Margaret Thatcher once said, “If you want to get something done, ask a woman.” Whitney Johnson says, “If you want to disrupt, ask a woman.” The author of the acclaimed Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream, Johnson believes that, in business, disruption is a proven path to success, but she hadn’t always known this.
Johnson spoke to Levo League during yesterday’s Office Hours about the seven things she wished she had known when she first started out in the workplace that can help those of us new to the workforce chart our own disruptive courses:
1. Challenge and influence the authority in your company.
Sometimes you have to figure out how to not just please the authority figures, but influence them. This is how you become an authority figure yourself, says Johnson. One thing that serial entrepreneurs know how to do well is persuade, which is a key tool to getting what you want. Make sure you keep your higher-ups happy, but throw your own hat in the ring for advancement by showing that you too can make the hard decisions.
2. Keep listening, but start talking.
Johnson admits that she’s been to a lot of meetings where she wasn’t expected to speak much, if at all. Johnson recommends active listening, but to use it in a way that you can voice your own opinion. In every meeting you’re in, say something early on, so your colleagues not only see that you have a physical seat at the table, but they regard you as a person at the table whose opinion matters.
3. Prepare, but learn to improvise.
In school, you prepare and study as much as you can for a test, says Johnson. There’s very little room to improvise; but in the workforce, much of our success hinges on the ability to speak extemporaneously. Improvising takes practice, but remember that you have to do it, and just do it in the best way that you can. Improvised interplay makes the conversation, says Johnson, and makes a career come alive.
4. Find effective forms of self-promotion.
Achieving success in your career requires you to work hard and perform well, but it also requires you to make sure everyone knows you’re performing well. In order to get to the point where your colleagues know, you need to learn how to self-promote—and that’s something many women struggle with. Johnson offers one way to make self-promotion easier. Instead of saying, “We did this,” promote the “we,” individually. (“She did X, he did Y, and I did Z.”)
5. Acknowledge that glass ceilings are real.
This is a hard pill to swallow, Johnson says. In her 20s, she didn’t believe there was a systemic bias against women… but there is. That doesn’t excuse you from leaning in, she points out; work as hard as you can, but you may not advance as quickly as you hoped and it’s not entirely your fault. Tell yourself, “I need to work harder, but I need to know it’s not entirely about me if I don’t advance as quickly as I’d like.”
6. Learn to negotiate.
When Johnson first entered the workforce, she thought she was a great negotiator (“I wasn’t,” she says). It’s tough to negotiate and retain your femininity, says Johnson, because women are considered feminine only within the context of doing something for someone else. When we ask for something we are, by definition, not feminine. As a Millennial, you will hold 14 jobs by the time you reach age 40, Johnson says, so there’s a lot you’ll have to negotiate. Learn to negotiate early on, and your career will thank you for it.
7. Learn to do something differently.
When you pursue a disruptive course, you’re looking to play a game no one else is playing. Women are taught when they’re young to play by the rules and not to disrupt the status quo. Disruption is scary and lonely, says Johnson. Others may dislike you for it, but your need to get yourself to do it. Odds of success are six times higher when you pursue a disruptive course, Johnson says, and women are great disruptors.
Get more incredible advice from Whitney Johnson by watching her Office Hours below: