; www.omi.ch2m.com; (for Facebook invitations: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Headquartered near Denver, Colo., employee-owned CH2M HILL is a global leader in engineering, procurement, construction, management and operations for government, civil, industrial and energy clients. With $5.8 billion in revenue and more than 25,000 employees, CH2M HILL is an industry-leading program management, construction management and design firm, as ranked by Engineering News-Record (2008). The firm’s work is concentrated in the areas of energy, water, transportation, environmental, nuclear and industrial facilities. CH2M HILL has been named multiple times by FORTUNE as one of the 100 Best Companies to Work For and one of America’s Most Admired Companies (2008), and was also named winner of a 2009 Catalyst Award, honoring exceptional initiatives from companies and firms that support and advance women in business.
Clients in government and industry rely on the people of CH2M HILL’s Operations & Maintenance Business Group (OMI) to provide a range of custom-tailored operations and maintenance solutions. The company’s services include water and wastewater system optimization; contract O&M of water, wastewater and other utilities; and complete municipal operations, including administration, public works, and community development — all backed by a commitment to safety, quality, innovation, and customer service.
“I have a sign in my office that reads: Be Nice or Leave.”
“Make your numbers— it won’t matter how nice you are if you’re not also successful.”