[How to diversify your team] – Tip #5 Let them talk!

Today, I’d like to address the issue of speaking up in companies.

If at first sight, this issue might seem secondary, the unequal relationship to speech between genders has many consequences. This cause is very much linked to that of work recognition.        

For example, when male employees speak up in meetings, or promote their work to their hierarchy more than their female counterparts, they appear more involved, and will be more easily considered for a promotion when the time comes.

If I use the term “men”, it is to lighten the text and avoid the very heavy saying “a somewhat significant share of men, or at least a greater share than that of women”. There are obviously important contrasts within the male (and female) gender, starting with introverts and extroverts. Women are therefore far from being the only ones who would benefit from a change in mindset.   

Inequality in the relationship to speech is at the root of many other inequalities, which is why it is so important to tackle it. Additionally, companies will benefit from promoting (and prevent from losing) great employees who are not sufficiently recognized. They will also gain more from their contributions.    

Now that I have come to this conclusion, a question remains:         

What can be done to solve this problem?

As stated earlier, women generally speak up less in meetings than men. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that they will only express an opinion if they consider themselves very competent on the subject. The second reason is related to what is called “manterrupting”.

For those who are not familiar with this term, here is the definition, which I gave in TIP#3: “The regular cutting off of women’s voices in meetings not only denies their competence, but also allows men to take ownership their ideas. A word has even been coined to define this phenomenon, which is far more common than it seems: manterrupting. “.        

Thus, being accustomed to having their voices cut off, women are more hesitant to speak up.

The good news is that it is quite simple to improve this situation. Just stay cautious during the meeting and go around the table regularly, asking those who have not yet spoken to give their opinions. This way you will get a real diversity of thoughts, instead only listening to those who are more expansive.

When someone expresses an original idea or even one that goes against the grain of the status quo, don’t fall into the “it will never work” trap. Innovation is based on the variety of ideas and therefore requires being open to unconventional ideas.

As for the issue of cutting people off, even though this is more often the result of an unconscious act rather than a bad intention, it must be treated with my famous “zero tolerance”. I once worked with a very enthusiastic man who had the habit of systematically cutting off his female colleagues. Why women? Certainly out of impatience, because they spoke with a small, timid voice, which was easy to interrupt. After asking him several times to stop doing it, I ended up playing the provocation card: “I know that you think, as a man, that your voice matters more than women’s, but I would like to listen to them.” I didn’t mean it of course, but it had the merit of opening his eyes to his inappropriate behavior, which never happened again.

Another equally effective option is to ask everyone to share their opinion by email, or in person (during a one-on-one meetings) for those who have difficulty expressing ideas in writing. This allows for input from employees who are uncomfortable in public and won’t speak up in a meeting.

Don’t miss out on diversity of thought and speech.

Speech is a crucial issue in the fight for the cause of women. Companies would benefit a lot from listening more to their employees. Recognizing everyone’s work for what it’s worth (and not for the share of talking in a conversation) is also about being more fair. After all, if there’s one thing we’re learning in the age of social media, it’s that it’s not always the people who take up the most space in the public arena who deserve the most to be heard. 

[How to diversify your team] – Tip #3 Fighting ordinary sexism

In my tip#2 on welcoming women into your teams, I very quickly touched on the subject that upsets people, the elephant in the office, the one that is so deeply rooted in our habits that it will take a real commitment from each and every one of us to fight it… I’m talking about the ordinary sexism. As for the rest, the only acceptable tolerance is zero tolerance. But here, the main difficulty will be to know how to recognize it.

It is not the very clear inappropriate comments that do the most harm. These are easy to identify, and are generally unanimously condemned by the team members. In the end, they are quite easy to eliminate if you decide to really tackle the problem, by making the company’s position on the issue clear.

Ordinary sexism is more insidious, it’s hidden in the little phrases, the little comments that go unnoticed but can hurt the people they are addressed to. It is all the more difficult to combat because most actors are not aware that they are taking part in it and think they are being humorous – at worst.

Let’s look at some examples.

The benevolent paternalism of giving more explanation to a woman than to a man, which may, in turn, give the impression to other team members, but also to herself, that she is not up to the task.

