A Seat at the Table

Years ago I was a cub reporter for a daily newspaper in Oklahoma, covering the health care beat. As part of my responsibilities I attended the board meetings of the local United Way, a group comprised of business leaders from around town. These experienced and mature business folks would meet monthly in a large board room around a big, shiny table. As the reporter covering the meeting I would sit in a chair against the wall, taking notes.

One day during a meeting a question came up about another local business leader who had changed jobs. Where had he gone? someone asked, and there was some speculation about where he now worked. I knew the gentleman they were referring to so I blurted out the answer from my chair against the wall. The conversation stopped and heads swiveled toward me as if I suddenly appeared from the ether or uttered an expletive into the air. I blushed deeply and understood for the first time that as a reporter, I was there only to observe and not to participate.

Something in me shifted–you could even say, crackled. I knew in that moment that this job as a reporter was a bad fit for me. I needed to be in a job where I had an active, vital role, where my voice could be heard, valued and acknowledged. In short, I needed a seat at the table.

I just finished reading a book called The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance–What Women Should Know by New York Times bestselling authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. [Full disclosure: I “read” the book while driving, listening to the audio version on CD.] This book contains startling details about our gender’s collective lack of confidence, some genetic, some learned, along with amazing insights from high-level business women as impressive as Christine Lagarde, managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as well as basketball stars from the WNBA. Propped up by the results of studies from social scientists, deep research and a broad range of interviews, the book provides guidelines for women to actively exercise their confidence skills. Somewhere in the book they admonish us as women to take our seats at the table, to participate and be heard.

While The Confidence Code is written for women, it’s a good reminder to all of us–women and men–that in order to make a difference we have to communicate our point-of-view. I learned that lesson long ago in that boardroom in Lawton, OK. Before long I quit my job as a reporter and jumped into the business world as a communications professional, moving from spectator to an on-the-court participant. Now I’m thrilled to be in a role where I can express myself and influence others through the written and spoken word. I’ve not only found my seat at the table but in my role as a board member I’ve even found myself at the head of the table!

Where are you? Are you seated against the wall, observing, or have you taken your rightful place at the table?

[Photo: Boardroom table at OfficeLinks, my Chicago office in the Willis (Formerly-Known-as-Sears) Tower]

What Shapes Us

Recently I attended a Wheaton Chamber of Commerce luncheon that featured my good friend and client Rob O’Dell from Wheaton Wealth Partners. Rob shared his presentation, “Bridging the Generational Gap,” emphasizing the nuances of communicating with–and selling to–people of different generations. Using his firm’s innovative Mind-Mapping visuals, Rob shared the profile and values of the four generations: “Matures,” “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X” and “Millennials.” As a card-carrying Boomer (that’s an AARP card), I listened with keen interest, not only for hints on how I can be more effective in my own communications but because Rob’s descriptions really hit me as a guide for what shapes us.

For Baby Boomers, one of the most sentinel events of our lives was the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a milestone that shaped our generation in a way that still resonates today. Until I heard Rob’s presentation, I hadn’t thought about how as a generation, we are “optimistic and driven.” One would think that the losses we experienced, including the loss of our heroes and an unpopular war, would have soured our outlook. But instead, Rob described this generation as idealistic, hard-working and driven. We thrive on story, including credentials, performance, history and tenure in the marketplace.

The GenX folks, in contrast, are described as cynical, skeptical and distrusting. The resignation of Richard Nixon, the space shuttle disaster and the effects of divorce taught this generation that things don’t go according to plan. Many of them were brought up as latch-key kids who now, in the workplace, savor and require independence. They don’t want to be wined and dined: they want to do their work and go home. Also, this is the first generation to have access to the Internet, allowing them to research online. A GenX customer looking for a car may show up at the car lot having logged 16 hours on the Internet and knowing more about the inventory than the sales person. They crave information and transparency.

Millennials are known as the “Whatever” generation with “huge goals and no specific plans,” according to Rob. They aren’t dependent on superiors in the workplace for knowledge. And, like Boomers, they are idealistic and cause-driven. Texting is their preferred method of communication and reaching them requires a presence on social media. Millennials are being followed by the “iGeneration,” which says it all (Steve Jobs would be proud).

Rob’s presentation, which you can see in full by clicking here, gave me new insights about what shapes us. His descriptions remind me that everyone comes to the work world–and life–with his or her own perceptions of how things are and how they “should” be. The profiles of each generation give me new guidelines for connecting with the people around me. And they remind me never to assume that what shaped me, shaped them.

 

Masthead photo: “Jackie Frieze, 1964” silk screen on linen, by Andy Warhol, Collection of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago