The Business of Learning

Learning with the Experts: Betsy Myers Offers Leadership Lessons (Part 1)

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In our second installment of Raytheon Professional ServicesLearning with the Experts series, we catch up with Betsy Myers, founding director of Bentley’s Center for Women and Business. Betsy served as a senior advisor for both the Obama and Clinton administrations and leads workshops around the world on the changing nature of leadership. She is the author of Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You.

Part I

RPS Q: What has been the most important lesson you learned in your career to date?

The most important lesson I’ve learned is how to achieve work/life integration. For those of us that have children, that question is always fluid. What your child needs at one is different than at seven or eight and different again when they are in high school. We have to adjust for constant change along with what life brings us. This is also true of integrating our support systems including our spouse, local family members, friends and the financial resources needed to afford help.

I have stumbled many times over the years trying to juggle the demands of work with home. I think our society has glorified being “busy.” What I now believe is that the key aspect to less stress and a more peaceful existence is practicing the skill of saying “no” without guilt and without the long explanations and apologies. When we strengthen our “no” muscle, we leave room to say yes to the requests and obligations that actually move us in the direction of our goals and the things– both professionally and personally– that really matter to us. When we clear the clutter, we are left with the ability to focus and live an outbox life—where we are able to choose and create some calm. However, most of us live an inbox life where we are spending our precious time reacting to what others want and their priorities. As the leader of our life, it is up to us to manage our calendar—which becomes our day, our month, our year and our life.

RPS Q: As a leadership expert, how do you define what being a leader means?

Life is the accumulation of relationships, experiences and lessons. A leader must strive for self-knowledge and the willingness to be reflective and honest. A leader asks key questions, such as: ‘what is the contribution that I want to add to the world,’ and more importantly: ‘what are the patterns of behavior that have benefited me and what are the patterns that cause stress.’ My book, Take the Lead, was the opportunity to look back at 25 years of my working life that spanned business, academia, politics and government to explore where I saw high levels of productivity and passion in others. My conclusion was that Leadership creates a feeling. A leader makes his or her employees feel valued, appreciated, included and heard. Successful leaders and people are those that are conscious about how they show up both at work and at home.

RPS Q: In your book, you talk about how leaders bring out feelings in those around them. Can you summarize the positives/negatives of leaders’ impact on those around them?

Today’s leaders must be like mentors to their employees. They believe in us and bring out our most productive feelings. Leaders usually have the ability to see things that we don’t recognize. They celebrate our success, provide guidance when we feel lost and give us perspective on challenging situations. Leaders also get positive results by providing clarity on both the “why” and the “what” of goals and projects. For me personally, I was most productive and inspired when I felt valued, appreciated, included and heard. This was the same for my observations and research of others. This is what I personally strive to do with my team and the leadership style I work to embody. It’s when leaders fail to make their employees feel this way that employees feel isolated, disengaged, and unproductive. I keep Maya Angelou’s quote close to my heart and mind, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

RPS Q: You also talk a lot about authenticity and what it means to “freak out with joy” about what you are doing – tell us a bit more about what that means? How do people find their authentic selves at work?

When my daughter, Madison, was four years old, she often saw her friends leaving their after-school program to go to soccer, ballet, piano and other activities. One day, when I picked her up from preschool, she said, “Mommy, please don’t overschedule me. I just want to play after school and relax on the weekends!” I said, “Okay, tell you what: I’ll suggest some activities now and then, and when you’re ready to do something outside of school, you can choose.” When she turned six, we went to Madison’s best friend Rachael’s recital, which featured ballet, tap, and jazz for girls from three to twenty. To my surprise, Madison sat on the edge of her seat the entire three hours, completely enthralled. She asked if we can sign up for ballet on the spot, and we did! After purchasing a new dance outfit, we stood in front of the mirror, and her face lit up: “Mommy, I am freaking out with joy! I was born to dance.” Madison dances to this day at age thirteen. Her enthusiasm and commitment reminds me that it is those times in our lives that we are freaking out with joy that give us the greatest clues about who we are and where we genuinely belong.

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Betsy Myers is Founding Director of Bentley’s Center for Women and Business. A dynamic speaker, Betsy leads workshops around the world on the changing nature of leadership. She is deeply committed to the Center’s mission to enable all women to realize their leadership potential and to assist companies to harness the full potential presented by talented women. Betsy is the author of Take the Lead: Motivate, Inspire, and Bring Out the Best in Yourself and Everyone Around You.

As a senior adviser to Barack Obama’s Presidential Campaign, Betsy served first as Chief Operating Officer and then as Chair of Women for Obama. During the campaign, Betsy travelled extensively, speaking to undecided voters and leading the campaign’s outreach to women.

Betsy previously spent several years at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, ending as the Executive Director of its Center for Public Leadership.

During the Clinton Administration, Betsy spent several years at the U.S. Small Business Administration in posts that included Director of the Office of Women’s Business Ownership. She then moved to the White House as President Clinton’s senior advisor on women’s issues and Director of the Office for Women’s Initiatives and Outreach. She currently lives in Boston with her husband and young daughter.

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