Comments about the supposed unavailability of a woman with children, said without malice, imply that a woman cannot take on the same workload as a man and therefore cannot have the same level of responsibility. We can add to this category questions such as “how are things with the children, it is not too hard balancing work and family life? “

Inappropriate remarks about women’s emotions, which immediately discredit a woman who expresses a disagreement. This gives an almost systematic advantage to the opponent in an argument (the worst in my opinion being the expression: “that famous time of the month”). A classic example is the now famous ‘calm down (…) To be President of the Republic, you have to be calm’ that Nicolas Sarkozy addressed to Ségolène Royal during the 2007 inter-party debate, implying that she had a propensity for anger, and therefore was not fit to be President (whose response is equally well known: ‘there are angers that are perfectly healthy’).

The regular cutting off of women speaking in meetings, which not only denies their competence, but also leads men to take ownership of their ideas. A word has even been coined to define this phenomenon, which is much more common than it seems: manterrupting. One of the first studies on this subject goes back to 1975. It was conducted by sociologists Don Zimmerman and Candace West, who examined 31 conversations. They concluded that there were 8 times as many interruptions in male-female discussions as in male-male discussions, and in 98% of cases in the male-female direction. Many statistics analysing the exchange of words in broadcasted debates (or equivalent) are published regularly, and they show that the problem is not fading over time.

And what about the way conversations around the coffee machine are perceived? Where men would solve big strategic problems, and women would gossip.

We could go on with the list (and I invite you to add examples in the comments), but let’s spend a few minutes together to see how each of us can act at our level to fight against this ordinary sexism.

I’m repeating myself, and I will repeat it as often as necessary, the only acceptable tolerance is zero tolerance. We don’t let anything go by, and correct anybody who does one of the things listed above. For example, you ask the colleague who interrupted a woman to let her speak, you react to inappropriate jokes, you explain why a certain behaviour is unacceptable.       

You could argue that women themselves could make it known when behaviour is inappropriate. However, it can be difficult for a young recruit with little experience or for an employee who is facing her line manager to respond. It is therefore necessary to intervene when you are in a position to do so.

And if you’re wondering how to differentiate between sexist and non-sexist behaviour, so that you don’t subconsciously participate in it, here’s a simple tip: before you make a remark to a woman, ask yourself: would you say it to a man? If the answer is no, it is very likely that it would be better not to say it.

All that’s left is to train yourself to recognise ordinary sexism, and then apply yourself to never tolerate it.

Advice to my daughter #3 – How to manage emotions at work

Hello my daughter,

The three months are coming to an end. Did you follow my advice? What project did you implement to show your project management skills? Did you manage to convince your colleagues that several approaches existed for the same job? During our last conversation, you told me that you had progressed on all these points, and I’m very proud of you.

But along the way, you learned a lot about yourself and your relationship to work, which was the real objective of the exercise.


Last week, you couldn’t help but make a sour remark to Robert, taking the risk of ruining months of efforts forcing yourself to think before you speak.

Last month, you couldn’t hold back your tears in front of your manager, who refused to listen to what you had to say about potential improvements to your project’s methodology.

Essentially, you’re quite emotional and it affects you in the workplace, and I know it can be uncomfortable for you, which is why we’re talking about it today.

As expected, after you got hired, you spent a lot of time monitoring your speech to make sure you wouldn’t offend your new colleagues. It was a difficult exercise for you, but since you were there to watch and learn, it was quite easy for you to keep your thoughts and emotions to yourself. However, you’re now the actress of your professional life, and you can’t afford to stay in the background. During reunions, your opinion is just as important as someone else’s. If you feel like a decision could hinder the success of a project, you need to put yourself out there and voice your worries. Unfortunately, being more expressive makes controlling your emotions all the more difficult.

So, how do you control your emotions at work?

Difficult question. First, you have to learn to tame them. There are a lot of methods that are more or less adapted to your personality. They vary from yoga to meditation to puzzles (that’s more my thing). By asking your colleagues, friends, or favorite search engine, I’m sure you’ll find all the information you need from people who are a lot more competent than me on this subject matter.

If you’re at work, there are several fairly easy tips you can put in place.

