You can’t reach your personal and professional goals all on your own. It’s important to realize that you need support from people around you that will help you grow and be the best version of yourself. Join your host Elizabeth Bachman as she talks with Lesley Michaels on career success through strategic alliances. Lesley has spent decades devoting energy and focus to coaching and advocating for those with unacknowledged or under-valued voices. In this episode, she shares her learning and knowledge from fighting for women’s rights. She emphasizes that alliances can help you have the confidence you need to bring out the voice within you for equal rights that you deserve. When you’re committed to be the leader you’re meant to be, you strive to provide equal rights for everyone. You have to be brave and proud to fight for what’s right and bring success in your career and personal life.
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Career Success Through Strategic Alliances With Lesley Michaels
Before I get into our wonderful guest, I’d like to ask if you are curious about how your presentation skills are doing. Are you strong? Are they helping you? You can find out by taking our free assessment at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where your presentation skills are strong, and perhaps a little bit of support could help you get the results you need and the recognition you deserve. If you enjoy this, please like us on YouTube and give us a good rating.
My guest is Lesley Michaels, an expert on helping women create the strategic alliances that will move them forward. Lesley hosts the podcast Women We Should Know and features audacious and committed women from around the world who are changing the narratives in arenas from climate change to advocacy who are breaking the glass ceiling in industries from film to STEM to executive consultancy.
Lesley’s new book is On The Shoulders of Mighty Women and is due out early in 2022. She also has a TEDx Talk, which will premiere early in 2022. Additionally, Lesley has spent decades devoting energy and focus to coaching and advocating for those who have unacknowledged and undervalued voices. We had a very interesting conversation about how to build a group of strategic allies, how not to sabotage yourself, how to speak for your value, and as she says, “To be a giraffe in a herd of zebras.” You’ll enjoy the conversation. Onto the interview.
Lesley Michaels, I am so happy to have you on the show. Welcome.
Thank you, Elizabeth. I am honored that you invited me.
I love the material that you talk about. Both of us certainly talk a lot about strategic alliances because it’s so important. Before we get into that, though, let me ask you about your dream interview. If you were to interview somebody who’s no longer with us, who would it be? What would you ask them? Who should be listening?Try not to do it all yourself and pick three to four to five women who you know. Click To Tweet
I would interview Eleanor Roosevelt because she touched on so many areas that are dear to my heart from social justice to gender and many things in between. I would ask her, “How do you continue to move forward on the days when it’s hard to get out of bed? These are very hard issues. What is your impetus?” I might like to borrow some of that from her. The people that should be listening are the ones who say, “I’m just one little person.”
If I’m just one little person, why does it matter? Why do I matter? One of the things that Eleanor Roosevelt had was strategic alliances. She had people who helped. All these people who say, “They’re so brilliant. They’ve created this and that,” none of them did it in a vacuum. They all had help.
I have a saying, “It took several decades, several failed businesses, untold skinned knees for me to become an overnight success.”
Many stubbed toes, skinned knees, and foot in the mouth for me many times. Whatever got me in trouble was always saying something that I thought was funny and some snap remark, which turned out to be not funny after all. It’s been the mouth operates before the brain does. One wishes it would be more the other way around. One of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is because you are saying some marvelous things about alliances and allies, which is something that I talk about a lot. You have some new takes and some unusual ways of approaching that. What got you started recognizing how important strategic alliances were?
My paternal grandmother didn’t want to be a farm wife and have a farm life. At fifteen, she convinced the young man who’d been courting to elope, and they moved to a new state. The woman that became her best friend was the bank owner’s daughter. She was my grandmother’s champion and advocate. Through this alliance, my grandmother came to own her home and business in her name in the early 1940s despite nationwide laws forbidding female ownership of physical assets. That was the beginning.
It wasn’t until the 1980s that women could take out a loan without having a male relative sign for them. I remember those times. How did that translate then into the work you’re doing?
It was a funny journey in the ironic sense of funny, not humorous. With her being such a primary influence in my life, I believed every word she said. As early movements, the feminist and civil rights movements, all these began. I would ask her and she’d say, “They’re making not a fuss about nothing. Any human can do anything they want.” I came to understand later because I had conversations with her. I called her out years later.
