Power Connects People

Side Effects of Holding Power

When you think about people who are strongly driven to acquire power, what kinds of things do you imagine they are after? Is power about having: influence over others, money, status, glory, independence, self-confidence?

Popular stories in our culture like to distinguish power seekers from relationship seekers—people whose primary motivation is to foster connections and intimacy with others. The power and relationship motives are usually depicted as incompatible, where power is achieved at the expense of having relationships. As prime examples, think about the main characters in films like Citizen Kane, Scarface, and The Social Network. These stories tell us that power seeking is driven by self-centered ambitions, and as long as this motive is strong, the relationship seeking motive will be weak.

We forget that the rewards of power and the rewards of relationships overlap. We forget that power connects people to one another, and the more powerful person usually reaps the rewards of these relationships. Having power means having favorable connections to others.

Imagine a typical power imbalance in the workplace. A company hires two people to run a newly-created department at the company: Mr. Alpha is brought in to head the new department and Mr. Beta is hired as second in command. Mr. Alpha is given the power to fire and/or promote Mr. Beta, making Mr. Beta dependent on Mr. Alpha’s approval. Their jobs have established this connection between them, and we can be fairly certain that their interactions will be more pleasant for Mr. Alpha than Mr. Beta. Mr. Beta will be more accommodating, deferential, and experience more anxiety about saying or doing the wrong things.

As it happens, Mr. Alpha has relocated from across the country to take this job, and feels isolated in his new city. Mr. Alpha’s not a bad guy, but he insists that he and Mr. Beta take all their coffee breaks and go out on all sales calls together, just so Mr. Alpha can have the interpersonal contact. Mr. Beta goes along without complaining. After a few weeks Mr. Alpha begins to feel less isolated in his surroundings, having established some camaraderie.

In power imbalances, the more powerful person can usually set the terms of the relationship and build rapport without much resistance. This may not create close authentic bonds, but don’t underestimate the appeal of casual interactions with people who are courteous and attentive to you. These interactions should be especially appealing to men, who tend to be more satisfied with shallow relationships than women.

The point is that these relationships can be rewarding, and ultimately strengthen the allure of power. For some people, the promise of social connections may even be the hidden force behind their desire for power, especially for people who have trouble establishing connections under normal circumstances.

So even though the search for power and relationships are often portrayed as competing goals, it’s rarely that simple. Selfish goals may navigate the pursuit of power, but the motivation to connect with others is stronger than it seems, stronger than even the seeker realizes.

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Published by Ilan Shrira

 

5 Most Common Ways People Ruin Their Work Careers

How to prevent failure at work.

Even the most successful executives and leaders can suddenly “go off the track” and ruin their careers. Research on executive derailment has clearly identified the factors that cause previously successful executives and professionals to fail. Watch out for these in your own work career.

1. Poor Interpersonal Style. Although technical competence and successes may initially pay off, as one moves up in an organization or profession, interpersonal skills become more important. In our study of firefighters, technical competence was the key to getting promoted to captain, but lack of social skills prevented captains from going higher in the chain of command.

Having an abrasive or arrogant style, being insensitive to those around you, or coming off cold and aloof can lead to derailment of managers and supervisors.

2. Over-Controlling and Inability to Delegate. In today’s team-centered work world, it is critical to be able to work successfully with others to get the job done. Managers who try to do it all themselves, who micromanage, or who are unable to build a team, are likely doomed to failure.

3. Inability to Adapt. Change is the only constant in organizations. Workers who fail to adapt will become obsolete and fail. In one engineering department, the manager was unable to master, or even understand, the new design technology. Due to his own insecurity, he refused to let the new technology be used in his department. The result: they fell further and further behind on projects and produced inferior results.

4. Lack of Transparency. Dealing openly and honestly with those you work with is the key to success. Even if you are justified and fair in the decisions that you make, you need to let people know why and how important decisions (such as promotions) are made.

It goes without saying that unethical behavior is a key derailer for anyone’s work career, so the best way to avoid temptation is to be transparent in the decisions you make and strive to be virtuous in your behavior.