First, put things into perspective. Yes I know, easier said than done! But you can really “dedramatize” if you take a step back and consider calmly the real impact of the action you led or the reaction you created. What’s the consequence of this mistake you’re obsessing over? Aren’t you making a big deal out of nothing?
Another infallible method is that famous adage that tells you to sleep on it. An email that gets on your nerves in the evening will be a lot less offensive when you read it again in the morning. During that time, you’ll have taken the time to evaluate the options and find a solution that you hadn’t thought of the night before.

At work, difficult meetings are a breeding ground for anger to arise (an unpleasant colleague, a poorly executed project, etc.). In that case, the method I use regularly is to prepare my “confrontations” meticulously and go in with all my arguments ready. Oten, what makes you angry during these meetings is a feeling of powerlessness, or the impression that you weren’t prepared enough. When you arrive knowing your file like the back of your hand and having analyzed all the options, you can lead a serene discussion, based on proven arguments and not feelings. This makes all the difference!

But if all of this doesn’t work, then once again…put things into perspective.

 Is it really that bad to cry in public? Yes, I know, in today’s  society, it’s not very well seen, because you have to be super strong to face the professional world and stay stone-faced at all times. “
However, customs can change (I’m referring you to my article on “a new style of leadership” where I talk more about it). It’s very possible to create a workspace where emotions aren’t excluded and where a collaborate who cries is not weak, but rather someone who isn’t afraid of showing their emotions in public. Emotions are an integral part of who we are and hiding them should be as incongruous as trying to hide our intellectual abilities, for instance.

Once you’ve accepted that, things are easier.

One time, I started crying in my boss’ office because of exhaustion. I had been doing the work of two people for a few weeks and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I decided to make my boss face his responsibilities, but I couldn’t hold my tears back. But instead of running away, I decided to accept them. I told him: “Listen to what I’m saying, don’t get distracted by my tears, the content of my speech is still the same” and I ended the meeting like that. So here’s my advice for the week. Learning to control your emotions can always be useful. But if they’re overflowing, accept them, don’t try to hide them.

Even when you have tears running down your face, keep your head up!

Should we invent a new leadership style?

For a long time, we asked female leaders to act… like men. For a long time, the only women that managed to reach key positions were the pioneers, who opened and led the way with a machete (yes, I’m talking about the jungle of companies) and who only had men as models. So, to feel accepted in this very masculine world, they replicated their behaviors on their colleagues.

And when women started becoming models for the new generation, it was no surprise that they had a management style that was… masculine.

I’m writing these things because I’ve been there myself!

First of all, what do we mean by feminine management and masculine management? I’m against the idea of giving different genres to management. In my opinion, a person’s skills are not related to their sex. Yes, women tend to show more empathy, whereas men are generally more authoritative. However, it’s only a general sentiment, and there’s no absolute rule! It’s also difficult to tell if these tendencies are “natural” personality traits, stemming from the evolution of our species, or if they’re the result of young boys and girls feeling the need to conform to society’s expectations – but that’s a whole other topic.

The problem today lies in the fact that society has established a certain leadership style as being the one that all managers should follow. Every day, new books are issued, explaining how to be a good leader, the 10 things that big leaders do every morning before 7am, the 8 habits of people who succeed, and so on.

As a result, an ideal of leadership is created, often by supermen, sometimes by superwomen, who manage to build teams, motivate them, understand them, have time to work out 1 hour every morning, do yoga and meditation in the evening, and are obviously very charismatic and always confident. Leaders who never get angry, who coach their teams, reassure them, explain things, who give guidance without micromanaging… I mean, you know…

So after the myth of the “perfect woman”: that one who succeeds in her career, raises wonderful kids who are happy and succeed in life, all the while cooking the best gratin tofu in the world (boeuf bourguignon is no longer trending) on sundays… please welcome the injunction of the perfect leader.

However, this perfect leader comes out of a mold, which was cast and lovely carved by generations of leaders… mostly men.

So why do I find this problematic? First of all, because as is the idea of the “perfect woman”, this model is inaccessible to many, which tends to dissuade rather than inspire. Women will be particularly reticent because most of them aren’t going to recognize themselves in this model, ultimately putting a brake on their career.