She said, “I knew I wasn’t telling you the truth but I wanted you to have faith.” What she did instead was instilled in me a desire to understand more, or about why she saw it one way and why the rest of the world saw it another way. I’m at the younger end of the Boomer generation so like many hippie kids, this was a common mode of travel from hitchhiking to the East Coast during the early ‘70s when the push for the Equal Rights Amendment was gaining momentum.
Being in that tremendous circle of women, seeing how they were interacting and who was supporting who and who wasn’t, I’ve always had a keen eye on who is being excluded. From there, I had to build a life, make some money, and do that type of thing. I ended up in corporate and ran up the ranks of corporate oil and gas. The environment was punishing daily.
Being a woman in the oil and gas industry is still very hard.
It was because of women that it was so hard for me. I experienced untold levels of incivility, condescension and constant undermining. When I left corporate, I left with a commitment that I was going to find another way. It may have taken me 30 years but that’s okay. I was going to find another way to relate and invite women to look at the world and interact with each other. It was clear to me that this was simply never going to achieve for us what we want and deserve, which is equality and equity across the board for all women of all races and cultures.
Back in the ‘70s in the women’s lib movements, there weren’t examples to follow, except maybe Eleanor Roosevelt. In the ‘70s, it was primarily White women who were moving forward. The women of color were not included and allowed in as much. That is something that has persisted. We are finally beginning to do more to lift each other. You talk a lot about lifting someone with you. You have a TED Talk about that. Can you expand on that a bit more?
I present the premise, philosophy, and call to action that if every one of us as women and every one of us who is saying, “I’m just one person,” could reach back and lift just one with us, we can achieve equity status. We are 50.52% of the population. If we come into coherence with each other, instead of competing with each other, we can all move forward. The amazing thing about that is it’s not just women who will benefit. It will be men, children, and our entire society.
The new statistics say that companies with diverse leadership and voices, especially on the board, make better profits. Those studies have been around for several years. They keep getting redone more and more. If you have diverse voices and perspectives, that will help. One of the things I find about lifting one is how can we lift somebody up who’s not the obvious choice? How can we be proactive to find somebody to help other women but look beyond the easy ones?Keep your alliance group small enough where everyone in the group can know everyone in the group. Click To Tweet
I am very much engaged in encouraging, supporting and helping women create templates for strategic alliance groups, diverse in the industry, demographic, culture and race. I have found firsthand when we create interaction between us across industry lines and all of the lines, forget the lines and interact as women, every single one who is fully engaged benefits. They begin discovering new levels of inner strength and daring to do things that they have kept in their private little internal closet. They become greater cheerleaders and positive feedback partners for each other.
Do you have any stories about these strategic alliance groups? How do we find and make them? How can we do this?
The first thing I encourage women to do is not try to do it by themselves. Speak with 3 to 5 women who you know. Ask them, “Did you feel alone out there? Are there days you would give your right arm or support from someone who understands the path you have walked? What is it specifically that you feel you are not receiving?” Find individuals who have similar experiences of non-support, non-connectivity, feeling that there is more they could do if they had someone that they could be a sounding board with who was not in competition with them. You bring those together.
Each one of those women reaches out and speaks to 2 to 3. I encourage in the beginning not to get it too large. Allow it to be smaller. We all see these Facebook groups with thousands of people on. They serve a real purpose but they don’t serve this purpose. Keep it small enough where everyone in the group can know everyone in the group, where there is a sense of personal engagement, and then create a system. I have ten systems.
Here’s one. Create a system where at the end of each gathering, say on Zoom, once a month, everybody emails, “This is the topic I nominate to discuss next time.” You take a consensus. If you have someone who sends in a request, “I’ve been wanting to speak about this for a long time. It doesn’t seem to be a topic that is nominated.” You can bring that up the next time, “Is anyone interested in speaking about this? Is this a topic that you can relate to?” If it is, then you can bring it into the group. If it’s not, then someone in the group can volunteer, whoever chooses to work one-on-one or 2 or 3 together with this individual who’s hitting this one single sticking point where they would like support. That’s a beginning of a template.
One of the things I do know by training groups of female speakers, because I do train various groups, is that having group support is so important. It matters. That’s something that I hear over and over again from my clients. A lot of what I do with these women is to get more women out there speaking on the world stages. Let me go back to your templates. Forming groups of women is great. How can we get men involved as allies? How can you recruit male allies? Why should we?
I don’t have an answer to that question because I do not pursue recruiting male allies. It’s not because I have no use for men. I am not one of those women. The majority of my closest friends are male, but there has been the old boys club for a very long time. There has been a consistency of men grouping together, whether it be a mastermind or mentoring in all levels of business.
