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The Grill: Becky Blalock counsels women to get in front of decision-makers

Julia King | Nov. 5, 2013
This IT leader has advice for women looking to advance: Believe in yourself.

You write about the need to understand the difference between managing and leading. Tell me about that difference. There is a big difference. A lot of people in middle management can't understand why they don't make it to the next level. In middle management, you're executing on ideas that someone else has created.

It's not easy to execute, but the higher value to a corporation is not just doing what someone tells you, but figuring out what needs to be done. What are we doing? Do we need to make a change? Do we need to shift the customer base? That's higher thinking than when you're in mid-management. In a leadership position, you need to be thinking ahead and looking around the corner. You may only have 20% of the information you need, but you have to be smart and courageous enough to go to the next level, even with that limited information.

How should middle managers position themselves to take advantage of those career-defining moments? I think a career-defining moment is anytime you are put in charge of a high-profile project or have a chance to get in front of a group of executives and show them who you are. People in senior management are always looking for talent.

I was always on the lookout for stars. I used to spend a lot of time on that. That's part of the reason that Computerworld was always picking Southern Co. as one of the Best Places to Work in IT: We put so much focus on leadership development.

As an employee, if you have an opportunity to get in front of a decision-maker, you have to leverage that for all it's worth. Don't shy away. I know a very smart and talented woman who was frightened to do that. I think public speaking and confidence and leadership are learned skills. People aren't born knowing how to do those things. But you have to put yourself out there. You have to be able to stick your head out there and get it chopped off. It's not failing. It's what you learn from it.

Do all of these tips apply to men as well as women? The truth is you have to be very careful about putting anybody in a box. Men suffer from a deficit of confidence just as much as women, but women are much more obsessed with being liked. In general, when I talk with my female friends, we're much more sensitive about things and take things much more personally.

When I interviewed men, I asked them what one thing they'd change about women. Some of them would say women take things much too personally and that they need to lighten up in the workplace. Women pick up on clues that men never see. Overall, women score 3% higher on IQ tests, but they think different. That's why it's important to have different people on a team.

 

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