The second reason is that, in an attempt to become the perfect leader, a lot of people are going to begin working on themselves to conform to the model. In that case, what happens to diversity? How can we talk about mixity and diversity, if we end up with clones in all the positions at the top of the ladder?

So, why don’t we stop with this injunction? Why don’t we say: “Become the leader that you want to be, stay true to yourself” and then, companies will adapt.

Remember my infamous “silent talents”? These women who are everywhere in the company, but that we don’t know, because they’re working hard silently. They do an amazing job without talking about it, without putting themselves forward. These women that I often mention in my articles, that need to be fetched during the nomination of new managers. They have to be on the list, just as much as those who fit the classic profile of the superleader.

Let’s pretend that you did a nice prospecting job to find atypical profiles and that you’ve now come to the conclusion that this “silent talent” is clearly the best for this manager’s position, so, naturally, you promote her to the new job because she deserves it.

What’s next?

You went to get her, because she perfectly fits the profile that you need for this job. Are you now going to make her change her style in order to fit the skills of the classic leader? I hope not, it would be appalling – not only would she not be able to offer her full potential, because all of her energy will be focused on becoming somebody else, but also, she would be unhappy and would most likely quit. Would that be reasonable?

I recommend you read this article from Fast Company: « Telling women to be more confident is a stupid idea ».

What if we tried the opposite for once? What if we accepted an atypical leader and waited instead for the company to adapt? What if we gave diversity a true chance?

My team of No Super-Chickens

This title is a reference to an excellent TEDx that explains why a team of “super-chickens” doesn’t work.

If you take a look at the teams that I created or led over the years, you’ll find all types of profiles. People with very different careers, life experiences and diplomas. Some are more visionary, they excel at coming up with new ideas that will create huge improvements, but they’re incapable of sending an email without getting the date or the recipient wrong. On the other hand, there are the very rigorous ones, who don’t feel comfortable implementing a new idea or going off the beaten track. Others like to entertain people, are a little crazy, and make sure there’s always a positive vibe. However, often, there’s no superstar, everyone is important, and no team member is more valuable than the other.

Here’s an excerpt of the TEDx:

“An evolutionary biologist at Purdue University named William Muir studied chickens. He was interested in productivity — I think it’s something that concerns all of us — but it’s easy to measure in chickens because you just count the eggs. He wanted to know what could make his chickens more productive, so he devised a beautiful experiment. Chickens live in groups, so first of all, he selected just an average flock, and he let it alone for six generations. But then he created a second group of the individually most productive chickens — you could call them superchickens — and he put them together in a superflock, and each generation, he selected only the most productive for breeding.

After six generations had passed, what did he find? Well, the first group, the average group, was doing just fine. They were all plump and fully feathered and egg production had increased dramatically. What about the second group? Well, all but three were dead. They’d pecked the rest to death. The individually productive chickens had only achieved their success by suppressing the productivity of the rest. “

When putting together a team, it could be tempting to look for superstars, industry prodigies. However, before doing that, think it through for a minute. A team performs well when the members want to work together towards a common goal, and that only happens when they feel like they’re all equal. Adding a superstar drastically increases the risk of creating a spirit of competition, which is not always positive and may decrease the productivity of others.

The other trap to avoid is trying to “clone” ourselves – in other words, trying to recruit people that have ideas, visions and personality traits that are similar to mine. After all, I am the best. So, a person that looks like me will inevitably be better than others. However, this “clone” that I’m bringing into the team, will he be able to defy me, will he know my weaknesses? It seems quite unlikely, because he’ll probably have the same ones! It’s normal to appreciate people that are similar to us. Working with an employee that approves of everything we say, rather than working with one that challenges us, is definitely nicer, but not necessarily beneficial for the overall team performances. To invent, innovate, create, you need counter-powers, ideas that go against the flow.

What makes the success of a team is its diversity, the different ways of thinking. If diversity has become a challenge of society, it’s because there’s now enough data that shows that companies with higher diversity performs better. The same goes for teams.

When putting your team together, don’t just take into account each individual’s relationship skills (soft skills), but also ask yourself which common traits you’re looking for. That has to be your priority when selecting a candidate. It’s only after that list is established and shared with recruiters that you can start looking at their technical competencies, experience, knowledge, and diploma. In that order, and not the other way around.

