The lessons are everywhere…from everyone

05.05.10 | Posted in Women & Business Women In Business

We’ve received a couple of fairly strong emails over the past few days. They’re in relation to an event that Business Chicks is sponsoring called Find Your Strongest Life. This event is designed to teach what the most happy and successful women do differently and wait for it….it’s presented by a man.

iStock_000007748569SmallOne woman curtly wrote “And you expect us to hear this from a man?” Another said (in a longer and more courteous email) “This sounds like a great session, but I won’t be attending, because I am not comfortable with a man telling me how to achieve happiness and success and balance in my work life.”

When I was asked to sponsor the event I jumped at the chance because it’s not just any man presenting, it’s Marcus Buckingham, and he’s one of my all time business heroes. He wrote First Break All the Rules and also Now Discover Your Strengths. Both books greatly enriched the way I do business and I often refer back to them whenever I have an issue or need a reminder on management techniques or getting the best out of my team.

Marcus is not for a moment claiming to be an expert on women. What he is, is an expert researcher. He did a show with Oprah and a group of selected women and what they learned prompted him to commission a large body of research into the subject. This research revealed that despite the strides we have made towards equality, women have become less happy with their lives. The research also showed that as women get older they get sadder (which is the opposite to men – as they age they get happier.)

I find this stuff fascinating and am really looking forward to the event. However I didn’t want this be a blog post defending our position of putting a man on stage to talk with a bunch of women. What I wanted to raise here is that we should be open to receiving learning from everyone. A person need not be the same sex for us to learn from. They need not be in a higher position for us to learn from. They need not be smarter for us to learn from.

I try and look for the lessons everywhere. I watch the guy making my coffee in the morning and I see the way he applies himself to getting each cup right and perfecting the technique each time. I watch the café owner and see the way she communicates with her staff, asking them patiently to try a better way of doing things. I learn from the guys who run the carpark I park in each day and how they have the most unbelievable systems and procedures and nothing ever seems to fall through the cracks. I learn from my daughter who seems to have mastered creativity and meditation all at once while playing with her toys in silence and concentration.

Some of my greatest business lessons have come from male mentors and peers and I am grateful for this. This afternoon I’ll meet with a group of guys (and one woman) who I see each month and I get so much from being in their presence and absorbing their knowledge.

What do you think? Do you think it’s possible for us to learn from people who’ve taken a different path or are fundamentally built differently to us?


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  1. Judy Greenslade

    As a member of Business Chicks I am surprised and disappointed that you have received these emails.

    I think that if you have an open mind you can learn anything from anyone.

    Perhaps the people who have sent these emails would like to watch the youtube clip of Susan Boyle when she first auditioned for Britain’s Got Talent. The audience had written her off due to the way she looked until she opened her mouth to sing and out came a voice like an angel.

    This clip is a reminder that judging someone because of gender, culture, sexual orientation or the way they look is discrimination.

    Further to that, how many opportunities and experiences are people missing out on because they hold these perceptions…

  2. Tatum

    I definitely think it’s possible, it’s really no different to buying (or selling) a product or service from from a seller who is fundamentally different from us – with research and an understanding of the needs, concerns and wants of their target audience/market there is really no reason why being “different” would preclude someone from being able to offer a solution.
    Also I believe everyday we find so much inspiration and insight from unexpected and unconventionial things there’s no reason why this could not be another example of this.
    The lesson learn’t may not even be the one being taught, but doesn’t mean it’s it’s of any less benefit!

  3. Leisa Higgins

    Surely we want to worth WITH men not against them – some of my greatest mentors and supporters have been men. Male insight has to be part of our learning or we are not getting all the information. Diversity is about understanding each other and moving beyond
    simple tolerance to embracing and celebrating the
    rich dimensions of diversity contained within each individual.

    I think this will be a fabulous opportunity to see Marcus!

  4. Brooke Alexander

    Celebrate our differences! Each and everyone of us has a unique genius within … shows pure ignorance to think otherwise… Apologies if I am ranting .. I just get annoyed by this pro-female-at-all-costs attitude … takes us back 20 years!

  5. Jen Dalitz

    You make a good point Emma – and I too have learned so much from my male mentors and the men in my life. And Marcus is great – I’ve seen him present and met him before. Let’s not forget though that many women (particularly in the corporate world) have spent their working life being told by their male bosses and team members that to get ahead they need to change so much of what is important to them. They’re told to be more direct, less emotional, more committed, less involved, more open to ideas but more focused and on and on. All of this advice is given with the best of intentions, but often without invitation to the point that many women feel compromised by this ongoing bombardment. I can understand why they would be defensive about yet another man – even someone as engaging and profound as Marcus Buckingham – now giving them advice on how to be a success.

  6. Asha Corby

    I do strongly agree and am surprised that in this era, women can be seemingly threatened by a man and his words. Knowledge does not discriminate nor should we. We should embrace and share information with each other and use it to better ourselves not judge its quality by the the face that is presenting it, especially before its even been heard.
    Come on fellow business chicks members we’re better than that! :-)
    Keep smiling x

  7. Julie Alexander

    I attended a week’s leadership immersion course in the UK several years ago and some of the things had a very profound impact on me.

    One was an exercise where we re-enacted the story of a cider company (not sure if real or not) whose board was about to sign off a multi-million dollar infrastructure project to build a bridge between their two sites. The buildings were very close to each other, but one was on the north side of the motorway, the other on the south side. The basis for the investment was to save lorries having to drive miles up the motorway to the next junction and then drive all the way back down the other carriageway to the other site.

    At the point of signing off on the deal, the cleaner bursts into the room and shouts at the CEO … “Use the pipes!”. The CEO wants to instantly dismiss the man, because – what could he possibly know? However, the CEO is overruled by the other board members and the man gets to say his piece. It turns out that there was an existing but unmapped tunnel underneath the motorway linking the two sites; only the cleaner, whose job it was to clean it, was aware it existed.

    The moral, as you can guess, is that bosses need to talk to their staff, not just their “inner circle” before they can have a proper view of their business, their customers and options and they need to be open to what they hear. Staff need to speak up too.

    I’ve used this over and over again throughout the years – you never know what nugget of life changing information you will get from very unexpected sources so you need to be open to it.

    It means I always approach everything I do with the mindset “If I only learn one thing, it’s been worth it”. And it always has.