What does it take to be a top female executive?

Growing up in South Australia in the early 1970s, my after-school schedule involved Gidget, Mister Ed, Green Acres, the Beverly Hillbillies and the Partridge Family. So when an American classmate introduced me to Seventeen magazine, I studied every advertisement, photo and story like a stars and stripes struck teenager.  I was besotted with all things USA.

About that time I discovered a list of penfriends in the Sunday Mail’s ‘Possum Pages’. Donna Goldsmith from Franklin Square, New York 11010, USA sounded perfect. Thanks to Donna’s enthusiasm, we exchanged letters regularly. Seventeen came to life, and I learned a lot more about David Cassidy and Donny Osmond!

We continued writing throughout high-school and university, and finally in June 1982 I met Donna on my visit to a hot and humid New York. As she’d just graduated, Donna was job-hunting, and I was impressed by her focus, drive and tenacity.

It wasn’t long before Donna was working at Revlon. She went on to build a stellar career at Swatch, the National Basketball Association, and World Wrestling Entertainment Inc, where she became Chief Operating Officer. Then in 2009, Donna Goldsmith was named by Forbes as the second most powerful Woman in Sport.

So how did she get there, and what does it take to be a top female executive?

I asked Donna the following questions:

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A TV star or a Broadway performer.

What was your career goal when you left college (university)?

To get a job! Back then having the ability to type was a real bonus. I knew I’d have to start in an entry level position and my speed-demon typing skills helped me secure my first position as an assistant at the cosmetic giant – Revlon.

What’s one thing you’d recommend to professionals starting their career?

Be willing to do anything! Especially if like me you are coming out of college/university with a liberal arts degree. Take unpaid internships, network like crazy (don’t be afraid to ask mom and dad who they may know that can be helpful). Use interpersonal skills (this does not include TEXTING). Even if your first job isn’t in your chosen field, it’s a start – – the job market is very tough so be open to all opportunities!

What was the biggest turning point in your career?

Biggest turning point, without a doubt, was getting my job at the National Basketball Association. Although not a sports’ fan at the time, this was my start in what would become my career in the sports’ field. I was at the NBA during the “Dream Team” years – – Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson were all at the top of their game. I couldn’t have picked a more exciting time to be part of the most dynamic league in sports!

What do you consider your greatest career achievement?

In 2009 I was named number 2 in a list of the Most Powerful Women in Sports by Forbes.com. This was actually a surprise to me as I didn’t even know I was being considered. For a girl from Long Island, New York, who didn’t attend an Ivy League University, this was a major achievement for which I was incredibly proud.

What is the hardest thing you’ve done in your career to date?

The most difficult thing to date is realizing that it’s time to leave a job (either on your own or being let go). This is probably not how you would have expected me to respond to this question but after ten years at World Wrestling Entertainment, and the last 2½ as COO for Chairman Vince McMahon, it was obvious to me that it was time to move on. My job was being marginalized and although my relationship with the board was excellent (WWE is a public company), Vince was ready to move in a different direction without a COO. Initially I was distraught, but ultimately (and a contractual solid severance package helped) I realized this was the best move for all. And to this day, I have maintained positive relationships with all the management at WWE.

Is there anything you would have done differently along the way?

I don’t think I would have done anything all that differently. Perhaps I would be a bit less emotional in how I reacted to certain situations. But when I am very dedicated to any project, position, staff, I tend to react strongly to the situation at hand. It’s just my personality.

Which qualities have been your greatest career allies?

I’m a ham, an actress! This has been so helpful when it comes time to making presentations in front of 100 or 1000 people. I’m also a great leader/manager. It’s what has been the most important and useful skill as I’ve moved through the ranks of organizations. I will always have the back(s) of my team members.

What has given you the greatest satisfaction about your career to date?