Don’t forget that it’s a lot easier to learn a technical skill than it is to change mindsets.

I’m going to end this article with the conclusion of the Ted Talk: “… we won’t solve our problems if we expect it to be solved by a few supermen or superwomen. Now we need everybody, because it is only when we accept that everybody has value that we will liberate the energy and imagination and momentum we need to create the best beyond measure. “

Reference: Margaret Heffernan’s Ted Talk: Why it is time to forget the pecking order at work

Recipe 9 : get out of your ivory tower

In the last article, we talked about how difficult it can be to settle into a first management position, and how few people are prepared for the stress they’re about to face.

To handle the situation, some will stay in their offices and isolate themselves. Comfortable offices, between the coffee machine and the canteen, in which it’s tempting to stay.

It’s easy to spend time answering emails, preparing powerpoints, establishing strategies and doing all the things that will make us look good in front of higher management.  We become very productive, active and visible to impress management.

Except that…

By not going to see what happens in real life, we forget. We come up with beautiful theories, that look great on paper, but are completely impossible to implement in real life.

The human parameter disappeared from the strategy. These infamous people don’t always react as anticipated in the strategy. They have different cultures depending on the country of origin, different life experiences, and annoyingly tend to act differently than predicted by statistics.

In the designer world, it’s the difference between what they call design and user experience. A lot of energy and money is spent to gather user feedback, because it’s the only way to guarantee product success.

As a manager, there’s no need to spend a massive amount of money on consumer behavior studies or to read hundreds of pages of studies written by specialized cabinets. No, none of that. There’s a method which is a lot simpler and consists of leaving your office to visit plants. Spending time with people who work on the field and finding out what motivates them is the best way to test your ideas and see if they’ll be successful.

The problem with the ivory tower is that we end up believing that our strategy is optimal, because we spent a lot of time working on it, defending it in front of high management, and doing nice powerpoints with pretty colors, ultimately convincing ourselves that we hold THE only truth. However, we don’t know if it would pass the user test, and that’s often how we build a wall of incomprehension between those who determine the strategies, and those who are in charge of implementing them.

In my current Health and Safety position, I see it every day. The trap to avoid is the infamous “tick the box syndrome”. A project is beautiful and convincing, but completely inadequate with the operational needs, and difficult to implement. Employees will then very quickly find a way to work around it. The probability that this doesn’t happen is directly correlated to the time spent on site. The photo illustrating this article shows it very clearly. It’s almost impossible, and very much unproductive, to force a user to take a path we designed if there’s a more practical one. The question should rather be: why would we want to enforce this path and not the more logical and fitted one, while obtaining the same result – if not a better one. Often, the answer doesn’t exist, because it doesn’t come from a place of purposeful harm, but rather from incomprehension as a result of a lack of communications between operational people and decision-makers…who forgot to get out of their offices!

To conclude, if you don’t get out of your ivory tower for the reasons mentioned above, do it at least to oxygenate your brain, to search for new ideas and to make connections with people in real life. We quickly start liking these trips, with people who often go out of their way to welcome you, happy to finally be able to exchange with corporate. So… Dare to do it!

Recipe 8 : – Do not take yourself seriously

You have followed all my advice, and you’ve just been promoted to an executive manager’s position. First of all, congratulations. Or you haven’t been promoted yet and you aspire to become a manager someday. Either way, in this article, I’m going to give you the most valuable advice regarding job changes and promotions. It’s simple: don’t take yourself seriously!

We’ve all seen a former colleague get promoted and become someone else from one day to the next. 

What happened?

It’s simple, he started changing behavior to conform to his view of management.

Responsibilities don’t come alone and are usually bringing a lot of stress. We’ve dreamt of this position, and we’re happy to finally have the job, but did we really evaluate all the stress that comes with it?