5. Inability to Think Strategically. All too often, we get bogged down in the day-to-day work that is in front of us, and focus too much on short-term goals. However, career success requires constantly looking at the big picture, and thinking strategically about where we are headed. Strategic thinking helps us anticipate problems, recognize new opportunities, and build a track record of accomplishments.

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by Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D. in Cutting-Edge Leadership

Vision, Strategy, and Tactics

  • Vision: What you want the organization to be; your dream.
  • Strategy: What you are going to do to achieve your vision.
  • Tactics: How you will achieve your strategy and when.

Your vision is your dream of what you want the organization to be. Your strategy is the large-scale plan you will follow to make the dream happen. Your tactics are the specific actions you will take to follow the plan. Start with the vision and work down to the tactics as you plan for your organization.

Concepts Are The Same

Whether you are planning for the entire company or just for your department the concepts are the same. Only the scale is different. You start with the vision statement (sometimes called a mission statement). When you know what the vision is you can develop a strategy to get you to the vision. When you have decided on a strategy, you can develop tactics to meet the strategy.

Vision

A vision is an over-riding idea of what the organization should be. Often it reflects the dream of the founder or leader. Your company’s vision could be, for example, to be “the largest retailer of automobiles in the US”, “the maker of the finest chocolate candies in London”, or “the management consultant of choice for non-profit organizations in the Southwest.” A vision must be sufficiently clear and concise that everyone in the organization understands it and can buy into it with passion.

Strategy

Your strategy is one or more plans that you will use to achieve your vision. To be “the largest retailer of automobiles in the US” you might have to decide whether it is better strategy for you to buy other retailers, try to grow a single retailer, or a combination of both. A strategy looks inward at the organization, but it also looks outward at the competition and at the environment and business climate.

To be “the management consultant of choice for non-profit organizations in the Southwest” your strategy would need to evaluate what other companies offer management consulting services in the Southwest, which of those target non-profits, and which companies could in the future begin to offer competing services. Your strategy also must determine how you will become “the consultant of choice”. What will you do so that your targeted customers choose you over everyone else? Are you going to offer the lowest fees? Will you offer a guarantee? Will you hire the very best people and build a reputation for delivering the most innovative solutions?

If you decide to compete on lowest billing rates, what will you do if a competing consulting firm drops their rates below yours? If you decide to hire the best people, how will you attract them? Will you pay the highest salaries in a four-state area, give each employee an ownership position in the company, or pay annual retention bonuses? Your strategy must consider all these issues and find a solution that works AND that is true to your vision.

Tactics

Your tactics are the specific actions, sequences of actions, and schedules you will use to fulfill your strategy. If you have more than one strategy you will have different tactics for each. A strategy to be the most well-known management consultant, as part of your vision to be “the management consultant of choice for non-profit organizations in the Southwest” might involve tactics like advertising in the Southwest Non-Profits Quarterly Newsletter for three successive issues, advertising in the three largest-circulation newspapers in the Southwest for the next six months, and buying TV time monthly on every major-market TV station in the southwest to promote your services. Or it might involve sending a letter of introduction and a brochure to the Executive Director of every non-profit organization in the Southwest with an annual budget of over $500,000.

Firm or Flexible?

Things change. You need to change with them, or ahead of them. However, with respect to vision, strategy and tactics, you need some flexibility and some firmness. Hold to your dream, your vision. Don’t let that be buffeted by the winds of change. Your vision should be the anchor that holds all the rest together. Strategy is a long-term plan, so it may need to change in response to internal or external changes, but strategy changes should only happen with considerable thought. Changes to strategy also should not happen until you have a new one to replace the old one. Tactics are the most flexible. If some tactic isn’t working, adjust it and try again.

Manage This Issue

Whether for one department or the entire company, for a multi-national corporation or a one-person company, vision, strategy, and tactics are essential. Develop the vision first and hold to it. Develop a strategy to achieve your vision and change it as you have to to meet internal or external changes. Develop flexible tactics that can move you toward fulfilling your strategy.

