Remember being a kid and knowing what you wanted to be when you grew up?
Perhaps you wanted to be a teacher like me, or maybe it was doctor, actress or architect. Whatever it was, I doubt you gave much thought on how to actually get that job. You simply decided what you wanted to do, and that was that.
If only it was that easy as an adult. So often we develop our skillsets and put together a killer resume, but don’t have a concrete plan for making the jump into a larger leadership role.
Here’s the thing, sometimes you don’t need a concrete, step-by-step plan. According to Women’s Leadership Breakfast panelists Jen Cohen and Shaney Fink, sometimes what you need is a willingness to fill a gap and a curiosity to find out what’s around the corner.
“It’s like when I go hiking, it’s really hard to turn around.” Fink says. ‘It’s like, ‘Oh, what’s up there just around the corner?’’
That curiosity led to various roles at the University of San Diego after starting her career at USD as a volleyball coach. Working with student athletes inspired her to earn a Master’s degree in counseling, which resulted new opportunities in the athletic department and eventually led to job at Seattle University as their Athletic Director – all because she wanted to see what came next.
“Before too long I had a lot of support and people nudging me.” Fink said. “I don’t know if I would have thought to do it on my own. I always thought, ‘I don’t know if that’s what I want to do, but I don’t want to be told I can’t do it.’ I just kind of took whatever opportunities came and said, ‘Sure, yeah. I’ll try that.’”
Jen Cohen’s path to becoming the Director of Athletics for the University of Washington included a willingness to do more than her job description entailed.
“What I learned pretty young in this business is that if you can get the work you have assigned to you done really well, there’s more work to be done in these jobs than there’s ever enough resource.” Cohen explained. “I would look for where the gaps were… and then I’d try to fill the hole.”
You can’t ‘stay in your lane’ and expect your leadership abilities to become obvious to everyone else. It’s tiring (sometimes exhausting) to go the extra mile and to fill gaps, but there’s a huge payoff.
“It creates value and you become hard to replace,” Cohen says. “You also grow and develop that way. I knew where some of my weak spots were from an experience standpoint, and I’d jump at any opportunity I could to take advantage of those.”
Leadership opportunities don’t always follow a plan. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone and develop your skillset. Be curious about ways to utilize your talents.
When you do that it’s fun to think about what’s just around the corner in your career.
The Women’s Leadership Breakfast is just around the corner, October 26th in Seattle. Make sure you register and reserve your seat to hear Jen and Shaney in person. You won’t want to miss their panel discussion or our special guest – Big Sky Commissioner Andrea Williams. She’s going to help kick off the breakfast, share personal insights on leadership, as well as, her experience as a two-sport athlete in college. You’ll learn more about Andrea in the coming weeks. Until next time – share this with a friend or colleague who would enjoy a morning of inspiration and networking.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of young women who spent their summer participating in a Girls Who Code program. They completed the 7-week class, but not without challenges. From the get-go, the ran into problems with their computers and malfunctioning equipment. It added a degree of difficulty they were expecting. And as I told them during their graduation ceremony – it gave them a chance to do much more than just learn to code.
It doesn’t matter where you are in your career, or what career field you choose, you learn more from failure than success. Everyone could use a reminder of the opportunity tucked inside each challenge we face. That is why I wanted to share the talk I gave to the young women and explain why you should look forward to situations that don’t go as planned. Because as I told those young ladies, it the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
Here is the message I shared:
The best thing that’s ever happened to you…
I’ve worked in sports for nearly 20 years which makes me old, and makes me qualified to say this: I’ve worked with a lot of losers in the last two decades.
I say that with all the love in my heart for the athletes and coaches that I work with daily. I truly enjoy the people I work with. If they heard me say the statement about working with losers they would chuckle and know that it was in jest. They’d also tell you that losing is a big part of career and leadership development. It’s not that they want to lose, but they understand the challenges along the way end up being the greatest teaching tool.
You rarely learn as much from success as you do failure. Facing challenges, making mistakes, dealing with disappointment does you a greater service that experiencing easy or early success. It’s how you prove to yourself and others that you can handle whatever comes your way.
The challenges you experience during your career allowed you to demonstrate these three things.
Response to adversity
No one becomes a leader or advances through their career without facing disappointment and adversity. Just like no athlete goes through an entire career without losing, which is why NFL scouts specifically look for situations where an athlete has failed. You might think they only want to see positives when considering which draft pick is worthy of a team’s selection, but talent is only half the equation. A player’s response to adversity is just as important. If a player hasn’t faced challenges, either personally or in their athletic career, there’s no baseline to evaluate how they’ll react when the inevitable happens. Like when they lose a game, make a mistake, drop a ball, get demoted or moved into a lesser role.
Key influencers and decision makers need to see your response to adversity. Did you hang your head and give up? Did you lash out and blame the circumstances for your inability to succeed? Or, did you respond like you have over the last few weeks with perseverance, determination and a positive attitude to do the best you could?
“You are going to face adversity in your career. Embrace the opportunity to showcase your character as much as your success.”
