Best Advice: Invest in Relationships in All Directions

This post is part of a series in which LinkedIn Influencers share the best advice they’ve ever received. Read all the posts here. Originally posted on LinkedIn Influencers on February 24, 2014.

I spent 14 years as a professional at Goldman Sachs. I was hired as an analyst, then became a trader, then a desk manager, and in 1996 I became the youngest woman and first female trader to be made a partner of the firm. Over those years I had the good fortune of receiving some great career advice, but the most useful advice did not come from a person, but instead came from a process: Goldman’s partner selection process.

In 2000, I left my trading seat to take a position in the Executive Office where my job was to help manage the careers of the firm’s managing director population. I was very involved in many human capital management programs, including succession planning, lateral hiring, performance measurement, compensation, leadership development, diversity and partner selection. The selection process was very robust, and it involved names being put forward to be cross-reviewed. There was a team of senior executives who had the responsibility to discuss the candidate with a variety of people with whom that candidate worked, whether it be directly, indirectly, or sometimes distantly. These people included senior managers, peers within and outside of their direct work area and people who worked for that candidate. These conversations were meant to enhance what could be found from the performance review process and the direct manager recommendation. Here is where the lesson comes in.

It really matters that you have quality, 360-degree relationships. It really matters that you not just manage up or just manage down, but that you invest in relationships in all directions. This is not about being ‘liked’, but rather it is about being perceived as helpful and a team player. Perhaps this is best illustrated with an example, and in particular, an example of the perfect partner candidate for Goldman Sachs.

In my experience from over a decade ago, the perfect candidate was first and foremost great at his or her job, whatever job that may be. This person managed their team well, was reliable, had a high level of responsibility, executed against stated goals and objectives, retained staff, was a good communicator, created and fostered a place where talented people would want to work, made money for the firm, owned up to their mistakes, was a visionary…all of the usual stuff. Those were generally the minimum requirements to be considered for a partnership. The bonus points were awarded if the candidate helped people when it did not directly help him or her, were involved in recruiting efforts, mentored young people, were generally a ‘hands-up’ kind of person, and the OVERALL impression of that person was good. The perfect candidate was not just thinking of his or her business, career, manager, or direct reports, but was concerned with the bigger picture as well.

This goes even deeper. As a professional, you need to care about every single contact point you have with every single person, both internal and external. Whether that person is an intern who is only there for the summer, someone from another department who needs help with something that may be out of your day-to-day responsibility but you could help nevertheless, or a client who said no to you today but may say yes in the future, you have to care about your interactions with everyone. This may sound like a lot of work, and especially work you don’t have time for if you want to succeed in your role, but over time, it will matter.

In my experience with the partner selection process, I saw candidates’ promotions accelerated for being a well-rounded employee, and penalized for not being one. I saw the managers of said candidates being shocked when their person was not given the nod, because when people in other departments were called, they described that person as ‘not willing to help’ and ‘self-promotional’.

Does this mean that every partner fit this perfect profile? Of course not, but your chances of becoming a partner were a lot higher if you did. You might be thinking that your firm does not have such a robust process, and therefore this is not relevant advice, but I am suggesting that no matter what the process at your place of work might be, take care to always be as friendly, as positive, and as helpful as you can possibly be. I call this taking a 360 perspective.

Take a moment to reflect on your own career. If today someone were to call every person you have had professional interactions with, what would they say? What would they say was your biggest weakness? Would they describe you as a ‘go-to’ person at your place of work? Would key people even know you and know of your contributions? While first and foremost you need to be good at your job, being attentive to the bigger picture certainly will not hurt, and when it comes to that big promotion, it may well be the deciding factor.

Photo: Mykhaylo Palinchak/Shutterstock

Wonder Woman: Part II

1970s--Lynda-CarterGiven my last post about Wonder Woman garnered nearly 41,000 views I did not want to leave any of her fans hanging.  There has been lots of developments in Wonder Woman’s quest to make it to the big screen so here is the latest update.