By F. John Reh, About.com Guide

Fathers and Daughters: Passing on the Family Business

More women are taking over family-owned companies, but the handover isn’t always smooth

By Karen E. Klein

Family-owned companies account for 80 percent of all businesses worldwide, and about one-third of them are owned by women. Although U.S. Census data and recent research shows that daughters and wives are increasingly taking over family businesses, few studies have been done on the process. That’s the subject of a new book, Father-Daughter Succession in Family Business, (Gower, 2011) by Daphne Halkias, a social science researcher at Cornell University and senior research fellow at the Center for Young & Family Enterprise at the University of Bergamo in Italy. The book seeks to illuminate the process of father-daughter succession around the globe and find ways to encourage it, Halkias says. She spoke recently to Smart Answers columnist Karen E. Klein. Edited excerpts of their conversation follow.

What got you interested in this topic?

In 2005 I was a visiting MBA professor in Greece. About half my students were women, many of them from family-owned businesses. They were concerned about succeeding their fathers, because many were only children, or one of two sisters, and they had a lot of emotional conflicts with their fathers.

What kinds of conflicts would arise?

She might want to take the initiative, but the father didn’t want to give up control. Or a father might be waiting for his daughter to get married, so she could do PR for the company and her husband would come in as a kind of surrogate son and successor.

You did surveys on this topic in various countries. What did you find?

Sons were gung-ho: 100 percent of them were ready to succeed their fathers in business. Most of the girls, however, did not want to continue in the family business. They wanted to be independent and go into business on their own. They adored their families, but they encountered so many cultural and emotional conflicts with their fathers, they wanted to leave or let a future husband take over the company.

What are some takeaways from the case studies in the book?

Across cultures, we saw the repeated desire to maintain harmonious family relationships. It’s as if the daughter were constantly involved in a course correction with every new and difficult step in the succession process, in order to ensure a state of community with the father and among the various stakeholders of the family business.

Are women gaining ground when it comes to family succession?

Women, and daughters specifically, have increased chances of higher education, and a younger generation of fathers are accepting women in the workforce. Consequently, [women] have quietly been ascending to the ranks of many lesser-known family businesses around the world.

What factors still hold women back from taking over a family company?

There is still gender and age bias. In some Asian cultures, especially, we found that a woman was able to move more easily within the business and within the succession process once she was married. In many cultures, it’s very difficult for a single woman to move in business circles.

Also in many cultures, unlike in Europe and the U.S., the extended family is very involved in a business. So conflicts might not just be between the father and daughter; male cousins and uncles, and brothers-in-law could get into the conflict also.

Were there any cultures you studied in which women were forbidden to assume control of a family business?

We did not find that anywhere, even in the most conservative cultures we studied. That might be surprising to us in the West, because we often have a narrow view of what goes on in other cultures. The reality is that women have made great strides all over the world and across many cultures, religious backgrounds, and geographic locations.

That desire for work-family balance keeps some women in the U.S. from taking top-level management jobs or becoming entrepreneurs. Did you see that in other cultures?

In certain countries, women don’t have a choice to remain single or not to have children. Their families arrange marriages for them within large circles of extended family and friends. But once they have children, the extended family gets involved in raising the children.

So two-career families have grandmothers and cousins and siblings, many of whom live in the same big building or the same neighborhood, and they all help out. It’s a very natural way of life, and in many cases, working women are not as isolated as they often are in the West.

[Karen E. Klein is a Los Angeles-based writer who covers entrepreneurship and small-business issues.]

Mars Venus Coaching

Corporate Media Relations

 

5 Ways Stress Affects Your New Year’s Resolutions

We often make New Year’s Resolutions at the stroke of midnight. We choose to improve things we’re unhappy with about ourselves. What we forget to think about is how stress affects whether or not we’ll actually follow through and stick with our resolutions for however long they’ll take to accomplish.

  1. We forget there are good (and bad) stressors that knock us off track.

Did you know there are two types of stressors: good and bad? Both cause an elevated spike in our stress-producing hormones: cortisol and adrenaline. We often forget that the good stressors can stress us out too. Even if we’re anticipating good stressors like: births, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, parties, and other celebrations…we can still end up feeling overwhelmed or anxious about the event. Our good intentions to follow-through on our resolution to exercise, lose weight, sleep more, eat healthy, invest money, etc., often are the first things to fall by the wayside.

