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Lisa Vogt on the importance of a personal brand, and how to have it all

While we’re on the topic of sharing speeches, here’s another one to inspire you…

Last season at Minerva’s Follow a Leader™ program, Lisa Vogt shared her personal story with a group of women who are driven to reach their leadership potential. She spoke about the importance of a personal brand, the value of relationships, and her approach to having it all.

In the process, she inspired all of us present to find our own version of success and determine what it takes to get there. Have a read:

I am really pleased to be able to speak to you tonight because, as young women in business, your world is full of choices. There will be challenges, of course. Nothing worth doing is without challenges. But, the community leaders who are here tonight will likely agree that what is different now, from generations of women before, is that you have more tools, encouragement and support than ever before.

Corporate Canada is talking about diversity. And those organizations which understand the business case for engaging and advancing women are growing in number. Diversity can be a differentiator, a strategic advantage. That our business community is beginning to recognize the importance of diversity is encouraging… because it creates opportunities for each of you.

And leadership programs like this give you some tools. But perhaps the most important thing this program does is provide you with support by introducing you to the community that is in this room tonight. This is a good place to be.

I’d like to talk about three things tonight:

a) the first is about why we are here;

b) the second is about “brand” and why it matters; and

c) the third is about creating the balance.

So Why Are We Here Tonight?

Well, let me tell you why I’m here. I graduated from law school in 1982, clerked for the B.C. Court of Appeal, and then articled and became an associate at a small boutique law firm with 25 lawyers. I wanted small. I wanted to know my colleagues because I thought it would provide me with more control over the kind of work I did, and who I did it with. But when I subsequently became a partner in 1990, the firm choose that year to merge with a Toronto law firm to become the first national law firm in Canada…and, in the process, the largest law firm then in Canada. Overnight, the firm grew from what was then about 60 lawyers to over 600.

It was a year of changes. A month after becoming a partner my husband and I had our third child. And because expansion was clearly in the air, over the next few years we had two more, and now we have five children….although they’re all now young adults so they’d cringe at that description. The point is that life happens. But we chose to have a family (and a large family), and I very deliberately chose to have a career and to work full time.

One of the reasons I am here tonight is because I want you to know that you can have both. It’s not only possible, but you might even be a better parent if you maintain the independence of a career. We hear a lot about what’s wrong with working mothers. But we don’t hear enough stories about why it is good for women who are parents to also work outside of the home. So I am here because I want you to stay the course. And yes, we’ll talk about why this doesn’t mean someone else will be raising your children!

In fact, how this works all comes down to relationships…both at home and in business. We all know that success in business is all about relationships. At our firm we ask our students what business they are in. Invariable they say that they practice law… or that they are in a professional service firm and their business is law. We tell them that they’re wrong. They are in the relationship business. Their profession is practicing law, but the business part of that is a relationship business.

That works for women. Women tend to be good at relationships. With your career, the basis for building relationships comes down to your personal brand.

Why is a “Personal” Brand Important?

In the last few months you’ve likely talked a bit about creating a “brand” and making a mark. You’ve also likely been asked to identify your values, find your passions and stay true to your goals. I can simplify this even more.

At its core, finding your brand is about finding a way to live your life….both your personal life and your professional life….successfully. Of course success can be defined in many ways. But at its clearest, success is about being able to say, at each stage of your life…at 32, and 42 and 52…that you are where you want to be at that point in your life, and that you are happy. Success, both in your personal and your professional relationships, is always going to be about hard work…and some luck. But mostly about hard work…because you can make your own luck. Believe that success, in good measure, can be of your own making.

LisaVogt1One of my own touchstones is….”no-one is coming”. It’s your life, your choices…life happens, but you’re responsible for making your own happiness, whatever the circumstances. I heard that thought….that no-one is coming….at a conference from a speaker years ago. One of my partners, who is Jewish, was sitting beside me and he leaned over and whispered “My people have known that…that non-one is coming…for more than two thousand years. I liked that. Perhaps it’s why I remembered the thought. But thinking that you’re on your own, that it’s your brilliant career, can also be energizing. And that’s where your brand comes in.

Brand is really about only three things:

joy;
confidence; and
attitude.

How you live these three things….how you define joy, the confidence with which you approach new opportunities, and your attitude to people and experiences….will be your brand, both good and bad. And your brand can define a successful life.

So why is joy important?

Because, if you want to be successful, you ARE going to work hard. But that’s not a bad thing. Those too words…”hard” and “work” …have such negative connotations. They shouldn’t. Success… in all kinds of relationships…in your professional life and in your personal life…is hard work It is therefore really important that you figure out what gives you joy, and then you find work and people that give you joy, because you’re simply not going to want to work at relationships…and you won’t be happy working at relationships…unless they include joy. This is the “know yourself” piece. Work should give you joy.

