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3 Great Leaders, 6 Tough Questions & A Big Pinch Of Salt

It’s fair to say that I’m assertive and that I like to get results. It was that way when I played college basketball and rowed on the crew team. It was that way when I was closing venture deals and launching new venture funds. And it’s that way today when I scout for new ideas and new companies as a chief technology and innovation officer.

But if you want to see confidence, if you want to see swagger, watch Shannon Brayton, Jessica Jensen, and Carrie Palin take a stage as they did at our recent event in San Francisco.

“These women are ballers,” said Dani Napier Harrison, director of leadership and pipeline programs at Intel who moderated a discussion with the three at the headquarters of LinkedIn.

Yes, indeed. Shannon is senior vice president and CMO at LinkedIn, Jessica leads B2B marketing at Facebook, and Carrie is senior vice president and CMO at Box. They are strong, senior leaders, just the kind I imagined when I founded UPWARD to inspire and support the next generation of executive women. Today, we have nearly 5000 members in 13 chapters worldwide.

And clearly, we have a lot on our minds.

In 60 minutes, the panel got tough questions – from grappling with perfection and pay parity to life in the age of #meetoo and #timesup. They gave no-holds-barred answers, often with a big pinch of salt. It was a fast, fun, and compact seminar from which every executive can learn.

First Up: Best Piece Of Advice

We started simply: looking back, what one tip would you give to aspiring leaders?

Shannon zeroed in on her CEO, who asked her to jump into to the CMO’s chair. It took a lot of convincing, but three years in she loves the work. Her take? “Find somebody in your life that recognizes something in yourself that you can’t exactly see. Look for that person, because they exist.”

If you don’t find them, it may be time to leave, said Jessica. “Most people stay in their jobs way too long. If you have a loser boss, just move on.”

But what if you aren’t sure about making a move – especially if it’s a big one? “Take a leap of faith once in a while – even when you don’t think you’re ready for something,” Carrie said. “Many women think they have to be 100 percent qualified to do something.” And that’s simply not true.

Tough…And Even-Tougher…Audience Questions

With that, we dove into audience questions. Here are a half dozen of the toughest.

How do you deal with the idea of perfection?

After the birth of her second child, Carrie had post-partum depression and was thinking seriously about stepping away from a successful career at Dell. She told her manager she was exhausted, couldn’t sleep, and might need to leave. He was empathetic and emphatic: do whatever you need to feel whole so you can stay and thrive. She did just that.

“That man took that moment to say it’s OK to be imperfect,” she said. “I try to give that back to everyone I know.”

How do you know if a new company is right for you?

Jessica pounced on the question. Once upon a time, she failed to do her due diligence before taking a role with a new company. It wasn’t a happy experience, but it left her clear-eyed. “You have got to sniff out the culture,” she said. “Go through the interview process, but then find five other people who work at the company who are not associated with your chain of command and get some real intelligence.”

What about pay parity?

There’s no question the issue persists. Both Jessica and Carrie had times where men in similar positions were being paid more. Their responses varied, but the clear message was to take control of the situation.

“If you don’t value what you do, who will?” asked Carrie.

As senior leaders, the panelists now look deeper into their organizations for parity issues. When she got to Box, for example, Carrie noticed a number of women driving the business forward, but a lot of men leading the teams. That changed quickly.

Have you heard the comment that you intimidate men and what did you do about it?

Whoa! Everyone wanted in on this one.

As a young consultant, Jessica was told to modulate her style. Yet if she hadn’t pushed – selectively, strategically – she wouldn’t have earned the respect of her peers as quickly, or been promoted as rapidly. “Feel comfortable intimidating some people – you must,” she said.

“I’ve been told no less than 40 times that I intimidated a man,” said Shannon in a voice that conveyed how little she cared. Today, she considers it her role to flag discussions when words used to describe men positively – passionate, driven – are used to portray women negatively.

“It’s my job to speak for the women who aren’t in the room.”

How do you reflect on your work experiences in an era of #meetoo and #timesup?

Shortly after #metoo burst onto social media, Jessica posted all the unwanted behavior she’d encountered in her career. What fascinated her was how many people, including current and past colleagues, were shocked it occurred.

“I thought how troubling and shameful that it’s a surprise: it happens all the time!”

So what to do about it? “It’s about speaking up,” Jessica said. “Saying what’s on your mind.” It’s also about non-verbal communication: making clear, from the outset, that inappropriate comments, gestures, and behaviors are not welcome.

How do you balance being a good mother with moving forward in your career?

“I’m not super down with guilt,” said Jessica. “I’m doing the best I can. I forget permission slips. I just got a note from the library saying I owe $75. I don’t care.”

It’s also about giving yourself, and those around you, permission to have a poor moment. “Everyone on my team knows they can have an epically bad day and come back the next day and get it right,” said Carrie.

Also, set strong boundaries. Shannon will not miss her children’s public performances or doctor’s appointments – ever. Pick the things that are similarly important, the panelists said. If you’re doing good work, it will either be fine, or you can go someplace where it will be.

“I don’t care how cool the job seems or how sexy the company brand is,” said Carrie. “Find someone good to work for and if you do, stick with them because they will bring great things to you, they will bring out the best of you, and you will give great things back.”

In addition to founding UPWARD, I am Senior Vice President of National Grid Ventures and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of National Grid, a multinational electricity and gas utility company. I also sit on the NVCA Board of Directors, where I am co-chair of the Venture Forward initiative. I was a Managing Partner at the Westly Group, responsible for investments in software, IOT, and the Internet; and a vice-president at Intel Capital and the Managing Director of Intel Capital’s Software and Services Fund and the Intel Capital Diversity Fund.

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