  1. Stress is stress.

If our bodies have excess cortisol and adrenaline, then despite our best intentions, we find ourselves going back to old habits. Why? It’s easier, it feels safe, and our energy is going towards ridding our bodies of excess cortisol and adrenaline. It takes over 90 days for new behaviors to become automatic habits. When you’re resolving to do something new or different, concerted effort must be taken to think and then act on the new behaviors. If your motivation is down, then it becomes difficult to convince and hold yourself to carrying through with your new resolutions.

  1. We ignore our bodies’ warning signals…physically.

Fatigue, headaches, indigestion, migraines, weight gain, high blood pressure, clenched jaws, tight muscles, not being able to slow down/relax, and insomnia are signs of too much stress.

  1. We ignore our bodies’ warning signals…emotionally.

Feelings of being alone, overwhelmed, unsupported, anxious, ignored, unimportant, rushed, or angry means for:

Women—we do not have enough of our stress-producing hormone, oxytocin.

Men—we do not have enough of our stress-producing hormone, testosterone.

  1. We ignore our bodies’ warning signals…mentally.

We set ourselves up for failure when we heed the negative talk in our heads.  Fogginess, confusion, and black and white/all-or-nothing thinking are signs that your brain is not working at peak capacity.

Solutions

  • When making your resolutions, plan around and anticipate that BIG life events (good stressors) will happen sometime during the year.
  • Make your resolutions have specific start and end dates.
  • Pencil in the dates on your calendar for the fun and happy events (good stressors) that you already know will occur.
  • Plan down-time into your life, so you can off-set stress and replenish your stress-reducing hormones. You need to do stress-reducing activities daily to keep stress levels low.
  • Sit down with your calendar, and write in your start and end dates for your resolutions.
  • When you do have bad stressors happen—like accidents, deaths, illnesses—re-visit and re-define your new end date for your resolutions.
  • Find someone who can keep you accountable. When you ask someone to help keep you on track—make sure they are willing to give you feedback. When you’re held accountable and have access to objective constructive criticism to what’s working and what’s not working is a great way to fireproof your resolution and ensure 100% commitment to accomplishing your goal(s).

Life happens. When we’re able to roll with the unexpected changes, then we can do things pro-actively to work with both kinds of stressors so our stress levels remain low and our motivation high. It’s when we forget to plan ahead for the contingencies that we lose motivation.

Lyndsay Katauskas, MEd

Mars Venus Coaching

Corporate Media Relations

Provide constant celebrations of your client’s successes

Stan Mann, Success Coach stan@stanmann.com

Welcome to secret number 5!  You have learned how to be in the right frame of mind to create a 7 figure business and a free life filled with bliss; how to have prospects compelled to call you and meet you; how to easily without selling share your unique service offering; how to WOW your customers and now you are ready to provide constant celebrations of your customers success.

Many people wonder what I mean by a customer’s success.  Let me address this right away.  When a customer hires your company or buys your products or services that in itself is cause for a celebration of them making a great decision.  I instantly celebrate their success with a letter, note, brownies and other items.  I write personal note cards as well.

When else could a customer have success?  Here are some examples in my own personal life of my success as a customer of other people where I wasn’t acknowledged and could have been.  I had an expert re-do my social media look.  When this was done a celebration was in order.  I had my attorney file my papers for my foundation and no celebration occurred.  And I reached a major medical change for the better and my doctor missed the celebration opportunity.

How many of these opportunities do you miss?  Each time you miss one you show the customer they aren’t really special, you don’t really care deeply about them and you certainly aren’t exceeding their expectations.

Today I want you to think about all the celebration’s you could be having.  Create a big list.  Include holidays, birthdays, purchases, milestones and anything else you can think of. Be a bit wild and crazy and include as much as you can.

Then pick at least one item and implement that with every customer.  In a week or so create a list of 12-24 ways you will celebrate each of your customers regularly.  The sky is the limit so have great fun coming up with these items.  When you see how much your customer’s appreciate you caring about them and again wowing them, you will be excited to do more and more celebrating.