Managers need to make decisions every day. They’re constantly trying to find a balance between management’s requirements on one hand, and their team’s competencies and work capacity on the other hand. They’re also aware that every decision they make can have a very important impact, which doesn’t help. The manager’s role is sometimes complex, but also quite lonely. We expect a lot from him, without really preparing him beforehand and giving him the help he needs. It seems obvious that if someone was competent in their previous job, to the extent that they got promoted, then they’ll automatically be successful in their manager’s position, right? (I just would like to point out that this sentence is clearly ironic…)

Thus, between the lack of preparation, the stress, the decisions to make, etc. it’s not a surprise that it’ll have an impact on the person’s mood. « So what? » you’ll say. We’re talking about a crucial step in my career, and you’re bothering me because I’m a little grumpy? Yes, I’m talking about it because the well-being of the manager is directly going to affect their team’s well-being. Being in a bad mood, especially on a daily basis, is definitely going to impact the relationship with the team. And with time, this could have consequences on the work to accomplish. A team that has a low morale is no longer productive, collaborators don’t share their opinions spontaneously anymore, problems are hidden, etc. So we go from a stressful situation to a crisis situation, which will generate even more stress. In other words, we’re facing a typical example of a vicious cycle.

Let’s now go back to my order of not taking yourself seriously. Everything is linked. The stress and responsibilities that result from the promotion make you adopt a « serious » posture. We’re so afraid of not being able to assert your authority that we don’t allow ourselves to make jokes or do anything that could tarnish our image.

Shortly before being promoted to my first big position, I followed an internal training. I met a lot of friendly people, and the formation ended on a night out, with lots of alcohol. The end of a training is often considered like a liberation. Thus, we were at the bar and were having fun… a lot of it. When I started the job, I quickly realized that one of my new N-2 was at this training session. We’d gotten along really well during that famous night out, and she’d shared with the team one or two photos of me, which weren’t too compromising, but also weren’t typically what you’d expect from your new boss. She was going around, saying « look at the new boss…she’s cool ».

At least it deterred me from hiding my lack lack of self-confidence with an irascible attitude which would’ve not been credible at all! And everything went smoothly, with joy and happiness!

Thinking that with authority comes serious behavior, or vice versa, is a terrible idea – in my opinion. Not only does the manager have to face new and complex situations every day, but if he also has to wear a mask on top of that, he would be incredibly miserable. 

The lack of experience is just a necessary step in the process of starting a new job. After a few months, you become more comfortable and start enjoying the position, and very quickly, the early days of sweaty hands and poor posture become nothing but a bad memory. With time, you acquire a deep understanding of different subjects and making decisions almost becomes easy.

But what about behavior? If you’ve been associated with a certain type of unnatural behavior in your new role as manager, it’s going to be difficult to change things. You won’t dare to change or do your mea-culpa, in fear of making it worse, and going back in time will be difficult.

So, save yourself the trouble, and just don’t take yourself seriously from day one!


Recipe 5 : Making the difference

In big companies, you’ll have to change jobs, more or less often. Most of us (at least those who read this blog) hope that the way we perform in our current position will be decisive for a future promotion and will be a part of our career’s overall progression. 

However, to put the odds on your side and ensure that you’re a part of the cohort of promotions, there’s one thing you must absolutely do: make the difference.

For every job that I had, I can tell you exactly what improvements I have made. These changes did not materialize with big sentences, incredible strategies, and messages hung in every meeting room. These changes appeared with facts, real actions which will last, through a reorganization that is more in sync with the current market, a new approach, a new product…Etc.

First of all, when you start a new role, you observe, question, and understand. This phase shouldn’t be underestimated. I always assume that my predecessors are smart people, and I’m not arrogant enough to think that I’m necessarily better than them. This phase is decisive for the project’s success, because you’ll gain the support of your team by showing them that you had a period of observation which confirms your understanding of the subject.

The challenge is to understand what has already been done while keeping a new and critical eye. An eye filled with our past experiences – professional and personal, and with our strengths and weaknesses. The infamous “fresh eye” that always gives you a valid reason to suggest new ideas without pointing fingers at the previous teams. 

It’s then time to forget about the status-quo, the “we already tried this and it didn’t work” and the “we’ve always done it this way”.

This solution has already been tried unsuccessfully? It happens – but did we learn from our mistakes, do we really know why it didn’t work? Have the circumstances changed since? Has the technology evolved since? Were the right people involved? 

It’s important to listen to collaborators who have witnessed bosses and ideas that were unsuccessful, and who often know exactly what’s going on. Often however, we don’t ask for their opinion and we don’t take advantage of their field experience. How many bosses spend enough time going to the plant to see what’s really happening and what needs to be changed or improved?