Before I was out of high school I knew what would make me happy. I wanted my father’s life. I had a wonderful mother, but my father, my father had it all. He was an academic, and he loved his work. He would go to work in the morning gladly, anticipating his day, and when he came home at night, he came home to a clean house, dinner on the table, and kids who were through that arsenic hour…and then he had several hours in the evening (and on the weekends) to play with us before he settled down at 9 pm or so to spend a couple of hours marking papers or preparing a lecture. This was a full day, but what a good day. That’s what I wanted. The joy is in many places: in the intellectual stimulation of interesting work, in the tumble and chaos of children, in birthdays and Christmases, in having both a career and a family.

Joy is easy. You just need to know where to find it. And you need to make sure you find joy in small things. So there is joy, and then there is confidence.

Often the far harder bit for women is finding confidence.

Confidence is obviously important because you need confidence to recognize and accept opportunities. There is a gender twist on this because psychologists tell us that… in our culture… confidence, at least with respect to career opportunities, is not necessarily gender neutral. For example, on balance:

a woman will NOT apply for a job if she believes she has only 95% of the competencies for the job… conversely, on balance
a man will apply for the same job even if he believes he has only 40% of the competencies.

Why is that? There has been lots of research done on the “imposter syndrome.” Why is it that most women are certain that their overwhelming inadequacies will eventually be found out, but men aren’t? Perhaps women are just more honest….they share self-doubts more easily? Or it could be that self-doubts more easily feed in a landscape without role models.

Whatever. Stop listening to your inner critic! I remind my daughters of Nellie McClung, one of the women responsible in the earlier 1900s for women in Canada being recognized as “persons” at law. Nellie McClung famously said “Never retract, never explain, never apologize….just get the thing done and let them howl.”

How hard can it be? For every opportunity, consider, how hard can it be? There will be dragons, but you’ll get passed them. You can do this.

So, after joy and confidence, there is attitude

The last part of brand is attitude….and it’s probably the most important. “Attitude” here is not the kind of thing you get from teenagers…or even my partners on creative days. It’s about resilience and humour, but also about looking for the best in a situation, and treating people with respect.

To be successful, you need to become known as someone who can be relied upon, and who others want to work… and be… with. Be the person who responds to emails on the same day. And who says good morning to others in the elevator.

It’s easy to be a critic. It’s better to be solutions-oriented. Eventually, everything in business comes back to the relationships you build. You’ll be supported by your colleagues… and your clients… if you foster those relationships.

You all intuitively know that you also need to work at family relationships. But the relationships you’ll need to support a career and family responsibilities are broader.

My life is infinitely easier because I’ve had the same secretary (now called a legal assistant) for 25 years…and she is brilliant…, and we’ve had the same live-in nanny (now a housekeeper)…and also indispensible… for over 20 years. When we bought the house we live in now, it initially had only two bedrooms; we had all 5 kids in one bedroom (two sets of bunks and a crib). The only part of the house we could afford to fix up was the nanny suite, so we raised the house and built a terrific nanny suite….which for years was the nicest part of the house. It was all good. It keep our nanny happy, and the continuity of not having a stream of care givers kept our children happy.

LisaVogt2So, if you work hard and build a reputation for reliance and respect, you’ll be able to build a team around you that is supportive. And this is important because, although “no-one is coming”, no one is ever successful on their own.

Which Brings Us to Finding the Balance

I could as easily call this “Finding the Support.” You will think about joy, and discover confidence, and build relationships with respect. And if you work hard on these three things, you will not only be successful, but you will build the relationships necessary to support both a career and a family.

I firmly believe that women in business can HAVE it all, they just can’t DO it all…at least they can’t do it all, all of the time. And that’s a good thing when you think about the “doing” part, and what needs to be done. Some of it you can let go. And there is this: you get to choose which parts to do.

I have no doubt that you can load the dishwasher better then anyone else in your family. And do the laundry, and when you have a family, all of the driving as well. But keep that to yourself. You do not need to be the god of small things. If life is choices, you can choose (if you want) not to do everything, because in order to HAVE it all, you cannot DO it all.

I have always believed that we will fail our daughters, if we fail our sons. If we don’t raise our sons to assume (and to want to assume) an equal responsibility for parenting, then our daughters will continue to struggle with both a career and a family. The reality is that traditional childcare roles persist. Women spend on average 35 hours per week on housework and childcare responsibilities while men spend 13 hours per week.

Life is choices. And it is hard work. But this is where I come to the NOT doing it all piece.