After Rainfall Films‘ fan film went viral last October, Wonder Woman’s plight became front page news. It felt like everyone was commenting on her absence, and for once, it would appear that Hollywood listened. In December, it was announced that Wonder Woman will appear in the upcoming Batman/Superman film, slated for a 2016 release, and actress Gal Gadot had been cast in the role. This announcement caused a furor online, with people alternately hailing and condemning this development, and this amazing article in The New York Times, published as 2013 came to a close, asked the question that I have been asking for over a decade: Why No Wonder Woman? Why is she still without a film of her own? And why is she making her big screen debut playing second fiddle to two dudes in tights?

Recently it was announced that while Wonder Woman will be making her debut opposite Batman and Superman, Gadot has signed on for three films as Wonder Woman, the second two presumably being a Justice League film and a solo Wonder Woman film. Whether or not these films actually come to fruition remains to be seen, but it is nice to know that Warner Brothers is at least thinking long term for this character. While I wish that Wonder Woman was getting her own film straight away, filming on the Man of Steel sequel is scheduled to begin later this year, so for better or for worse, Wonder Woman will make it to the big screen in the near future. As a lifelong Wonder Woman fan, I couldn’t be happier, and I can’t wait to see my favorite Amazon on the big screen. Frankly, 2016 can’t come fast enough.

AOL, Goldman Sachs & More: Let’s Give Corporate Sponsors a Break

Posted on LinkedIn Influencers, February 14, 2014

Yesterday, I traveled home from the first ever Makers Conference, where corporate, nonprofit, and civic leaders (predominately women) spent two-days envisioning a new agenda for women in the 21st century. As I was pouring through the hundreds of emails that backed up over the past couple of days, I came across one from a friend with the title “What do you think about this?” and a link. The link was to this article about two swag items, a branded cosmetic mirror and a nail file, given to attendees of the recent WECode Conference at Harvard by Goldman Sachs. In fact that was the headline for the article. Apparently one person shared a photo of the items on Instagram, stating “Not sure if this is #sexyfeminism or gender stereotyping.”

I thought to myself, “are you kidding me?” and was ready to quickly move on to the next email. Not a subject worth thinking about, let alone writing about. As I thought about it for another second it got me annoyed. Annoyed at the author (sorry William) of the article for trying to make a big deal out of what was just one person’s comment. And I have to be honest, I was a tad annoyed about the Instagram post even though I am sure it was not meant to be negative, which is what the article turned it in to. I felt the better story, the worthy story, was about the event itself and how awesome it was that Goldman and others sponsored it. I had just heard from many speakers at the conference how women are dramatically underrepresented in STEM, and what was being talked about regarding a conference with this theme was the swag items?

We live in a world where everything, and I mean everything, can be shared and made visible. So what are the implications for companies, such as Goldman, who sponsor great initiatives like WECode? On the one hand we are asking, occasionally begging, these companies to support worthy efforts to advance women in business, women in STEM careers, and women in general (and of course countless other charities and causes). And it is my opinion that when companies sponsor wonderful events like WECode, they should of course be acknowledged and thanked. In fact, I feel we owe them a lot more. Personally, I am trying to make it a habit to send out positive social media messages to the sponsors who are backing the causes I am passionate about, such as encouraging women to enter STEM careers. I also make a huge effort to purchase products and services from companies that I know are aligned with my values.

A quick peak at WECOde’s Twitter feed after the conference showed few such responses, and I think that is a shame. Same is true for many other events I have gone to. Given how much non-profits depend on this type of support, I believe we need to do a lot more to show some love. I don’t think I have ever been asked at an event to give a Twitter shout out to the sponsors and that should be common practice. Worse yet when not only do the sponsors not get positive shout outs, but they get negative ones, and that is what gets picked up in the media. I can just imagine someone at Goldman saying “What the heck? You can’t win for trying.” Personally I have no issue at all with a compact and a nail file, but even if you do, please don’t “lose the forest through the trees”. They made possible an event you attended and benefited from.