I celebrate all my customer’s because they are my customers.  They are my extended family and I acknowledge and honor and celebrate them regularly.

 

Strengths-Based Teamwork

Successful business ventures often rely on the communication savvy of everyone involved in the deal. Relying on one person to lead or motivate a group leads to: reduced functionality if that person is absent, a stressful environment, unhealthy communication patterns, and increased conflicts. We all come from different backgrounds and families. What’s amazing is how we come together as a team to produce finished products. Here are 3 ways you can set yourself and your team up for success. They all involve self-reflection, greater self-awareness, and implementation of new skills based on both your and others’communication strengths.

  1. 1.       Use DISC Profiling to Rephrase Your Wants

DISC is an inventory that is taken specifically with the work environment in mind. It identifies your adapted behavior in the workplace, as well as your natural style. Bringing in someone to facilitate taking the DISC profile and interpreting the results with your team adds value to how well your team interacts with one another.

One of the fun things I did at the last corporate DISC training was to ask each participant what their pet peeve was (instead of what words to avoid or not to use) in regards to how other’s communicate with them. We also spent a great deal of time on what does work for each participant. We collated everyone’s results in a table for easy reference back in the office. During team training that teaches you communication skills, you learn more than just tendencies or preferences, you get to implement the knowledge right away, which ensures that you retain this information for later use.

It is critical to know that the greater awareness you have of your style and how to adapt how you communicate with others in the group based on their style is what sets you and your team apart from other groups operating by chance alone. Doing DISC as a group allows everyone to see patterns and how objectively to make changes in the way they speak and interact so the strengths of all team members are utilized rather than just the more extroverted or dominant communication and personality styles.

  1. 2.       Understand Gender Communication Differences

While DISC identifies your adapted and natural communication styles, going one step further to understand how men and women prefer to communicate leads to even greater results.

  • Men tend to use communication to solve problems.
  • Women tend to use communication to connect.

For example, at work—a woman’s natural inclination to take into account how a decision affects all parties involved both short and long term. Calling on this strength during a sale or when weighing options ensures greater logistical planning than a more single-minded approach. Calling on a man’s inclination to either solve a dilemma, or shelve for later is helpful in keeping negotiations focused with the end in sight.

Mars Venus Coaches in your area can facilitate DISC trainings for your organization and offer free Stress Management Seminars and workshops geared to getting what you want at work and gender differences in selling and buying. If you’re pressed for time you can also read the following online articles or take aneWorkshop too!

  1. 3.       Practice Conflict Resolution Skills

It is critical to know that under stress, we tend to do two things:

  • We revert to our natural DISC style—graph II, not our adapted DISC style—graph I. This is because under stress it is harder to mask our natural preferences for communicating.
  • We become more like our gender, because of our physiology and the way blood flows in our brains according to our sex.

Therefore, utilizing an objective observer or a facilitator that interprets how you work as a team is more helpful, then just reading about it or studying these skills alone.

The following are the 3 steps to conflict resolution and what primary DISC gravitates to each of the steps.

1. CREATE SPACE. S’s bring all views, ideas and opinions into dialogue.

Change location to a neutral place

-Use active listening to explore rather than condemn opposing views

Take breaks often to cool off during negotiations

2. ADD VALUE. C/I’snaturally use their skills to add value and make sure all voices are heard.

Cs (Ts) add value by generating logical alternativesto the conflict issues

Is (Fs) add value by creating options for growthfor all parties so no one leaves feeling empty handed

3. SEEK CLOSURE. D’s ensure an end result.

agree on decision principles before making decisions (i.e. equal input)

-take one step at a time and define the steps

-once steps are outlined and decided upon, close the book on conflict

The bottom line is to turn what you learn into translatable skills. Learning communication and resiliency skills that focus on your strengths enable you to stay present in the moment. When you are able to operate continually from this place of presence, then you will find there are no fights, conflicts will decrease, and both your productivity and efficiency will improve. If your entire team can identify what best works for them and how to adapt to other people’s preferences, then the climate and culture at work will cease to feel like “work,” and more like play—just like it felt as a kid on the playground at recess playing kickball.