When my husband and I decided to have a family, I made another decision. When my children woke up in the middle of the night (and children do that, often), I wanted them to call out for their daddy as often as they called out for mommy. Granted, this was totally selfish on my part. Being the only parent who wakes up during the night is not a lot of fun. But the important thing here is that we decided that we would be equal parents, and we wanted to avoid the patterns that can be set when one parent stays at home for an extended parental leave of 12 months or more, and as an unintended consequence the child initially bonds disproportionally with that parent and that parent takes on a disproportionate amount of the housework. I am equal opportunist when it comes to diapers and cries in the night. But you choose.

And if you decide to have children, let’s talk about the guilt thing. I am just as neurotic as any of you, and I did not want someone else raising my children. In fact, I was neurotic enough to do the math. And I am not math girl, but the way I looked at it was this. If I saw my children for an hour in the morning before I left for work, and then for another two and a half hours when I got home (this gives you the luxury of 6:30 to 9 pm every night over dinner, baths, reading with kids, and okay, helping with homework)….well, that was 3 and 1/2 hours every day focused on them. And not on making dinner or doing dishes or laundry (because I was choosing NOT to do those things). That part, until my kids were old enough to help, that housework part was the nanny’s job. And well, that 3 and 1/2 hours every day was more time that was focused just on my children than my mother had, as a stay at home mom… because the meals, shopping, laundry, etc. that business of housework is endless.

And there is this. My nanny had less time every day that was just focused on the kids than I had. She had an hour in the morning before the kids were off to school, and then 2 hours after school before my husband and I were home from work. And we had two full days on the weekends, that she didn’t have. So because you work outside of the home does not mean that someone else is raising your children. Hopefully what it means is someone else is doing the housework. Unless, of course, you love housework…and some people do.

Intellectually, I can understand the Zen of ironing. But it’s not my thing. My family time is about holidays and birthdays, and creating traditions and memories. For example, as women, we understand that Christmas does not just come. It needs to be created. And if you’ve ever thought about it, it probably takes about 100 hours of your time, some one’s time, shopping, wrapping, organizing, baking, etc. to make Christmas happen. That’s something that I have time for.

But just figure out what’s important to you, and then do it. Choose that. Delegate the stuff you don’t like.

When my kids were all teenagers, they were wonderful but on a good day they were of this earth only part of the time. I know this because we ate at least two meals a day together, every day. From the time my children were babies my husband and I always woke our kids up at 6:30 in the morning so that we could all sit down to breakfast together. And believe me, it is far, far easier to get a toddler out of bed at that hour than a teenager!! But because they had always done it, my sons got up and had breakfast with us every morning (…and often, as teenagers, then went back to bed, but it is the having breakfast together which is the important piece). The breakfast routine also ensured that my teenage daughters ate breakfast, which was just as important.

We have also always sat down as a family for dinner at 6:30 most nights. And think of this. From the time they were teenagers, each of my children was responsible for making dinner one night a week. You might think we planned on a family of five for this reason. But no. It has just been an unintended, but hugely beneficial, pleasure that family dinners were made on all five weeknights by my children, and not by me. So still two meals a day together as a family. That was one of MY priorities. It needn’t be yours. But if you hit the key notes, barring significant health issues, other things fall into place.

A career is only one part of who we are. Sometimes it is the most important part, but usually not for long, and not always. We all of us have many balls to juggle daily, but we need to be continually mindful that our career is a rubber ball; if we drop it (and that may happen more than once), it will bounce. But our family (however we define that, be it children or parents or an extended family of close friends), our family is a glass ball and if we drop it, it will shatter.

Life is choices. Whatever you do, don’t under estimate the importance of financial independence. You don’t need to make a lot of money, but all relationships…and partnerships….are stronger if both partners have the financial independence to be able to choose, everyday, to stay together. My husband and I have been together for over 35 years, and we both have our own careers. Start at home by building relationships…by focusing on joy, confidence and attitude.

Let me close with this. A few years ago the Harvard Business Review published an article which rejected the metaphor of the “glass ceiling” and postulated instead that:

“A better metaphor for what confronts women in their professional endeavours is the labyrinth. …it conveys the idea of a complex journey toward a goal worth striving for. Passage through a labyrinth is not simple or direct, but requires persistence, awareness of one’s progress, and a careful analysis of the puzzles that lie ahead. …For women who aspire to top leadership, routes exist but are full of twists and turns, both unexpected and expected. Because all labyrinths have a viable route to the center, it is understood that goals are attainable. The metaphor acknowledges obstacles but is not ultimately discouraging.”

So we have this: a goal worth striving for, and one that is attainable. Find the joy, the confidence and the respect necessary to build relationships, and the world is yours.

Thank you.

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