Because I’ve done well financially over the years, I’ve been able to be generous with family and friends. Be it to treat many to theatre tickets, sporting events, trips (to the Bahamas to celebrate my birthday with 3 of my closest friends). It’s been my pleasure to give back to those that have supported me over the years. However, as a consultant now (and not knowing when the next project will start), I’ve had to curtail this behavior. I’m learning to be a bit more restrained when spending on myself and others! Definitely not easy! Least satisfaction – working 24/7 and not having enough time for myself.

Are there any people that made a difference to your career along the way?

I’ve had some terrific managers/mentors during my career and so not-so-great managers. I’ve developed positive skills and learned from both. My first boss at Revlon was a true mentor and leader. He recently passed away and I sent a note to his wife to let him know how much he meant to me.

What did it take to become one of the top 10 female executives in sports?

Hard work, no ego, dedication, drive. A great personal brand and the benefit of working on a brand like WWE or NBA that is the best in its category!

What advice do you offer women who are pursuing executive level roles?

Do not be timid. Be focused on the prize (whatever that is). Find a mentor, take action, realize that your personal life may suffer, and find a way to best manage your time (I definitely didn’t do this well).

What 3 things do you recommend to all aspiring executives?

  1. As mentioned before, be willing to do whatever is needed of you. Pack boxes, work weekends, order coffee. Ultimately, it will show your willingness to dive in and you will be rewarded.
  2. Develop interpersonal communication skills. Young people now are so new-media focused. It is vitally important that any aspiring career person know how to look people in the eyes and carry on an intelligent conversation. Sounds so simple but it’s not a given anymore.
  3. Develop and maintain relationships – this has been hugely helpful to me as I’ve moved from job to job. The majority of new positions are obtained through networking so it’s of the utmost importance relationships are cultivated and maintained.

Any regrets about not pursuing a career in TV or Broadway?

I do have my Actor’s Union Card (AFTRA-SAG) and have been an extra on three soap operas (Guiding Light, All My Children and General Hospital) so that helped fill the need to do something in the “arts”.


Footnote: In 2014 Donna was named #2 in the Top 10 Women Executives in Sports. As one of the USA’s most prominent business people with experience in three different sports, she was considered to be a contender for a senior executive position with any of the major leagues. Since this interview, Donna has been appointed as SVP Consumer Products/Partnership Marketing and International Event Licensing at Tough Mudder Inc.

Photos courtesy of Donna Goldsmith

Mad About Mentoring

What ever happened to good old fashioned mentoring? Those men and women that made a difference to our lives? No fancy corporate programs – just trusted relationships that became valuable touchstones in our careers.

The concept originates in Greek mythology, when Odysseus entrusted his loyal advisor, Mentor (aka Athena, the female goddess of wisdom) with the care and education of his child, Telemachus. Move ahead to the 21st century, and a mentoring relationship is no longer this exclusive.

 Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction ~ John C. Crosby

As we navigate the twists and turns of our careers, mentors offer observations, tangible advice and emotional support. All of this, for as little as the cost of a latte. Yet when I ask the people I coach, Do you have a Mentor?, the reply is mostly a resounding No.

With corporate upheavals, flatter matrix-based organisations, hot-desking, new technologies and the explosion of social media, mentoring’s had a makeover. As no one individual can possibly address all aspects of our careers, a smorgasbord of mentors, with a diverse range of views and expertise is on offer.

Whether it’s forming a personal board of directors, or a developmental network, mentoring encompasses a range of people who have a genuine interest in our career, learning and growth. And while chemistry is still important, new-age mentoring is about mutually beneficial, and reciprocal relationships. It’s also gone 360 degrees, with peers, direct reports, customers, stakeholders, and senior managers in the mix.

Mentoring happens on the job and in cafes, and can be scheduled or opportunistic. Insights, information, guidance and new perspectives are available on career direction, leadership challenges and project issues. Conversations and contributions can be as varied as the mentors we engage.

