How to Be the CEO of Your Life
Andrea Clarke is a former Washington, D.C. news correspondent and international aid worker, now helping women reach their potential with her "Communicating With Authority" training sessions.
I recently took a quick poll in a circle of professional women that alarmed me greatly. My question was simple but confronting. Let me ask you the same one. Do you believe that you are truly thriving in your career? Not just surviving, but thriving. Women across the corporate world routinely tell me that while they are highly productive and successful, they are not reaching their potential—simply because they don’t feel confident and in control. I’ve been forced to ask myself this question repeatedly throughout my working life and have identified five running themes that have helped me build confidence ahead of major transitions, and kept me in charge of my own career path.
We subconsciously undermine our authority by the way we speak, present, and interact with our colleagues, clients, and the CEO. Breaking these habits is easy, once we understand our personal communication style. For example, do you use language that is tentative in meetings, such as "It’s only my opinion" or "This isn’t my area of expertise"? Does your voice signal doubt? Does your inflection rise at the end of a sentence? And does your body language reflect confidence? Do you tilt your head to the side when speaking to your boss or not expand in your own space while seated opposite a client? Take charge of the signals you send so you can communicate with greater, natural authority.
Covering a major, developing news story (for instance, the VA Tech shooting or a presidential campaign) is one of the most logistically complicated, physically demanding, and chaotic jobs on record. What it highlights clearly is that a team will fail without adopting a flat management structure. When filing news from the field, the reporter might be the team leader, but the opinions of the cameraman, producer, and sound engineer are equally critical. Every second counts.
A simple observation by anyone in the team could be a breakthrough moment that changes the direction of the story. To be successful in any role, we must encourage those around us to share insights that may very well impact the route we take with a service, product, or project. Open communication can only strengthen the team’s performance and better inform you as a leader.
As a former television news reporter, I never hesitated communicating to a citywide audience during a 6 p.m. bulletin, but when it came to having a difficult conversation with my boss or confronting a colleague about being bullied, I actively avoided it. Only now do I recognise how destructive that was. We all need to find a way to get comfortable with courteous confrontation; all we need is to do is consider our objective then follow a basic framework. Using a neutral tone, I state the context of the behaviour, listen fully to my colleague (and NOT interrupt), and summarize (to encourage sharing), before starting a negotiation process about the issue. Never withdraw. Instead, use a negative situation to create positive change—and be confident about your ability to take control.
One of the sharpest memories in my career happened while I was working in the Al Jazeera English newsroom in Washington, D.C. when I started writing a story using pictures from an iPhone. For me, this was a game changer for the industry. Everyone with a smartphone was now a reporter. It was an alarming red flag being waved in front of my face about how easily technology could disrupt a commercial enterprise. Newsgathering was changing, the traditional business model of news was over, and I had to find the courage not just to recognise how it was going to impact my career trajectory, but actually do something about it. Four weeks later, I had a new job with an international aid group. This was in 2008. By forecasting major disruptions in my industry and building experience in another field which I was passionate about, I was able to feel confident and in control of my own journey. Stay ahead of the game so you can feel less vulnerable when change hits your sector.
Every major business has a body of elected or appointed members to oversee the activities of the CEO—but why wait to be running an organisation to engage the support of an expert professional team? When I started my media training business in 2012, I created my own personal board of directors to provide oversight, drive growth, and help me manage tricky issues as I navigated the first few critical years in the marketplace. My board is made up of a mentor (someone who listens to the good, the bad, and the ugly of any situation), an adviser (the person who knows my industry and business inside out and is able to make insightful observations about my structure and activities), and a connector (an incredibly well-networked person who makes strategic introductions).
My proposition is simple. We all invest valuable time in planning to meet the objectives of a business, usually someone else’s. So what if we looked at our own careers as a business? And ourselves as the CEO? Now there’s a plan worth investing in. Sign me up for that.
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How do you take charge of your career? Let us know in the comments.
Opening photo: Style du Monde