Now that this is done, it’s time to act. Changes have to be executed like projects, with all the methods of project management. First of all, start by building a business case that you’ll show your boss for approval. Since the plan was developed as a team, you’re already halfway there. Your enthusiasm (because you believe in this project) will help you win your boss over completely!

That’s when you have to act fact. Start the project immediately, while the momentum is still there and the team’s enthusiasm is at its peak, and before getting discouraged by people who know better. You need to get results fast to prove the concept. The dangerous part of this phase is to let yourself be taken back by the daily tasks and not to devote enough time to the transformation, which is then likely to never materialize and remain simply a concept!

At this point, we all agree that I’m talking about concrete, tangible actions. Some bosses stick to slogans and lyrical texts that will make you dream at best, and make you laugh at worst. But if they only amount to posters and big communications schemes without notable performance improvements, you’ll quickly have the reputation of a sweet talker.

All these efforts pay off when the project is successful and everybody acknowledges its worth. That’s when the hierarchy notices you. You have to dare, take risks, and sometimes fail… Anything is better than passing the torch without bringing your own personal touch. The times where promotions were based on seniority are over. You have to show your worth, and that can only be done by changing the mission you were given… for the better!

PS: Special note for women… don’t forget to let people know!!

Recipe 4: What do you want people to think of you?

What do you want people to think of you? Or rather, when people think of you, which image comes to mind?

Is it: “She is nice and always ready to help. ” Uh … that’s nice, but it doesn’t really help you progress in your career. That’s what we think of a good friend, the one that we’ll have a drink on weekends with, but not necessarily the one that we’ll entrust the next important project with.

Is it: “It’s someone who makes projects evolve”. When you give her a task, you know you can sleep well at night. She will find the best solution, move past obstacles and make the most of the teams around her. She will address the problem with pragmatism and achieve a concrete result.
I assume that you can guess which of these two options will help with your career progression. However, it may not be the image you are projecting today.

So, how can you improve your image?

You have to start by looking for a model, a person whose work you admire and evaluate their qualities. In-house models are, in fact, rarely people whose main quality is sympathy. Generally, they are people who have dazzled us by great skills of work, efficiency or leadership, and who sometimes, in addition, are nice.

It is then the moment to evaluate yourself in the most objective way possible, without useless and counterproductive modesty. More specifically, I advise you to list the qualities that you have in common with your model. Your strengths may be more discreet, less established, not so worked – this may be due to a different or less consequential work experience. In the same way, you surely have qualities that your model does not have and would like to have. The important thing is that they are in us. They might be a little buried or underused, but they’re there!

The second step is to identify your flaws. The method is the same, but this time using people we don’t really appreciate. The other way to do this is to identify the traits that are universally known for having a negative impact. A few examples? Arrogance: what do you think of this colleague who loves to brag about their successes, their exotic vacation, their work exploits, with women, or other things? Another example: gossiping. What do you think of that colleague who’s always the first one to talk about the last office gossip by the coffee machine… it may be entertaining at first, but what image do you have of him? Etc.

This allows you to move to the third step.

The next step is obvious, and you’ve guessed it already… working on personal development. Some people need to get help, and there are amazing coaches for that. Others manage to do it on their own. In my case, I often take a step back to observe my evolution and always try to better myself.

The idea is to stop the bad habits and to work on the good ones. Apparently, it takes 21 days to change a habit. I don’t know if it’s true, because I haven’t read scientific evidence proving it, but being less arrogant, or gossiping less… it’s really not that hard! It gives you more time to focus on the qualities you want to develop.

Once you’ve managed to better yourself, it’s a nice progress, but you shouldn’t forget the fourth step.

It consists of making sure that everyone will see in us these personality traits.

After all, we identify them in other people. Why? In other words, in what ways, vocal or corporal, does our “model” manage to transmit that image?

And we copy it without guilt!
Because there’s nothing wrong with copying a person we admire.

Obviously, you have to copy intelligently, by maintaining your character and personality.

