CO - HR Innovation

Brave to Lead Like a Girl

Brave to Lead Like a Girl

All of us are dealt a unique deck of cards. Our aim is to identify our strengths and play those cards right. Some of us were raised in a nurturing environment and hit a wall later; some of us faced struggles from the onset. Having both experiences, I have found there is a common coping mechanism—courage. Making lemonade from lemons doesn’t mean changing who we are but staying true to our nature—being brave to lead like a girl!

Why did I decide to step up and share this story? Let me share with you my story of contrasts. It was 1998 and I was a young Manager at Procter and Gamble. I was in my GM’s office, so frustrated with a challenge that I started to weep. It was embarrassing, so I desperately tried to regain my composure. My boss looked me in the eye and said, “Dalia, don’t ever be embarrassed for crying in the office. It is a sign of your passion and passion is your X-factor. If you ever work at a place where people don’t appreciate that, walk away. They don’t deserve you.” That was my first boss James Lafferty—my mentor and friend till date.

Some eighteen years later, when I was Chief Marketing Officer for another company, I was in my new boss’s office. He was criticising me. This was not just tough love. When he started criticising my team, it was too much for me and my eyes filled with tears.

He smiled at me and offered a tissue box. For a moment I had a warm feeling, remembering my first boss. But then he turned the box around to show me a handmade sticker that read: ‘Dalia’s Tissue Box.’

I was speechless for a moment before saying, “You must be kidding! I should complain to HR.”

“Come on, Dalia!” he said. “It is just boy banter. I know you have a sense of humour.”

A few days later I was standing with my all-male C-suite colleagues, debating over something. My boss walked up to us and said, “You think Dalia is such a tough cookie, an Israeli ex-platoon commander? Did you know she has a tissue box in my office with her name on it?”

The same emotion expressed in two different contexts and received so differently! The contrast is stark—one person saw my tears as my passion and another mocked me for my weakness. I know it is hard to believe, but things like this still happen in the corporate world.

My beginning was a smooth ride; I thrived in P&G for seventeen years and enjoyed a fast-track career working in Geneva, Russia, and Singapore. In my next job, I became an outspoken, independent woman in a male-dominated, judgemental, and hierarchical culture. I loved my role and my team and was determined to make it work, not only for my family—I was lead breadwinner at the time—but also for myself and the women in the organization. After three years when I felt I delivered everything expected of me, I listened to my first boss’s advice and walked away.

Publishing this article today not only coincides with Women’s Day but also marks my one-year anniversary for getting enough courage to leave the lucrative corporate world. After twenty years of loving what I was doing, I decided to dedicate my time to my passion—inspiring and enabling people to live a happier life of ‘flow’ through the three P’s: Purpose, Positivity, and Perseverance.

Whatever your situation is, here are some key lessons about work and personal life. I hope these help you on your journey.

Be brave to live with purpose and lead with flow.

Love the work you do, and you will never work another day in your life.

One day, my eldest daughter called me up from school. “Mum, you wouldn’t believe it. They are showing your ad Always Like a Girl in social studies!”

Now, when I reflect upon my fast growth in P&G, I realise I worked in a state of “flow.”

This term was introduced by Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi to describe a state of complete absorption in a rewarding experience; a state in which action and awareness are merged. The benefits include peak performance and peak experience, motivation, creativity, happiness, and job satisfaction. The first condition for flow is a deep sense of purpose.

I was lucky I could align my personal purpose to my work. As Fem Care director, I evolved my work from selling sanitary pads to selling equality and self-esteem—from empowering all the girls enrolling in the army in Israel, to ‘Be the Star You Are’ scholarship program in Russia, to busting period-related myths in India while empowering girls to ‘Keep Striding Forward’, and finally the iconic ‘Always Like a Girl’ campaign that started a movement of women empowerment.

All the while, I was filled with a deep sense of purpose. The name of this article pays homage to this movement. With purpose, positivity, and perseverance, who says running like a girl can’t mean winning the race?

Focus on your strengths. Manage your opportunities.

Our brain only sees what we pay attention to. I am grateful for all my early bosses who saw strengths in me I didn’t even know I had and helped me manage my opportunities. My last boss chose to focus on the negative and that is all he saw. Slowly, my confidence eroded, my energy depleted, and my performance dipped. People rise to your highest expectations and sink to your lowest. To be in “flow,” a person needs positive feedback to assess their growth. This is not sugar- coating but providing tough love. People will accept the toughest feedback when delivered with care.

Know your destination but enjoy the ride

“He who has a WHY in life can tolerate any HOW.” – Nietzsche. Purpose allows us to focus, to overcome any adversary, and enables us to enjoy the here and now. Research has shown that It is the pursuit of goals—not the attainment—that leads to lasting happiness. But being in flow doesn’t mean being in the zone 24/7. Purposeful rest is vital. A little stress may be good for your performance, but only if you have the right mindset and if you know to stop and enjoy the view as you climb.

Master energy, not time.

A critical condition for flow is physical wellness. Energy is the ultimate currency. Managing your energy is more important than managing your time. “If you want to be happier,” says happiness expert Tal Ben Shahar, “Make sure to take the proven happiness pill—exercise, nutrition, sleep, and touch”. Yes, give five extra hugs a day and feel significantly happier!

Build perseverance and embrace failure. It is not about winning but giving your best.

