Here are seven strategies that I've tested, modified and used throughout my career. For me, they pass the test of time. I hope they are useful to you.
Strategy #1: This Too Shall Pass
It’s important to remember that everything runs in cycles. The current down cycle will be followed by an up cycle. You need to accept the environment that you are in and work with it.
I believe the best use of a down cycle is to get ready for the next up cycle. This is more than just regrouping and housecleaning. It's really about getting ready for the future. This is a great time to build competitive advantage. You can do this by communicating with customers. During their down cycle, they have both the time and the motivation to hear about ideas that can bring improvements. Above all, do what you can to keep the people in your organization energized about the future. In tough times, it's easy to get discouraged. Remember that the message is always the "glass is half-full, not half-empty."
Strategy #2: Follow Your Passion
"Nothing great in the world has ever been accomplished without passion," said the German philosopher Hegel. I've always believed that passion for life and work is the engine that pulls everything else along. My passion is leadership. It's a common theme that's run through my careers at 3M, Digital Equipment, Sun Microsystems, and Autodesk. I love solving problems and I love working with people. Here are three important questions that can help you find your passion.
- What's really important to me?
- What do I love to do?
- What are the ingredients of a great day?
Identifying your passion and giving it a name is very important. You need to make sure that you're on the right road and headed in the right direction. If you're not very clear about these things, chances are you're missing opportunities.
I realize that these are difficult times. When I say find your passion, some of you might think this is not the right time—that you need to be pragmatic. But your passions and dreams should not move to the back burner when things get tough. This is exactly the time that you need to tap into new sources of energy. Passion produces energy and energy helps build your passion.
Strategy #3: Leaders Help People Succeed
Wherever you are in your organization or your career, you can work on leadership. There is a real difference between managing and leading. Too often, managing winds up being the allocation of resources against tasks. Leadership focuses on people. My definition of a leader is someone who helps people succeed at what needs to be done.
This can take many forms including motivation, guidance, congratulations, correction, empathy, and so on. But leadership always starts with having an eagle eye for what each person needs at a particular time to succeed.
Here's a great example of this: A 13-year-old girl won a talent contest to sing the national anthem, a cappella, at a Portland Trail Blazers NBA playoff game. There were 20,000 spectators in the arena and a national television audience watching. Halfway through the anthem, she forgot the words. Flustered, she stopped singing. Then something terrific happened. Trail Blazers head coach Maurice Cheeks came to center court, put his hand on the girl's shoulder, and began singing the national anthem. The girl began to sing again and thousands in the arena joined in. A difficult moment turned to triumph. Maurice Cheeks successfully demonstrated how to deal with the important leadership question: "What does this person, or this group, need to succeed and how can I help them get there?"
Strategy #4: Forget Balance
Balancing work and family is a perennial issue for women with responsibilities. There are many books and articles on the subject. Too often, women spend a lot of time working to achieve balance and experience a lot of guilt when they don’t.
I say, "Forget about balance!" It's just not going to happen. Instead of thinking about balance, I think about managing diverse agendas. I'm a CEO and I have a teenage daughter. Let me tell you, making these two roles work successfully requires managing agendas. My daughter knows that there are times when I need to travel and spend a lot of time on business. But she also knows that I'm going to devote specific time to her, going to school events and being part of her life. We communicate a lot and we spend time negotiating our priorities and our agendas.
You don't need to constantly balance work and home life. Instead, stay engaged and flexible. When something rolls off the table, you need to catch it before it hits the floor.
Strategy #5: Take Care of Yourself
Being a woman with responsibilities has gotten a lot tougher in the past couple of years because of the events of 9/11, a serious recession, two wars, and a lot of concern about the future.
We're dealing with the usual problems of families, children and teens, plus we're coping with national loss and uncertainty. I have a radical suggestion: take care of yourself first. I know this sounds paradoxical and even selfish. But I want you to remember the airplane announcement for parents traveling with children. "In the event of an emergency and oxygen masks deploy, put on your mask first and then help your child."
If you are not fully capable yourself, you can't be effective for others. So take the time to make sure that you are OK.
Strategy #6: Cast Thy Bread upon the Waters
I want to stress the importance of giving back, of helping people and institutions. It's the right thing to do and it feels great. One of my ways to give back is to encourage math and science education for girls in middle school and high school. Without math and science basics, a very big door to success in the 21st-century is closed and women are locked out.
At Autodesk, we started a program in 1997 called Design Your Future: Math, Science, and Technology for Girls. Our goal is to inspire and empower 14- to 19-year-old girls to pursue careers that build on their early science and technology education. We have internships, mentoring, and job shadowing. It's enormously gratifying to see our first group of interns in college, pursuing their dreams.
Strategy #7: Be a Good Ancestor
I believe that one of the most important parts of work and life is about leaving a legacy. One of the legacies that I want to leave is that I was a good ancestor. I want to leave my corner of the world a better place because I was here. Here's a suggestion: In the next day or two, think about what your legacy will be. Write it down, describing your piece of history. And then make a plan and get to work.
About the Author
Carol Bartz is President and CEO of Yahoo!. Previously, Bartz served as executive chairman of the board of Autodesk, Inc. In April, 2006, she stepped down as chairman, president and CEO of Autodesk after 14 years with the company. During her tenure, the company diversified its product line and grew revenues from $285 million to $1.523 billion in FY06.