Reaction to knowing the deck is stacked against you
Sometimes the factors just don’t line up and success seems unlikely. I run into this in television when I’m facing the possibility of not getting an interview when I’m on a deadline, or when a computer malfunction erases the work of my editor, putting a show in jeapardy of making air. This happens with sports teams all the time. We call those teams underdogs. We talk about teams facing an uphill climb because of their schedule or trying to move past a rash of injuries. The deck is stacked against them too, but when you talk to members of teams facing those situations they won’t focus on the challenges, they’ll talk about their strengths and point to areas they can win.
Circumstances aren’t always going to be favorable. Sometimes those circumstances are within your control, sometimes they aren’t. Be resourceful. Be clear on your talents and how to best use those talents when things don’t appear to be going your way. Redefine your version of success. The goal is always to perform at 100% but sometimes 85% is enough and still pretty darn good.
Response to hearing “No”
There’s nothing wrong with hearing the word “no.” In fact, people who tell you not to take “No” for an answer are ridiculous, and quite possibly not living in the real world. You’re going to hear “No.” You’re going to hear “no” to a great idea. You’re going to ask for an extension on a deadline and not get it.
What you need to understand is this – “No” doesn’t mean you had a bad idea.
Sometimes, “No” means, “It’s not in the budget,” or “I can’t afford to move you to that project, when I really need your expertise on this one.”
Sometimes “No” is, “I can’t give you the promotion, because you’re not ready for that responsibility.”
No happens. You need to discern where the “No” is coming from and control your reaction. Hearing “No” does not require outrage as some people would lead you to believe. You’re going to hear no – get used to it. CEO’s hear it from board members. Players hear it from coaches, as in “No, you’re not making this team.” Or, “No, you’re not going to be starting.” Or, “Not you’re not getting the ball on this particular play.”
I’ve interviewed for jobs and promotions that I have not gotten. I’ve been told no, because I wasn’t ready and needed more experience. Hearing “No” saved me from making mistakes on a large scale.
You’re also closer to your next “Yes” because you have taken the time to develop your skills, step out of your comfort zone and hone your talents. You have taken advantage of the opportunity right in front of you to showcase what you’re really made of and demonstrate that you can handle situations most people would consider less than ideal. You know better. You know the challenges you faced, and the way you responded are the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
Jen Mueller, America’s Expert Talker, is a member of the Seattle Mariners television broadcast on ROOT Sports and serves as the sideline radio reporter for the Seattle Seahawks. She founded Talk Sporty to Me in 2009 and makes sports conversations useful in business. Jen is releasing her third book The Influential Conversationalist in October. Stay in touch with Jen by leaving your name in the box marked “Let’s Do This!”
Being coachable is as necessary in business as it is in sports. It’s one of the many correlations that could be made between sports participation and business leadership, and one of the topics to discuss at the 5th Annual Women’s Leadership Breakfast presented by the Seattle Sports Commission and AT&T on October 26, 2017.
The panel includes Seattle University Athletic Director Shaney Fink, and University of Washington Athletic Director, Jen Cohen. Both have incredible experience and perspective on leadership, but it’s their personalities that will draw you in first, as you’ll see here.
Getting to Know… Jen Cohen
Director of Athletics, University of Washington
Jen Cohen is the Director of Athletics at the University of Washington. She has been with UW for 18 years and has overseen the athletic department’s fundraising efforts for much of that time, including the “Drive for Husky Stadium” campaign that raised over $50 million in gifts for the renovation of Husky Stadium.
Here are a few things to know about Jen before you meet her in person in October:
She loved athletics before she became an Athletic Director. “My two favorite sports growing up were volleyball and softball. I loved both for different reasons. Volleyball ended up being my absolute favorite sport. I played it through high school and coached it for a couple years.”
Of course she’s a UW fan, but the Mariners have her heart too. “I spent so much time with the Mariners in the 90’s when I was [working] at the University of Puget Sound. They were playing their final years in the Kingdome, and the great run they had. We laughed because we weren’t sure we worked during early fall. We worked until midday and then we did not miss a Mariners game. I love baseball.”
You can sometimes catch her singing. “I sometimes make up songs, or I take words and turn them into songs all the time, which drives my boys crazy. I’ll start singing phrases instead of just saying the phrase. I’m known for a little creativity in the song department.”
Jen will be part of a panel discussion that dives into the correlation between sports participation and business leadership, which includes the importance of being coachable because when you reach one goal, there’s always another one that follows.
“Getting better every day means you have to be focused.
It means you have to be open to feedback.
It means you have to be challenged.
You have to be open to other ideas and have that nimble ability to adjust, pivot and move based on what’s happening in your organization.”
That’s one of the insights Jen will share with the audience. Will you be there? Make you sure reserve your seat.
Did you miss the Getting to Know feature on Shaney Fink? Check it out right here.
If you’d like to learn more about these women, send an email to Jen@TalkSportytoMe.com with the subject line “Women’s Leadership” and I’ll put you on the list to receive more features leading up to the breakfast.
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