“I haven’t failed. I just haven’t gotten there, yet.” explains Dr Carol Dweck. Our attitude toward failure will determine whether we have a growth mindset or a stagnant one. Change your language to add the magic word ‘yet.’

Those with growth mindset see failure as an event, not a badge. It is not that a leader is free from fear; she is afraid, yet walks straight into it, embracing failure as a learning and avoids personalizing it. We miss 100% of the shots we don’t take- our biggest regrets are not our failures but the things

we didn’t try. So, go ahead, be brave and give it a try. Don’t give up at first stumble. And if you do finally fail; get up, reflect and learn, re-adjust your crown, and move on like the queen you are!

Good Enough Mum

Be there for the moments that count, and make the moments you are there, count.

Life as a working mum wasn’t easy. I have three kids, an entrepreneur husband and I spent the last twenty years in demanding jobs. When my son was eight, he gave me a gift that changed my approach to work and life. He was performing at school. I had a presentation with the President of our company. I ended up rushing to school—arrived in my high heels, messy hair, sweaty—just as my son came off stage. I was devastated I missed his play. I couldn’t stop apologizing. And he said to me, ‘Mum, I know you are not perfect but I see you really tried.’

He taught me to accept being ‘good enough.’

Make all the effort to be there for that critical occasion, and make sure that when you are there, you are 100% there. Kids are the first to sense when you are not. So put that phone away the moment you walk through the door and enjoy magic in the mundane through mindful presence.

Don’t just be right- be Smart- networks are a strategic leadership skill

I always hated politics thinking I will let my work speak for itself. Even the word Politics gives me the chills. But I learnt quite late in the game that at senior management level, managing your stakeholders is key to achieving results and core to this is managing relationships. Be an owl who reads the room, understands it, and then responds by focusing on what is right for the organization (instead of what is right for self). Strapped for time, I used to skip lunch. But as the Singaporean say- Lunch as the most important meeting of the day. So map your stakeholders- understand their needs, invest in the emotional bank account. Don’t just be right, be smart. And remember, we are better together. Identify allies, create networks, and most importantly, lift others as you rise. I wouldn’t have succeeded without amazing men and women cheering me on. Who are your raving fans?

Learn to dance with adversary

My most recent boss and I couldn’t be more different—process vs. creativity, results vs. people first. A match made in hell. So, what did I do and what did I learn?

Year One: I fight. Like many of us, when we are punched, we try to stop the punch and push back. Year Two: I flight-I tried to adapt to this culture and do as I was told. But the more I tried to adapt, the more frustrated I became. I felt like it was never good enough. That I had left my heart and my art behind. At the end of that year, I became sick and couldn’t get out of bed. I realized I was not being true to myself. Year Three: I stopped being afraid and did what I believed was right. And when I delivered what I had promised, I walked away.

I have heard an amazing analogy- When dealing with adversary, learn to dance- if someone comes to punch you, don’t fight (waste of energy) or flight (be submissive and lose your soul) or freeze, but use the energy of the punch to lead a dance towards a common win-win;

  •  LISTEN and SILENT have the same letters- so first, silent yourself to listen to the other needs. Apply empathy- what needs are not being met? How can you use what they want to get to where you want to go?
  •  Don’t focus your energy on fighting to changing others. People don’t change, unless they want to. There are only two ways forward—change the way you see the environment or use leverage. If you think you have a lesson, or can grow, then do. Don’t give up at first challenge. Understand your lessons and try to adjust. But if the changes demanded are against your values, against who you are at your core, it’s time to walk away.
  •  Most critically- Don’t accept a bully. Make it clear the behaviour is unacceptable and it must stop or you will file an official complaint (use leverage). When there is bullying, you need to roar not growl- ‘Boy banter’ is bullying and we should not have a sense of humour when it comes to it.

Show them what crazy can do

I was just about to finish this article, when the new Nike ad came out. Dream Crazier. Brilliant! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whpJ19RJ4JY A senior P&G women leader once said to us: ‘To succeed as a woman in a man’s world, you need to learn to share your emotions, unemotionally.’ I must admit I have mixed feeling about this one. I think the magic is in being who you are. If you need to be angry or storm out of the room than do. Than take a pause, apply empathy and reframe the situation, and come back cool and collected to share how you felt. Help people understand you are not crazy or dramatic, you are passionate about your purpose. Be brave to lead like a girl- Passionate purpose, People, Perseverance and finally Positivity.

Positivity- Live each day with an attitude of gratitude.

We notice what we focus on- “When we appreciate the good things in our lives, the good in our life appreciates.” — Tal Ben Shahar. Numerous studies show the impact of gratitude in eliciting happiness and well-being. I am grateful for all the learnings and primarily I will never let other people own my happiness- key is replace the need for significance (determined by others) to focus on contribution (internally). Find a way to be grateful and kind each day and the world always smiles back.

  • Dalia Feldheim
    Dalia Feldheim
    leader at Procter

    Award-winning, Creative, brand-builder, organization-builder, and relentless results-oriented executive with 20Y successful track record as transformational leader at Procter and Gamble and Electrolux. Have won over a dozen internal and external awards (including global best campaign and external Cannes and Effie).Dalia is the founder of the P&G women’s network in Moscow and Singapore and author of MOM (managing our maternity) internal P&G maternity guide (translated to 26 languages).

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