We conclude with the fifth step, which consists of asking colleagues that we’re close to what they think, how they see us, and to keep progressing. It’s important to get feedback, to question your superiors and colleagues, and to find new paths of improvement.

“Magali, when you want things to move, you talk to her, and you know that the problem will be solved”. This is what I want people to think of me!

Don’t take No for an answer

One day, I was asked to give an inspiring speech to a hundred young professionals with high potential from a big company. I wasn’t a speaker, but they’d contacted me because I had impressed a few managers during a round table.

In my speech, I shared the secrets that had allowed me to reach an executive position. Recipes that I am proposing  to share with you through a series of articles:

First piece of advice: “Don’t take No for an answer”.

(I’ll say it now, this only applies to the professional sphere. In the personal environment, No always means “NO!”)

I’m going to tell you a little anecdote that I’d mentioned in my first article, but this time to understand it from the perspective of the “no”.

Enrolled in engineering school, I go to the career fair. Having met a field engineer shortly before, I am absolutely convinced that it’s what I want to do – this, and nothing else! So I head towards the company stand and tell the recruiter that I’m interested in the position. He looks at me from head to toe and answers “No”. It could’ve ended there and I wouldn’t be here today. But it made me angry. What do you mean “No”? Why “No”? You don’t know anything about me or my CV. I won’t take this no. I’m asking for an explanation and I won’t leave until I get one. Plus, my CV as a future graduate is rather good. I’m president of the student union and I led the biggest event of the school, organized a charity project in Mali… so there’s no logical reason for this no, except maybe… But even 30 years ago, you couldn’t tell a woman that she couldn’t apply for a job on the only basis that she was a woman. So I stay there… one hour, two hours… until I wear him out. He ends up giving me a questionnaire, probably to get rid of me. But a few months later, here I was, in Warri – Nigeria, starting as a field engineer on an oil rig, only woman amongst 80 men.

But why did he say No? That’s the real question. Truth is, I’m putting him in a situation he’s never faced before. He has never recruited a woman for this job and never imagined that a woman could go have a little walk on a rig. He’s not prepared at all for such a request. By addressing him such a direct request, I’m taking him out of his comfort zone. Most people fear the unknown and panic. They say No, without really knowing why. It’s an automatic defense mechanism, simply because it’s never been done before and the obstacles seem impossible to jump (that being said, although it’s not the subject of this article, he wasn’t completely wrong…it was so complicated that I later wrote a book about it, La Pétroleuse).

Except that following your boss’ instructions without ever saying No rarely allows you to accomplish things that are out of the ordinary and to evolve in your career.

So every No needs to be analyzed before being accepted.

If the No comes after an intense time of reflection and the study of all the ins and outs of the project with your superior, then it might be valid. Although, it could also mean that it has been argued poorly, and that the data collection work and the facts to support the theory are not comprehensive enough. So this is the time to ask yourself if there’s a possibility of reopening the debate later, once you’ve built a stronger case. However, you can’t let it become obsessive, because you can sometimes get a second chance, but rarely a third.

If the No comes immediately, peremptory, we fight back. The war is not over yet.

Maybe a similar experience has been tempted, unsuccessfully. It’s important to understand what didn’t work and take it into account so that you can write your new proposal in a way that shows that a positive result is possible if we change certain parameters. It’s also plausible that new technologies have made the impossible possible. However, be sure not to make the assumption that maybe you were wrong and that you underestimated some data. That’s also what experience is for!

But if the No is just a boss who has decided not to move, or who was in a bad mood that day, then it’s more complicated. Having a fight with your boss is rarely a good idea. In this case, try to negotiate the right to test your idea, either through a pilot study or on a little, risk-free site. Basically, the idea is to create tangible evidence that our project is feasible on the field, rather than through slides.

And if all of this doesn’t work, especially if it has happened more than once, then maybe your mind is too innovative for this society and you need to decide if you want to continue doing what you’re told without questioning it, or if it’d be preferable to find a greener patch of grass that would fit your personality better.

In each new position that I had, I questioned the established order, I transformed the job. It wasn’t easy and I often faced a lot of uncertainty and Nos from my managers, but I found a way to bounce back and bring them onboard.

If you asked me today what allowed me to climb the ladder, this refusal of the established order would definitely be one of the main reasons.