What women have not had to the extent that is needed is their own safe space where they can express themselves in a way that is unique to the female emotional system and nervous system. I believe it is important to start with creating that for women. There’s a book out called The Secret Handshake that refers to the way men have done business. Women have not had their version of that. I present strategic alliance as an approach to creating our version of the male’s secret handshake.
I’m going to challenge you on that because Western business is built on the male system, especially if you work in a male-dominated industry. You’ve been years in oil and gas. That’s a male-dominated industry. I do know though that there are so many men who want to have women as allies and recruit great women. They just don’t know how. Women want to have male allies support them but they don’t know how to talk to men in the way that men can hear them. That’s a huge part of my work. You need allies, male and female. Maybe once we have a strong foundation with our female allies, how do we include the other 50% of the population, especially if they’re the ones who are in the old boys club?
I agree that possibly after women have created their own space where they feel supported, there can be an addendum where there is an inclusion of men. At this moment, I honestly don’t know what that looks like based on the fact that I am focused on getting that first foundation of strategic alliance established. However, there is indeed a growing number of men who actively support and uplift women.
At some point or in some manifestation, it would be great to include them. I have no answers and ideas yet as to what that would look like except for the fact that I have this friend, Elizabeth, who speaks to women about how to speak to men so that they can be hard. Maybe the two of us could come together and collaborate on some ideas around that.
Maybe we want to reframe the question. You’re talking about women building their support groups. Perhaps the strategic alliances with the men are not necessarily bringing the men into the women’s groups. How do you have an alliance with a man who works with you, who can support you and back you up, finding male and female mentors and sponsors?
Once we move into a place where we feel more comfortable in our skin, we are more comfortable using our voices. It’s long been said, “Women need to find their voice.” We have voices. We just need encouragement to use them. As women experience that more and more, they are going to have an easier time speaking with men, B-Suite, C-Suite, it doesn’t matter. From that perspective, they will be more easily able to identify the individual males who are naturally inclined to be a supportive alliance.
Those who would not be a supportive alliance, all the way to the extreme of those who would be in an adversarial position to an alliance. It starts with being able to speak for ourselves. I’ll give an example. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine. She is a recruiter for one of New York City’s top executive recruiting firms. She was beside herself once again with frustration over the fact that the women she deals with consistently present lower salary requests.
Even when she shares with them that the company in question is eager to form a greater male-female balance within their executive suite, the women are still not comfortable asking for a salary equal to their value. Whereas the men come in and right off the bat, they are asking for the top potential salary that they would gain. It comes back to us being comfortable in our skin, owning our skills, talents and worth within these environments.Women have voices. They just need encouragement to use them. Click To Tweet
I was one of those who accepted lower pay for years because I wanted to be nice. I found that if I practiced by saying, “I charge so much an hour. I should be getting this amount,” and breaking it down into amounts, I could say enough so that I heard it coming out of my mouth. I got used to saying these things, even asking for twice as much. Practice in the mirror until your stomach stops turning or tell people, “My speaking fee is X.” Say it often enough. Sometimes I have had to raise my prices by $50 an hour. I don’t charge per hour but I can use that as a way to gauge what I should be getting. If I raise it by $50 at a time and say it enough times, then I can go up the next $50. There’s a tip. A coach told me that one, which has helped me out a lot.
This is another thing for women to realize. Many years ago, my mentor challenged me strongly on what my mentoring and speaking prices were and said, “Double them tomorrow.” I said, “Are you out of your mind? Are you trying to drive me out of business?” She said, “No. I challenge you. If in 30 days it has hurt your business, we’ll look at it again but double them tomorrow.” I had great respect and admiration for this woman. I did it. My business exploded. It was a very real-time example to me of a long-known truth in business, which whatever you charge is what you tell people you are worth. That’s challenging for a lot of women.
What are some of the other ways you see women sabotage themselves? How do we fix them?
The number one way I see women sabotage themselves is with this epidemic of nice. You said you wanted to be nice. Females are taught from the time they are out of the womb to be nice. The difference between a young girl being chastised in school for fighting and a boy being encouraged because boys will be boys reaches back to that. The first thing I would tell all women I work with is, “We’re going to eliminate nice.”
