April 2013

Well, I was off to a rousing start with the New Year’s resolution.  Right, now four months have passed a life continues to rocket by.  So, today is the day to add another post.  Co-Creation happens in lots of ways.  One way is by reaching out and giving to others.  The simple act of kindness embedded in sharing something you know with someone else is a form of co-creation.

This week, I spoke at the Tech Valley Series for Empowering Women Annual Symposium (sponsored by http://www.renscochamber.com/) with four amazing women.  Linda Hillman, who is very much like Katie Couric, led Barbara Hess from SEFCU and Mary Alice Russo and I through a hard-hitting 1.5 hour long panel in front of a 150 strong, mostly female, audience.  I was very proud to share the stage with them.  Barbara is an introvert, Mary Alice is a “bad girl” and I’m the extrovert.

I shared many stories that range from My Mother the women who doesn’t know the word “can’t” to A beginner’s guide to EQ to Confidence the double-edged sword to Howard and Heide, don’t I know it to A mentor’s advice – You can do it and Learning through Adversity.   I’ve paraphrased them below and added a bit more color to some.  I hope they help you in some way and that they lead to some co-creation between us.


My Mother the women who doesn’t know the word “can’t”

It was never a question that I could do anything I wanted to.  My mother doesn’t have a prejudiced bone in her body and she just naturally raised us that way.  If I said I wanted to be President of the USA, then that was what I wanted and she would help me.  She believes that all things are possible if you just try and her life is certainly proof of that.

We didn’t have a lot of money.  My dad worked for the power company and my Mom was a nurse.  There were three of us; me, my brother who is 2 years and 5 days younger than me and my sister who is 10 years younger than me.

When I was growing up, all the cool kids wore Lee and Levi jeans to school, but we had to wear the Sears brand, toughskins.  We always begged for the cooler brands, but we just didn’t have the money.  And yet, somehow my mother scrapped together enough money to buy an Apple IIe for us.  She knew the world was changing and that we would not be irreparably harmed by wearing toughskins, but that our future’s just might depend on us having a computer.  Boy was she right!  It certainly changed my life and fueled a passion in me that is alive and well to this day.  I am a self-described geek with 8 computers, one being water cooled!  Learning to code at a young age with not much memory (RAM) taught me essential skills that I have used throughout my life.  How she scraped together that money, I’m sure I will never know the full details, but I do know for sure that she did without a lot to make it happen.

Fast forward 10 years…  When my mother graduated from high school, girls had two career choices: nurse or teacher.  My Mom wanted to do something in technology, but no way were her parents or society going to allow that in the 1960’s!  So, after I completed my BS Electrical Engineering degree from Union College in the 1980’s, she decided it was time for her to live her dreams.  She went to Union and achieved a BS Mechanical Engineering degree while working nights as a nurse, being a single Mom and raising my sister!  She got a job at Knolls Atomic Power Lab where she worked until she retired.

A beginner’s guide to EQ

Linda kindly threw me the opportunity to explain EQ to the audience.  I told them that it was about your head, your heart and your gut.  It was about understanding where others are coming from when you listen to those three things and then make an active choice to walk toward someone and affirm the things that they need affirmed to feel value.  I said that it was about understanding that when someone is insecure, the way you approach them is fundamentally different.  I shared that had gotten the feedback- “you are too smart and have too much energy”.  At first I felt like, well what the hell do you want me to do about that?!  But then I got my coach and began to learn about what that really meant.  The fact is, I love to think.   I’m so happy thinking all these big thoughts, but while I was thinking, I was missing what others were actually feeling.   Sometimes when I would start a conversation and hit them with…idea, linked to a new idea, linked to a new idea and so on – that people felt overwhelmed.  I now try to focus on how others are receiving me and try to make sure that I am dealing with them in a way they like to be dealt with. I can tell you, it’s alot more productive and everyone feels good about the interaction.