Lyndsay Katauskas, MEd

Mars Venus Coaching

Corporate Media Relations

 

Is your lack of Gender Intelligence impacting your stress levels and your ability to manage stress?

 “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.”
Victor Hugo

John Gray’s , original work, Men are from Mars Women are from Venus, has touched many men and women around the world with its simple, but powerful message that men and women are fundamentally different….. and that knowing those differences and consciously applying that knowledge is guaranteed to improve our relationships, stress management, communication and sales.

But how many of those people are actually using that knowledge of gender difference to improve their lives and businesses?

Mars Venus Coaching is a global business dedicated to helping men and women to be more effective by becoming more gender intelligent.

In his recent book, “Why Mars and Venus Collide” John Gray, Ph.D. helps us understand how the Mars and Venus differences affect our management of stress.  He explains the brain structure and functioning and the effects of different hormones in management of stress.

Do you know…

  • The role cortisol plays in stress?
  • That women have a limbic system that is 10 time larger than a man’s?  What does that mean and what are the implications for our management of stress?
  • That men and women approach a daily to-do list differently?  Why does that matter?
  • Why women need to talk when they are under stress?
  • Why understanding the role of testosterone is important for both men and women to know?
  • That men’s irritability and grumpiness can be understood and managed better?
  • What oxytocin is and why should we care?

These and many other questions are addressed in the Mars Venus “Practicing Safe Stress” workshops.

 

SUBMITTED BY COACH ED WYKMAN, PERTH, AUSTRALIA

 

Pauline Neville-Jones: ‘Some say I didn’t make it easy on myself’

Pauline Neville-Jones: ‘I hope I have never held back other women’ Photograph: Andrew Parsons/ZUMAPRESS.com

The former security minister talks about the difficulties of having been a woman in the ultra-macho defense world – but says things are now changing.

Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones always chooses her words with care. It is a trait of hers, and one that became a hallmark in a career that has taken her to the highest levels of the diplomatic service, overseeing MI5 and MI6, and as a security minister in government.

Looking back on this time in the highest echelons of Whitehall, she can speak a little more bluntly than perhaps she used to about the hurdles she faced as a woman making her way in what was – and to a certain extent remains – a man’s world.

“We were second-class citizens, really,” she says. “There were quite a lot of things that women were considered unsuitable for.”

Neville-Jones is referring specifically to her early days in the Foreign Office and the rules, both institutional and otherwise, that were designed to make life difficult for women seeking a career as a diplomat. She can laugh about them now, but at the time … “There was the bar on marriage. That lasted until the mid-1970s. The situation was that you had to resign if you got engaged, if you were a woman that is.”

She recalls that official uniforms, or rather the lack of them, was another divisive issue.

“Women diplomats didn’t have them. This was said to raise serious problems in certain countries with monarchies because it was thought that women couldn’t possibly go to formal ceremonies without one. The men had them, though they were not often worn, but not the women.

“There was some talk about creating an official evening dress with oak leaves. That came to nothing, luckily. It was a sign of the times, part of a forgotten world. Some heads of ministry wouldn’t even have women on their staff.”

That era has passed, though Neville-Jones may be reliving some of these moments this week, when she appears as one of the main speakers at a conference starting tomorrow at the Royal United Services Institute think-tank in London.

The two-day event is the first of its kind to bring together women from across the world who have forged careers in defense and security; sharing the platform will be an admiral from the US Navy, a brigadier from the Israeli Defense Force, and the secretary general of the Spanish Intelligence Agency.

In all, more than 30 women will discuss the jobs they do, the difficulties they have had to overcome, and offer advice to others embarking on similar journeys. Neville-Jones may have come further than any of them during her 50-year career.

A grammar-school girl from Leeds, she read history at Oxford University before deciding to test the thickness of the glass ceiling within the civil service.

It was 1961, and it had been impenetrable. “There were two women in my year out of a class of 20, but in other years there were none at all. So we were in a minority, there were very few of us around.”

For obvious reasons, it seems. The decade may have been swinging for some women, but the winds of change hadn’t blown very far into Whitehall when Neville-Jones started. Was there sexism in the service at the time?