On the other hand, just because a company sponsors something you care about or benefit from, does that mean you have to agree with everything they do, go out of your way to buy their products, and promise allegiance forever? No, of course not. Should you think better of them for doing it? I hope so. I encourage everyone to use their voice and the power of social media to let companies know that we are grateful for their financial support to the causes we hold most dear. The more we reach out, the more gratitude we show, the more likely they are to do it again and that is a very good thing!

But here is our true power. When you don’t like something a corporation does, you now have the power to let them know it in ways unprecedented a mere decade ago. Our ability to share our opinions and to enact economic consequences when we disagree with a company’s stance or action is the newest and most powerful tool we have to create the change we want to see in the world. This is so huge, so powerful and should be used, but be thoughtful of unintended consequences. If negative tweeting around the swag bag meant that sponsor was not coming back next year, would that be a good thing? Perhaps if extreme enough, but know that might be the consequence. This theme of using our economic power in alignment with our values was a big part of the TEDxWomen talk I did last year. You can check out #notbuyingit as an example of this type of activism and its power for change.

Furthermore, when companies do sponsor events and they are being visible, they should also know that they can and should be held accountable for what they do and what they stand for. I say this hoping it is a good thing. This is where my experience at this week’s Makers Conference comes in. It just so happens that the BIG sponsor of Makers, an absolutely amazing platform that showcases ‘Women Who Made America”, is AOL. Well, I’m sure you’ve all heard by now the uproar at AOL last week over comments made by its CEO Tim Armstrong that “distressed babies” were the cause of the company’s decision to change their 401(k) retirement policies. Needless to say, these comments were widely derided, prompting a reversal of the policy change and an apology from Tim Armstrong.

However, he chose not to address the controversy in front of the hundreds of women who had gathered for this event, and this was noticed and hotly debated by some attendees in the hallways. What was interesting is that during his brief talk, no one from the audience chose to shout out anything at him. Had there been a Q and A I am sure it would have come up, but it was not offered. So why did the audience choose silence? It clearly was a hot button issue for many people, but in that moment did they understand and respect that Makers exists in large part because of AOL, and therefore were willing to cut the CEO some slack? I think so. Again I would love your thoughts on this. What should Tim have done? What might you have done if you were in the audience? Had there not been a retraction I think the outcome would have been different.

For me, I am beyond grateful to AOL (and the other sponsors) for their support of Makers, because I know that this is not just a ‘check the box’ diversity thing for them, but rather it is a true commitment from AOL to sharing the stories of amazing women who have changed our world. This initiative is big, huge, visionary, and I wish more companies would take note. I think there was enough respect and goodwill in the room at that moment that the audience, collectively, was willing to give Tim Armstrong, and AOL, the benefit of the doubt. I further believe that consistent and authentic support for events and organizations that promote women’s advancement grants you not only good will, but the benefit of the doubt when you do make a mistake. Is it of course better not to make such mistakes and always do the right thing? Yes, but I live in the real world.

Now a deeper question. Does that mean I am for sale? That we were for sale? Of course not. Do I think NGOs should refuse money from certain corporations? Yes, I do. Do I also know that it is a slippery slope when you start to differentiate between ‘good money’ and ‘bad money’ rather that money that ‘does good’? Yup. And please do share your thoughts on this below. I am a CEO of a non-profit organization that has received money from corporate sponsors, and in approaching those sponsors I think long and hard about whom we are approaching and with whom we are affiliating ourselves. I hope that they are thinking the same way about us. However, when we do take that money, when we do invite them in to the room, I feel that we have to treat them with appreciation and respect.

So back to Goldman. Thank you Goldman Sachs for sponsoring WECode and for everything you do to support the advancement of women and girls. Thank you AOL and especially Tim Armstrong for your unbelievable and authentic support of the Makers platform and the Makers conference. It was amazing. As for the mirror and nail file in the swag bag? I am back to my original observation. Who cares? “Let’s not lose the forest for the trees.”