Good mentors will challenge and stretch our thinking and help us to explore new options, opportunities and networks. They share their experiences, give feedback, and the tell us the things we don’t really want to hear. The partnership should be nurtured, and mutually energising, not depleting. These are positive relationships that generally make us feel good, and necessarily uneasy at times. And perhaps more importantly, mentoring can help us to get unstuck when we need it, and give us the confidence to make a well deserved career move.

Mentors are all around you. Are you ready for the smorgasbord?


Leadership Lessons from a Genial Guru

I believe that good leadership is the golden thread woven through all successful careers. Whether leading people, a function, or making a individual contribution, we have an opportunity to create value, and leave a legacy we can be proud of.

Today, I’m delighted to welcome my first guest writer, one of my favourite colleagues, and “genial guru” Bob Boyd. As an academic, Bob taught management, and recently facilitated executive development programs across the Asia Pacific. In this post, Bob shares some takeaways from the leadership classics, all distilled for us on one page for an easy read. Over to you Bob…

Several years ago, I was running a leadership workshop in South Korea. On the second-last day, one participant asked me to share what I had learned about leadership from years working in universities and global corporates, and from my reading of leadership literature.

Here are my top 6 points:

Peter Drucker in his HBR article Managing Oneself writes that manners are the lubricating oil of an organisation. I concur completely and have found that rudeness, abruptness being overly direct and unsubtle generates negative feelings and demotivates employees.

Stephen Covey in The Eighth Habit and First Things First talks about the importance of personal ethics and sound business principles. These are not nebulous concepts. Principles and values guide good  business decisions, and ethical behaviour creates loyalty and trust in customers and staff.

Jim Collins in Good To Great reminds us of the qualities of great leaders – humility and determination. And I whole heartedly agree that leaders who focus their energy on the good of the company (not their own ego fulfilment) and the needs of their people, create workplaces where people love to work, with whom customers and clients like to associate and whose superior business results are maintained over long periods of time

Susan Scott in Fierce Conversations reminds us of the critical importance of communicating with business colleagues and staff in a clear unambiguous, open and honest way. She maintains that the failure to confront issues in a timely and sensitive way will lead to less than effective relationships at work.

Noel Tichy in The Leadership Engine speaks of the importance for leaders to have a teachable point of view to:

  • foster the development of good business ideas,
  • instil values that support implementation of those ideas
  • generate positive energy themselves and others, and
  • make tough decisions.

Finally Daniel Goleman in Leadership That Gets Results identifies six leadership styles based on components of our emotional intelligence. He argues we should flexibly apply differing leadership styles  (in particular situations and with particular people), and be acutely aware of the danger in limiting our leadership strengths to only one or two styles, because of being insufficiently aware of our emotional intelligence predispositions.

So in a nut shell, my top keys to highly effective leadership are:

  1. Good manners and consideration of others
  2. Personal ethics and sound business principles
  3. Humility and determination
  4. Open, honest and timely communication
  5. Developing a teachable point of view
  6. Flexible leadership styles



Bob Boyd is a Melbourne-based coach, who offers sound and practical development strategies based on experience and a continuing interest and familiarity with management literature, research and practice. In the last 10 years, Bob has successfully provided leadership development to global companies operating across the Asia-Pacific region. Recently, he has facilitated workshops and coached leaders for the Departments of Justice and Human Services, in Victoria.  Contact him at bob@asiamanagement.biz


Are You on a Career Ladder or Jungle Gym?

What does your career path look like? Are you climbing a ladder, or has your career taken you through a zig-zag of moves, with the end goal in mind?

Globalisation and technology have transformed organisations over the past two decades. Professionals now navigate flatter structures, which may offer limited and less visible pathways to career progression. With a few exceptions, well sign-posted careers are so very last century.

In her recently published book Lean In, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg refers to her own career path as being more like scrambling a jungle gym, than climbing a ladder. Where a career ladder offers just one way to get to the top, she writes there are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym.

Read More

Work With What You’ve Got


I love the promise of a new year. The enforced ‘down time’ over the festive season gives me permission to switch-off, unwind, and reflect on what is truly important to my career. This month could just as well be called Planuary, as I use the tail end of the summer break, to think about how I’d like to develop my career coaching practice in 2013.

