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Leadership Series:

Interviews with global women leaders, discussing early career choices, the role of mentoring and sponsoring, and their risk-taking and decision-making preferences.

"Being agile is what made me a successful sales leader", says Jill Konrath, a Sales strategist and a consummate sponsor of opportunities (#notzero)

Jill Konrath wrote the books that she wanted to read because nobody else had. jillkonrath

It’s that kind of agility, energy and seemingly insatiable curiosity that has propelled Jill Konrath from home economics to the corporate arena and then to the life of “a quiet consultant in Minneapolis” and finally to blaze a trail as a widely followed author, speaker and sales guru. Fortune Magazine declared her first book, Selling to Big Companies, a “must read” for sales professionals. Her second book Snap Selling is the top ranked sales book on Amazon.com. Book number three, The Agile Seller will be published in 2014 and book number four, Snapping Back is on the drawing board!

Like many of the women I have spoken with, it is not the path that Jill envisioned for herself or initially embarked upon. Her professional career began as a home economics teacher but it quickly became clear to Jill that this was not the best path for her. However, Jill continues to teach and guide others. Now the life skills that she helps others learn are not sewing and cooking but rather agility, resilience and a sales process that gets results.

Another way that Jill is like the other women I have interviewed is her willingness to take calculated risks. Unable to find a job after she left teaching she decided to start her own business with some other twenty something’s who were also searching for careers that were a better fit. Following a year of methodical research they had a plan which they shared with a SCORE member, a retired General Mills executive.

He declared the idea fabulous but then asked “but who is going to sell it?”

As Jill put it “I thought a great idea didn’t need to be sold but I drew the short straw,” she would be the organization’s sales person.

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"If you see an opportunity for growth, first say, Yes! I will take it", says Harlina Sodhi, learning executive and employee advocate exemplar (#notzero)

It takes guts.Harlina_Sodhi

It takes guts to cross Himalayan Mountains in India by trapeze and it takes guts to leave the region you grew up in to take a “big” job in a “big” city with one of the biggest companies in the country.

Harlina Sodhi has guts! Harlina Sodhi is now the Senior Vice President and Head of Employee Engagement, Communication and Diversity at Reliance Industries, India’s largest private company. Despite its size, it is somewhat unlikely that you are familiar with Reliance, unless you are from India and/or are familiar with the oil and gas industry. Harlina is going to change that! For the past five months she has had a portfolio that includes Leadership development, training, communication, both internal and external as well as employee engagement.

Her ambitious goal is to make people

“as aware of Reliance as they are of Apple or Google…to make them drool to get a job with us.”

If anybody can make a conglomerate with a strong petrochemical and energy component become an enticing and exciting place to work I have no doubt that it is Harlina!

So how did this energetic and passionate woman transform herself from a Xerox copier sales person from a small town to a respected member of the senior leadership team in one of India’s largest organizations headquartered in India’s financial and corporate capital Mumbai? I think that a big part of the answer relates to energy and attitude. More than once during our hour-long conversation Harlina reiterated

“I always say yes, Sherry. I say yes then I can figure out the rest.”

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"Sponsoring produces better outcomes, when helping women to succeed", says Julie Holt, a nurse executive superstar (#notzero)

Julie Holt is a Nurse Executive,julie_holt with a superstar record of transforming patient services in hospitals in the Greater Cincinnati metropolitan area. She achieved this with compassion and constant desire to innovate and experiment. She is currently the Assistant Vice President (AVP) of Patient Services and Center for Professional Excellence at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC).
In the past, she was the Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) at Mercy Hospital, Anderson and at West Chester Hospital and was VP of Patient Services at Drake Hospital and Director of Patient Services at the Jewish Hospital of Cincinnati.

I started our discussion by asking Julie, when she joined CCMCH where she seemingly took a step-down from a CNO title to her current position title of AVP. Julie laughed and said,

“Actually that observation is true on paper but it does not fully tell the story. All my career moves had reasons, though it would be different in each case. Here I had two reasons, why I took the job.

First, I see myself later in life, doing more teaching and research, and so I decided to do a Ph.D. in Nursing. That requires that I had to find the time to do it. Also, as you know CCHMC being third in the country for pediatric hospitals, there was an opportunity where I can lead innovation with a much bigger team reporting to me and with more resources than I had before and be able to make the difference, even though I allocate less work-hours than I did in the past. This idea of being in an environment that encourages research and innovation was very appealing. In that sense, it was a no-brainer. I see it as more opportunities for success while investing in my future career.”

Looking at her career path, you can see that Julie is on the fast track of senior leadership. She earned positions of senior to executive positions that are notoriously difficult to get hired into it. Julie had no such difficulty! Why?

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Announcing the Women in Leadership Blog Series #NotZero Campaign

For too many years, women leaders and managers did not want to discuss or even acknowledge our femaleness; we wanted to focus solely on leadership and management skills and results. It was as if we were supposed to ignore the fact gender exists.

Recent triggers and public discourse about women in leadership and management once again made gender acceptable to discuss out loud. Some of these triggers are:

1. Sheryl Sandberg’s (COO, Facebook) book, Lean In

2. Debora L. Spar’s (7th president of Barnard College) book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection

3. Sallie Krawcheck starting the #investinwomen campaign by buying 85Broads.com

4. More women CEO appointments in Fortune 1000 companies

5. Recent discussions and public discourse following Dick Costolo (CEO of Twitter), tweeting about his board composition: “You’re not seeing my point. You give people an easy out by just checking a box. The issues are much bigger than checking any 1 box.”

There are many myths and truths about how leadership styles, gender bias and culture (nature or nurture) affect “access” to education/capital/opportunities and career growth (AKA, glass ceiling) for women. We believe inclusion or exclusion of women affects performance of companies and organizations, as reflected in financial statements, operational success, reputation and brand. There is research about this (see references below), but the best summary came from Sallie Krawcheck in a tweet: “We can’t prove correlation or causation but it’s a hell of a coincidence: When we have diverse teams, returns are higher.”

We set out to continue this conversation by interviewing women leaders from around the globe, from various market verticals and with various organizational goals (corporate, not-for-profit), and asking them questions about how and why they:

1. Make career choices

2. Manage risk

3. Mentor or sponsor

4. Leverage networks

5. Hire

6. Make decisions

7. Manage teams

8. Influence outcomes of organizations

9. Remove group-think of corporate boards

10. Face and overcome hurdles

To help us do this, I invited Professor Sharon (“Sherry”) Peck to ask the important questions and write about it. Sherry is an associate professor of business in Capital University’s School of Management and Leadership (her bio is given below). She and I spend many hours discussing these issues. I think you will enjoy her style of asking questions and eliciting responses that will help all of us gain a better understanding of the role of gender in leadership and how it drives outcomes.

When I was telling people I was planning to use the real-estate of PAKRA blog pages for this issue, they asked me why. Here is why:

1.  Women are buyers for our products and services as much as men are.

2.  Women are a larger percentage of users of our products.

3. Behaviors such as critical thinking (“what one does with what one knows”), risk-taking, competitive drive and communication are some of our game-scoring mechanisms. These behaviors, in turn, drive business-process KPIs or outcomes and how people learn. We cannot claim we understand the behaviors better by ignoring gender. It might not play a role in how we build learning adoption, but maybe it does. We will learn something.

4.  PAKRA's founders are deeply passionate about this issue.

The first interview will be published later this week. We plan to publish one-two interviews per month. Come back and read, share and comment.

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