“I do think that, yes. I think that climbing the tree was harder. Women were examined and criticized for things that men were not criticized for. The women certainly believed that to make average progress, they had to be rather better than average.

“I think some women believed that they would not be able to overcome this. They underrated their potential, and if you do that, then the system will underrate you too.”

Some decisions appear to grate even now. “I had been in Singapore for a period and wanted to know if I could learn Chinese. I got a very short note saying ‘no’. I was convinced this was because I was a woman. I think they thought there was no point putting in that investment, particularly with languages. The attitude was, ‘We are not going to train women who are going to leave.’ And they would never think of putting a woman in the Middle East.”

A thick skin has been one of the secrets of her longevity, and it is something she believes all women have to develop if they are to challenge the status quo.

“I am sure that there were [incidents of sexism]. But I am not one to dwell on difficulties or be thrown by slights. I can recall swallowing hard sometimes. One thing I do remember is the way some men would stand in front of you, and be talking to each other about you, as if you weren’t there.”

The Equal Opportunities Act in 1976, she says, “changed the game”, and she believes she was fortunate with the jobs she was appointed to. She also excelled in them.

They included a senior post at the British embassy in Washington, and then a move to Brussels where she was Chef de Cabinet to the Budget Commissioner, Christopher Tugendhat.

This was obviously a nightmare of a job; it was during the period when Mrs Thatcher was handbagging other European leaders, thumping tables and demanding her money back. Neville-Jones was caught in the middle – for five long years. “That was quite hard to navigate,” she says. “We were constantly under pressure.”

Understatement may be her preferred way of describing events, but there are certain issues about which she is more robust. One is that she never used gender as a weapon to get her own way, nor did she turn alpha male to survive.

“I was certainly never conscious of ‘playing the woman’. I would not have approved of that. It is not a winning tactic. I operated in the world as I found it, and it was a man’s world.”

That world increasingly included working with the armed forces, and then the intelligence services – she was chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee in 1993 and 1994.

Dame Stella Rimington was head of MI5 at the time, the first woman to head the security service, and the two got on well.

And she didn’t find the generals as difficult as she might. “The thing about the military,” she says, “is that they are always very courteous.”

Neville-Jones has remained friends with Rimington, though they never had a chance to share their experiences properly back then.

She also knows Eliza Manningham-Buller, who became the second woman to run MI5. All three were pioneers in their own way, but Neville-Jones accepts that their success has, perhaps, masked the difficulties other women have had underneath them.

She believes the latest generation of women entering Whitehall are “pretty level pegging” with the men, but in the intermediate generation some women are struggling to push through. “It will happen. The process is under way but because of the nature of these things, it will not change overnight.”

Women, she says, have to learn some of the tricks that have given men such an advantage. “We are not the greatest networkers, and particular networks begin at school. Women tend to break the network of friends they make, but it is a habit that men have learned. It is an approach to life that involves planning almost without thinking about it. And men sustain this. I came from a northern grammar school. I had a good education, but I didn’t have a good network.”

Careers where there are formal systems of assessment also help women, she believes. That is why, for all the difficulties she encountered, Neville-Jones says the public sector is now a better bet than the private sector for the ambitious.

“When I first left university, I thought about going into the private sector. But I discovered when I went to interview that I could only have a career in the back office, or doing HR. The attitude was, “My dear lady, you cannot possibly think about going on the board.”

“I believe women profit from merit and performance assessments which exist in the public sector. But this culture is much less strong in the commercial world. I think there is a huge waste of talent in the private sector.”

Inevitably, there have been sacrifices along the way. Neville-Jones doesn’t speak with rancour or bitterness about any of her experiences, but there is, I sense, just a hint of regret when she talks about her private life.

She says she never made a conscious decision not to marry, it just happened that way. She admits there were circumstances in which she would have liked to have someone alongside her, if only to have helped out at the merry-go-round of drinks and dinner parties she hosted on her own.

“Some people say that I didn’t make it easy on myself. There are prices one pays, but I was not going to give up something that I enjoyed doing. I suppose that official entertaining was harder without a partner to shoulder the burden. As a man, it would have been easier for me to get married. But I had demanding jobs. I undoubtedly made it difficult for myself.”