I have systems for them to use and notice when they are thinking and speaking about being nice and replacing that with kind. Nice is dormant. Kind is honest. It is clear and unaggressive but it is also unwavering. Being kind sometimes requires us to say to someone, “It is not acceptable to speak to me in that manner.” Nice would never give a person permission to say that.
Girls are trained to be careful and boys are trained to pick themselves up, try again and dare. What I love about being kind or replacing the word nice with kind is it allows you to have your power and be female without trying to beat a man. In the ‘80s, many women in business had to try to do that. I tried it a couple of times. I tried doing what I saw my male colleagues do when I was in the opera business. I have some real disaster stories around that. It didn’t work. That’s a good one. Be kind rather than nice. What else?
Be confident and proud to be the giraffe in a herd of zebras. Giraffe towers over zebras but a giraffe is also a very gentle animal, whereas zebras are aggressive. It is a wonderful analogy for the female way of doing business and the male way of doing business. When you are the giraffe in the field of zebras, instead of pulling your head down and putting it in the ground like an ostrich and trying to stay very narrow in your small lane, you’re in observation of everything that is going on. You are positioning yourself more powerfully to understand where the holes are. In business, anyone who can effectively fill the holes and gaps is essential.
To be able to come out of that small lane, take off the blinders, stop sticking our heads in the sand and try to maintain and keep that job. Step out and be very clear about everything that’s going on around you from an observational perspective. Once you have that, then you can start moving into conversations, “That was interesting. Can you tell me more about that?” Don’t start right out with answers. Start with questions. Lead with questions, not with answers.
That certainly is one of the benefits. If you are a multi-focused person who notices a lot of things, you can see the traps coming where the single focus people who are only focused on that one objective may not notice the other side issues that are going to affect that objective.
There’s one example of the specific benefit of this based on a study that was in Harvard Business Review. Companies that had women as team leaders, not just in the small sense but heads of department team leaders, had more effective teams who are more likely to come in, bring their projects in on time and on budget. When they were studying these teams psychologically, it was because the women had an inherent approach to business that expressed itself as knowing each member on the team.
Knowing their strengths, weaknesses, and having no hesitation in saying, “Bill, we’re going to switch you over here with Sally. You’re both going to be happier.” By looking at humanity, the natural skill and talent of people, women bring tremendous benefit. This is where being a giraffe in a herd of zebras can come into great effect.
If you could choose one lesson to leave us with, what would it be?
I do this every morning before I get out of bed. I wake up, pop up my pillow, sit there, and give myself the daily pep talk. I look at at least three things that I had zero knowledge about and skill for that I dove right in and achieved success. I look at where I am, what’s in front of me and making me the most nervous. I believe that if we’re not nervous, we’re not playing at the top of our game. It’s important to push ourselves. I’ve already reviewed my success. Now, I’m looking at where I’m the most nervous. I sit with myself and say, “What is one single thing I can do today to propel this forward?” I find it consistently, and I’m not going to claim every day, that I get up, take my shower, come into my office, and by starting with that one thing, more days than not, I’m on a roll by the time I finish executing that one task.Females are taught from the time they are out of the womb to be nice. Click To Tweet
Do you have alliances who keep you accountable for this?
Absolutely and they are not shy. That’s why I love them. They are valuable to me. They are never mean but they are not bashful. When we can put ourselves in a position of working with alliances that are never intentionally harmful but never bashful, we are putting ourselves in a powerful position.
Lesley Michaels, I want to thank you so much for being a guest on the show. For those of you who are reading, don’t forget that if you’re curious about how your presentation skills are doing, you can take our free assessment at www.SpeakForResultsQuiz.com. That’s where you can see where you’re strong in your presentation skills, and where perhaps a little bit of support could get you the results you need and the recognition you deserve. I’ll see you in the next episode.
- YouTube – Elizabeth Bachman, Strategic Speaking for Results
- Women We Should Know
- On The Shoulders of Mighty Women
- Lesley Michaels
- The Secret Handshake
About Lesley Michaels
Lesley hosts the podcast, Women We Should Know. She features audacious and committed women from around the world who are changing the narratives in arenas from climate change to advocacy while breaking glass ceilings for women in industries ranging from film to STEM and executive consultancy. Lesley’s new book On the Shoulders of Mighty Women is due out ea
rly Q2 of 2022. Her new TEDx talk will also premier early Q2 of 2022. Additionally, Lesley has spent decades devoting energy and focus to coaching and advocating for those with unacknowledged or under-valued voices.