Confidence, the double-edged sword

So – yep – I’m the one.  I’m that person who was born confident, whose parents encouraged the confidence, whose early mentors applauded the confidence and here I am today as confident as can be.  I don’t even have to open my mouth for you to know that I am confident.  I vibrate at a frequency that you automatically pick up and you just know it.  Many would say, “Isn’t that great!  You must always get what you want.”  Nothing could be further from the truth.  One of my mentors, Jim Burke, told me early in my career that your good points are your bad points.  If you think about it, if you were to over exercise a muscle and not exercise the surrounding muscles, what happens?  That one strong muscle pulls the others out-of-place and causes havoc.  Ask me, I know, I pulled my knee caps out of track and lost my air force scholarship.  That’s a story for another day.

So, what actually happens when you are confident as I am?  Well those who are just as confident love me.  They like to hang out, ask my advice, feel free to give me there thoughts, and they feed off my energy and it’s a great experience.  But guess what?  I’m in the 99th percentile for confidence and the rest of the world doesn’t feel this way.  For those on the opposite end of the spectrum, the insecure, they hate or fear me for just breathing.  I don’t have to do anything, just breath, and in their minds I am a threat to be eliminated.  In my early career, I had one woman who hated or feared me so much that I used to walk down different corridors at work so I wouldn’t run into her.  It felt like anytime she saw me, she  would go out of her way to think of bad things and then do them to me.  I’ve always been scared of her because at that age, I had no idea why she treated me the way she did.

I knew she was insecure, but it wasn’t until many years later that I learned how to deal with that issue.  This is where EQ, emotional intelligence, really comes into play.  I’m the confident one, so I have to be the bigger person and put my pride on the side, recognize that my normal way of interacting makes her feel bad, and then I have to work out the root causes of her insecurity.  Using that knowledge, I can affirm her in the way that she needs affirmation and therefore open the door so we can do the business we need to do.  Easy?  No.  Worth it.  Yes!

Howard and Heide – A Harvard Case Study

I told the story of how Harvard had done a case study where Heide had done some phenomenal work.  Harvard wanted to test gender biases and so they gave half the class the case study and attributed the work to Howard.  The other half of the class got the same exact material and was told Heide did the work.  The students all agreed that the work was exemplary.  The instructors then asked how they felt about each Howard and Heide.  Howard was seen to be a cool guy, one you wanted to work with and for.  Heide, not so much.  She was seen as hard to work with and for, a bitch a person you didn’t want to hang out with.  I see this happen every day.  It’s a reality, but understanding this phenomenon can help you navigate situations. Want to know more, read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In. (http://www.amazon.com/Lean-Women-Work-Will-ebook/dp/B009LMTDL0/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1367093778&sr=8-1&keywords=lean+in) or get the Harvard Business Review case study.

A mentor story – You can Do it.

When I first went to work at PTI, I couldn’t believe how amazing it was.  I was one of the first two people ever hired directly out of college.  Tom Short was the other one.  He’s amazing!  You can check out a little about his career at (www.linkedin.com/pub/tom-short/38/6a8/258).

Everyone else had 10 year+ experience.  One of the first summers, I had an opportunity to go to Florida where we built a mock power system and then fired rockets to attract lightning under the direction of Phil Barker.  From the research, we redesigned lightning protection for power systems. I had two minor jobs: 1) collect the data from the 8 Nicolet oscilloscopes and analyze it and 2) collect the rockets from the gator, snake and spider infested fields!  I also did a lot of work in electric reliability including writing simulation programs, doing studies around the world from Bogota to Australia,  and testing new theories.

So, now to the mentoring moment…  My boss, the industry legend Jim Burke, know the value of IEEE and of publishing.  In those days, you would prepare the paper, and then it would be submitted to the industry for peer review through the IEEE.  If it passed, you had to present the paper at a conference and the audience would ask hard questions.  Needless to say, that was petrifying for a young engineer.  Jim came to me one day and said I needed to write-up my work.  I did.  When it came time to present, I was preparing like crazy and I was scared.  He said,

You can do this!  You know more about the subject than any of them do – you did the research.  I’m betting there isn’t a question you can’t answer.  I’ll be in the audience so on the off-chance one comes you can’t answer, I’ll be there. 

I want you to think about something else, how do you think they put their pants on in the morning?  One leg after the other – just like you.  Now go present it!

Having the safety net of Jim in the audience and yet being up on stage on my own gave me a new confidence!  I did!  After that, I was much less sacred and today I have 38 published papers and I was the youngest person ever and only woman to win the IEEE PES Excellence in Power Distribution Award for my contribution to electric reliability (http://www.ieee-pes.org/pes-past-award-recipients#excellence).