She adds: “And I hope I have never held back other women. I hope I have not been guilty of that because I have always tried to protect them. I was aware of their situations. I know some women did manage to pull off the very difficult trick of having a successful career and a family. It can be done.”

Neville-Jones doesn’t like to generalize, but she believes women have innate skills that make them good at the kind of intelligence jobs she has done well in. “I do think that women are good at detail. The average woman is better than the average man in this respect, and detail is important in security – it is primordial.

“You cannot do it properly unless you are capable of recognizing everything that is relevant. You have to get right down in there. “Women are better at getting in among the weeds, maybe partly because women accept that weeds are part of life. Men try to get away from them.”

And her advice to women starting out? Learn to deal with the mess, work hard, and come up with the occasional big idea. “Do what you want to do. Follow your instincts. Even if you have difficulties, don’t accept second best. Ever.”

‘I denied my female traits’: life in the US Navy in the 1970s

Vice Admiral Carol Pottenger hesitates before telling a story about her rise through the US Navy. In 1977, she was one of the first women selected for sea duty. This involved joining the crew of the USS Yosemite for deployment in the Mediterranean. She had prepared for the reaction of the other sailors, but not of their families, some of whom took a dim view of the women’s presence on board.

That unhappiness became all too clear when the crew returned to port months later to see banners: “Welcome Home Yosemite – Men.”

Pottenger has been pushing back the boundaries ever since, and is now one of the US Navy’s senior officers, who has served in Iraq and won the distinguished service medal.

Pottenger says the US Navy has come a long way since the days when women were only assigned to ships “that were welded to port or in decay”.

She admits that during most of her early career, she “was careful to … deny my female traits”. “This was the way to prosper in a male-dominated organization. You don’t want to stand out, you don’t want to be someone who brings tension to the mission. You want to adapt, to fit in smoothly.”

Now, she feels she can be more herself. “Being a woman is part of who you are. I might have denied that early on, but now I have the confidence not to care whether this is an issue.”

Pottenger now mentors other women. “It is really important for women to look up and see other women being successful. When I was in that position, all I wanted to do was blend in and be one of the guys.”  “Service should be color-blind, and gender-blind,” she says.

Why Women Prefer Influence Over Power

By Joanne Cleaver | September 29, 2010

Since 1981, Joanne Cleaver has been reporting on all aspects of business for national and regional newspapers, magazines and websites. Numerous magazine and industry “best employers for women” lists use the equity index she developed to rank companies according to the presence (or not) of women in their executive ranks. She also leads the research firm Wilson-Taylor Associates, Inc., where her team measures and supports the advancement of women in accounting, cable, finance and other industries. Yes, she has an opinion: that when women fully engage in all business operations, companies will make more money in more ways.

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Why don’t women want to embrace the P word?

That’s P as in ‘power.’ Men don’t have that problem. They love it, which explains the entire Gordon Gekko franchise.

When consultant Maddy Dychtwald started looking at the rising economic power of women, she wasn’t surprised to detect their aversion to the ‘P’ word and corresponding affection for the ‘I’ word: influence. That’s why she named her book “Influence: How Womens Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better” (Hyperion, May 2010).

But she thinks that women are in the process of redefining influence and power, precisely because they are becoming more comfortable with their power. Power is about “owning, individually, and taking control. Influence is about taking that power and running it out all over the place,” she told me in a recent interview. “The three stages of economic power are survival, self-sufficiency, and influence with corporations and politicians. That’s the next step women will take.”

This year, with women becoming fully half the workforce, we’ve reached a tipping point; despite spotty traction in getting to parity in management,  Dychtwald thinks that the long-quantified “three women” dynamic on boards will catalyze womens’ widespread rise to senior positions. The “three women” dynamic is that one woman on a board (typically a group of 12 to 15) is a token. Two women often spark conflict, but when there are three or more women, collaboration breaks out and women substantively affect group dynamics and decisions.

Simply by being aware of that dynamic women can leverage it, she adds: “Use your influence not just for your own career, but for those around you and for your company and its direction.”