Although there’s always the thrill of finding something newer and better, it dawned on me that I’m surrounded by plenty of great resources – materials that I’ve laboured over, and filed away for another day. Thanks to the occasional Amazon splurge, my bookshelves are stuffed with inspiration. While I have my firm favourites, some of these books sit like orphans on the shelf, waiting to be picked and loved.

This year, I’ve decided that less is more, and I plan to work with what I’ve got.

The same mantra could be applied to savvy professionals, as they take charge of their careers. DIY career development is at your finger tips. Proactive career management not only facilitates progression within a current employer or a chosen industry, it’s an insurance policy in the event of an unexpected career change.

Great development is dynamic, customised, action based and experiential. Forget the generic and formulaic, and explore options which cater to your unique needs. In a world of flatter matrix-based organisations and lateral moves, career development is within easy reach.

The Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) research indicates that a significant part of development occurs through practical experiences. And the more varied the practical experiences, the greater the likelihood of developing a broad repertoire of skills.

Development can take various forms. It may include changing the scope of your position to develop a new competency or skill; a secondment to another department to develop functional expertise; transfer into a new role to gain people leadership experience; coaching; mentoring or completion of a university course.

In her book Developmental Assignments – Creating Learning Experiences without Changing Jobs* (CCL 2006), Cynthia McCauley identified the following challenges as development opportunities:

  • Unfamiliar responsibilities handling responsibilities that are new or very different from previous ones you’ve handled
  • New directions starting something new or making strategic changes
  • Inherited problems fixing problems created by someone or existing before you took the assignment
  • Problems with employees dealing with employees who lack adequate experience, are incompetent or are resistant to change
  • High stakes managing work with tight deadlines, pressure from above, high visibility and responsibility for critical decisions
  • Scope and scale managing work that is broad in scope (including multiple functions, groups, locations, products or services) or large in sheer size (eg workload, number of responsibilities)
  • External pressure managing the interface with important groups outside the organisation, such as customers, vendors, partners, unions and regulatory agencies
  • Influencing without authority influencing peers, higher management or other key people over whom you have no authority
  • Work across cultures working with people from different cultures or with institutions in other countries
  • Work group diversity being responsible for the work of people of both genders and different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

In addition to developing expertise, these experiences generate accomplishments, which bolster a resume, and pave the way for promotion and new career pathways. The grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. You are surrounded by development opportunities, which needn’t cost anything other than your initiative. Work with what you’ve got.

* Refer http://www.ccl.org for details on publications

Is Your Career a Work of Art?

The career paradigm has been redefined.

In Gianpiero Petriglieri’s Harvard Business blog post Turn Your Career into a Work of Art and video The Art of Career Development, he proposes that unlike previous generations, we are now reflecting upon our identity and purpose, and scrutinising our career choices, many times in our lifetime. And not only when we are struggling, but when we are succeeding.

Petriglieri writes “the better you do, the broader the range of opportunities you have. You no longer just get to move up, you get to move around. You are exposed to different opinions, worldviews, and lifestyles. You become keener to look for work that grants you more than sustenance and recognition. Work that allows you to feed your passions, express yourself and serve a larger cause.”

Today’s careers are no longer ladders. They are more like works of art.

Success in art is not just making a living, is it about moving and being moved. It is opening vistas and challenging the status quo. While an artist’s life can be exciting, it creates anxiety. Displaying passion can be scary.

In his research and leadership development work, Petriglieri observes the same concoction of emotions among people, especially leaders, who aspire to craft their careers around their passion.

So, to succeed and thrive like an artist, Petriglieri advocates that you:

  1. Build your career on a foundation of expertise
  2. Prove the work you do matters, and makes a difference to you & others
  3. Be courageous and put yourself out there, find a voice & defy convention
  4. Connect to a community that teaches, inspires & supports you.

What can you do to shape your career into a work of art?