Learning through adversity

I wasn’t sure how I would manage to go to college.  As I’ve already said, we didn’t have much money.  I knew I could go to a community college and had applied to HVCC as a safety school, but I wanted more.  I’ve been super lucky to have mentors and champions throughout my life.  When I was in high school I was in the Girl Scouts.  My leader, Maxine McVery, was a recruiter for the 109th Tactical Air Guard in Schenectady, NY.  She encouraged me to apply for an Air Force scholarship.  The deal was, you drilled every week on Tuesday’s and did a two-week stint in the summer of your sophomore year and they paid for tuition and books.  In return you gave them a four-year term of service.  GREAT!  I wanted to fly the space shuttle or at least be in the space program.  And, with the scholarship I would be able to attend Union College!  So this sounded perfect!

I applied and didn’t hear and didn’t hear and pretty soon it was time to go to school.  I had been accepted at Union and I asked Maxine if she thought it would come.  She was beavering away trying to work out what had happened.  She knew I should have qualified.  The mystery was finally solved through her efforts – it was the 80s – computer’s were relatively new – they had accidentally entered me in the system twice, so to get rid of the duplicate entry – they killed me!!!  I was legally dead for 6 months.  Who knew?!

So – it was October of my freshman year and all was well with the world.  Fast forward to my Junior year and I was training for marathons.  I still didn’t have any money, but I had an old pair of sneakers and two feet.  So I decided to run marathons.  I was running and running and as it turns out, I am a pronator, which means I naturally step on the outside of my feet.  Well, running as much as I was, I pulled my knee caps out of track.  So, each Tuesday I would report to RPI for my AFROTC duty and report on my medical status: doctor appointments, progress, medication, etc.  One Tuesday, I reported for duty and reported the medication I had taken and that it made me sick so I hadn’t taken any more.  Turns out it was on a list of meds that could not be taken by people in the air force and the following Tuesday I was discharged on a medical.

WOW – that really puts life into perspective.  In a matter of a moment, my ability to attend college was in jeopardy, the career I was shooting for was over, and I had to figure it out, because I still didn’t have any money!  I almost didn’t graduate because I had difficulty digging up financial aid and loans, but finally it all came together and I gathered enough money to finish.  I also found a new career because I had to find a new summer job.  I worked at GE for the summer and fell in love the power engineering!

Feedback from the day

I got the nicest compliment from my sister and it has lit a long-lasting fire of goodness inside me.  She said that she never knew what EQ was and that when I described it she knew exactly what I was talking about.  She said that for the last 8 years that she could feel me doing that with her.  When we were younger she felt that I always walked on by her, but that now she feels that I walk with her and that I make her feel safe.  She referenced our trip to Cozumel in 2006 and how she did so many more things that she would have ever done, including SCUBA diving because she felt safe and supported with me.  WOW!!!

She is 10 years younger than I am and she said she learned a lot about me.  I hadn’t even thought about that fact that she was a child when many of the formative events in my life happened.  She knew I was in the Air Force, but not the circumstances behind why I wasn’t commissioned.  She didn’t know that I almost didn’t graduate as a function of losing my AF ROTC scholarship.

My sister also said that my words really lifted my Mother up and made her cry.  She’s been having a tough time recently as my Aunt has been ill and died on Friday, my Grandmother (her mother) has been ill and living with her, and her husband has Parkinson’s disease.  In hind sight, I’m not sure my mother knew that I felt that way.  Odd how sometimes you take things for granted that you shouldn’t.

One of my colleagues at work came up to me after the event and said, “When you were speaking I thought wow, she really does know how her confidence affects others”.  He was really glad he had come to the session.

Another woman who is in the construction industry came and said my words really resonated with her, especially the discussion on confidence.

I met another woman who said, “I never thought about where other women were coming from.  If someone didn’t talk I thought they were a b1tch, but now I think they might just be shy”

So – THANK YOU Linda Hillman for giving me the opportunity to co-create with the so many people in the capital district area!  Thanks to Mary Alice Russo and Barbara Hess for sharing the stage.

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